Essential Tools for Planning a Successful Vacation
As an avid traveler who has visited over 30 countries and traversed all continents except Africa and Antarctica, friends and family often come to me with questions about how to plan a fun-filled vacation. For the independent traveler who is adventurous, planning your own vacation is a source of pride and gives you confidence you’re getting an experience that is not just a packaged product consumed by many countless others. For those who feel that travel tours are lacking in excitement, equipping yourself with the right tools is essential. Knowing how to effectively plan a vacation can be the difference between getting a bargain rate on airline tickets versus paying for overpriced flights or staying in a dream hotel room versus a dilapidated, uncomfortable dump. With that in mind, I’d like to share some travel tricks that will help you save money and time and ensure your trip is a memorable one. In fact, with an upcoming trip to Spain next week, these were all recently tested and proved useful.
- Booking Flights
Getting the right airline ticket can be an intimidating task. Issues like airline safety, comfort and service level weigh heavily on your decision. These are all important factors and do merit some research on travel websites. However, many travelers often overlook the flight date. Choosing when to fly, assuming you have a schedule that allows you some flexibility, can make a big difference in the cost. I use Google Flights to track cost fluctuations from week to week or month to month. For my flight to Barcelona, Spain next week, I was able to get a ticket that cost several hundred dollars less than what I would have paid had I flown during the peak Christmas/New Year’s period. Also, Google Flights gives you details not typically available on other airline booking websites, such as average leg room and availability of in-seat power.
2. Booking Hotel Rooms
Getting a nice hotel room for the right price also involves using the right channels. When booking online, always compare the major hotel booking websites against each other to see where a deal can be had. Also, cross reference information from the likes of Agoda and Hotels.com against Tripadvisor, because travelers’ photos will always be more reliable than professional photos that hotels pay to have featured.
If this is too daunting, consider the use of a qualified travel agent. I generally work with an agent to book hotels, since I trust her experience and the feedback that she gets from her customers. If cost is a concern, or you simply don’t know of a good travel agent, consider using TripScope. This handy app lets you pick your destination and budget, and an in-app travel agent will book hotels, tours and ground transportation for you. It’s also a bargain, with a service fee of $25.
3. Planning an Itinerary
Planning a good itinerary involves two factors: where to go and how to get there. I usually do some research ahead of time to get an idea of what the location has to offer. For my upcoming trip to Spain, I relied on the ever-useful Frommer’s guidebook. This series has practically every destination you could want to visit. I also checked Tripadvisor for the most up-to-date information on specific destinations, as well as traveler’s stories and feedback. Another useful app is TripSee, which lets you plug in your destination and see a list of notable attractions that can be added into a personalized itinerary.
As far as transportation, I love renting my own vehicle and exploring. If you are a AAA member, you can get personalized travel maps printed in the style of a road atlas. Otherwise, consider using an app such as RoadTrippers. This app is incredibly useful because it allows you to plug in your destination(s) and select for sites including nature, museums and restaurants. It will give you a convenient map with all the features you select.
If you are looking for some other useful travel apps, click here.
I am looking forward to a refreshing, invigorating 7-day experience in Spain and will share pictures once I’m back in LA. Enjoy the journey!