We have been planning our trip since 2003, and actively saving for it since 2006. Travel planning is equal parts fun and frustration. It’s exciting to make plans and to see a trip coming together, but it’s also a lot of work researching your destination, arranging transportation and lodging, and determining how long you’ll need in order to do everything you planned. You become a project manager, event coordinator, location scout, travel agent, and financial planner all at once. The last time I went on an extended trip overseas, I didn’t have a lot of the tools and web sites available today. Travel planning is a bit easier these days now that the Internet can provide so much information. Here are the 12 tools that I use extensively for our RTW trip planning.
Spreadsheets may be a bit antiquated, but there’s no quicker way for me to determine travel dates and keep all those destinations straight. If you have a lot of destinations, it can become tedious to keep track of where and when you’ll be somewhere. I originally set up an Excel spreadsheet with destinations, dates, approximate costs, and visa requirements back in 2003 and have updated it frequently. It became the basis of our savings goal. I recently transferred the spreadsheet to Google Docs and keep it updated online now. The format hasn’t changed much since I first created it. The dates are automatically calculated from the initial starting date. I enter the number of nights we plan to stay at a destination and the spreadsheet calculates the arrival dates for all the following destinations. It becomes a dynamic, ever-changing master document that is invaluable for advanced planning. Unlike other online tools, you can add or remove columns for whatever you want to track.
I also keep additional sheets for budgeting and spending. As you start to pay for your trip, especially in different currencies, it’s a good idea to track your spending. Not only does this help you see if you’re following your budget, but it will alert you to any fraudulent charges as you start using a credit card everywhere online. And since it’s a Google document, changes you make are saved immediately and available on all your devices.
As you start booking your reservations, you’ll start getting lots of email confirmations and they’ll be scattered throughout your email inbox. TripIt takes all those emails and organizes them into a trip itinerary. It can even be set up to automatically recognize travel email and create new itineraries. Once in TripIt, you can view your schedule and get notifications for upcoming travel, helping keep you on schedule. You’ll have one central place for all your confirmation numbers, although it’s always a good idea to have a printed copy too for times you may not have Internet access. If you want to have more features including real-time flight alerts and refund notifications, you can sign up for TripIt Pro for $49/year. I have other apps that do the same things for free so the free version works fine for me.
A sub-site of BootsnAll, Indie is a great planning tool for RTW travel. Simply enter your route, it appears on the map with estimated costs, and if you want, you can even check fares. It will return fares based on the least expensive, fastest route, or fewest stops. Although it’s a great planning tool, I feel there are better sites out there for booking airfares. Even though there isn’t a link back to BootsnAll.com, be sure to check out that site if you need extra inspiration to travel.
Have you ever wondered how you’re going to get from point A to point B on the map and how long it might take? Well, this is the site for you. Rome2Rio allows you to enter two or more locations and it will show you all the available routes—flights, ferries, trains, buses, taxis and driving. It also tells you how long each form of transportation will take and gives a rough estimate of the cost including gasoline if you’re driving. It even links to accommodations organized by cost. Your routing will have a unique URL, so you can save your route and return to it later.
You’ll notice that flight costs vary wildly, but entering specific dates will give you a much better estimate for flight costs. While I find that it’s a great way to plan your routes and budget for your transportation costs, it doesn’t always include ALL the available options. Since they probably make money directing users to flight options, these tend to be the first thing that pops up. Train and bus travel isn’t always accurate, if it’s even listed as an option at all. I tried to find an overland train route along Eastern Africa and nothing came up. Which leads to the next site.
Train travel takes you back in time when everything moved at a slower pace. It’s a great way to see a country and mingle with its people. Railways often take you to places you can’t see by any other means, including driving. Seat 61 is the ultimate train travel site written and maintained by Mark Smith, a former railway employee and train aficionado in the U.K. It contains a wealth of information on routes, timetables and reviews for train travel on six continents. It has information not found anywhere else online, even the railway company websites. It’s an especially helpful alternative to those railway sites that are non-English or poorly organized. It also has information for alternative means of transportation, such as buses and ferries, where train travel isn’t available. It’s the first place I check if I want to move about a country without resorting to a airline flight. He doesn’t sell anything nor does he book tickets on his site, so you still have to figure out how to book online or simply wait and purchase tickets at the station.
Travel takes money and since we’re not all independently wealthy, that usually means we need to budget and save for our trips. It can be difficult enough to plan the financial aspects of a journey within your own country, much less around the world. Short of reading reviews and checking prices for everywhere you plan to go, Numbeo’s travel price indexes are a great way to get a rough idea of travel costs on your journey. Organized by country and major cities, the indexes compare the cost of travel, as a business traveler or as a low-budget backpacker, to the typical cost in New York City. It also provides up-to-date dollar amounts for a number of specific destinations. Use it as a starting point for how much food and shelter will cost along your journey. Since we don’t always want to travel like backpackers, our costs were somewhere in between the two indexes.
Flying is probably how you’re going to get from one continent to another. It’s quick and practical wherever there’s a large body of water to traverse. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious from where the best flights depart and to where they arrive. Google Flights does what most all the other flight consolidation sites do, and their searches include most of the discount airlines as well, but where it really shines is for trip planning using the Explore Map feature. Select a departure city and the map shows the destinations with the cost below each. By glancing at all the prices, you can get a rough idea of how much it will cost to various destinations. Want to know where you can go for $200? Select Price from the options and move the slider to filter out more expensive destinations. And, if you’re beholden to certain airline award programs, you can select Airline to filter the selection to Oneworld, SkyTeam, or Star Alliance partners. Pick a destination and Google graphs the costs of ±12 days to show you when the cheapest fares occur. Go ahead and play around with it. It’s addictive.
I used to use Kayak a lot for finding our flights, but lately, I’ve noticed fewer discount airline options appearing in the results. Something has changed and it’s not for the better. I read about Momondo online and have started using them instead of Kayak. Most of the discount airlines, especially the ones in Asia, appear in the results and they also graph the costs just like Google Flights to show you the cheapest days to fly and also how prices are trending. So far, I’ve found low priced airfares on this site that most others haven’t. That in itself makes using Momondo worth it.
What can you say about Airbnb that hasn’t already been said. It has become the number one lodging site on the Internet for good reason; cheap lodging, especially in expensive places such as London and Paris. Depending on where you stay, it’s a great way to meet local hosts and get recommendations for local food or sights. I love the map feature to zoom in on a specific area, and the fact that you’re actually communication directly with your hosts is reassuring. However, anytime there’s a successful site, you have scammers taking advantage of people. I found that whenever something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, especially if there aren’t any reviews, or the one or two reviews it does have seem too favorable. I take a portion of the description and search on Google for that text. If I locate a similar listing elsewhere for sale or for lease, I know that it’s probably a scam. If you’re in doubt, contact the person listing the apartment or house and ask to see a copy of a utility bill with their name and address on it to verify it is their property. No response is usually a sure sign of a scammer.
I have been using their guide books for years, but hauling around hundreds of pages of heavy paper just isn’t practical. In the past, I tore the books up to make it easier to transport. Now, you can simply have the entire book on your tablet or laptop. After all, you’re probably going to bring your electronics, so why carry any more than necessary. To save money, you can even buy just the chapters you need for a specific area. Their country specific sections of their web site and online forum are also great places to get questions answered and find out much more about your destinations. Their inspiration section contains a wealth of articles with practical tips and tricks. It’s nothing less than what I would expect from LP.
You and I pay taxes for this information, so why make use of it. Here you’ll find just about everything you’ll need to know about visa and entry requirements of the countries you’ll be visiting, as well as health and safety recommendations. Know how much it will cost to enter the country, how long you can stay, what activities, such as working, you can perform while you’re there, the shots you’ll need, and who to contact locally should you run into trouble. Read the State Department travel advisories and warnings before you plan that trip to Pakistan or Mali. While it’s easy to dismiss the warnings as being paranoid or thinking, “That won’t happen to me,” do a quick search on “travel dangers in _____” (insert your destination), and you’ll see that it happens often enough to take heed. Finally, if you know where you are going and when you’ll be there, you should enroll in the Bureau of Consular Affair’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). That way, you will stay informed about events that may have an impact on your safety.
Trip Advisor used to be a great source of information for most destinations, and generally, it still has lots of useful advice. Recently, however, I noticed their move toward monetizing the site has begun to bring up a lot of irrelevant or duplicate information made to look like organic results to a search. The reviews are only useful if you have some background on the reviewer and their tastes. It’s quickly becoming the Yelp of the travel industry. Nonetheless, when I want to know what tourist sites other people liked to visit, where they found a good restaurant in town, or which places to avoid, I usually check Trip Advisor. After all, the better informed I am, the fewer surprises that I’ll encounter.
That’s it. Those are the online sites that I use most for trip planning. Did I miss something that you find useful. Add a comment to let me know.