You would be on cloud 9 too if you flew to Iceland for $198 round-trip! How about Brazil for $385? Morocco for $450? Kenya for $500? These are real flight deals that I have snagged over the years in my quest to discover as many places as possible. I often let the flight deal lead me to my next destination. Let’s be honest, everywhere is on my list! So I might as well go when it’s most affordable to do so. I get lots of questions about how I plan my travel. Most people assume I utilize a travel agent, but this has never been the case. It’s actually a form of stress relief for me to plan my entire trip from flights and hotels to activities and restaurants. Even though this has become second nature to me, I realize that many people still feel overwhelmed when booking an international trip. My husband has been on 10+ trips with me and still has no idea how the process works lol. It’s really simple to learn, though, and I want you to realize that it can become second nature to you too! I utilize various sites and tools to plan my trips. Let’s take a look at them below:
Flight Deal Sites
There are numerous websites whose sole purpose is to provide amazing flight deals. These sites will provide the price, destination, time frame, airports, and airline. Basically, all the work is done and you only have to select, follow the link, and book. You can even filter the results so that you only see deals from your originating city. There used to be a time when flight deals were rare and difficult to locate. Now, they are readily available, and I’m even overwhelmed when looking at the endless options. At the start of the year, my husband and I list places we would love to visit. I have these places in mind when I am looking at flight deals. There may not be a deal when I look, but I keep checking if one pops up. The top sites I use to locate flight deals are:
I search for flight deals when I am flexible on the destination. However, there are times when I really want to go somewhere, and I am willing to pay a higher cost on flights. Still, I never want to pay full price if I can avoid it. When I’m in this predicament, I head to Google flights to search. What I love about this site is if you search for a particular destination, the calendar will show you the cheapest days to go. So if you are flexible when it comes to your vacation days, even by a few days, Google flights will help you find the most affordable time. Once you select the days, the site will show you the price and times. Sometimes, a really cheap price has the worst layovers, so keep that in mind. May not be worth the deal if you have to pay for a hotel due to an awkward, overnight layover. However, if it’s a direct flight or with only one to two connections, it could be a winner. You cannot book directly in Google Flights; it’s only a search tool. However, you will find a direct link to book the flight you desire on its original website.
Let’s say you have no flexibility whatsoever when it comes to your vacation days. Your dates are set in stone, such as with school holidays. Maybe you’re trying to take a last minute trip; got some unexpected time off or decided to be spontaneous. If this is your scenario and you are open to going anywhere, I highly suggest using Skyscanner. This website has a cool feature where you can search from your city to “everywhere.” Literally, type “everywhere” in the box for the destination, and it will show you prices for various places. You can search specific dates or months at a time, including the cheapest months out the year.
Southwest is a nice, budget friendly airline that offers great prices around the country, the Caribbean, Mexico, and now Hawaii. However, Southwest flights may not pop up in other search engines. Be sure to check the site directly to make sure you’re not missing any deals. The airline also provides two complimentary checked bags per person for every flight. That’s a definite plus if you’re a fashionista like me who still can’t conquer the carryon only challenge. My husband always panics whenever we approach the luggage scale at the airport; I’m almost always over! When I fly Southwest, I don’t even have to stress about this issue.
Whenever you book a flight, the first thing you should do is check if you need a visa. Some can take months to be approved, so you definitely don’t want to look into this a few weeks before your trip. This is a site to see if you need a visa to travel to another country with a U.S. passport. If your passport is from another country, please do a Google search for your area or access your official, government travel department. The great news is that more countries are switching to E-visas where you can apply online and receive an electronic visa in as little as a few days. For our upcoming trip to Brazil, we received our visas literally one day after completing the application. When we went to Ghana, however, we had to mail in our application WITH our passports, and it took about a month to receive it back. So keep in mind if you have any other trips planned while your passport is away, so that you are not forced to forfeit your trip.
You all know I’m a fan of luxury, but I also love balling on a budget! I almost never book a hotel through the official website unless I am traveling to specifically experience the hotel, such as Hotel Villa Honegg in Switzerland. Most of the time, I am not drawn to a particular hotel and am looking for the best price with the most amenities. I love Booking.com because I can narrow down my search results by the items I care about. I always filter for properties with a 9+ review score, free Wi-Fi, pool, free cancellation, and 4-5 stars. These are my preferences, but there are a million preferences you can choose, such as airport shuttle, free breakfast, specific neighborhood, etc. The hotels listed on the site allow Booking.com to reserve a limited number of rooms for a reduced price. The best part to me, though, is that you can book without worrying about being penalized if you change your mind. By booking hotels that offer free cancellation, you can change/cancel your booking anywhere from 1 month to a few days before arrival. Be careful because not all hotels offer this option. It will clearly state non-refundable if it doesn’t offer the free cancellation. Some hotels have both options and the free cancellation will be slightly more expensive, but it’s worth it.
More people are catching on to the trend of vacation rental. I personally love being immersed in a local neighborhood and gaining a sense of how I would live if I actually stayed there. When I am in the mood for this type of experience or looking to save even more money, I utilize Airbnb and Clickstay to search apartments, villas, and houses. If you are traveling with family or a group, the price for an entire home once you have split the costs is often way cheaper than each person booking individual hotel rooms. Not only do you save money, but also you have the benefit of large, shared spaces to socialize.
Facebook Travel Groups
The first thing I do when I want to know what’s popping in a certain city is visit my Facebook travel communities. I use the search feature to find tips on activities, tours, and restaurants. If I notice a certain name keeps being mentioned, I write this down in the Notes app on my phone. I later look up the activities/restaurants that seemed really popular, and read reviews to see if it’s something I would enjoy. TripAdvisor and Yelp are where I read most of my reviews, paying attention to the negative ones. Once I have decided on a certain activity, I book directly through the site. For the restaurants, I simply write them down to reference on the trip or make reservations if the reviews advise it. Some of the groups I check are:
· Nomadness Travel Tribe- the wonderful members of this community have written extensive city guides for numerous destinations, all from the viewpoint of the urban traveler
· Sisters Traveling Solo – if I am traveling solo, I check here to find tours safe for the solo female traveler.
· Black Travel Movement – this group gets a lot of activity, so there is always updated information on a city
· Fat Girls Traveling – this group provides invaluable information on whether an activity is enjoyable for the plus size traveler, including weight restrictions for certain tours.
I also check Viator to look up the most popular tours in the city. Usually, these will be at a discounted price, and I can search for sightseeing tours, day trips, food tours, cooking lessons, wine tastings, and adventure excursions. I have always had a pleasant experience on a Viator tour, and they are convenient as they offer hotel pick up and drop off.
This blog post was extensive, but it discusses all the tools I use to plan a smooth, safe, and fun filled trip. I also leave plenty of free time to be spontaneous, connect with locals, relax beachside or poolside, and feel like I’m on a vacation. For instance, after our ski lesson in Switzerland, the instructor invited us to a local bar to try drinks native to the area. This was one of the highlights of our trip and totally unplanned. I personally do not want my days to be jam packed because my daily life is already so busy. I may book about two activities depending on the destination, and then leave the rest for how I feel in the moment. I always keep a list of possible activities/restaurants in my Notes app so that I can find them easily. Now that you are armed with the information you need to plan a successful trip, why don’t you give it a try and book the trip!
xoxo, Global Midwife