Planning is sometimes the most daunting part of going on a trip. Questions like, when to book, how to organize, and what to see, all need an answer. Before you know it, you feel overwhelmed. But, planning can also be an exciting part of travelling. In this moment, opportunities are still endless and a blank canvas is just waiting for the perfect itinerary.
Over time, travel planning gets easier and easier. I can honestly say, I enjoy putting trips together much more now then when we first started travelling. Experience has given us a level of comfort and a knowledge base on where to find the best information.
We never like to see anyone stressed out about planning their upcoming trip. We especially don’t want the planning portion to deter someone from actually travelling. So, before anxiety levels rise, wipe away those tears and check out some of our favourite travel resources.
If you are anything like us then you might already have a long list of places to choose from. Sometimes though, it comes down to timing and the type of trip you’re looking for. Maybe it’s an adventurous, adrenaline getaway or something low key like a laid back beach stay? Why not throw a dart at a map and head to wherever it lands! Whether you have something in mind or no idea at all, a little extra inspiration never hurt.
After a few google searches (and maybe a dart throw) we turn to Lonely Planet. Easily the world’s most iconic travel guide, chances are you’re already familiar with this popular brand. Written by passionate, global travellers, the information is full of detail. A copy of Lonely Planet is like having a trusted, local in your pocket.
We like to pick one up in advance so that we can give it a read before our trip. This gives us a sense of the destination and any ideas we might not have thought of. Being familiar with the content also makes it more valuable when you are on the go. That’s why we also bring it along for reminders and quick minute recommendations.
How to Get There
Once you’ve landed on a destination, the next step is getting there. If you’ve chosen somewhere close to home and driving makes sense then this part is easy. If not, and you’ll need some airline support, these resources are ideal for monitoring flight options.
We start with Google Flights to get a sense of the airlines and times available for our destination. If you have flexible dates, this also gives an idea of which days might be cheaper to fly on. Simply type in your starting and ending locations and a sponsored box will appear in the results. This includes an overview of the airlines, flight duration, and approximate cost. You can also see non stop versus connecting options.
Tip: If a location has multiple airports, check each to compare prices
Once we have an idea of overall flight options, we then use Skyscanner to compare results. What we love most about this resource is the ability to monitor when prices go up or down. By doing your research early, you can often take advantage of discounts and deals. Skyscanner will alert you when a price drops and provide a recommendation on the best time to book. What is also great, is once you are ready to book they link you directly to the airlines website. This allows you to book direct and avoid any additional fees or commissions. Savings = more money to spend while travelling!
Tip: Set up a couple of dates to track so that you can adjust based on the best prices
Where to Stay
Ok, so now you have your destination and your flights. You know how and when you are arriving. Next up is where to stay! This is when things get busy. In almost all destinations around the world, accommodations are abundant. Especially today as alternative options like Air BnB continue to grow. On one side, travellers are no longer fighting for limited places to stay. On the other side, how do you know which to pick when there are so many! Here are some tips and tricks to painlessly narrow it down.
We’ve used a number of different sites over the years to find great accommodations. Booking.com has always been a favourite. When we planned our European backpacking trip, this was our saving grace. Why? Because, they were one of the first sites to offer reservations without prepayment. An essential feature when you need to book accommodations early but have limited cashflow. Booking.com overcame all of our fears of having to stay in questionable lodgings by making it possible to secure our reservations without up front charges.
Tip: Use Booking.com to avoid prepayments and for a user friendly site experience
For those of you who love rewards programs, Hotels.com is for you. You may know them as the creators of ‘Captain Obvious,’ but they also offer frequent travellers, free night stays. For every ten nights booked, members receive a free night. What’s even better is there are no restrictions or black out dates. In addition, they also promote secret prices for members. Meaning that if you have an account you can often leverage a lower price at various hotels. It’s free to sign up, so why not.
Tip: Use Hotels.com if you travel frequently and want to work towards a free stay
Air BnB offers exactly what their tag line describes, the ability to experience a city like a local. So for those looking for accommodation slightly outside the box, this is where it’s at. Founded in 2008, the online marketplace connects home owners and travellers. Giving them the opportunity to list and stay in unique accommodations around the world. This is not hotel a room. Think instead, a loft apartment in downtown Copenhagen. Or maybe a castle outside of Edinburgh. In less than 10 years the site has accumulated over 3,000,000 different places to stay. So, if you want something unique, have a look and we’re sure you’ll find it.
Tip: Air BnB’s are great when travelling with friends or a larger group. Read more about one of our own Air BnB stays here.
As we said, accommodation bookings can be tough. So, if you need a second opinion check out Trip Advisor. This is the place for all things advice. With millions of reviews from millions of travellers, you can find a recommendation on just about anything.
Once we’ve narrowed down our accommodation options to the top 5-10, we then enter them in to Trip Advisor’s hotel section. This will give us a sense of how the accommodation ranks in comparison to other local options. It will also showcase recent reviews and recommendations from other travellers. This helps to know if for example a location is undergoing construction, if there is a better area of the building to request, what the staff are like, how well situated it is and more. This information often provides that final level of comfort to book or the last minute warning to find something else. Either way it’s an excellent last check to make sure you are booking the best place for your stay.
Tip: Take reviews with a grain of salt, some travellers are notorious for only leaving negative comments. Also check what type of traveller they are (ie. couples, family, solo) to see if you match up.
Your perfect itinerary is all coming together. With the biggest to do items checked off, it’s time to figure out how you are going to get around. For some destinations, this step is not even needed. There are a lot of cities around the world that are easily walkable. There are also many with fantastic public transit, ie. London’s Tube. For those however, that are less accessible here are some great options.
Enterprise will in fact pick you up. Our first experience using this well known brand was on a trip to Vancouver Island. A destination that is not easy to get around without a vehicle. It is an island after all. However, our plan was to explore several locations up the coast line. Which meant, we needed our own transportation. Arriving by ferry, an Enterprise representative met us at the dock and whisked us away to collect our car. The process was quick and efficient and before we knew it we were on our way up the coast. So, if you know you are travelling to multiple destinations, having your own car rental is a must.
Tip: If you aren’t fussy about the type of vehicle you get, book something fun that you wouldn’t normally drive. We zipped around the island in a ridiculously cute Fiat.
If public transportation isn’t available, but you don’t necessarily need a long term rental, Uber is the solution. For all you millennials out there this is probably something you are quite familiar with. The latest craze to shake up the taxi industry. But, it makes sense why. Uber is often times more affordable, quicker, and who doesn’t love being able to track the vehicle on their phone. We utilized this service extensively when we were in Quebec, find our more here. Since it was winter and cold, our usual desire to walk everywhere, was not very enthusiastic. So, when we didn’t want to trek through the snow, we grabbed an Uber.
Tip: Uber has come a long way since it’s initial inception so don’t be afraid of what you might have heard. Individuals have to go through a thorough process before becoming a driver.
What To See and Do
You’re almost done! The perfect travel plan is in site, all of the big decisions are officially behind you. Now for the really fun part. This is where you get to investigate all of the things that what you want to see and do. While we don’t use any exact resources for specific activities/attractions there are a number of places you can go to get inspired. Here are some hints on how to prep for what to see and do.
This could be something that you pull out of your Lonely Planet guide book. It could be a simple Google Search. Or it could be something that is so well know you don’t even need to research it ie. the Eiffel Tower. Famous attractions are usually quite well known, so start by listing the things you already know you want to see. From there, you can then get a sense of how much time you need for each and can split them up based on the amount you want to do each day. This will ensure that you check off all of your must see items before anything else.
Do some research on local restaurants to get an idea of where you might like to try. If you find something you love, make a reservation. If you don’t, it at least gives you some names should you get stuck while travelling. Trust us, you want to avoid the mindless, where do you want to eat, question. Open Table is a great resource for this. You can search by top restaurants, the area you are in, the type of food you feel like and even the price point.
If you don’t know what Pinterest is then you need to crawl out from under that rock. This site is the best for all things inspiration, especially when it comes to travel. As a visual catalogue of ideas, Pinterest allows you to search and save just about anything. So, when you start your travel planning, create a board and then pin anything and everything that might apply. Each pin will link out to another source where you never know what useful information you might find.
Tip: Try to find travel related pins from bloggers. This is the best way to find out about things to see and do that are not in a general guide book. The uncommon or less known but highly worth it experiences. While you’re at it, check out our own Pinterest page here.
While there are a ton of travel resources out there this is just a snapshot of some of our favourites. We have provided our honest opinion on all of these and would highly recommend them based on our own positive experiences.