I totally fell off the regular posting wagon AGAIN, but here I am attempting to get back on it! If I’m being honest, this post has been sitting in the draft folder for over a year😬
Call us over cautious, but with the spread of the coronavirus (and nothing but more cases confirmed daily) we have cancelled all air travel until the situation is under control. We sadly had to cancel our April trip to Japan to see the cherry blossoms, but we plan to go in April 2021 instead. So, for now we’re doing a road trip in April and booked New Zealand and Australia in the fall. If coronavirus is still rampant in October, we have problems bigger than not getting a refund in our flight!
Below are my tips on how we research locations and plan our trips. I hope you find them to be helpful in planning your adventures!
Find Yourself a rewards credit card: While on a flight about 10 years ago my husband signed us up for a Delta Airlines Amex to get a crap ton of bonus points so we could get a free flight somewhere. Turns out it was a really great idea. We get several free round trip tickets a year, free checked baggage, free upgrades if available and they usually have tons of destinations and direct flights to where we want to travel. There is usually a small annual fee for any rewards card, but in my opinion definitely worth it if you travel a bit. Pick whatever airline you like using or even a cash back card if you want to designate that for travel funds.
Find yourself a booking site or a members rewards program for hotels: In recent years I have booked all hotels possible through hotels.com. Every 11th night is free based on the average cost of the previous 10 nights booked. Their app is super user friendly and I have found their customer service to be pretty good when I have needed to cancel or change a reservation. This usually ends up being a better deal than always booking a certain brand hotel, but we do have rewards programs with the big names like Hilton and Bonvoy as well. Some brands won’t give you rewards points if you don’t book direct with them, but some will, so be mindful to check out what will benefit you the most towards free nights or cheaper rates.
Find yourself a Rewards Program with a rental car company: Same idea as why you do this for hotels, building up points for free or discounted rentals. We happen to use Enterprise because it’s everywhere, usually has locations in airports or train stations and has been reliable as far as the quality and options of cars.
Trip Advisor and Yelp are your Friends: My first step in researching if I want to go to a location is popping onto Trip Advisor. I look for things to do in a destination to see if I think it’s worth visiting. Whether in the city you are staying in or making it a hub for day trips, you want to make sure it is a place where you will have fun. After I determine I actually want to go somewhere, I check out the lodging options. You can filter by star rating, location, guest rating, price, etc. I also filter by location based on landmarks so I can ensure I am in the neighborhood I want to be. I usually try and filter by closest to city center if there is not an actual landmark I want to be by.
I use Yelp for researching restaurants and checking out menus before booking. The honest truth is there are so many dining options wherever you go that there is no reason to have a crappy meal.
http://www.tripadvisor.com, www.yelp.com (the apps are great too!)
(Niagara Falls, Canada 2018)
Map out your trip to maximize fun stops, shorter drive times (if possible), easy train routes, etc: I always spend a good amount of time on Google maps trying to figure out the most efficient, delicious (we gotta eat so it may as well be yummy!) and adventurous route to get from location to location if our trip has several stops. We like to rent a car in as many places as possible because you will see things you wouldn’t be able to traveling by train or puddle jumper flight. Especially places where locals are instead of a ton of tourist traps. I will take a look at the cities we are driving through to get to each destination and jump on Trip Advisor to see what cool things to do, see or eat might be on the way and pick a few.
(Bimini Bahamas, 2019)
Rick Steves is the Man for European travel planning: All but one of our Europe trips have been loosely or exactly based on itineraries from Rick Steves. His website is great, but it only gives you just enough information to get you hooked so you buy his books. Do yourself a favor and just buy them. He has been traveling in Europe his whole adult life and the recommendations and information he gives is extremely detailed and he has yet to lead us astray with his recommendations. You can also see some of his specials on PBS.
For non European adventures we usually end up with Lonely Planet or Fodor’s books.
(Châteauneuf-du-pape, France 2019)
Viator is awesome to book excursions and day tours through: If you are looking for a tour while on vacay this is the place to look for options. Every day tour we have ever booked through this site (with the exception of one in the Bahamas) has been high quality and did not disappoint.
http://www.viator.com (the app is great too!)
I think that covers it. Do you have any go to planning tips for travelers at home or abroad that I may have missed, Share them in the comments below!