It used to be that to plan an international trip you had to hire a travel agent or scour through mountains of guidebooks. To make your own arrangements, you’d have to spend money making international phone calls to book hotels and rental cars in far off places. (Sometimes you’d even have to wake up in the middle of the night to make a call to the other side of the world for planning your vacation.) But not anymore…
International travel is easily booked online. Numerous websites offer planning tips to help you choose hotels, activities, and restaurants. Plus you can book all of these online to save money. This two-part series will tell you just how to do that.
Use Online Websites to Plan Your Trip
Planning an international vacation is incredibly easy with the help of the internet. Once you’ve chosen a general destination, these sites will help you plan the rest of the details.
1. Start with Online Guidebooks
Let’s say you know you want to go to Europe. Or maybe more specifically, Italy. But how do you decide where to go and what to see in Italy? Most of the traditional guidebook companies now have a lot of information on their websites. Here are some tips:
- On Lonelyplanet.com you can choose a region or country and choose “top sites” to help you plan your trip.
- Frommers.com is one of my favorites as it offers suggested itineraries. The Frommers website contains a lot of basic information in one place (such as currency and when to go) and is easy to navigate.
- Fodors.com is similar to Lonely Planet’s website in that it offers top things to do in each city, although it’s for a crowd that’s a little less adventurous. And they offer great “city apps” which allow you to download guidebooks to your phone or iPad/tablet.
2. Use Trip Advisor for Forums
Tripadvisor.com is one of the most popular online travel websites. It can be a little overwhelming, so it’s best used once you already have a rough itinerary determined.
To use TripAdvisor most effectively you want to use the “destination guides” of the website. For example, type in Rome, Italy in the home page “Plan the perfect trip…” search bar, click on the Destinations button, and then click on the Find destinations button. Once you’re on the Rome page you’ll have a wealth of information. You’ll find user generated reviews for bed and breakfasts, hotels, restaurants, and more. Here are some tips for using Trip Advisor:
- Visit the destination page for the city you’re visiting.
- Browse the “Attractions” section to find out what to do at your destination.
- Browse the “Restaurants” section for top rated restaurants. Remember though, that the TripAdvisor restaurant reviews are generally written by travelers – so most reviewers only visit the restaurant once. If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to look elsewhere (Zagat, or the Washington Post or New York Times) for restaurant reviews by professionals.
- Use the “Hotels” section to find hotels. Reviewers leave thousands of comments stating whether a place is good for families, business travelers, romantic travel, and more.
- TripAdvisor allows you to book through their site, but you won’t necessarily get the best price. See the next post in this series for how to use online websites to compare pricing and book your trip.
3. Use the Rest of the Internet to Ask Questions and Get more Details
The websites listed above are some of the best around for trip planning. But if you’re looking for something more unique or obscure, you’ll want to see what others have done. For that, use the Google Blog Search. There are thousands of people who write about their travels – everything from glow worm caves to hiking to hidden natural springs. Type your specific question or destination in www.google.com/blogsearch and you’ll come across real people who have had unique experiences and written about them, just so you can learn from their triumphs and trials too. Matador Network is a series of blogs that would be another good place to look.
Watch for the next post in this “How to Best Use Online Travel Websites for International Travel” series to learn how to compare pricing and save money booking your trip.
Elizabeth Lang is an avid traveler and freelance writer.