Starting the travel planning process can be overwhelming and (let’s face it) a bit stressful. Where do you start? How do you know you’re getting the best deals or finding the best options for airfare, rental cars or accommodations? What about things like travel insurance? Fear not, friends. I’ve compiled for you all the great travel planning resources that I use when planning my trips and to get me inspired for the next trip.
Having a well-rounded arsenal of online travel resources will help make your trip planning process easier and potentially save you a lot of money so you can travel more. Everything in this post is a product or service that we use regularly when planning our own travel and can recommend with confidence.
There are so many great travel resources online. These are the best travel resources (in my humble opinion).
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Travel planning resources for inspiration and research
Use Pinterest for travel planning
Not sure where you want to go yet, but you know you want to go somewhere? I love to browse through Pinterest to get inspiration for travel destinations. You can find travel tips, itinerary ideas, accommodation reviews, off-the-beaten-path places to visit, you name it!
Rick Steves guidebooks
There’s no resource I’d rather use when planning travel to Europe than Rick Steves .
His guidebooks are so incredibly detailed that it’s almost impossible to plan a bad trip when using his recommendations. You can also find a tremendous amount of free information on his website including destination pages, guidebook updates, and videos about how to travel in Europe.
The Rick Steve site’s travel forums can also be a good source of information from others with a lot of experience traveling in Europe.
When traveling outside Europe (and so not able to use a Rick Steves guidebook) I like to use Rough Guides to help me plan my trips. They’re easy to read and immensely practical.
Even if you have a rough itinerary in mind, taking a few minutes to read through sections applicable to where to want to travel can help inspire new ideas for your trip.
DK Eyewitness travel guides
I do not use DK Eyewitness books for my primary travel planning information. They are great companion guides to provide additional information that other travel guide books might be light on.
I enjoy these books especially for providing important cultural and historical context. They also include a lot of helpful photographs, which is great for people like me who want to envision myself someplace before I decide to add it to my itinerary.
Pro tip: No guide book can replace doing your own specific research on the sites you want to visit like how to get tickets, prices, opening hours, etc. As soon as these books are published, they need to be updated, so make sure you double check all these details before you travel to avoid disappointment.
For complete discussion on this topic, see my post on the best travel guides.
Essential international travel resources
U.S State Department website
For American travelers, an important resource is the United States Department of State website. Here you can find important travel advisories, embassy and consulate information, and passport renewal information. In addition, you can get preliminary information about your international travel destination, such as what documents or vaccinations you might need to enter. Always check with your travel destination directly.
You can also get information about the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Consider enrolling your next trip with this program. In the event of a natural disaster or civil unrest consular affairs can contact you, and you will receive alerts to help you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
Immigration website of the country you’re going to
It is essential that you check the immigration and border control policies of the country you’re traveling to. You want to make sure you have all of your paperwork in order.
You don’t want to be one of those urban legends like the honeymoon couple who were not allowed to board their flight to Paris because the bride’s passport was due to expire less than 3 months after their return date.
Be proactive. Don’t assume you know what the travel requirements are without first doing the research.
Searching for and booking affordable flights
My go-to site when I start my trip planning is Google Flights. In fact, this is how we stumbled upon a sale on fares for our trip to Paris. Use the “Explore Destinations” tool to browse for great deals from your chosen departure airport. You’ll get the best results if your travel dates are flexible…though this can be said of any cheap flight tool.
See my post on using Google Flights to save money for more information.
Skyscanner is also a wonderful tool that can help you find great flight deals. They compare literally millions of options through airlines and online travel agencies. You can also find deals on hotels and rental cars with Skyscanner. Find cheap flights with Skyscanner.
Scott’s Cheap Flights
Flexible travel dates? Then I’d like you to meet Scott. Scott’s Cheap Flights to be exact. With a premium subscription to Scott’s Cheap Flights, you’ll get amazing flight deals (including error fares) sent straight to your inbox with instructions on how to book directly with the airlines. Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights here and get the first 14 days free. Scott’s is the ONLY premium subscription service I use to find great travel deals.
Read my full review of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Another great resource for finding amazing deals on flights (including error fares) is Secret Flying. While I have found that I don’t see quite as many great deals as with Scott’s Cheap Flights, Secret Flying is totally free. I downloaded their app and get notifications on my phone when great deals come up.
Another tool in my trip planning arsenal is the Hopper app. Hopper predicts prices to help you decide whether you should book now or wait for a better deal to come along. I like to use Hopper when my travel dates aren’t as flexible, but I have time to wait for prices to improve before I book.
Save money on rental cars
Find a great deal on rental cars with AutoSlash. They even look for coupon codes and deals through Costco Travel. You can also use AutoSlash to track your rental, and they’ll notify you of price drops.
If you have a Costco membership, you can also find great deals on rental cars through Costco Travel. To be honest though, I’ve yet to find a deal directly through Costco Travel that beats anything I can find through Auto Slash.
We use both hotels and apartment or vacation home rentals when we travel. It usually depends on where we’re going how long we’re staying on one location.
Please do research on your destination before choosing which option is best. I encourage you to take into consideration the impact Vrbo or Airbnb rentals have on the local economy of your destination.
Hotels, inns and hostels
Booking.com is my go-to resource for booking hotels, but you can also find great deals on hostels, B&B’s and apartment rentals on Booking.com. I love to use Booking.com especially when staying in smaller towns or when I want to avoid major hotel chains, though you can definitely book those too.
Read More → Is it Worth it to Use Booking.com?
I also love that you can sort results by whatever is most important to you whether that’s free cancellation (a must for me!), free breakfast or user ratings.
Use the map view feature to find the best accommodations in the exact area where you want to stay.
Our international hotel chain of choice is Marriott. They offer more than 6,000 properties around the world from luxury overwater bungalows in French Polynesia to budget accommodations that offer free breakfast for all guests.
Apartment and vacation home rentals
Our go-to for vacation home and apartment rentals is Vrbo.com. We’ve found great apartment rentals in Europe and always book through Vrbo for our family trips to Walt Disney World. We prefer apartment or home rentals to hotels when we’re staying in one place for a week or more.
Note: I have never once booked accommodations through Airbnb, though I have many friends who have used it with great success.
Consider purchasing travel insurance
Dining while traveling
When search for dining options at our destination, after consulting guide books, I go to Trip Advisor. The overall reviewer rating can be helpful if there are enough of them. I tend to ignore the very best and the very worst reviews.
I love that you can search the reviews, which is especially helpful when traveling with special dietary needs. I can easily see if there are reviewers talking about gluten-free or vegetarian options.
If you are looking more specifically for only vegetarian or gluten-free options, try the two sites below. I take these with a grain of salt though because of the very small number of reviews they typically have for each restaurant.
Find Me Gluten Free
When looking for dining options for our trips, I also like to check in with Find Me Gluten Free. You can find places that might have dedicated fryers or separate kitchen facilities for their gluten-free customers.
Vegetarians and vegans should check out Happy Cow for dining options. They have a map search feature and label restaurants to show which are vegetarian/vegan or have vegetarian/vegan options.
Online itinerary planning helps
I use Evernote for everything. Itineraries, notes on itineraries, reservation confirmations, links to activity websites or restaurant menus. Anything to do with our trip.
Evernote is my digital brain. Try it. You’ll thank me later.
Travel planning with Google Maps
I love to use Google Maps to help me plan my trips. You can save your maps and add your accommodations, sites you want to visit, nearby dining options, map routes from one place to the next and more. Travel planning with Google Maps is non-negotiable for me. I use it for every trip.
My husband and I love to use travel rewards credit cards to earn flights and hotel stays just from our regular, everyday spending. In fact, we traveled to Florence, Italy, on miles and points and just booked round trip airfare from Atlanta to New Zealand for just $162 in taxes and fees using Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Paying out of pocket for the same tickets would have set us back approximately $5,000. Well, let’s face it. We just wouldn’t be able to afford to go to New Zealand if our only option was to pay a fare like that.
The Points Guy
Brian Kelly is the master of travel hacking. If you’re at all interested in looking into using travel rewards credit cards to earn flights and hotel stays (and more!), there’s no better resources than The Points Guy website. Start with their beginner’s guide. There’s also The Points Guy UK which launched in April 2019.
Million Mile Secrets
Another travel hacking website I check in with almost daily is Million Mile Secrets. They offer great travel rewards card reviews and easy-to-follow guides for how to make the most of your points and miles.
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