After months of concrete skies, it’s hard to believe that behind the fortress of gray there’s a hot, blazing sun shining brightly. In the meantime, we’ll take a deep breath and dream of sandier pastures. Spring is right around the corner and summer is just a solstice away so it’s the perfect time for summer vacation planning. Not only does planning ahead give you something to look forward to, it’s also travel-savvy—early birds usually snatch up the best bargains. And when you know the right sites, booking online a breeze.
Just a Few Clicks Away
With so many websites at our fingertips, it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters, a user-friendly site that’s a no-brainer to navigate is key. And, of course, we all want the best bang for our buck. Often, bundling your planning particulars into a budgeted package is the most cost and time-effective. So there’s no need to click from tab to tab to book each individually—which for some of us could go awry. Been there done, that. So if that’s not your thing either, these recommendations will save you precious time and money.
The one we all know and love is Expedia. This oldie-but-goodie is still going strong despite the dizzying number of newbie websites out there. Expedia is a sure bet if you’re looking for a convenient, affordable package deal on a site that’s easy to navigate. Check, check, and done. But some of the newer, lesser-known sites like Kayak and Airbnb have some pretty cool travel tricks up their sleeves that set them apart from the predictable pack.
Kayak shows the least expensive days to fly to your chosen destination within the desired month. So if you’re flexible, you can score a really great deal. And true to its motto, “search one and done,” Kayak lets you one-stop shop for your entire trip due to its powerful search tools and incomparable flexibility. Are we onboard yet?
Trivago is similar to Kayak in that it searches for the best deals, but you get transferred to the original site to make your purchase. A newer player in this arena, Trivago is as well known for the model in its ads as for its services.
Rent a Home Away from Home
Another cool kid on the travel block is Airbnb. This innovative site allows owners worldwide to rent their incredible spaces to budget-minded travelers seeking a novel experience beyond the standard hotel. Do you want to kick back in a tipi or a tree house? Chill out in a cave or a castle or—we have to mention it—the token, non-edible, fairytale gingerbread house? Of course, there are also traditional options like apartments, cottages, single bedrooms, and beach homes. Beautiful photos accompany each property and room description, complete with amenities, price, and host language. Airbnb offers quite the quirky selection of affordable properties so you can have a unique experience every time.
Once you reach your destination, having a navigation app on your smartphone is, well, a smart idea. The most popular is Google Maps, which has over 220 countries mapped on their app. So unless you’re traveling to Djibouti, you’re probably good to go. Waze is a crowd-sourced traffic app that is owned by Google. Drivers report problems like traffic accidents, bad weather, road conditions and even nearby police presence and the app notifies you in real time. Waze will also reroute you around problems (or try to) and is responsive to creating new routes if you leave the determined path. Like Google Maps, Waze is free. Yes, something for your trip is free.
Yelp can help you find local restaurants you are interested in trying and provide reviews of them. Take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt — it’s best to ignore the most extreme ones, good or bad. Reviews that rant or rave excessively don’t always provide the real scoop as well as reviews that are less effusive. It generally is reliable on information like hours of operation, links to menus and price range, making it a handy tool to search out places to dine in a new city. Google Reviews is another source of similar info, integrated with an accessed from Google Maps. Both sites also include reviews of attractions and service businesses so you can better know what to expect at the museum or zoo you’re buying tickets for.
One Last Tip for Your Trip
Did you know the cheapest travel days of the week are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday? Most people don’t book trips on these off-days so airlines and hotels are eager to fill their empty spaces. And you’re eager to save money, right? Think about changing your departure dates and enjoy a little extra cash to buy tchotchkes.