Even though we may not be able to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, that shouldn't stop us from planning and continuing to add destinations to our bucket list so we are prepared when that glorious day comes and we can finally fly again. When I originally started this blog, my goal was to create travel guides and itineraries for the type-a personality in all of us. Now I realize some people like to "vacation" meaning they have a destination in mind and are perfectly content to arrive and spend their time relaxing on a beach. But, if you're anything like me, and like to "take trips" that are packed full of adventure and activities, it does take some research and planning ahead of time to make it happen. I'm sharing a few of my tips and strategies for how I plan trips to maximize our time in a location and get the most out of the experience.
One of my favorite places to get travel inspiration has always been on Instagram. It's what motivated me to start my own blog (follow me on Instagram!) and it's the first place I go when I start planning a trip of my own. There are a few different ways to "research" on this platform. One of the most effective is using the location field. You can either search for a specific place, or if someone has a location tagged in their photo, you can click on that and see other posts that have been tagged in the same spot. This also works well for hashtags but I think that locations is a bit easier to sort through. Be sure to switch between the "top" and "most recent" tabs to see a variety of photos. However, I seem to find the most inspiration in the top section.
Once you find a photo you like or a place you want to remember to visit on your trip, click the flag icon in the bottom right corner of the photo to add it to a collection sorted by destination. You can use these collections as your own inspiration boards or scrapbooks and come back to it at a later date when you start putting your actual itinerary together. If you find a particular person, or another travel blogger, whose photos you really like, head to their actual profile. More than likely they have a story highlight dedicated to that trip which will allow you to get a more real time feel for the location as well as other restaurants or activities that may not be featured in their actual feed.
This is my second go to social platform for travel research (follow me on Pinterest!) Pinterest functions as a search engine platform and allows you to search by a specific location to find all related pins. This does require a bit more time, as most pins will click out to a full blog post for you to read but at the same time, this is where you will find the most detailed information, sample itineraries, etc. Similar to Instagram you can create a variety of different boards. I like to keep them specific by destination as much as possible as it helps sorting through all the pins at a later date. I also only save pins to a board after I've read the full post it links out to and know I find the information valuable. While each of my boards may have fewer number of pins, when I go back to them I know it's quality information. While reading the posts I'll also have an open notebook to start jotting down the highlights.
3. Google Flights
Once you have a dream destination in mind, the next step is actually booking it. Whether you have flexible travel dates or not, it's still worth doing a bit of research before booking your flight as prices change fairly often. Never book the first flight you find. Search around for a couple weeks and see how the prices fluctuate. Google Flights is typically my go to tool as it allows you to search by ingoing and outgoing airports and see multiple flights/airlines at the same time. With the calendar feature you can also see the lowest price on a certain day and adjust dates/length of your trip accordingly. Once you've found a flight deal that fits your travel needs you can place a tracker on it and get an email notification whenever the price changes. Another tip is to search in Incognito mode on Google which prevents them from hiking the price based on popular searches. Hopper is another great tool that predicts flight prices with 95% accuracy up to 1 year in advance and tells you whether to buy or wait.
4. Costco Travel
As a Costco member we've taken advantage of their travel program on the last few trips we've taken. They offer a number of deals through hotel chains as well as car rentals and flights. So far we haven't used them for flights, but we have been able to get hotel and car rental packages that save us hundreds of dollars as opposed to booking them separately. In addition, many of the packages come with perks such as Costco cash back or credit with tour companies. Many of the places we've traveled (Hawaii included) have a Costco near the airport which is a great place to get discounted gas when filling up your rental car.
5. Google Maps
Based on your Instagram and Pinterest research, you likely have a list of must-see destinations in mind. If you're anything like me, you want to make the most of your time during your trip. While some people are more the decide as they go type, I like to create an itinerary in advance which outlines out each day. Don't get me wrong, we certainly still leave time for spontaneity or those "we have to pull over" stops but by having a few main activities or restaurants in mind you save a lot of valuable time deciding what to do next or driving around.
This is especially important for destinations like Hawaii (one of our favorite places to travel) which are more spread out causing you to waste a lot of time just driving between one activity to the next if you don't plan ahead. This is where Google Maps comes in to play. You can plug in the address for stops you want to make and create a "route" that makes the most sense and time out overall drive time. This is also helpful for seeing other attractions or restaurants in the same area that you may not have had on your list already. Lastly, you are able to easily see Google reviews and other details about destinations. I use this a lot for restaurants as I find many that come highly rated by others don't really align with our taste buds and by looking at the menu in advance you can decide if it's a place you would really enjoy and not just base your decision on what others are raving about.
While planning the ultimate vacation on your own can be fun, sometimes it's best to leave it up to the professionals. We love booking at least one guided tour on all of trips. While these can be a bit more expensive than site seeing on your own, there are a lot of benefits. The part I enjoy the most is getting to experience the history and culture of a city through a local and we always end up learning so much. Many times guided tours also make it easier to get around and allow you to actually enjoy your time without being so focused on navigating. Our favorite site to book all of our tours is Viator as they offer so many options, have great reviews, and super flexible cancellation policies.
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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