Tech Tools for Summer Travel
Simplify Planning With a Few Awesome Tools
Summer is the time when teachers everywhere take a deep breath and relax for a minute, before the flurry of vacation and professional development begins. Personally, my summer is a mixture of traveling to conferences and workshops that I’m speaking at, along with finding interesting ways to entertain my two boys. The apps here are ones that I like to use when I’m planning and preparing to head out of state (or anywhere beyond my Central Florida home base).
Apps for Getting There
For me, the biggest thing (and therefore the thing I tackle first) is how I’m getting to my destination. Usually this means flying. And stress. So, my goal is to avoid stress (and find the flight that is just the right combo of cheap and easy). Here are my go-to tools:
I usually start at Google Flights because there are tons of awesome options to help me find a good flight. It will even track prices on flights that I search. It’s by Google, so it’s intuitive and easy to use. If you’re not a fan of this, you can try Skyscanner to find the cheapest prices.
The Airline's Website
Once I’ve found some flights that look good, I head to the airline’s website. There are a couple of reasons that I book from the airline directly. First, they often have the best deals since they aren’t working through a middleman. Also, if I have to cancel or change a booking, it’s usually easier to work through the airline. My favorite airlines include Southwest (they’re hilarious and have a nice balance of price and amenities), Allegiant (super cheap but only fly on certain days and certain routes), and Delta (mostly because they fly almost anywhere and have a huge selection of times).
Sometimes I just can’t find what I want at the airline’s website, or I’m going to have to mix and match airlines to get the right time and route. If that happens, I go to Expedia. There are lots of other aggregate sites out there, but this is the one I liked when I was starting out, and I’ve just stuck with it since then. Sites like Expedia are helpful because they’re a one-stop-shop, and you can mix-and-match different airlines easily.
Apps for Staying There
Once I’ve got the flight booked, I feel like I can breathe a little. There are two main things that I book next: a place to stay and a way to get around. Sometimes a city has great public transportation that gives an easy way to get from the airport to the hotel to wherever I want to go. That’s awesome and saves a step. But more often than not, I’ve got to get a car. Below are some of my favorite tools to enjoy my stay more.
A Rental Vehicle
I always need a way to get around. And, usually, walking from the airport isn’t an option (for me, anyway). My favorite is Enterprise (mostly, because they pick me up… a lot – and they’re close to my house, so I can wrack up points whether I’m renting locally or while traveling).
However, there are several other really good rental companies. This is where it can be helpful to use something like Expedia again, so you can compare prices of companies available at your destination. Another favorite is Car Hub.
Or you could just call an Uber.
Finding a good (not scary) hotel can be a challenge. There are a lot of options (like AirBnB, which I haven’t used, but I hear is pretty awesome), including the aforementioned Expedia. But, I really like Booking.com. It’s part of the Priceline group, so I often find super low prices there that aren’t always available at other places.
Sometimes, I’ll find a good price at Booking.com, and then go to the actual hotel’s website to see if they can give me a better deal. This is similar to my thinking with flights – often hotels can give you better deals, and they can usually be more flexible with guests who book directly.
An alternative to Booking.com is Travel Pony where you can search hotels and vacation rentals.
Once you’re there, you need to eat, right? You can’t just hang out in the hotel the whole time (although, if I’m honest, sometimes I enjoy the peace and quiet!). My go-to for finding good restaurants locally is Yelp. I love that I can read reviews of places, as well as narrow my search by distance, price, or ambiance. Another favorite of mine is Google’s “Near Me” searches. Google uses your location to show you restaurants nearby, and it gives you a couple of reviews and links you to their site.
Apps for Pulling It All Together
Flight – check! Rental car – check! Hotel – check! And now I’ve got reservations everywhere. Surely there’s got to be a place where I can see everything all in one place. Of course there is! Here are my favorites.
I love TripIt. Seriously. It’s amazing. Once you give it access to your email account, it automatically pulls in any reservation information that you receive. Once it has the information, it creates an itinerary of your upcoming journey. You can add notes or appointments or reservations for restaurants (if they didn’t send an email). You can even add collaborators to help with your itinerary. This is my absolute go-to for trip planning. It’s also one of the first apps I install on my phone.
Google Trips is an app that is similar to TripIt. It connects with your email and helps you plan your stay in a location. Once it detects that you’re heading somewhere, it collects your reservations, offers recommendations for things to do and places to eat. It also lets you save places that you want to visit for easy access later. It even offers a “Need to Know” section with helpful tips and pointers about wherever you’re heading. Definitely a cool app. It’s also one that I always install. I like the way it gives suggestions for things and places.