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Planning a trip can take hours if not days, especially with kids running around the house! But don’t fret parents, with the travel planning apps and sites these days, it doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming at all.
Did you know, Google is now almost a one-stop go-to travel planning site. Google has made our lives so much easier as they continue to add new features in assisting us with travel planning. Flights, hotels, attractions, routes and itineraries can all be done on this single website.
So here’s a hot tip, keep it simple and stick with Google as much as you can.
In this post, we’ll share step by step on how to plan a trip using the best travel planning apps along with Google. You’ll find 2 videos where you get to plan a last-minute trip with us and see how we sequence each step to ensure a trip is organized quickly and efficiently. Of course, we’ll also be throwing in the best mama’s travel tips to help you kick start an awesome holiday.
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Step 1: Booking Flights
Our new favourite travel planning app to search for flights is Google Flights. Google Flights give you an overview of the prices on its calendar where you can see the best dates to travel at a glance. However, there were instances where the prices were outdated when you click into it. So use Google Flights as a budgeting guide and once you have a price point to work with…
Hop on to Skyscanner and see what you can find on the same dates compared to those on Google Flights. This travel planning app and site is still our favourite as it’s always up-to-date and captures the best prices out there. Did you know? You can put in ‘everywhere’ as a destination to plan your trip based on your budget.
However, don’t just settle on these 2 apps. Next, let’s take a look at Trip. Like Google Flights, the best feature I love about Trip.com, is you can see the prices right from the calendar view. This is very handy if your itineraries are flexible because sometimes prices will vary hugely just a day or two apart.
Great, now we have 3 price references, it’s pretty safe to say you have found the best airfares that fall into the dates of your vacation. Now, go ahead with the booking on your preferred travel planning app and lock in those dates.
Step 2: Booking Hotels
Horray, now on to the exciting part. Before we get carried away picturing ourselves in luxury hotels and resorts, we need to know exactly where we will be when we land and where we want to base ourselves. So let’s get an orientation of the destination on Google Maps first.
First night & Last night
As a guideline, we always book our accommodations with the first and last night of our trips in mind. Depending on the arrival and departure times of your flights and the distance to your base, you may want to change hotels for the rest of your stay.
For our trip to Wellington, we want to stay close to the airport for the first and last night of our trip because our flight arrives in the evening, and departs early in the morning. So there’s really not much time to enjoy the hotel facilities on those 2 nights and it’s the best way to save $$ on airport transfers. We have decided on Rydges Wellington Airport, which is a fairly new hotel situated right above the International Terminal of Wellington Airport. It’s within walking distance, even with our luggage and a toddler, that’s perfect for us!
Update: Our evening flight was cancelled, so we ended up going with the morning flight the next day. It all worked out perfectly as all we had to do was cancel the first night accommodation at Rydges Wellington Airport, and the rest of the booking remained the same. If you want to find out how we got our compensation, check this post for 6 tips on what to do when your flight is cancelled.
For the remaining 3 nights, we need to know where we want to base ourselves first. So let’s do our homework on the top things to do and the location of major attractions before booking the rest of our stay.
The simplest way is to use Google, by typing in ‘attractions in XXX (with kids)’, Google will give you a list of top attractions that you can bookmark straight into your Google Map! Flag all the points of interest that you would like to visit, so you can get an overview later.
Zoom out of Google Maps, and now you can clearly see where your flags are. Search for hotels within that radius, and you’ll narrow down your options immediately.
If you’re going to hire a car, factor in the possibility of doing a few road trips in the surrounding regions. If any area interests you, and require an overnight stay, make sure you leave out the accommodation for those dates.
Booking The Hotel
Let’s go ahead and search for hotels with your favourite travel planning app or site. I prefer to use Hotels.com app. The reason why I chose Hotels.com over the other accommodation booking sites is its simplicity and highly attractive rewards program. The occasional app discounts also keep me coming back to this app.
Note: please check the T&C of the rewards program of your booking site. At Hotels.com, you cannot collect nights when you use discount coupons or redeem your nights. So it’s either-or, but nevertheless, the rewards are about 10% of your total spend.
Okay, I have compared the value of the rewards as well, and I haven’t found any other sites with a massive difference, so I’m going to back my favourite booking site for the time being – Hotels.com.
However, I always check Trivago before making any decisions. Very often, Trivago will beat the booking site prices and offer you a secret discount. I have done a video on this, you can check out this post to see what I mean! If you do find a cheaper price through Trivago, but prefer to use your booking site for the loyalty program, in my case – Hotels.com. You can call them and ask for a price match. Hotels.com not only will match the price they can find on public booking sites, you can also collect reward nights on top of that!
The best way to narrow down your searches, is to search for available hotels in Map View. Usually I would try a few filters such as ‘rating above xx’ or ‘free breakfast’. However, if you find your options are very limited, try to leave out the filters and go into the listings to check their facilities and inclusions. Often times, the filters are not very accurate and reliable.
Before booking the hotel, make sure you read the fine prints. Are there any credit card surcharges, cancellation policy, bedding arrangement, and inclusions/exclusion. Make sure you’re logged in to the app or site to collect your reward points!
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Step 3: Transportation
Are you hiring a car? Would you need airport transfers? Now that you have a brief outline of the itinerary and hotel confirmation, you can go ahead and plan out your transportation.
✫ Hot Tips
Initially, we booked a car for the entire trip after seeing how cheap it was to hire a car in Wellington. However, we later discovered the parking cost at our hotel was more than the car hire itself!
So as we were staying in the CBD (Central Business District) of an urban city this time, we figured public transportation would be a good idea for most of our trips. We do want to do a day trip to explore the surrounding regions of Wellington, so we have decided to hire a car for the last night. This is convenient for us as we can drop off the car at the airport, right before checking into our hotel at the airport before flying out the next day.
Our preferred travel planning apps for booking car hires, are Qeeq (formerly known as Easy Rent Cars) and AirportRentalCars. We’re a small family looking for a basic car with a forward-facing baby seat, and we found the best option on Airport Rentals, so that’s what we will go with this time.
If you’re leaving car rentals last-minute, there are usually car hire companies in the airport where you can check availability on the spot. We usually go with Europcar and Avis as our trusted car hire companies.
That’s it! We just planned a trip in under 30 minutes! Now, time to chase after the toddler again. Happy travels!
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Interactive Packing List for Every Vacation
If you need a packing list for things like travel essentials, baby bag, beach vacations, camping, clothing and toiletries, be sure to use The Ultimate Interactive Packing List we’ve compiled for families just like yours.
This packing list is interactive, meaning you can tick them off after you pack to make sure nothing is left behind!
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In the meantime…
How do you plan a trip together, share your time-saving and money-saving tips with us!