Some of my friends have asked me how I pick the locations I travel to and how I book my trips. I definitely don’t claim to know all the secrets, but I try to be somewhat budget conscious when booking, especially for flights. In general, of all the flights I’ve booked over the past 2 years, with the exception being Japan, they have all been under $500 and that’s where my planning usually begins. An arbitrary goal I set for myself a year ago was to get to at least 2 new countries per year for the rest of my life, so I really am open to traveling anywhere and everywhere!
- Flight research – I start with google flights. Thankfully living in Philly gives me several options for airports. I typically check Philly, Baltimore, Newark and NYC airports for deals. I think I’ve flown out of Newark and NYC more than Philly as it often saves time (nonstop flights) and a couple hundred dollars. With google flights you can put in your starting destination, month or general dates and then search the map for different flight prices and options. Once I see a location that has a reasonable flight cost (under or around $500) then I look in to it a little more by going to Trip Advisor or just googling. Next, I’ll put some of those options in Kayak as that gives you the option to search different date ranges. I follow airfare watchdog on twitter and get emails from Scott’s cheap flights. Lastly, as far as timing to book flights, due to my schedule I typically book flights 1-3 months in advance, never really more than that.
- Hotels – I really have no secrets here. I personally am not a big fan of large resorts or all inclusives. I typically try to stick with smaller boutique hotels. They are usually budget friendly and often include breakfast. I love the website Great Small Hotels. Other options are Design Hotels and Mr and Mrs Smith, which cater more to luxury options, but I still check them out to see what they have to offer. And of course there is airbnb. So far I’ve only done airbnb internationally in Cuba and Ecuador as I generally like the amenities that boutique hotels have to offer, but it is a good option to explore depending on the location.
- American Express – I know some people open and close credit cards and have grand schemes to get credit card points for trips, but I’m too lazy to keep track of all of that. However, I do have the American Express Platinum card which gets you $100 credit to apply for global entry, $200 credit with airlines for things like food & drinks on flights, more points on hotels and flights, lounge access at most airports around the world, elite status with some hotels and concierge travel planning assistance. Haven’t used any of my points yet, but spending on the card for the past year we’ve accumulated enough points that will likely get us 2 round trip flights for a value of over $1,000.
- Trip planning – for those that know me, know I’m pretty laid back, which also carries over to trip planning. I don’t plan detailed itineraries. Once I have the flight and hotel booked the hard work is done in my mind. I typically will use the travel forums on Trip Advisor to get a general idea of things I might like to do. I also sometimes check out travel guides from the public library to take with me, so I can just plan day by day while I’m there. Lastly, I recently discovered the app called maps.me, in which you can download maps of any city in the world and have access to them offline. So I’d definitely recommend that, especially if you’re traveling to cities where you will have limited internet access (came in handy in Cuba).
So that’s my process and I think it’s worked pretty well so far 🙂