The Best Travel Planning Websites
So you’ve decided to take a trip. Awesome! The best way to make sure your trip is successful is to hunker down and do some research. Luckily, the internet has a treasure trove of information on the entire planet.
Here are the sites I use for every single trip I plan, as well as some I stay away from.
Very Useful Travel Planning Websites
Tripadvisor has ratings, reviews, and pictures for every hotel, tourist attraction, and activity in every city, unless it’s REALLY off the beaten path. The content is user-generated, so the information tends to be very current and relevant.
It’s great for:
- Determining the most popular tourist attractions in a city or area. If you have no idea what to do at your destination, TripAdvisor is a great resource.
- Finding the best hotel. Like attractions, TripAdvisor lists the hotels in order based on user rankings
- Finding a “good enough” hotel. You can browse through the list of hotels, or just search for a specific hotel and look and pictures and reviews to determine whether or not it will work for you.
- Finding great restaurants
- Getting specific details and tips about activities
- Getting advice from other travelers
While planning activities during a spontaneously booked trip to Bucharest, Romania, TripAdvisor users suggested going to a concert at a beautiful concert hall. We were able to walk up and get tickets right before the show; both the music and the building were beautiful.
Wikitravel is a website with very detailed information on every travel destination in the world. I actually find that it’s too detailed for me, and skip around for the specific pieces of information I’m looking for.
It’s great for:
- Getting some background on the place you’re going.
- Making a list of activities you want to do. Unlike Tripadvisor, there are no rankings here
- Figuring out how to get to your hotel or place of lodging from the airport
- Figuring out transportation around the city or area you’re visiting
- Learning taxi culture, which is different from place to place. In a lot of countries you can get scammed if you aren’t aware of how taxis work, but will have no problems at all if you prepare ahead of time.
Wikitravel also lists restaurants and hotels, but for me those are not useful as they do not come with any pictures or reviews.
During the planning process for India, I happened upon this wikitravel page for Khajuraho, a somewhat off the beaten path location. One-thousand-year-old Hindu temples with erotic carvings? I HAD to go! Wikitravel had a ton of helpful information about visiting.
Viator and Vayable
These are two sites that I use to find day trips and experiences with locals.
Viator is a large site that lists guided group trips, often day trips, for various areas. Although they have shorter tours and multi-day tours, most of the options are day trips. Viator gives you an idea of what is doable near where you are, and is very easy to use. Viator tends to go beyond just basic tourist attractions to longer cultural experiences.
I found my trip to the Swiss Alps last year on Viator and spent a day riding through the swiss countryside and taking a train up to the highest peak in Europe.
On the down side, many of these trips are large groups, which can feel impersonal.
Vayable is a startup site where locals offer experiences to visitors.
My family and I took a food tour in Paris How to Eat Like a Local in Paris that we found on Vayable and absolutely loved it. Our guide was so friendly and knowledgeable, and we wished we had done the tour at the beginning of our stay instead of the end!
While in Bucharest, my friend and I took a 3-day trip to Transylvania with local guide Razvan. There is something very special about spending time with a local person, learning about and experiencing the culture in a way that you wouldn’t be able to on your own.
Both of these experiences were fantastic and something I would highly recommend.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control)
If you’re traveling to any place that’s near a jungle or could be considered a developing country, check the CDC for any vaccines you might need. The CDC is going to be overzealous in their recommendations, so I would use this as starting point to decide if you will get any vaccines or medications. From here, I would do some Googling to decide if I thought each vaccine was necessary.
In some places, you absolutely must get a vaccine. For example, some countries will require you to have proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine before you can enter.
Websites for the Hardcore Type-A Traveler
Flyertalk is a website where very passionate travelers gather to discuss almost every aspect of travel. If you are looking for detailed information about a particular hotel (more in-depth than TripAdvisor) chances are you will find it at Flyertalk.
The easiest way to find what FlyerTalkers have to say about a hotel is to search “hotelname flyertalk.” I usually click on the “Last” button to see the most recent posts rather than reading from the beginning.
Flyertalk does have a lot of travel jargon and acronyms, so you may need to wade through a bit to find the content you are looking for. If you have a specific question, this is also a good place to ask.
Okay, it’s not really a specific website. If you really like getting into the details and knowing what an experience would be like, Google is your friend. There are many people out there on the internet that write detailed reports of their trips, including pictures and reviews. If you want to read some of these, try searching for “placename trip report” and see what comes up.
Personally I have a mild obsession with going to North Korea, so I like to search for “North Korea Trip Reports” to see what I can find. This search returns some absolutely fascinating stories that are very helpful when thinking about planning my own trip in the future.
Websites That are Less Useful
This may be controversial, but I am not a fan of the Lonely Planet website. (I do think the books are great resources if you’re traveling without frequent internet access, but today we’re just talking about the web.)
Unlike Tripadvisor and Wikitravel, which are updated and maintained with current content, Lonely Planet can be very out of date. A lot of the travel information has no date at all on it, so you have no idea when it was written or last updated. Also, you are getting one point of view with Lonley Planet, whereas tripadvisor has many contributors. Most of the content found on Lonely Planet can also be found on WikiTravel, but with WikiTravel you know there are people watching the article and making sure it stays current. Use Lonely Planet at your own risk.