Relaxing on a Greek island, spotting the “Big 5” on an African safari, zip-lining through a Central American cloud forest—these are the incredible experiences that make travel such a worthwhile investment…and the ones that make us super crazy jealous when we see other people having them while we’re stuck at home working!
But as awesome as travel is, it isn’t always as glamorous as the pictures of Instagram celebrities wearing floppy hats and flowy dresses might suggest. With so many logistics to figure out (flights, accommodations, visas, vaccinations, etc.), it’s easy to get overwhelmed during the travel-planning process.
Luckily for you, after planning countless trips (and making plenty of mistakes along the way), we have discovered some resources that make booking trips a lot less stressful.
These are the awesome travel-planning tools we use and love.
Finding the Best Flight Deals
The first—and typically most expensive—part of travel is buying a plane ticket. This is where a lot of people get discouraged, because a cursory glance at ticket prices might suggest that going anywhere amazing and exotic—or even not exotic—will drain your bank account. Most people assume coast-to-coast tickets will cost upwards of $500, tickets from North America to Europe will run into the quadruple digits, and flights to Asia or Africa…well, you might as well reserve a place on Elon Musk’s space rocket.
But buying a plane ticket doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive. In fact, with all the trip-planning tools available, it’s more possible than ever to find a great deal on airfare.
In the past few months, we booked round-trip tickets from Atlanta to Paris for $290 (macaroons, please!) and from Atlanta to Kenya for $660 (hello, Masai Mara safari!). We see round-trip tickets from North America to Europe for $400 all the time. The key is knowing where to look.
…if your plans are flexible
The best way to find affordable flights is to keep your plans flexible. Rather than deciding to visit a specific destination at a specific time, keeping an open mind can leave you free to snatch amazing airfare deals when they crop up. For example, we had been planning to visit South America this fall, but when we found plane tickets to Paris for less than $300, we decided it was too good of a deal to pass up. (This was the second time a flight deal to Europe derailed our South America travel plans. Maybe we will finally make it there in 2020!)
So if you’re open-minded about your travel destination and have at least some flexibility on your travel dates, these are some great resources to use:
Jetto is a flight-alert app co-created by Travis Sherry, the “Extra Pack of Peanuts” podcast host. (Also, if you’re looking for some great travel inspiration, check out the podcast! #fangirl). All you have to do is select your home airport (or region), and Jetto will send you alerts as soon as a flight deal originating in that airport pops up.
We used Jetto to book those crazy-cheap flights to Paris in November. We’re so glad the app let us know about the deal before it was too late.
Similar to Jetto, Secret Flying is an app that shows you the best flight deals out of your home airport or region. I recently saw a deal for a round-trip ticket from Atlanta to Guinea for less than $600, so the savings are noteworthy. (Though I’ve found that it’s easy to miss these deal alerts, so be sure to check the app regularly.)
Flight Deal E-Newsletters
Though none of those are city specific (you can’t choose to see only deals from your home airport), they can still be a great way to track flight deal trends. Often, if one airline offers good deals to a destination (say, Europe), many other airlines will follow suit.
Another benefit of these resources is that they’re free, so there’s really no harm in subscribing.
The Points Guy
Though the blog primarily focuses on how to earn and spend credit card points, The Points Guy also puts out alerts about good flight deals (or flash award flight sales, something that’s much harder to find!). The best way to see these deals is to follow The Points Guy on Facebook and subscribe to the email newsletter.
A good tool to use if you have specific dates in mind but are flexible on the destination, www.google.com/flights can show you the cheapest flights on your selected dates to any destination in the world. It’s a fun tool to play around with even if you don’t have any immediate travel plans!
…if your travel plans aren’t flexible.
Of course, sometimes we have less flexibility in our travel plans. When traveling for a specific event (such as a wedding or conference), we are often limited to specific dates or destinations. In those cases, it’s still possible to save a lot of money on airfare.
My favorite flight deal resource is Skyscanner.com. Basically, Skyscanner is a flight aggregator site that pulls plane ticket prices from loads of airline websites and third-party sellers to help you find the best deal to your destination. If you know the exact dates you want to travel, you can set a “price alert” for your route so you can be notified every time the price changes. Even in just a few days, flight prices can fluctuate by hundreds of dollars.
Have more flexibility? Enter “everywhere” in the destination box and “any month” as the date, and you will be able to find some fantastic deals. We have booked flights to Dublin, Amsterdam, and New York using that feature!
Another good resource for finding affordable flights is Priceline.com, a third-party booking site that shows the best prices across numerous airlines for your desired route. And because Priceline.com is essentially an online travel agent, it often offers better deals than are available directly through the airlines’ websites. When we booked our flight to Paris on British Airways, the deals available on Priceline.com were several hundred dollars cheaper than the ones we were able to pull up on the airline’s website.
Though it doesn’t allow for as open-ended of searches as Skyscanner does (ex., travel from ATL to anywhere for the whole month of June), it does allow you to choose +/- 1 day to give you even better chances of finding a great deal.
We have used Priceline.com recently to book flights to Europe and Africa, and we have had a great experience so far.
After your flights are secured (yay!), the next major step in the planning process is choosing accommodations. And while some travelers prefer to keep their schedule flexible and book their accommodations last-minute, others like the security of having everything scheduled ahead of time. We typically fall into the latter category, as I am a super Type-A planner and the thought of leaving for a trip without having some kind of a plan makes me want to breathe into a paper bag.
Whichever category you fall into, here are some resources to help.
…if you prefer flexibility.
Whether you’re traveling last-minute or just like to keep your options open, here are the best tools for helping you choose day-of accommodations.
A great app for last-minute travel, Hotels Tonight takes advantage of hotels’ desire to fill their rooms and gives users a chance to book hotels last minute for a fraction of the usual cost. This app is especially great for luxury stays, as that is where you’ll find the most significant savings.
One Night is another app that can help you score huge last-minute savings on luxury hotel stays in select (primarily US) cities.
…if you’re planning ahead.
When we travel—especially in North America and Europe—our go-to resource for booking accommodations is Airbnb, a website that allows you to rent a room in someone’s house or someone’s entire apartment or house. We love Airbnb rentals because the prices are typically much more affordable than hotels, and they are usually located in residential areas, which is a great way to feel more like a local.
Just be sure to read the reviews carefully and check out the neighborhood in advance—we use Google Earth—to be sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises when you arrive. (You won’t be able to see the exact address until you confirm your booking, but you should be able to get a feel for the neighborhood.)
Since we’ve started traveling with a baby, we have preferred staying in Airbnbs so we have more space. If you are traveling with young children, we have found that most of the hosts are willing to provide a baby bed if we ask for one in advance.
When we want to stay in hotels rather than Airbnbs, especially in places like Asia, we tend to use Booking.com. We like Booking.com because it shows us all the best hotel deals in one place. And once you complete two stays, you can unlock additional discounts on future bookings.
Though it only shows properties in select European cities, Cross-Pollinate is an awesome apartment-rental tool. We used Cross-Pollinate a few years ago to book a beautiful apartment in Venice, Italy, for a great price.
Saving on Travel Bundles
Sam and I usually book our flights and hotels separately, but sometimes booking flights and hotels as a bundle can save you a lot of money.
Here are some good resources for travel packages.
Though I’m often skeptical of vacation bundles, Icelandair offers some well-priced flight and accommodation packages. We were able to get round-trip flights from Boston to Reykjavik plus a four-night hotel stay for only $600 USD. Not going to Iceland? Icelandair has routes to many European destinations. But utilizing Icelandair’s free Iceland stopover is a great way to tag an extra destination onto your trip…because every trip is better with an Iceland stopover.
The one downside to Icelandair is that they don’t service a lot of US cities, so you might have to tag on a positioning flight to take advantage of the deals (we hopped on a cheap Delta flight from Atlanta to Boston).
To get a great price on a bundled vacation—especially to Europe—consider booking with Tripmasters. They offer good deals on packages that include flights, hotels, and even short-haul flights and trains between cities on a multi-destination trip.
I admit, I haven’t actually used Tripmasters yet. But a friend of ours books trips to Europe using Tripmasters frequently, and she says she’s never had a bad experience. I am keen to give it a try!
Choosing a Good Rental Car
Though not always necessary, having a rental car can allow for more flexibility, especially on trips outside of cities. Sam and I have rented cars in California, Maine, Iceland, Ireland, Turks and Caicos, and Scotland—and so far we haven’t had any major catastrophes!
These are the places we look when searching for the best deals on car rentals.
Though we use Priceline.com primarily to find good flight deals, it is also a great place to search for affordable car rentals.
And be sure to double check the rental companies’ partners, because you can often earn airmiles on car rentals!
Getting a Good Deal on Attractions
Of course, once you have your flights, hotel, and car rental taken care of, it’s time to look into fun activities you want to try in your destination. What we’ve found is that even though flights and accommodations are what we usually think of as the “big-ticket” travel items, money spent on activities can quickly add up as well. Luckily, with a bit of advance planning, you may be able to save a bundle.
With activities ranging from spas to theme parks, Groupon is a great place to find deals on travel experiences.
Similar to Groupon, Travel Zoo is another useful resource in finding deals on travel activities. Want to see a show or take a helicopter ride but don’t have the budget for it? Check out Travel Zoo.
Traveling doesn’t have to be super expensive. By utilizing the resources on this list, we have saved thousands of dollars on travel throughout the past four years.
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