We may not travel full time, but we sure spend a good chunk of our free time planning our next trip. For every week of actual travel, there are months and months of planning. I can scarcely remember a time when the internet did not play a big role in that planning process. Below are some of my preferred websites for planning a trip.
Websites for planning a trip
I have been referencing and using the sites listed below for many years. R too has sites she prefers to use for travel (although I am sure we have some overlap) but we always appreciate a good recommendation. So if you have any good suggestions for travel planning sites, we would love to hear about them.
Now onto the list.
For general research…
I rarely visit a destination (even cities within the U.S.) without first reading about it on Wikitravel. The sections I find most useful are the “Get around” and “Stay safe” sections. Like everything else “wiki,” you need to take the things you read with a grain of salt. But I have gotten a lot of good information from this site over the years.
You would pretty much have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Travelzoo. (If you have not heard of them, I apologize. But geez, get out from under that rock already!) Their Top 20 is something I look forward to every week. And they have great deals on shows, spa treatments, activities, etc. A word of warning though: it is real easy to get excited about a particular deal and feel the need to purchase it right away! Although I see nothing wrong with that kind of enthusiasm and spontaneity, I tend to use the site more as a go-by; it gives me a good understanding of what a trip to a particular destination could cost me.
When I first started backpacking, I found Travel Independent and instantly fell in love with it. The information was very pertinent to the way I was traveling at that time. And even today, I still use a lot of the tricks I learned from them. This site, more than any other, taught me how to pack light. As I have gotten older and my style of travel has changed a bit, I find I do not visit the site as often. But it is still a great resource, especially if you are into backpacking or want to learn how to pack a little lighter.
Because plane ticket prices have such a profound effect on where and when I travel, I tend to do a lot of research on flights and use several sites to do so. My two preferred sites are Airfarewatchdog and Google Flights.
With Airfarewatchdog, I can view deals either from a particular airport (e.g. Boise) or to a particular airport (e.g. Sydney). I also receive alerts from this site.
I like Google Flights because they make it easy to see a snapshot of flight prices every day of the month for as many months as you would like to look ahead. Other sites offer flexible search options, but none are as easy to use as Google Flights. Granted, Google Flights does not include every airline (e.g. Southwest). But once my plans are a bit more definite, I make sure to check airline-specific sites and even crosscheck with sites like Expedia. I also really like Google Flight’s “Explore Destinations” that highlights flight prices in a map view. If you know your dates but have not settled on a destination yet, this is a great comparison tool.
Hopper and Fly.com
A couple of other sites I like to check periodically are Hopper and fly.com. I check Hopper for ballpark pricing and predictions—although I am not yet convinced their predictions are remotely close to accurate. But I like seeing what other people have recently paid for a flight. I use fly.com for searching international flights. I also really like their “Today’s Best Fares” section.
It is generally a good idea to have at least some idea of how much a trip is going to set you back. I confess: I am not always very good at this although I have improved since planning and saving for a trip to Australia. I track plane costs very carefully and I always look for the best deal on lodging. But I can be a bit remiss on researching the cost-per-day of my chosen destination. When I do remember, there are two sites I use for my research.
Price of Travel
My personal favorite is the Price of Travel. It is geared towards backpackers so it’s a bit on the low side for me. But I feel it is accurate and I love the comparison it offers among different cities.
Option two is Lonely Planet. It always feels a little on the high side to me. But by comparing the numbers offered on both sites, I feel like I can get a rough idea of how much I will spend. And that rough idea is better than going in blind.
For navigation and directions…
I really, really like Rome2rio. When it comes to getting from point A to point B (whether those two points are between countries or within the same country), this site gives you a nice overview of your options. The types of transportation available (e.g. bus, flight, car), costs and amount of time it takes are just rough estimates. But for planning purposes, those rough estimates are great. Once your itinerary is more set, then you can nail down the details.
My other go-to is Google Maps. This site works great if you want to map out a route with multiple stops and I feel like it was made for planning road trips. It can also help you find restaurants, museums, etc. that are nearby. And who doesn’t love the street view or Google Earth? Both are helpful in addition to being fun to play with.
Ah, the weather. All too often, it can make or break a vacation. And while you cannot control it, you can certainly prepare for it. There are plenty of sites (and apps) that provide you with weather conditions/predictions. When it comes to a general overview, my personal favorite is Weather2travel. Not only does it have a clever name, but in addition to discussing the weather, it also provides information on things like the amount of daylight you can expect during a particular time of year—which I find very helpful.
Time and Date
Finding out you’ve arrived in Venice during Carnival can either be a delightful surprise, or a royal pain in the ass (I will save that story for another time). It is best to do a little research ahead of time to see if you will be in a location during some sort of holiday/celebration/festival. That way you can be prepared for things like closed stores, longer lines and inflated prices. I recommend Time and Date’s holiday calendar for a nice overview. If something pops up on there, then you can do more research to see if it may affect your travel plans.
Is the water safe to drink
Knowing if it is safe to drink the water is kind of a big deal. The appropriately named, Is the water safe to drink, is the best website I have found for a quick reference on this topic. I like its simple layout and ease of use. I do have to note that it does not necessarily cover every location you may be researching. In that case, I rely on old Google for assistance.
When it comes to travel, research and the internet, there are a lot of options available. It may be a challenge to weed through it all, but the benefits of having such a surplus of information far outweigh the hassle. Plus, you can save yourself a lot of that hassle by using suggestions from someone else’s list. 🙂