Travel planning can be really stressful and time consuming. I like to travel a lot so I’ve experienced this first hand, but I love planning. I’m a natural planner and researcher; both these things come easy to me. I’d go as far as to say research is my favourite form of procrastination, especially when it comes to holidays (vacation for my American friends). It’s overwhelming how many options there are. Trawling through endless websites, blogs and comparison sites can put your head in a spin. I’ve understandably heard people say they need a holiday just to get over the stress of planning it. With that in mind, I wanted to share my favourite tools for planning travel with you.
If you take just one thing away from this blog post let it be this; plan ahead. In my experience cheap last minute deals do not exist and searching for them is a sure way to drive yourself insane. Long haul flights are typically cheapest 12 weeks before and I find short haul only ever get more expensive. If you know you’re travelling at peak time, always book far ahead. Avoid booking flights at the weekend as this is when they’re most expensive. On the subject of time, don’t be afraid to travel in the off peak season or shoulder season (usually May / October) of the destination you’re going to, that’s when the best deals are.
It’s not just for pretty pictures and recipes, it’s an amazing visual search engine and shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s jam packed with travel guides, inspirational photography for ideas and travel blog posts. I find myself using Pinterest instead of Google more and more lately. Create a board for your destination of choice and just search as normal. I find it invaluable as a source of information and inspiration. You can follow me and my travel boards here.
An old favourite but still key to any research. My advice here is not to take the reviews as gospel truth, consider the people leaving the reviews. You can filter couple, family etc to make them more relevant to you. I would find your hotel of choice elsewhere and then use Tripadvisor as a final check to reassure yourself you won’t be coming home with food poisoning. Their price comparison for hotels is an added bonus.
I can’t praise this website enough. As an introvert, I enjoy staying in quiet hotels where I don’t feel overwhelmed by too many people around me. iEscape specialise in small boutique hotels around the world, most of which they have actually visited. Their reviews are always honest, featuring good bits and bad bits. They have great UK choices too. My favourite thing about them is they’re great at providing inspiration and recommending somewhere that fits your style and budget if you get in touch.
I love reading travel blogs but especially as part of my travel research. My favourites are The Londoner and Fashion Me Now. I feel like I can always count on them for a hotel, restaurant, place of interest recommendation or ideas of where to head next if I’m struggling. Their sites are easy to use and their photography is stunning.
If you don’t know about this tool I may be about to freak you out. Travel companies can see when you’re on their website. Yes, big brother is definitely watching you. Even worse, if they know you’ve browsing for a particular flight they will put the price up! Switch your browser to incognito to avoid that from happening. It’s easy to do and these links will show you how to do it for Mac and PC.
Firstly, be aware that cashback sites are designed to encourage you to spend more, which is clearly something I don’t encourage, but used correctly they can save you money. Lots of sites such as Expedia, Booking.com and Car Rentals offer decent cashback rates if you buy through this site. It’s always worth checking here before you buy. I was happy I’d used it when I received a £300 payout earlier this year from our Mexico trip. I use Topcashback but there are others out there.
Airline Reward Schemes
Again, you need to be careful here because they are designed to make you spend, so if you struggle to resist temptation this might not be for you. I’ve been a member of British Airways Executive Club (which is nowhere near as fancy as it sounds) for a few years now and it works really well for me. It’s free to join these schemes and you earn air miles whenever you fly with them or their partner airlines. These soon add up if you travel often and I’ve had a few free reward flights out of it. There are lots of other reward schemes out there. Think about who you fly with most and see if they have a scheme you can join. They usually let you use any flights you took in the last 6 months when you join.
If I missed any or you use something I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for useful travel planning tools that will save me time and money.