Travel Planning Tips

July 10, 2019
last modified: July 10, 2019

Do you have any? If so, please share them here! As many of us enjoy traveling (and summer months often have people "on the go"), I thought surely there's at least some level of expertise here that could benefit us all. Also, what type of planner are you? Long-range and highly-detailed, or do you prefer spontaneous trips and making decisions on the fly?

I like to think I'm pretty adept at planning. It's been part of what I do professionally for many years, but when it comes time for me to pay out of my own pocket, sometimes I'm a little less certain of my options and best bets. Occasionally I travel on air miles, but most often purchase flights directly from the airlines. I am never sure if there's a better/best place to find flight routes (especially when "creative" connections are involved), or best pricing. There doesn't ever seem to be much rhyme or reason to any of it. What are your experiences?

I have heard that it's best to book directly with a hotel vs. using third-party sites, as in case of any issue arising, you must deal with the third-party site directly, not the hotel. I can see how this could become frustrating. Again, any experiences or advice in this regard?

I am a long-range planner, and have our vacations booked through summer 2020. Sounds so far in the future, but it'll be here before we know it, and when I find something (particularly accommodations, such as properties through VRBO or Airbnb), I tend to book very early and request a discount from the owner -- something that's never failed to deliver.

Would love to hear what works for you.

Comments (12)

  • cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)

    I plan the big stuff-flight, hotels, gites, rental car ahead. I also book directly. The rest of the day-to-day stuff is an adventure.

    IdaClaire thanked cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)
  • terezosa / terriks

    Don't plan too much, but be aware of your options in case things change.

    IdaClaire thanked terezosa / terriks
  • cawaps

    I try not to overplan day-to-day activities. I do check schedules so that I don't miss out on something because it's closed on Tuesdays or something. For example, I want to know if market days in Arles are on Saturdays and Wednesdays. I will also check if there are places I want to go where it is wise to get tickets in advance (like, say, the Eiffel Tower), and those things will get scheduled more rigidly. Other than that, I'll make decisions according to my mood on a particular day. I do enough research in advance to know generally what my options are, but am open to doing things I find out about in my travels.

    I often travel with my sister, and she has to fight the urge to overplan. I spend less time planning on trips with her, just because she's so on top of things.

    IdaClaire thanked cawaps
  • Sara

    I use ITA Matrix to find out fare options for flights and then book directly with airline-you can’t book directly with them.

    I prefer vrbo-Airbnb for international travel and have never had an issue with it-traveling with kids, it’s so much easier to have extra beds and a kitchen-especially in Europe where hotel rooms are often tiny and expensive. I also love being more in a community/residence than in a tourist area.

    I have absolutely no problem booking a hotel through hotels.com or other sites that offer perks-I’ll go with whoever has the best deal. Never had an issue and I seem to book a lot of nights in hotels, between work and vacation and now kid soccer tournaments :/.

    I pride myself on being the person people go to to find the best food wherever we are. Small town Oregon? Southern California? Mexico? Bath? That is my super power-researching restaurants extensively and finding the best local places. I never want to eat at a restaurant that is available to me back home when I travel. Food items are my favorite souvenirs (and Christmas ornaments)-who needs more stuff :)?

    IdaClaire thanked Sara
  • hooked123

    I am a planner. I plan every detail. I don’t want to miss any of my must see sights when overseas as travel is so expensive. I keep a detailed binder with tabs for each day with directions/ passes. We do use our GPS, but I still print directions. I keep all receipts and a travel diary. When I get home I immediately start on my scrapbook and I keep the diary pages in the scrapbook so that when I am old or gone my children can look back over our trip and remember the trip through my lens as well as theirs.

    I usually pick something unexpected to study six months before I go on a trip. In Israel I studied Bauhaus architecture. In Turkey I read Orhan Pamuk’s books - his descriptions of the wild Bosphorus were wonderful. In Italy I read books on Bernini. This is something I enjoy doing as when I am there I feel connected through what I have studied. I also like staying In AirBNB’s as I feel more integrated with the locals.

    I always search for inexpensive airfares and use points as often as I have them. We usually fly out of NYC as it’s half the cost of flying from our city and we always enjoy a day in NYC before and after the trip.

    I packed gorgeous dresses for Italy, Israel, Turkey and Greece last year. I have GREAT pictures but it was a serious pain. I don’t know if I will ever do that again.

    In Scandinavia we lost our luggage so in every picture I have on the same jeans, T-shirt’s and jacket. That was actually a nice reprieve.

    I think travel is different for everyone. Some people hate planning while other’s like myself completely love the process. Even though I plan so thoroughly I have found surprises in every city. I really enjoy having private guides as I love history. I love all the things they show me that are unexpected. I have some ideas for where I want to go in the summer of 2020 but I haven’t completely nailed it down as I watch airfare rates and adjust accordingly. Rates are cheap to London now on Delta. I use Scott’s Cheap Flights.

    IdaClaire thanked hooked123
  • maire_cate

    If you're flying and not familiar with the airport download or print a map of where the airlines are located.

    I just returned from Paris on Sunday and found Charles De Gaulle airport woefully inadequate with signage directing you to the various airline counters. We arrived at 6:30 am for a 10:30 flight home only to discover that our American Airlines flight had been canceled. The agents at the counter handed us a phone number and told us that we had to call AA to re-book.

    It took 2 hours to book another flight and we had to run through the airport with our suitcases to get to Delta in time to board.

    Here's my second tip - don't fly American if you can avoid it. We had checked in and printed our boarding passes before we left our hotel only 2 hours earlier and had no clue our flight had been canceled. Even better, our plane had never left Philly the night before so AA was aware that we didn't have a return plane and never alerted us.

    There was an informative article in the Philadelphia Inquirer the day after our return that stated American's software is inadequate and out of date. If a flight is canceled they are unable to automatically re-book the way other airlines can. They have to manually update their system.


    IdaClaire thanked maire_cate
  • 3katz4me

    I don't plan every detail. I plan where I'm going to stay and air and ground transportation. I read up on things I'd like to see ahead of time but prefer to kind of wing it and explore. I'm not as much a fan of all the must see tourist sites as I am immersing myself in the local geography and culture. I also don't care for a jam packed schedule of tourist attractions.

    IdaClaire thanked 3katz4me
  • IdaClaire

    Thanks for the input and ideas! Obviously there are different travel styles here, but it's encouraging that we all seem to just make things work in our own way. I like to research things to do and see, restaurants, etc. before a trip, and I'm a list maker, so of course I bring the lists along. When DH and I go road-tripping and plan to do a lot of hiking, I want GPS and maps at our disposal, and I'll often put together a notebook of online info I've printed out. We like to decide each evening what we'll get up and do the next day, but still remain a bit flexible and like to veer off and do/see things that we encounter along that way that might NOT be on the itinerary. I enjoy a balance of planning and spontaneity, I guess you could say.

    Sara, I had forgotten all about ITA Matrix, but when you mentioned it, I remembered I had it bookmarked. I have a family member who uses it fairly regularly, and while I've not done so myself, I may give it a go at some point. Looks like some very interesting deals to be had through that site.

    I do tend to overthink things at times, though. I need to book a hotel at Heathrow, and instead of just going ahead with the one I'm pretty sure we want (Sofitel), I've been exploring every other decent option available, including hotels in Windsor, Eton, and further afield. Gah. We just need a place to stay at the airport, so I'm not sure why I run myself ragged like this searching every bloomin' thing.

  • mtnrdredux_gw

    We have used Sofitel Heathrow a number of times, incl just a few weeks ago en route to Greece. Uber convenient, nice lounge, and very nice for an airport hotel. Sofitel always has great beds/bedding.

    A few years ago en route to India via LHR we stated at a cute Inn with views of Windsor castle. I think it was only 20 min or so from LHR. But unless you want to go to Windsor Castle, why? This last time I left a day free so we could see Hampton Court, which is more like 30 min away?

    ETA it was the MacDonald Windsor; they have a suite w a long balcony that looks over WC.

  • IdaClaire

    Thanks, mtn! Appreciate your input on the Sofitel (I know you have good taste and wouldn't steer me wrong). I've also considered Windsor, but we've stayed there a number of times and made a few visits to WC, so this time I'm inclined to just do the Sofitel since it's so convenient. This will be for the trip with my mom, and I figure we can always have afternoon tea at the hotel's tea salon when we arrive to give us something to do.

  • bbstx

    I have always been the travel planner for our trips, most of which include DH’s family so there are often 8 of us.

    Lately, for flights, I start with Google Flights. Like the ITA Matrix, you can only check connections and prices. You have to go to the actual airline site to book.

    I am ambivalent about the hotel booking sites. On our upcoming trip in October, I’ve booked hotels directly with the hotel company and I’ve got one booked through hotels.com because it was significantly less expensive.

    I follow The Points Guy website and the TPG Lounge on FB to get tips on maximizing airline points and hotel rewards.

    I do a lot of searching on Trip Advisor (HATE the app!) for comments on interesting things to do and see. Took the group into a biker bar on the Turquoise Trail once. They were apprehensive but the burgers were great!

  • bbstx

    I have a good friend who flies to Europe about once a month. He *always* spends the night at Heathrow to get adjusted before he travels on. Here are his comments in response to my question about where to stay at Heathrow:

    Usually the Hilton at Terminal 4. It’s got 3 restaurants (Italian, Chinese, and General) and a good bar. It’s been undergoing renovation, so most of it is very up-to-date. One can walk from the hotel through a covered walkway to the elevators down to the T4 trains, which connect to other terminals and also to service to Paddington Station via the Heathrow Express or a local (take the express, it’s worth the extra £!)

    If going to Terminal 3 (American, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, and many British Airways flights,) from the Hilton, allow 30-45 minutes by taxi to reach the terminal. (Yes!)

    I hear the Sofitel that is attached to Terminal 5 is very nice, although I’m rarely in Terminal 5.

    The Renaissance Hotel is getting long in the tooth and needs a redo.

    I’ve stayed in the so-called Hilton Terminal 5. It is nice, but isolated.

    Hope this helps. He also gave me the name of a car service he uses if you choose not to go by train.

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