Planning your trip? It used to be you went to a travel agent, but now we plan it all online like crazy. Or many of us do. What websites have you used? There are so many, it can be overwhelming. I tried Booking.com for the first time last year, and plan on sticking with it for the main itinerary planning with supplemental trip planning on other sites. Last year I had bookings for stays on too many separate sites, sometimes directly with hotels. This got to be really annoying when trying to travel, having so many online accounts is already annoying, right. This year I am using a few travel sites just to streamline a bit. No one site is perfect, but here are a few.
Advice. No one travel planning site may fill all of your needs. You may want to compare several of the ones out there by having a few browser windows open and plugging in the same dates for flights. Do this on one of the Bank Holidays if you are planning to travel in Europe, just watch the discounts Watch the airlines. For example, I plugged in my dates on 4 different sites as well as directly to airlines leaving from my local airport. I had up to 6 windows open and found varying prices with differences of $200 to $300 in flights often with the same airlines. Also, I have had feedback from friends that US staying sites like Air BNB don’t necessarily work as well in Europe, mainly in communication with people who let out their flat for example. If someone is not running a service flat for a living or as a profession, you are stuck with their schedule and this can mean meet ups for key exchanges can eat into your trip time. Try to find out in advance when you can get into the apartment if you have cases with you. Hotels have a concierge, service flats do not. Also, allow for travel days, seriously. People pack their stays and don’t think about travel between countries or within can eat up a whole day. Look at the map!
Booking.com as Example
This trip I booked most of my stays here. It’s all in one place, has an app I can travel with, and if you shop around, you can find accommodations that allow you to book months in advance with a pay-when-you get there option. You may get a discount if you shop and book well in advance, but pay attention to cancelation policies. Many allow for zero fees but you have to cancel 30 days in advance. Last year I booked after the new year for July and found many prices had risen. Book on or before Bank Holiday (Dec 26th) if you want good pricing for the new travel season.
However, if you are really on a budget and need to keep it cheap, you may have to combine and use many sites. Not all sites have the same deals or hotels participating. And sometimes they do and you may see different price quotes for the same room. This can be infuriating and well, you will have to pick your battles. If you want to keep track of five separate bookings but you got sweet deals, keep the details in a portable document on your cloud drive for while you are traveling. Many smaller service apartment providers list on one or two sites, but not all. If you can’t find what you want, try another site.
Booking.com – Flights, destinations, hotels and many places let you book with cancellation rates.
Trip Advisor – Things to visit and see, tours, and places to stay
Lonely Planet -Booking and travel planning for places all over the world. Not necessarily the best price, but a good selection
AirBNB – Smaller hosted places to stay. More intimate but plan ahead for checkins can be late in the day
Europe and Festivals, Plan Well in Advance!
Plan your Trip well in advance, like 9 months to a year. Why, well as I discovered last year, I booked stays in Scotland after the new year and many places were full up. Why? Because everyone there knows that the festival season is intense and many UK and Ireland cities have massive music and arts festivals that mean the population swells. Take Edinburgh. The Fringe Fest, a massive festival of culture and arts is in August every year. The town can swell to 3 times it’s normal population. Also, August is still traditional travel period for most of Europe so you should do this regardless. This year I just squeaked in and booked in November.
To see if festivals may impact your travel, because they will, you should see the trains, check out some sites:
Travel sites based in Europe may be a good choice if you are taking an extended trip and you will also see plan ticket discounts for small european airlines and ferries. If you book these through a US site, you may not get a good deal on pricing. You need to think like a European if you plan to spend time there, so use the sites they use for travel info and booking of smaller flights.
If you plan on visiting certain cities, just like you do in the US, read their local papers or websites for that city. Research alternative online papers and local living magazines online. You will get an idea of what’s on for the area you are visiting and how it enhances or impacts your stay. Most cities like in the US have festivals and arts functions all year, and this is a great way to experience local culture and communicate with people who really live there. You can also pick up guidebooks before you go and maps, but leave them behind in the hotel room, make notes on your smartphone and go.
Links for European Travel Sites and Airlines
Last Minute – Deals for last minute planners
Skyscanner – Flights