In one of my earlier posts on this blog, I wrote about clarity and how important it was to making good financial decisions. The clearer you are on your goals, the easier it is to make good decisions with your money. This idea is what has allowed my wife and I to spend significant time and resources every year since our wedding pursuing our passion, which is travel. Below are 10 sites that I use to help us make good decisions and save money while planning our trips and later while on the road.
Finding a great deal (Farecompare, Kayak, Farecaster @ bing.com/travel)
Often, just finding a good deal is enough to get us out on the road. I once found a round-trip fare from New Orleans to Moscow for $424. Sadly we could not get our visas together in the short notice required, but it’s just an example of the deals that are out there. The silver lining in the weak economy is that there have never been greater bargains for travel. My three favorite tools are listed below.
1. Farecompare.com – My favorite feature by far of farecompare.com is the getaway map. With a quick click, I can see what the best deals are from my home airport to domestic locations, or international locations by continent. It’s a wonderful tool for getting a quick lay of the land.
2. Kayak.com – While farecompare.com gives me the best flight information, I find that Kayak has the most user-friendly interface for finding deals on everything else. Cars to hotels, it’s simple and fast to search rates and get information.
3. Bing.com/travel – This site used to be farecaster.com, but it now integrates a flight search engine along with a prediction on whether fares will go up or down. Often it’s worth a quick search if a fare looks high to you, to check it out on farecaster and get its take on the rate. It’s not foolproof but it has been helpful a time or two and that has saved us money.
Learning from others (BootsNAll, TripAdvisor, FlyerTalk)
Once we have decided on a destination, we then invest some time in research. My three favorite research sites are listed here in no particular order, although each serves a unique purpose in my planning. These tools allow me to get information from those who live in, or have recently visited, destinations that we are considering. It takes some time but we’ve come upon special hidden places on our trips based on tips from these sites. You can pick up tips about which bargain lodging options are worth staying at, using public transit effectively, and what restaurants offer the best bang for your buck.
4. BootsNAll.com – This is a wealth of information for the independent traveler. The site features unique articles about locales and has a wealth of information on travelling inexpensively. If you’re looking into long-term travel they’re the source for planning tools and it hosts a very active community who is willing to answer your questions. They also seem to have the most comprehensive resource on Round The World (or RTW) trip planning.
5. TripAdvisor.com – I use TripAdvisor.com to find the top-rated tourist destinations along our path, along with traveler reviews and tips about them. Their seasonal travel guides offer bite sized information (with addresses and phone numbers included which can be a real lifesaver) and the forums offer a diverse range of opinions about restaurants, hotels, etc. My golden rule of forum participation – for every question I ask, I answer two about my home city or places we have been. It helps keep people involved and encourages others to add their opinions to the mix.
6. Flyertalk.com – The participants on flyertalk.com are some of the most road-hardened business travelers I have run across. If you are a member of a frequent flyer program or hotel loyalty program and have questions about using points or miles, this is a wealth of information. Search the forums and quickly you can get answers to tricky questions. You can also browse the forums for innovative ideas on status-earning strategies.
Staying Organized (TripIt, Award Wallet)
Now that you’ve got all of this information, you’ve got to have one source to keep it all organized. Below are two of the best I’ve found.
7. Tripit.com – Sign up for a free account at Tripit.com, and you then get the ability to forward your travel confirmations from hotels, airlines, rental cars, etc. to Tripit.com. It automatically pulls your reservation information from these emails and creates an itinerary for you. You can customize this itinerary with maps and directions, and share it with other travelling companions or family members. It’s a wonderful free tool. You can also manually add in other information about show tickets, dinner reservations, or the address of the church for the family wedding and have it all saved in one spot.
8. AwardWallet.com – If you’re like us, finding the best fare is more important than flying one specific airline so we have airline miles scattered through several programs. AwardWallet.com allows you to create an account to track multiple programs in one place simply by entering your username and password. For an inexpensive six month subscription, you can also track your spouses’ airline miles so that you don’t end up having miles expire without having had the opportunity to use them.
Investing time in research (New York Times Travel, Local Library Web site)
One of my favorite quotes about travel is “To have an A+ trip, you need to do A+ research.” – Rick Steves. Above, I mentioned three travel forums, but there’s still a place in my heart for traditional travel media. My two favorites are listed below.
9. travel.NYTimes.com – The New York Times’ travel articles are wonderful to read in print and the Web site does a great job of making stories relating to one location easy to find. Their 36-hour stories are a personal favorite, and often have tips for locations that might escape a traditional guidebook.
10. Your local library’s Web site – I love browsing traditional guidebooks before our trips, but I hate paying for them and carrying them around. Fortunately, our local library has lots of recent guidebooks for free. Typically we will check them out when doing our trip research and capture our notes, and then simply carry our notes on the trip, instead of the bulky guidebook. Even when we have wanted to carry a guidebook, we can usually just check it out in time for our trip and return it after we get back.
I hope the above sites help you planning your next big adventure, and please let me know about some of your favorites in the comments.
Jude Boudreaux, CFP®
Director of Financial Planning
Bellingrath Wealth Management
New Orleans, LA