With over 100 flights in the past two years, I have become a master of planning my own trips and booking them online. Many people would opt to pay a travel agent to plan all their trips and vacations, but there are several reasons why it might be better to plan and book them themselves.
Most big agencies won't customize the trips for you especially when they have group offers, and this for me is the number one reason why I plan everything myself. I customize everything to my liking in the interest of not wasting time on things that I have no interest in seeing or doing. Additionally, I like to book the flights that best suit my time and the hotels that fit my budget and my preferred locations within a city without the added fees and commission of the agent.
Another reason is that it gets you more involved; you would learn about the destination that you are going to beforehand so you know what to expect. You can read reviews and avoid tourist traps that agents usually get commissions to take you to.
Another important reason is that it is usually much cheaper to plan it yourself. You can see all the prices of the hotels, flights and activities that you want to do and with a little bit of research and comparison sites, you're guaranteed to get the lowest price available.
Below you will find some resources to help you plan a trip yourself with SIX simple steps.
STEP 1: Making a decision
- Minube is a website that helps you determine your interests.
- Trippy helps you ask travel enthusiasts questions about the destinations that you are interested in.
- Set your dates but try to be flexible if you want to find cheaper prices or better experiences.
- Research unique vacations; do not settle for the cliche trip vacations such as Paris, Rome or London.
- Set your budget and try to divide it up into your different travel components: flights, transportation, accommodation, activities, dining and shopping.
- Looking for Visa free countries? There’s a Wikipedia list for that! Here's the constantly-updated list for Lebanese citizens.
STEP 2: Flight Booking
Here's a list of the best websites to book cheap tickets from:
- www.momondo.com (my absolute favorite site and app for comparising flight and hotel prices)
- www.cheapoair.com (it is the website that usually has the lowest flight prices)
When using these websites filter by:
- Least number of stops
- Shortest duration
- Lowest price
- Good airlines
Flight booking tips:
- Always search in incognito mode when you are looking flights because some sites increase the price when they notice that you have come back to book a flight after you saw a lower price (using cookies)
- Try to stick to one airline alliance for all your trips and claim your traveled miles with one of their airlines. The three major airline alliances are SkyTeam (I have an account on MEA), One World (I have an account on Qatar Airways) and Star Alliance (Lufthansa for me).
- Sometimes it's worth it to mix and match especially from the same alliance. Most airlines now sell one-way flights at reasonable prices, meaning one might be cheaper for the outbound flight while the other works better for the return.
- You could even fly to one airport and depart from another.
- On international flights, book window seats so you can rest your head on the bulkhead.
- Book seats close to the front so you can beat everyone to the passport control line. Also, you will get your food first.
- Leave on a Wednesday: It's the cheapest day to do it, says FareCompare.com. Per the website: "The day with the most seats is likely to have better supply, and thus ... more empty seats that require discounting to fill the plane—meaning they'll have to release more seats at their cheapest price point."
- Book Six Weeks in Advance: A revealing study from Airlines Reporting Corporation found that the best time to purchase your airfare is about six weeks prior to travel. The reason: Around this time, prices drop below the average fare.
- www.hotels.com (My favorite because it has the best rewards program. For every 10 nights you book on it, you will get 1 free hotel night with the average cost of the 10 nights you booked. Also, it has a lowest price guarantee, meaning that if you find a cheaper price of the same hotel room on any other website, they will match it for you)
www.trivago.com(It never has the cheapest room rates and its ads are super annoying so I'm crossing it off from my list)
When using these websites filter by:
- Distance to city center
- Cancellation option
- Price before and after cancellation
- Stars (1 – 5)
- Rating (1 – 10)
- Whether a bus station or any other form of transportation is next to the hotel
- Book a room with a free cancellation option (even if the price was higher than booking it without this option). Later on, this booking can be cancelled when the whole trip is 100% confirmed and another room without the cancellation option is booked instead in order to benefit from the lower price.
- Book several “free cancellation” hotels and decide which hotel you want a few days before your trip to better accommodate your itinerary.
- Book business hotels on weekends and during summer, prices are usually cheap because demand is low.
- Ask for a corner room because it is usually bigger and quieter than regular rooms.
- Sign up for a hotel’s loyalty program and try to book hotels with their chain if you can to get rewards.
- You can usually find coupon codes for hotels on Coupons.com and DealIsPlus.com
Other accommodation options:
- Airbnb: Find local short-term accommodations. Travelers can choose a wide range of shared rooms, private rooms and entire apartments or houses.
- You can get $20 off your first Airbnb booking by using my link when you sign up.
- Tripping is platform that connects travelers with locals who are renting out their homes around the world. There are over 750,000 rental spaces ranging from luxurious penthouses to rustic beachside stays.
- Hotel Tonight: For last-minute lodging deals, a free mobile app available on iOS andAndroid devices for when you are stuck without a place to sleep.
- Hostels.com allows you to book a bed in a shared room at hostels in 180 countries.
- Couchsurf for free with people who share their homes, cities and lives in profound and meaningful ways, making travel anywhere in the world a truly social experience.
STEP 4: Arranging Transportation
These are the transportation pathways that you need to consider for your trip:
- Inter-city transportation:
- Airport – Hotel transportation
- Hotel – Hotel transportation (when visiting more than one City in the same Country)
- In-City transportation:
- Hotel – Restaurants
- Hotel – Beach
- Hotel – Night Spots
- Hotel – Attractions (Museums, Historical areas, Monuments, etc..)
Types of transportation forms to consider:
- Uber: Using Uber application on mobile or using their website. Other similar services include Lyft, Sidecar and Careem. Uber is by far my favorite method of transportation in my hometown and when I travel because it is much cheaper and safer than any other car-based transportation service.
- Use my code rpjpr or click on this link when you sign up to get your first free ride for free!
- Taxi: Ordering a taxi could be done from the Hotel or online depending on the destination.
- Public bus: Google search the public bus schedule and routes based on the destination.
- Metro/Train/Subway: Google search the train stations schedule and routes based on the destination. Most cities have their own metro/train apps.
- Rent a car: Google search rental companies based on the destination.
- Internal flights: Big countries such as US, Canada and India have many airports and many times internal flights are cheaper than land transport.
STEP 5: Getting familiar with your destination geographically
Getting familiar with the area geographically helps a lot in having a sense of direction when you reach your destination. This will definitely save a lot of time! The best way to do that is by using: GOOGLE MAPS!
Use Google maps for the following purposes:
- To find the location of the city center area with respect to the Hotel
- To find bus and metro stations. Google maps will also tell you which buses/trains you should take to reach a certain destination and how much they cost. This will be extremely helpful for countries where the majority don't speak English (such as Japan and Turkey).
- To determine the distance from the hotel to your targets (attractions, restaurants, shopping centers, pubs and night clubs)
- Star all the locations that you want visit. This will help you cluster nearby attractions together in the same day.
STEP 6: Finding attractions, restaurants and wild night spots
- What are the major attractions?
- What would a tourist most likely won't want to miss?
- Where is it crowded the most in down-town?
The internet is the second reliable source to find places to go to as you can always find people’s feedback and reviews… First, always search for a schedule of events and festivals that are occurring during the days of your stay at the chosen destination.
Also, visit the local tourism office (usually in the airport or at main train stations). They know about everything going on in town. They can point you to free activities, special events happening during your stay, and everything in between. They would usually give you discounts or coupons as well.
Additionally, find out what Google lists as top 10 attractions, restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs at the targeted destination and make a list of each.
These websites can be used for brainstorming and planning:
Look for deals:
- Sites like Groupon, LivingSocial & Yipit provide you with great discounts on many touristic attractions and tours.
- Some cities offer city passes or cards where you can do all the major attractions in that city for a very discounted rates. I used the Go City Card in New York City and Los Angeles and the Montreal Passport in Montreal. So make sure to check if these exist in the city you are visiting.
You can also use social media (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc…) to check out the lists made by searching online through:
- Watching videos of prior year festivals that are interesting to attend at your time of visit.
- Watching videos of parties in the chosen night spots.
- Reading people’s comments and reviews of chosen restaurants and attractions.
- Checking out blogs, YouTube, TripAdviser and Forsquare.
- Don’t exchange money at the airport or hotels, ever! They usually have a much higher exchange rate and/or commission.
- To manage who paid what when you’re travelling in a group, download the Tricount app for your phone.
- Always get behind business travelers when in security lines. They move fast. Try to keep up. Never get behind families. They take forever. It’s not their fault; they just have a lot of stuff.
- Research the SIM cards available in each country beforehand. Many times you can order them online directly to your hotel.
- Take pictures of your luggage and clothes. If your bag gets lost, this will help identify it more easily and speed up the process of having your travel insurance reimburse you.
- Take earplugs. Snorers and noise are everywhere and you need your sleep.
- Tell your bank you’re travelling so your card doesn’t get rejected.
Where's your next trip to?
If you want to download these tips into a pdf to keep with you, check it in the presentation in my Slideshare account below.
Disclaimer: None of the above mentioned websites, apps or services are sponsors of this post. They were mentioned because I genuinely use them and recommend them.