How to Plan the Perfect Trip: The Ultimate Websites

So, you want to go on vacation…

You’ve decided that you want to go on vacation. Have you decided on a destination? Have you done research about that destination? Tourist attractions? Hotels? Fun, unique things to do in that area? Local Restaurants? Safety and neighborhoods? Before you take a trip, especially with children, make sure that you know many of the ins and outs of the area. You don’t want to finally take a vacation only to be ripped off, have your rental car stolen, and your child whining the entire time that they’re bored. Through my experience, the websites below have gotten me through many successful vacations at lower prices in safe, fun destinations.

Why Use Kayak?

One of the most important tips to remember when planning a trip is to book ahead of time. This saves money, time, headaches, and gives you many more options than throwing everything together at the last minute. The best times to book a flight are the middle of the week or weekends. There is a new study that suggests booking on Saturday and Sunday has up to a 5% discount but also that airfare is about the same on every day. Another important tip is to book your trip about 3-6 months out. This gives you the best flight times and prices allowing flexibility in your trip planning.

My love of booking trips and finding the best rates lead me to Kayak. Kayak does exactly what it advertises: Search one and done. You can book your flights, hotel, rental car, or complete vacation all on Kayak. They even have a deals section for discounted rates! During my last trip, I used Kayak to book everything and all of the rates were cheaper than other sites. It was also great to have everything at one website to allow me to compare companies, rates, hotels, and a lot more.

Extra wonderful aspects of Kayak are it’s connection to tripadvisor and other websites. You can pick a hotel based on price on the front page of kayak, then click on the hotel to get tripadvisor reviews to make sure the price doesn’t reflect something fishy like a bad neighborhood. Kayak will even redirect you to trip advisor and other websites for pricing or booking options. To me, Kayak is the ultimate trip-booker’s hub. You can do everything on their website or you can check their prices against other websites via Kayak or you can check reviews or you can get a great vacation package. My first stop when I book a trip is always Kayak to get an initial feel for cost, hotel reviews/amenities, and packages.

Why Use TripAdvisor?

Tripadvisor is an accurate, real-person review website that allows people to vent their real feelings about flights, hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants, and more. I enjoy the hotel section the most. I want to see real pictures from real travelers. I want to know if the sheets are dirty or if the room is old and beat up or if the hotel restaurant has hairs in the food. I don’t want to look at a website that’s promoting hotels by people who work for the hotels. The pictures, amenity lists, reviews, and ratings on trip advisor help anyone, even if you’re new to travel planning, make an easy decision about what to book and the quality of what they’re booking.

Tripadvisor also sections within their reviews like business, family, luxury, and others that help you snag the perfect hotel. If you’re a tired business traveler looking for a quiet hotel with good amenities like on-site dry cleaning, you can look up the amenities and reviews on tripadvisor. If you’re a family of 5 looking for a great resort with 5 pools, a water slide, and a championship golf course, tripadvisor will steer you towards your dream vacation.

Many of the reviews are segregated into who was going there and for what purpose. For example, 50 business travelers averaged 3 stars for a certain hotel while 200 families averaged 5 stars. That would clue you in that this hotel is more family-friendly. Additionally, many of the hotels make it their mission to address most, if not all, of their reviews on tripadvisor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve browsed through tripadvisor to find that the hotel manager has apologized for failed customer service or thanked a customer for a glowing review. Honesty is the golden policy on this website. When I’m looking for a great hotel and I want to see true reviews, accurate photos, and a list of amenities, I check tripadvisor every time.

Why Use Orbitz?

I have yet to find a website with a better list of hotel amenities than Orbitz. It’s hard to find a hotel that has everything you want by just glazing over it in a list and focusing only on price. Orbitz gives you detailed descriptions of the hotel along with lengthy lists of amenities. If you want to stay at a historic hotel, read the description on Orbitz. If you want to make sure that your hotel has a child camp or spa, check the list of amenities. They won’t disappoint. Of course you can book your trip on Orbitz as well, I still prefer to book on Kayak, but I like to use Orbitz as a superb accessory in my trip planning tool belt.

Orbitz also has a review section, not to the quality or quantity of tripadvisor, but still helpful. They offer the same categories as Kayak but I find a more expansive choice selection on Kayak and better and more accurate pricing. Orbitz is an excellent resource to utilize to find out what the hotel is known for and what they offer. Especially if you’re traveling somewhere for a specific purpose like a family reunion where you’d like to hang out at the hotel bar or a girls weekend where you want to hang out at the spa. You want to know that the hotel has an excellent bar with exceptional staff or that their spa was ranked as the worst 100 in America. Always make sure to check amenities on Orbitz to confirm your stay will be as pleasant as you dreamed.

Why Use Trulia?

Trulia is a great resource for looking at real estate, but it can also be used for planning trips. I typically use Trulia to check out the area that my hotel is in or the safety of the city I’m visiting. I can look at what the cost of the houses are in the area, where the high crime areas are, and what the specific crimes were in the area. You can put in an address or a zip code or a city name and see a color coded map of where it’s the safest to stay and visit. I like to know that where I’m sleeping at night is safe and my rental car won’t be stolen. You can see a long list, or short depending on what color coded area you’re looking at it, of all the crimes committed in the area with dates, type of crime, and description. I think it’s a comforting thought as you’re falling towards your pillow to know that you don’t have to be worried someone will vandalize your rental car or crawl through your window.

Why Use Yelp?

You’ve finally made it out of gate, retrieved, hopefully, your luggage, and jammed it all into the rental car; but where to eat? You’re starving, in an area you’re not familiar with, and craving a chargrilled burger. Don’t want chain restaurant food; you want to eat what the locals rave about. My favorite resource when I’m looking for memorable local eats is Yelp. Yelp has reviews, ratings, costs, maps, pictures, links to the restaurant menus and websites, and a lot more. You can see photos from actual people and recommendations from travelers and locals. When I use Yelp, I have never eaten somewhere terrible; even though, I’m on a budget. Let’s say you drove twelve hours to Seattle and your car broke down. Yelp can help you find an excellent mechanic. Or you’re going to a wedding but forgot to get your haircut. Yelp can provide the perfect barber or stylist in the area at your price point. Whether you’re looking for a juicy steak, a local ice creamery, or award-winning downtown brewery, Yelp will have you covered on all the bases.

You Did It!

You’ve planned, and had, the perfect trip! You saved money by booking ahead of time, scanned all your choices and found the best flights, hotel, and rental car rates, ate where the locals raved about, and slept every night safely. Hooray! Sometimes things can go wrong and slip-ups can happen, but by utilizing these websites, you can be sure you got the best deals, the best hotel, and the best grub in the best area.