We live in the 21 century and travel agents, together with dinosaurs are extinct. If they’re not, they are close to it.
Out of all people I know more than 90% rely solely on their own research when booking a trip. Remaining 10% are either old-fashioned, or use tour planners when they go exotic places and want to stay on the safe side.
The truth is that it’s very easy to book and organize your trip. All you need to know is really where to look for information. Good research can save you from many hassles and can save you a lot of money along the way too.
Transport & Accommodation
These two websites are where all of my trips begin. Basically, you can find any flight to any airport in the world in a matter of seconds there. Local Indonesian flight to Wamena in Papua? Yes, please! Flights to North Korea? No problem.
There are hundreds of similar webpages there that provide similar services, but I find these two to be most useful, ad free and easy-to-navigate. I personally prefer Kayak, because it somehow works faster for me and the navigation is better. You can even buy tickets directly there at no processing fee (cha-ching!). I do suggest, though, to check the airline webpage first, as sometimes it may be cheaper there.
Before I plan anything further, I usually check how good connections are. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly out from one place, return to another (use multi-city search for this) and make an extension to your holiday.
P.S.: Use incognito mode when searching for tickets for 2 reasons. First, cookies placed in your browser may not allow you to see cheaper options when you look next time, only showing you what you’ve already seen. Second, if you’re in Europe and search tickets, for instance, within Brazil, you may face higher prices than Brazilians searching domestically. Incognito mode removes this effect.
Similarly to Kayak and Skyscanner this is a search engine for airline tickets, hotels, etc. As you can guess from the title, it focuses on trips not far in the future. It’s a great page to look for tickets if you’re open for spontaneous trips (big or small) 1-2 months into the future.
This is what I strongly suggest. Subscribe for an online deal-monitoring webpages that track airline tickets and vacation packages (flight+hotel) and keep your credit card ready. Deals range from 2 to 6 and more months into the future, so you can have plenty of time to prepare your trip. If you are lucky, you may even get an error fare.
You can subscribe to Facebook pages, or directly to newsletters through webpages. I personally find newsletter to be more convenient, because you can specify your airport/city/country of interest there and avoid unrelated communication to your email. Here are just a few of pages I use (Urlaubspiraten & Urlaubsguru are European-based with departures mostly from or around Germany. I found Germany to be a good hub for international travel):
- Urlaubspiraten (in German)
- Holidaypirates (the same, but in English and from UK)
- Urlaubsguru (in German)
If you’re looking for overland travel this is the place to start. Want to know how much does it cost to get from Lisbon to Berlin? Or what means of transport may get you there? How much will it all cost? It’s all there. Just input the origin, destination and stops in between.
It’s a great webpage for planning your roadtrips, train journeys, etc. If you travel by car, the website will also estimate fuel and toll costs that you will face on the way.
Similarly to airline search, these two websites are leaders in hotel bookings. It’s very easy and reliable to book your stay through these search engines. In fact, it sometimes may be even more reliable than booking directly, because hotels will think twice before scamming you fearing to be kicked out of the system. I personally found Agoda to be more popular in Asia and in general offering more discounts/promotional prices.
Check pictures and reviews of the hotel before you reserve. There is nothing more frustrating than being stuck in a hotel room that you don’t enjoy. Remember the single rule – if looks suspicious or bad in the picture, don’t think in reality it will look better. In reality it’s always worse! Check TripAdvisor for pictures and reviews of the place before booking.
P.S.: On average Monday to Friday stays are cheaper than weekend stays. Also, if you are spontaneous enough and are not afraid of last minute bookings, you may want to try to book on a veeery short notice to benefit from reduced price. I once stayed in 500 euro/night hotel for 50 euro (blog post and pictures), just because I booked 3 days in advance. On average, if you book on a Thursday-Friday and check in on Monday you may easily expect 50% discount even on 5 star hotels in popular cities like New York or Paris (provided the hotel is no more than 70% occupied)
A great alternative to hotel stays is to book an apartment/room for a short term and get a sense of how locals live. The prices are at least 20-30% lower than the hotel room.
This is a personal favorite of mine, because hosts usually are very friendly and open to all your questions. They will often give you advice on where to eat, where to shop, etc. What’s more, you can really save a lot of money on going out and cook in instead. You are usually allowed to use all apartment facilities (apart from host bedroom:) ). It’s a great way to get a deeper touch of the city which you won’t get if you only stay in the hotel.
Click on the link above to receive a 35 euro voucher from me for your first stay!
If you want to go further and not spend anything on accommodation, then consider couchsurfing. You register on the website and then surf for a couch/bed/room in a database of good people that are welcoming enough to let you in their house for free for several nights, socialize, get to know you, etc.
You do need to spend time with the host, as these are the rules of the game. But it’s very fun, especially in the new place where you don’t know anyone.
Things to do
This is another personal favorite of mine. Basically it’s a database of pictures from all around the world where each photo has a particular location tied to it, so that you know exactly from where the photo has been taken. It’s a great tool to find beautiful places/spots to visit.
The website is basically a map, so you just need to zoom in on places that interest you and look for nice pictures. Kind of like Instagram. I use it on the country level to check which regions to visit and where to take a roadtrip and where to stick to the city.
Sadly, this service has been discontinued and integrated with Google Maps. The idea stays the same that you look at the map and search for places that you’d want to visit. But honestly, the experience and results are much different.
Over the last years webpages that list discount coupons for activities became a big thing. I found this one to have best deals around the world. Do you want a day SPA in the center of Manhattan, NYC? Or maybe a surf camp in Portugal? This is the place to search. Go to travel section and choose your location to find awesome things to do for a good price.
It’s always nice to research these kind of things before you travel, so that you have a feel of what the place is about, what is popular and create your own itinerary, rather than stick to only exploring the city. Be it a restaurant, or a day trip, it’s very much worth checking to avoid missing out on some cool experience.
P.S.: Check Instagram and read some reviews before booking anything, because official pictures may differ from how it actually looks in reality.
Similarly to Groupon, this is a database of local tours. It’s a nice resource to look for things to do.
Are you in a foreign place with an activity in mind, but no company to enjoy it with? Check the meetup webpage for your particular interest and discover that you are not alone. Every day there are thousands of people not knowing each other meeting and enjoying their hobbies.
Hiking in the Alps? Sunday marathon preparation training? You can find someone to join or someone who will join you, for sure.
Have you noticed those green stickers on restaurant or hotel doors with TripAdvisor logo on them? This means that they have been reviewed by many fellow travelers on the TripAdvisor website. It’s a huge database with tons of reviews and photos from travelers around the world.
I found Lonely Planet travel forums quite handy too with lots of reviews written for places, cities, hikes, journeys, etc.
P.S.: Are you thinking about how a particular hotel looks like inside or how reliable the car rental company is in a particular country? Check other people reviews, but use your personal judgement. Be on guard if there is only one review posted, or too many good reviews from people who have written only 1 review.
Blogs (especially getlocalblog)
Blogs are a great source of inspiration, travel tips and reviews. Check what other people have done in the location you are heading to. Check their pictures and decide if this is something you want to experience as well, or you rather find something more adventurous and/or interesting.
Do take other people experience in account and pay attention to travel tips they share. In most cases you can really save money and time. For instance, you may learn something valuable, such as that all museums in Madrid are free on the first Monday of every month (keep in mind long queues for entrance, though).
Other handy-dandy pages
I use cloud to back up and store any important information, like ticket copies, passport copies, reservations, etc. As soon as I book something, I clean up my mailbox and copy everything I will need along the way to the cloud to avoid paperwork.
I don’t take any reservations with me, but rather take a snapshot from the drive with my phone or iPad. In case I need to present something, I can always show it on one of my devices.
P.S.: Passport copies are crucial for security. In case you have your documents stolen and you are in a foreign country, you can always print a photocopy of your passport (if you have it saved somewhere), go to a embassy and let them know what has happened to you. They will assist you and help you get back home safely.
If you don’t want to carry your laptop with you everywhere, use this service to access your computer back at home from abroad. For a relatively small fee you can easily connect to your computer from a distance and do everything as if you were at home. Extremely useful.
I like putting my thoughts in a paper journal, like our ancestors did hundreds of years ago with a pen. It helps to disconnect.
But let’s be honest, sometimes you don’t have time and you just need to take a note of something – a cool place you want to go to, a name of the song to download, blog post idea etc. I use basic notes in my phone and then put everything into Evernote later in a very messy way. Once I’m back at my laptop, I organize everything and am not messy anymore (woohoo!).
That’s it. This is all I use. Or all I can remember at this point. Let me know what are the pages you are using in your planning/travels.