[TRAVEL] Are You Hands-Free or Hands-Dirty?

Category: Travel

When planning a vacation, there are two kinds of people. One is the “hands-free” kind who lets someone else do the heavy lifting of destination research, locating specific accommodations, arranging on-site travel and entertainment, etc. Travel agents live for hands-free people. The other kind is you, dear reader, the “hands dirty” kind. Read on for some of the best do-it-yourself travel planning tools...

Vacation Planning Tools

If you like to be in control of all the decisions from where to go, to what restaurant for dinner on the third night, this is for you. You want to see lots of hotel options, not just one “best match” to your criteria. You even enjoy the challenge of hunting down each piece of the puzzle, even though some pieces must be discarded in the finished assembly. Fortunately, there are online apps designed for you.

Deciding where to go is usually the best starting point. With a destination in sight, the next step is how to get there. The mode of travel is often heavily influenced by how much you have to spend. On a big budget, one person can fly first class. A family on a smaller budget might have to put the youngsters to work on a tramp steamer. In between are options to fit every pocketbook.

The “Fly or Drive” app at the penny-pinching site BeFrugal can help you compare the estimated costs of flying and driving to a given destination. It starts with your location, destination, and travel dates, then asks for the number of people in your party and limits on hotel costs. Give it the hypothetical car’s make, year, and model, and estimate how many hours per day you want to spend behind the wheel.

When I was a kid, my parents took me and my two siblings on a month-long driving vacation from New York to California and back again. We stopped at lots of interesting places along the way, but the guiding factors were no more than 400 miles or eight hours a day in the car. Oh, and of course, there had to be an AAA-rated motel for less than $35 a night at the stopping point. Gas was cheap, but sometimes things got a little testy in the back seat of that 1970 Plymouth Fury III.

Travel and Vacation Planning tools

For the flying scenario, estimate how many minutes you think you will spend on the ground at the airport (tough, I know), whether a friend will pick you up and drop you off or whether you’ll take a cab, shuttle, etc. Airport transportation costs will be updated as you change each option. An estimated plane ticket price per passenger can be reduced by 8% if you become a BeFrugal member. Checked bags fees and daily car rental fees can also be calculated.

The output details estimated travel times and costs, overnight stays and their costs, and even the total amount of CO2 emissions for each mode of transportation. So much for the fun of vacation planning!

Finding Flight Deals

Airfare bargains get better the further in advance of travel dates you commit to an itinerary. The exception to this general rule is unanticipated empty seats that an airline would rather sell at a steep discount than fly for nothing. Usually, only single travelers have the flexibility to jump on such last-minute deals.

Google Flights’ "Explore Destinations" option is a novel way to compare flight costs and itineraries of multiple destinations at once.

You can leave the “when” and “where” criteria loose, i. e., “1-week trip in the next 6 months” and narrow it down as you refine your plan. One panel shows advisories of special offers to selected destinations. You can specify the type of trip, such as “honeymoon,” “ecotourism,” or “beaches” to tailor your search.

Booking.com’s Destination Finder is a nice, simple way to compare hotel prices at a destination. Select a price range, dates, numbers of adults and chilren, enter the city and you may get over 100 results. Then you can filter by “top picks for solo travelers,” prices from low to highest, review scores and prices, rating stars, and “distance from downtown.”

There are hundreds of hotel and airfare booking sites; perennial favorites include Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, and Priceline.com, along with Google Flights. Some meta-sites specialize in demystifying the complexity. Kayak.com cross-references many of them to find you the best value based on your travel plans.

Are you planning a vacation this holiday season? What online tools do you plan to use? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[TRAVEL] Are You Hands-Free or Hands-Dirty?"

Posted by:

19 Nov 2018

By the way, Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, CarRentals.com, CheapTickets, trivago, Venere.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, and HomeAway are all owned by Expedia. You usually will get the same deals on any of them, especially for hotels, but not always.

Posted by:

19 Nov 2018

Just remember to read every little piece of information on the sites. And NEVER ASSUME anything. If you don't see a price, don't assume it's free or included. Look for all the asterisks indicating a gotcha (let's face it, they don't point to good news).
And be sure to get everything in writing (emails or even a text message). And depending on how far in advance you are booking things, always check at least 2 or 3 weeks in advance to ensure you're still listed. And keep checking. Don't trust their systems to tell send that email that tells you your flight is now leaving 2 hours earlier than when you booked it 6 months ago.
As we learned, TRUST BUT VERIFY.
Since Bob is the IT person, you might want to check out Chris Elliott's site for travel info:
Oh, one other thing: don't forget your passport, no matter where you're going.

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
19 Nov 2018

I usually start with Kayak and then check the individual websites for airline, hotel or car rental.
I also like to wing it sometimes and check Hotels tonight, though their deals are not nearly what they once were.....what is?
I tend to go with familiar airlines that treat me relatively well, like Alaska and avoid "bargain" airlines like Southwest. My comfort and a lack of stress is worth more than a few bucks.
If I am staying more than a night or two I tend to go with AirBnB rather than a hotel. Even though the hotel might rarely be cheaper, but usually isn't, than a nice place the option of eating in saves money and again, stress.
Stephen is right about reading the fine print, but most reputable sites will notify you of even minor changes in schedule especially if you register and some will even refund you if a cheaper fare/rate comes up. Registering can also get you perks like late checkout and room upgrades.
Once again you may get better service from the property's website than if you book through a third party site and often for the same deal or even less.

Posted by:

Constantin Dragan
19 Nov 2018

I've been traveling a lot during the last 20 years... more than 50 countries. Since fairly long time,my favorite websites are momondo.com (amazing metasearch engine for flights, but also hotels and car rentals) and skyscanner.com (very similar to the previous one). I book my hotels mostly on booking.com, or expedia.com. They are big and offer all the essential info about what they offer. Airbnb is fine too, but I don't really like their way to show you a price and add a lot of extras when you book. Plus, they want your money immediately. Accorhotels.com also have good chain hotels and often good promotions. For the car rentals I often compare one billion of providers, before choosing one. Ryanair.com and economycarrentals.com gave me so far very good deals. Before buying a flight ticket from a travel agent (like expedia.com), I always check the same same ticket on the airline website. I already had some good surprises there.

Posted by:

19 Nov 2018

In our household, I'm "Hands Free", I let my wife do all the research, bookings and I just go along for the ride. Why? Because when two people try to organise something, the chances of cross communication and stuff ups increases. My wife (45 years married) likes to run the show, so I let her. She's more interested in travel than me. There are other things I look after eg, tax returns, car maintenance, so we have a division of labour that suits both of us.

Posted by:

D. Wayne
19 Nov 2018

Same here, only 40yrs married.

Posted by:

20 Nov 2018

Robin, same here, only 30 yrs married

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