Other than staying with friends or family members, Airbnb is our very first go-to when looking for a place to stay while traveling. We've used it in 4 countries and have become very comfortable with the system--it's a great way to book places to stay that are very close to your target destination without having to pay the sometimes exorbitant prices of hotels. We first used it so that I could attend a conference in Indianapolis in 2013 and got a room within walking distance of the fancy conference hotel for $30 a night. We were hooked, and have used it in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Japan, and Malaysia! That up there is our referral link--if you sign up and book a place to stay after clicking through our link, you get a discount, and we do too. I am the worst at referral things--so MANY of our friends and family have booked trips using Airbnb after we first tried it out and have been vocally recommending it for years...but nobody ever uses our referral link. Man, I oughta get some credit for how long I've been advertising them... ;)
This is a recent discovery, a recommendation from a fellow blogger after I announced our plans to travel to the USA. We'll be away for a month, and we need to have a tightly-packed schedule in order to get everything done that we'd like to do. Travefy, as used for individuals, is a cool way to record all of your itinerary plans in one place so that you can have all of your activities nicely organized by date. I've found it very intuitive to use, and when you're done putting in your flight and hotel info and all the info on the activities you want to do and the places you want to eat, before your trip, you can print out a nicely formatted PDF with everything in one place and in the proper order. It sure beats my old method, which involved collecting all the needed information for our trip and our schedule into one loooong draft email and then printing the email. Again, I've been recommending this site in real life as well, and now some of my family members are using it to plan their upcoming trips.
3. Google Maps
Well obviously. But I might have a slightly unusual way of using it. Because so often we've been traveling in locations where we don't have full internet access (such as China), or it's too risky to be bringing expensive electronics with us everywhere, I will often map out the places we plan to go in a day on Google maps and record all important info ahead of time and print out information about metro stops or trains, addresses, and street names before we even leave on our trip. I use the technology ahead of time so that we aren't reliant on it while traveling. This strategy has come in very handy multiple times--such as when we were in Japan. We expected to have Wifi access where we were staying, it was part of the booking, but there was some malfunction with the Wifi service and we weren't able to get any internet at the place where we slept for the first three nights of the trip. If I had been relying on being able to look up the train information I needed each day along the way, I would have been much more confused about where to go and what to do. But I had good old-fashioned papers with all of the directions from Google maps on how to get anywhere we wanted to go, and I had no need to access the internet during our stay.
The best advice I have for booking low cost flights is to to combine the strength of multiple search engines and tools in order to find the best deal for you. We can't and don't take advantage of many of the "flight hacks" techniques, because with our lifestyle, we can't take off at any time of year or without advance notice. Our travel is usually limited to specific times of year for a purpose, so last minute deals might not work. Also, where we live, we can't use our credit cards often, so there's no such thing as racking up credit card points, either. Low-cost carriers that have cheap flights but no baggage included are often a good option for us because we don't like to bring a lot of packed luggage when we travel We shared one carry-on and two normal/small backpacks for our 8-day trip to Japan, and we flew on AirAsia, which is often a good budget option for this part of the world. The multi-city itinerary tool on Kayak worked very good for us in order to get our 'layover vacation' in CA while en route to Texas. Mostly, my best advice is to not just look in one place, but to check out several different flight search tools, and find which one offers the best balance of location, price, layover, and extra features (luggage, on-flight entertainment, etc.) for your trip.
5. Travel Blogs
I'll be honest--when planning travel, I don't find the websites of city tourism bureaus to be all that helpful. Even Tripadvisor and physical books of things to do in certain areas aren't the most helpful for me. Whenever I'm researching a new destination, I search specifically for blogs written by real live humans about what they actually did in the area. I find the info to be much more practical and relatable--since I can usually get to know the sort of personality of the blogger behind the blog, I can know whether or not I would like the same things someone else likes. There have even been a few occasions where a travel blogger wrote about a certain experience being "boring," or being dissatisfied with their experience, but, based on what they wrote about the experience, I decided to go and visit, because I knew that with my personality and interests, I would likely find the experience very interesting, even though they didn't enjoy it. To me, that's a fascinating side of blogging--that someone might purposely decide to go and do something that you recommend NOT doing, because they know that they would probably enjoy it even if you didn't.
And on that note, I'd thought I'd let you all know that I've put in some major improvements over on my ABOUT THE WRITER page--including awesome links to many of the destinations I've written about in various countries and states of the USA. If you're planning a trip to a country or a state we've visited, I hope my posts might be a helpful resource! Please check out the new and improved page either from my link right above or else from the static link that's always below my profile photo on the sidebar. Even if you're not planning travel, check out the page. This non-techie is so impressed with herself for getting photo links to line up in neat horizontal rows. AND they even change to a different image when you roll your mouse over them. That's so cool. I need some applause from fellow non-techies and some eye-rolls from website designers. :)
What are your favorite tools to use when planning efficient, fun, and cost-effective travel? I've always got my ears open for more recommendations!