August 9, 2012

travel tidbits: how to start planning

I love to travel. It’s one of the best things you can do in life (in my opinion!) and few things compare to the memories you make while experiencing new, fabulous places. The one thing I don’t love about traveling, and odds are you don’t either… is the process of planning and booking an experience.  There are plenty of great options out there to help you plan your trip, but if you’re a Type A personality like myself you like to take the reins yourself. A friend recently asked me for some travel advice, so I wanted to share my tips on getting from your couch to someone else’s couch halfway across the world.

I’m not going to lie. For me, planning the perfect trip requires hours of research and agonizing until I finally hold my breath and start to click the “book” button. Before I can get to that point, I rely on a few key websites to help me out in my search for fabulous traveling at a fraction of the cost.

For flights: Fare Compare and Fly.com. Fare Compare has an awesome low-fare calendar feature that will allow you to view fares between two destinations from a month view. This is so helpful when you’re flexible on dates and are looking to save money. For those of you with cash to spend and dates to go without a particular destination in mind, Fare Compare’s Where-to-Go Getaway map lets you put in your departure city, target month and target budget to give you recommendations on where to go! That kind of information is priceless and will save you tons of research time. Fly.com is one of the best flight deal search engines I’ve come across – skip Expedia and the lot and go straight there.

For hotels and experiences: TripAdvisor and Oyster.com. Just like I won’t eat at a restaurant before Yelping it, I won’t stay at a hotel without first looking it up on TripAdvisor. The website ranks hotels based on user submitted reviews – nothing else. It also puts out some great awards based on user reviews (like the Top Hotels in the US for Beaches, etc) that I’ve used as starting points when planning vacations. You can also look up activities and experiences around your destination and get candid user reviews. Oyster.com is a place I recently discovered and I can’t get enough! It’s like talking to your best friend who’s lived in your vacation destination their entire life. First, Oyster has “undercover agents” (more or less) go to hotels and take candid pictures, eliminating the anxiety of “what if my hotel doesn’t look like the professional pictures” that we all get before arriving. In addition to the pictures, the Oyster.com crew writes up real-world advice like where to shop for groceries and which beaches to hit (or miss). I can’t stop raving about it!

Those are my top jump-into-the-experience websites that you have to start out with. I’ll have some more recommendations coming soon, like how to travel chic on the cheap by booking luxury hotels for less, and more!

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