I’ve always felt that the hardest part of going on a vacation was everything that happens before you actually go on vacation. By the time you figure out your plans, book your travel, arrange your accommodations, research activities, pick out a new vacation outfit … you practically need a vacation from your vacation planning.
So how do I stay stress-free while planning our amazing family adventures? Well, I don’t do it on my own. I do it with the help of 5 amazing travel websites that make vacation planning a breeze. And I promise, none of them require a special membership. This summer, make your vacation plans easily with Fat Mama’s Top 5 Trip Planning Websites.
There’s No Place Like Home Away From Home
VRBO – I know everyone has their favorite short-term rental site, but for me, it’s VRBO or nothing. I’ve always been able to find great homes, in amazing locations, at fantastic rates using this service. When Fat Papa and I travel with our Lucky Duckies, be it the Rakhardts, MoHos, or Gigi and Pappy, we really enjoy staying all together in one big house. VRBO provides me with all the tools, filtered searches, and amazing photos that I need to not only find the right place for our trip but to book with confidence knowing that everything is going to be AMAZING.
In all the years we have been booking through VRBO, I don’t think we have ever had a problem with a property. All the information we need about a location is always easy to find, owners are quick to respond to questions, and our vacation is always exactly what we are expecting or better. And there is no shortage of properties. No matter where we want to go, VRBO has incredible and inspiring properties available.
Fat Mama Tip: I really like following VRBO on Facebook, because now their listings pop-up in my feed and I have a whole trip board dedicated to properties I want to stay at on future vacations. In fact, we have started choosing vacation destinations based on crazy cool houses I find on VRBO. Choosing the destination based on mind-blowing lodging, rather than choosing your lodging based on your destination, has opened up a whole new way to plan vacations for me. All thanks to VRBO.
My Magic Wand for Air Travel
Business Class Air – I don’t know anyone who LOVES to search for the absolute best flights. Comparing prices, layovers, flight times, seat type, what points can I use … it all gives me a headache and I always feel like I have missed something. Until I discovered Business Class Air. I love this company, they make booking flights, any kind of flight, so easy and affordable!
But you have to know what you are getting with Business Class Air before you book. What do I mean? Read some of the reviews about them on Tripadvisor. They have a low rating which almost caused me to not book through Business Class Air until I actually read the reviews. All the nasty things people said were because they didn’t understand that Business Class Air is a corporate reseller and not a direct retailer of airline tickets.
What is a corporate reseller? In the case of Business Class Air, it means that corporations that have TONS of travel and credit card points that will never get used are resold to the public at a discount. So, my March flight to Poland … the 11 hours I spent in the air from SFO to my 4-hour layover in Amsterdam … I spent in first-class because I found tickets for under $3,500 through Business Class Air while those same tickets were offered through Kayak for $18,000. What was even better was that the 2 free checked bags I brought were full of donations and would have cost more than the difference between the economy and first-class ticket to ship! Win-Win.
So why does Business Class Air get a bad rap? People don’t read the not-so-fine print. You are purchasing corporate points, not airlines tickets. Yes, you get airlines tickets with those points, but the corporate account that owns the points is being used to do the booking. What does this mean? It means that your tickets take 48-72 hours to get approved. YOUR name is still on the ticket, but YOU DON’T get airline points and any changes or adjustments need to go through Business Class Air, NOT the airlines. But I found these to be very minor inconveniences that in the end didn’t matter one quack.
What I really enjoy about Business Class Air, aside from the fantastic pricing, is that my personal Client Service Rep does all the searching for me. Jane@Business-Class.com is AMAZING, responsive, and always finds me incredible deals. International, domestic, business class, or economy, she has helped me with all sorts of flights. Now, I leave all my flight searching to Jane and have cut my vacation planning stress in half!
Oh, and did I mention the credit card points conversion? If you have Chase, AMEX, or Capitol One credit card points that you want to use toward the cost of your flight, you can and should, with Business Class Air. You can even combine points from all three cards. The best part? 100,000 points equals $900 toward your ticket! That is a WAY BETTER conversion rate than the airlines or your credit card will offer you.
Building Your Itinerary Made Easy
Roadtrippers – Fat Papa and I are BIG fans of road trips. Until recently, most of our road trips have either been a means to an end (just driving straight through to get to our destination) or to familiar destinations (oh look, it’s HWY 101 … again). But this summer we are taking Itsy Bitsy on her first, multi-stop, every day is an adventure in a new place, live summer to the fullest road trip! I had no idea how I was going to plan this two-week adventure until I found Roadtrippers.
Roadtrippers makes planning a road trip easy and their intuitive software means that any birdbrain can build an awe-inspiring adventure. From driving directions to activity suggestions, to National Park and Monument markers, this website (and their corresponding app) is AMAZING.
However, there is a small drawback. Roadtrippers has both a free and paid version. Most of the services of the paid version are available on the free version, just in smaller scale. For example, if you want to build a road trip, you can add up to 7 stops for free. If you want more than 7 stops on your trip, then you will have to pay. Of course, there are clever ways to get around these limitations, but whether you go for the paid version or free version this is an amazing tool.
I went ahead and paid to upgrade my service and am very glad I did. It was not an unreasonable amount of money, maybe $30 for a year's subscription. For that, I have been able to create a 2-week trip, with 27 stops, tons of notes (all my reservation confirmations in one place), and have shared it with friends and family. But, paid or free, Roadtrippers made it incredibly easy to plan and manage our 2-week driving adventure for this summer.
Tripadvisor – Whether I have been to a destination many times and am looking for something new to do, or I am a first-time visitor and want to know the best activities to try, I always start my travel planning with Tripadvisor. While Tripadvisor isn’t anything new, I really do love this service. But I don’t always use it in the same way as most people. Sure, I love to log on, read reviews, and occasionally book activities through Tripadvisor, but for the most part, I use Tripadvisor as a springboard.
Tripadvisor is a great resource for learning more about an area and what it has to offer. From activities, to dining, to services, if someone has done it, they will tell you all about it on Tripadvisor. That is what makes this website such a great resource for travel planning, but it can also be really overwhelming. I mean there are over 90 suggested “tours” of Yellowstone National Park alone! Not to mention the nearly 200 “attractions.” Wow, where do you start?
This is why Tripadvisor is great for ideas. But really, just use it for ideas. With Tripadvisor, you can figure out the types of activities that are available, popular, or recommended for an area. For example, Yellowstone is a GREAT place to go for hiking and wildlife viewing but only from the ground. By using Tripadvisor, I learned that helicopter tours are not available in Yellowstone because they are not allowed within National Park lands. This was extremely helpful as I was hoping to surprise Fat Papa for his birthday. Oh well, maybe next year.
Tripadvisor can also help you find amazing local gems. Whenever we travel to the Hawaiian Islands, I always take a look at Tripadvisor to find local snorkel guides, art studios, small restaurants, and community markets. It is fun to see what is popular with both tourists and locals so you can get the best of both worlds on your trips.
National Park Service – Looking at me you might not think I get outside much or that I am a very active person. But don’t judge a book by its cover, dear ducky friends, this Fat Mama is constantly on the move. When I travel to new places around the States, I like to see what our National Park Services have to offer in the area. Some of our best family adventures have happened in State and National Parks!
Itsy Bitsy loves to do small hikes, be in nature, and see the beauty that this world has to offer. That is why when we travel, Fat Papa and I try to hit up as many State and National Parks with her as we can. And WOW has it paid off!
Not only has visiting National and State parks become a fun family bonding activity, but it has encouraged us to get outside and active even more. Our family now has a goal of visiting all 60+ National Parks across the country, and this summer we get to mark at least six more parks off our list!
So when I am planning a National Park visit, I always start with the NPS.gov website for information on safety, lodging, dining, activities, and Voluntourism. I love how you can search for National Parks by state, events, and activities. The website might be a little clunky, but overall, it is easy to use and navigate.
Like Tripadvisor, the NPS website gives you a great idea of what you can expect when you visit a region. From articles about local happenings and history, to information about the communities surrounding the Park and special events in the Park, this website is a wealth of information without all the public color commentary.
Fat Mama Tip: If you know you want to go on a family adventure this summer but are not sure where that adventure should be, then I highly recommend starting with NPS.gov. You will have the tools you need to find a Park that interests your family, plan an amazing trip, and create memories that will last a lifetime. I have yet to regret a trip that included a visit to a National or State Park!
Well, there you have it, ducky friends, a list of my favorite 5 travel planning websites. If you stick with these 5 websites, and pepper in some of your favorite membership or credit card based services, then you are going to be like a rubber duck this summer with your trip planning. Like a rubber duck, you will rise above everything, go with the flow, and always have a smile on your face.
Keep Calm and Quack On!