I am the ultimate planner. This permeates into most aspects of my life, professional and personal. To be honest, I feel so much more relaxed when things are organized, and when they’re not, I become anxious. Even a spur of the moment detour to the grocery store without a list makes me a tad uneasy.

And traveling is no different. Travel planning is enjoyable for me, therapeutic even. As I’ve explained to family, friends, and fellow travelers, the act of planning a trip is weaved into the whole travel experience for me and I derive almost as much delight from this stage as I do from actually traveling.

But there is definitely too much of a good thing and over-planning can be as bad (if not worse) than under-planning. I learned this first hand when I was still a novice traveler and planned out virtually every aspect of a two-month trip. The key is finding a balance between organization and spontaneity.

Instead, I like to focus my research on finding things that will take my trip to the next level. I’m mostly interested in wading through the touristy shit and getting right to what makes the city awesome – whether it be cities to visit off the tourist track, unique neighbourhoods to base myself in, or eating and drinking spots beloved by locals (always mimic the locals!). And you don’t want to waste precious moments of your trip trying to stumble on these gems organically (if you ever even do).

There’s also the rewards – and heightened sense of accomplishment – when my planning materializes into something spectacular. The times that I’ve found a fantastic deal for a flight, discovered a town that I couldn’t believe was not overrun with tourism, or enjoyed a wonderful meal at a fraction of the price of more “popular” restaurants have formed some of my most memorable experiences.

Here are my favourite travel planning resources – a few recommendations I hope will help you make make the most out of your trips.


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Kayak

This is my first stop for flight searches and it rarely disappoints. Kayak is a metasearch engine which basically means that it amalgamates flight data from all major airlines and other booking sites so that users can effectively compare options and find the flight that works best for them. While they’re certainly not the only travel metasearch engine on the block, they’re arguably leading the pack.

What makes Kayak so valuable are their many innovative features, all of which simplify the search process such as Price Trend, which informs you whether current prices are likely to rise or fall over the next week based on aggregated historical price data.

Another of my favourite features is Explore which shows you a map with the cheapest flights to hundreds of cities from a specific airport over the next year. This is brilliant if you’re still deciding on a destination or if you’re flexible with dates as it will allow you to drill down on the most economical options. I use this tool even when I’m not planning a trip just to see if there are any deals too good to pass up – it’s how I found a Delta return flight to Hong Kong from Toronto for $377.

Kayak also allows you to search for hotels, vacation packages, and car rentals.

Yapta

How many times have you booked a flight just to see the price drop a week or two later? Enter Yapta, whose goal is to alleviate the ‘book now or wait and see’ dilemma that has haunted all traveler’s at some point. According to Yapta, the price of a flight can fluctuate up to 400%, depending on when you buy.

Search results are actually powered by Kayak so you’ll notice some similarities. If you’re not satisfied with current prices and are curious if they will change in the future, you can create a price drop tracker which will notify you if and when the price changes. You can specify the airline (good if you collect frequent flyer miles) and exact flight (if you’re not flexible on date and time) that you want to track, maximizing the value of Yapta’s service. If you’re debating between a few destinations or dates, you can set up several price trackers simultaneously.

Another great feature of Yapta is that it will continue to track the price of your flight even after you’ve purchased it and inform you if you’re eligible for a refund due to a price drop. Most travelers are unaware that many airlines provide credit if the price decreases by a certain amount and Yapta helps consumers take advantage of this.

Skyscanner

Skyscanner is a fantastic tool for finding flights, particularly if you haven’t yet tied down your travel plans. Skyscanner allows you to search on many open ended fields such as date and destination, so you can view all flights from a certain airport if you haven’t settled on a city or, if you know your location but your dates are flexible, you can view the flight prices over a year to determine the most affordable time to visit.

Skyscanner also incorporates budget airlines such as Ryanair and Tiger Airways into its search, making it a useful tool for finding and comparing intercontinental discount flights as well. It’s really a one stop shop for both international and regional flights, allowing you to optimize all of your air travel for any given trip.

There’s also a free intuitive and easy to use app available for smartphones, allowing travelers to search flights across the 1,000 airlines that Skyscanner aggregates. Now you’ll always be able to find the best flights no matter where you are.

Deutsche Bahn

No matter where I’m traveling in Europe, I always use Deutsche Bahn to search for trains. The website provides detailed itinerary information such as departure and arrival times, stop overs, and train numbers in many languages for routes across the continent. I’ve attempted to use local train websites to find and book trips, but they’re rarely intuitive for tourists and I often end up lost in translation.

If you’re traveling outside of Germany, you likely won’t be able to purchase the tickets online, but being able to access clear information from one central spot is enough of a benefit in and of itself. Plus, you should be able to buy your tickets directly when you arrive at the departing station or you can check out their website once you know which train you’re interested in taking.


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Trip Advisor

I use Trip Advisor most often to find traditional B&Bs, but of course it’s also a great travel planning resource for other aspects of your trip as well. I love it as I can see accommodation ratings not only by city but also by region, which has come in handy when I’m interested in staying in a more rural locale. That’s exactly how I stumbled upon Cucayo, a rural town in Spain’s Picos de Europa, and the charming guesthouse La Posada de Cucayo.

I always take time to read a sample of reviews and I specifically look for ones that highlight either what I value or what’s a deal breaker for me in an accommodation. I’ll look at the most recent reviews posted as well as those that received the worst ratings as these can be the best predictors of a future stay and the worst case scenario. Always take the reviews with a grain of salt, and try to place more emphasis on travelers with similar demographics as you such as age, nationality, and their travel situation (independent, with spouse, family, business, etc).

If you enter your travel dates, you can also see the price and availability of the results, a newish feature on Trip Advisor, which helps to narrow down the choices and make an informed decision.

Airbnb

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love renting apartments when I travel. No other accommodation option allows you as much of a view of local life whilst maintaining your independence and privacy.

Airbnb‘s website and app make it easy to find a spot that’s good for you. You can filter on entire apartments for rent or just private rooms and can set minimum and maximum costs so you don’t have to flip through hundreds of listings. You can also see listings on a map, allowing you to target a specific area or neighbourhood. Past renter reviews will give you the best idea of what you’ll expect and provide valuable information on the local neighbourhood, interaction with the host, and any issues with the apartment that you may encounter.

Whenever I’m in a scramble, I can usually find something on Airbnb that’s better than any hotel alternative – like when I found an apartment in Munich during Oktoberfest, just a few weeks before it began, at a fraction of the price of any available hotel.

Priceline

I like to use Priceline when I want to get a good deal on a hotel and am not picky about which one I end up at. You can ‘name your own price’ where you make a bid at a certain price per night and Priceline tries to match you with a hotel at the quality level and in the area of the city you’ve chosen. I’ve scored many discount hotels using this method, many up to 50% off the rack price.

In my experience, Priceline works best when you’re looking for a hotel in a larger city, where competition can be fierce, and if you bid closer to your travel dates, often when hotels are becoming desperate to book unsold rooms.

A word of warning though, ensure that you choose your desired star level and neighbourhood carefully as you will not be able to cancel or modify the reservation if you’re not satisfied with what you get. Also, keep in mind that you won’t be able to accumulate loyalty points if you’re a frequent guest of the hotel you end up with.


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Spotted by Locals

I’ve already professed my love of Spotted by Locals, but it really is a wonderful travel planning resource to find interesting local spots while traveling. Covering almost 60 cities and counting, Spotted by Locals provides locals’ recommendations on current things to see and do in their cities.

Think of it as the anti-guidebook guidebook – instead of being authored by travel professionals, it’s written by real people living in cities across Europe and North America that just want to tell you what’s awesome in their city. If you’re interested in experiencing more of a city than its tourist sites, then Spotted by Locals is for you.

A well designed and easy-to-use app allows travelers to access Spotted by Local’s valuable content while on the move, which has proven very useful when I’ve ended up in a new neighbourhood with no clue on what to do or where to eat.

Yelp

Yelp has been as valuable for me in finding the best dining spots abroad as it has at home. Typically the reviews are written by locals so you can be fairly assured that you wont’ end up in a horrifically touristy establishment.

While mostly covering North American cities, Yelp continues to expand internationally. Although you may not be able to understand all of the reviews on the foreign Yelp pages, you’ll still be able to ascertain the best spots if you’re familiar with Yelp in your own city. And if all else fails, just choose your restaurant based on the photos as images of yummy food are worth a thousand words!

Viator

Viator is my number one spot to find unique local experiences, such as tours, excursions and private guides. Having been on the block for nearly two decades and partnering with many of the biggest names in the travel industry, Viator has you covered if you’re interested in stepping up your sightseeing game.

Browse all of the verified and vetted tours and excursions online or on Viator’s award winning app, and zone in on specific categories which align to your interests such as culture, food, and adventure. Frequent price specials, user reviews, city itineraries, and a clear and concise ‘What You Can Expect’ section to each activity makes it undeniably easy and convenient to find the perfect outing.


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The Points Guys

Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, gives readers the tips and tricks to build up frequent flyer miles, without maxing out any credit cards or going into massive debt. Earning frequent flyer miles is a lucrative activity for travelers, especially those who want to do more with less.

The world of frequent flyer miles and airline loyalty programs can be confusing and overwhelming, but The Points Guy brilliantly simplifies it all and provides strategies to maximize your points and deal alerts to take advantage of special promotions. This is the only place you need to visit to determine which point credit card is best for you, how to earn elite status, and what small changes you can make to rack up more miles.

First times should go straight to the Beginner’s Guide which is a comprehensive step by step overview of how to make the most of frequent flyer miles.

TripIt

TripIt is the ultimate resource for coordinating your travels. Accessible online or through their app for smartphones and tablets, TripIt automatically synthesizes your travel information across various platforms into a comprehensive itinerary. It pulls travel, hotel, car rental, restaurant reservations, and a whole lot more, from your email and incorporates it all into your itinerary, eliminating the need to keep track of several schedules.

TripIt also provides map and directional information between events so that you don’t need to consult another program to determine the best way to get between your scheduled items.

Another useful feature of TripIt is being able to share itineraries of those who may be traveling with you but have a different schedule, such as flight, dates, etc. The automatic amalgamation of multiple travel plans simplifies the process and removes the brain work typically involved in reconciling different itineraries.

Make your next trip the best one.

Departful is a full service travel agency creating truly exceptional travel experiences that are 100% personalized to you. Wherever you’re going, whatever your interests, we help you plan the perfect trip.

Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth co-founded Departful in 2012 and is the Managing Director of Departful Media. Since then she has worked between North America and Europe and has published content in partnership with a variety of tourism boards and businesses based around the world. Lauren is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experiences. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time and energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experience. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time & energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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Departful is affiliated with TravelOnly.

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