In last week’s Designing Travel, I revealed how we plan and customise trips to our unique needs and wants. I broke down our planning styles: Complete DIY, Partial DIY or Expert Level. This week I am zooming in on the trip planning tools we use for DIY style travel planning. Here are the resources we’ve found to be the most reliable travel design assistants.
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This is where we do our flight schedule and airfare research. We’ve tried other tools such as Kayak and Skyscanner, but Google Flights eventually won out. A couple of our favourite features are first, the fare alert system which allows you to set a tracker on flights you are interested in, and Google flights will email you alerts when the price varies. Secondly, it has a search filter for airline alliances that is fantastic if you are trying to earn status or spend points with a particular alliance. However, it is important to note that not all airlines, particularly budget carriers, are indexed by Google Flights, so Skyscanner is worth checking too.
Tripadvisor is where we start our accommodation research. Again once we have narrowed down the options, we almost always make our final booking direct with the accommodation provider. We find searching via the map feature in Tripadvisor to be super handy for minimising our transport needs by booking accommodation close to attractions.
There are some destinations where you need to go old school and carry around a guidebook. Cuba and Myanmar are prime examples of places we’ve been in the last 18 months where a physical book is a must due to poor or non-existent internet and general lack of reliable tourist information. Most travellers agree Lonely Planet is still the best brand of guides out there.
Google Maps and Google MyMaps
Once we’ve established a to-do list for our trips, particularly road trips, I create a Google My Map with the attractions plotted. As we book accommodation or receive recommendations such as a good coffee shop, I add them to the map, colour coding the pins. I can also plot routes to travel between locations, to find out the time and distance we need to travel. You can see below our weekend in Niagara Falls including attractions on the U.S. and Canadian side of the Falls, our accommodation and local wineries. Click on the rectangular icon in the top right corner to open the full map with key in Google My Maps.
AwardWallet is where we track loyalty program points with flight and accommodation providers all in one place. Having an auto-updating, central location for all our points means we’re more likely to make use of them and less likely to let them expire. AwardWallet offers a free membership with basic functionality that fits our needs. If you want to make use of the more advanced features it will cost you USD10 per year. The tool can be used online and/or as an app on your phone.
Multi-attraction passes can provide excellent savings on key sights and activities, and are excellent time savers. Passes such as CityPASS (North American example), enable you to pre-pay entry to a number of attractions for a discounted rate. In many circumstances, this also enables you to stride passed long lines of tourists queuing at the ticket office. Who doesn’t want that?! However, it pays to do your research, compare passes, carefully considering your timeframe and style of travel. I wrote more about this in the post Saving Money with a Multi-Attraction Pass.
I hope this guide helps you design your next travel adventure. If there is a trip planning tool you love, let me know in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel!