Planning a big trip? Here are some helpful tips!
Whenever we go on a big trip, people always ask me; “did you use a travel agent?” or “how did you plan all that?” Well, I have not used a travel agent and I have some great tips for you on how to plan and organize your trip!
Start off by deciding where you want to go, or at least a couple of cities or countries you want to see on your trip. Then pick your time frame. It is best to be flexible, since flight prices could change drastically from day to day. If you are planning a trip to Europe try to go during the shoulder season, April/May and September/October. The weather is beautiful and you will find cheaper prices and a lot less crowds.
Next, start looking for flights. The best way to score a great price on flights is to leave from a major U.S. airport such as New York, Boston or Chicago. Often times you can get a direct flight and much lower prices than if you booked directly from your smaller home airport. It’s easy to get to and from that large airport. You can use points or buy your flight separately, just make sure to leave yourself enough time in between especially if you need to switch airlines.
Some of my favorite sites to use when looking for airlines tickets are kayak, skyscanner and Travelzoo. Kayak allows you to search round trip, one-way and even multi-city trips and create pricing alerts. They are able to put flights together on different airlines as well to get you the best price. I have found kayak to have better prices and more options than some of the other big travel search engines. Skyscanner is great for finding the best cities to fly into and out of. For example, you can search for flights leaving from the United States and arriving in Italy and it will pull up the cheapest city U.S. city to fly out of and the cheapest Italian city to fly into. Also, check out Travelzoo as they find the best travel deals out there and posts updates to their site daily. Once you have found the flight you want through one of these search engines, go to the airlines site to actually book your flight. It is much easier to deal directly with the airline than a third party site. Don’t forget to check Southwest as their flights do not come up on the major search engines.
Once you have found the cheapest flight then it’s time to plan the rest of your trip. The length of your trip will determine how many stops you can make. I recommend spending at least 2 nights and 3 days in each city you visit. Try to visit cities or countries that are relatively close together in the same trip to save yourself valuable travel time. If you’re going to Europe you can reach many European cities by train and flights within Europe are readily available and usually very economical.
So your flights are booked and you have decided which places you will visit, now it’s time to find somewhere to stay. Do a little research on each city you will be staying and find out where all the action is. It’s worth it to stay in the center of the city where you can walk to everything. My favorite sites for lodging are Tripadvisor and Airbnb. Tripadvisor ranks each hotel strictly based on traveler reviews. You can use the map to narrow it down to a certain area and view photos taken by travelers who have recently been to the hotel. Once again I like to book directly with the hotel to eliminate any problems. If there is a pricing difference, email or call the hotel and many times they will match the price from the third party site. If you are traveling with a group of people or just prefer to stay in an apartment, check out Airbnb. They have some great places often times for a fraction of the price of a hotel.
Lastly you need to decide what to do in each city. Make sure you do this in advance to avoid standing in line for hours and paying ridiculous prices once your there. This is especially true if you plan on visiting the Vatican and many of the other big sites in Italy. Tripadvisor is great for finding things to do. Once again they rank all the attractions based on traveler reviews, show recent pictures and have a forum available for people to post questions or give travel advice for each specific city. Once you’ve picked what attractions you will visit, book you tickets in advance if possible. Book directly through the attractions website and stay away from third party sites that offer the same tickets for double or triple the price. I use Tripadvisor for restaurant recommendations as well. So far they haven’t steered me wrong and we have had some of the most fantastic meals! Stay away from tourist trap restaurants and once you are there, don’t forget to ask locals for their recommendations.
With these easy tips you should be on your way to planning a fabulous vacation for less!