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Travel Planning Tips + Resources for Savvy Travelers

We’ve planned many trips over the years and have come to trust and rely on certain companies for travel products and services.

The travel resources below are ones we love and believe in.

We’ve also learned a few tips along the way (e.g., why you sometimes don’t want to book airline tickets with third-parties like Expedia).

These tips are shared below too.

Travel Resources
A seamless journey depends on good tips for car rentals, hotel bookings, travel insurance and more!

Contents: Trip planning resources

Hotels

Vacation homes + apartments

Flights

Getting around on the ground

Local tours + attractions

Travel insurance

Travel gear

    Some links below are affiliate links; we may earn a small commission if you click on them.

    Hotels

    Booking.com

    As professional travel writers, we’re sometime invited to stay at hotels for free or at a discount so we can review them (see all our hotel reviews).

    When we pay for hotel accommodation, we usually use Booking.com.

    The site has a huge selection of hotels and resorts around the world, and it doesn’t charge any booking fees. Plus, it’s so easy to use.

    What we especially like about Booking.com

    We like that most properties offer free cancellation and don’t require payment in advance.

    (You can often pay less for non-refundable prepayment. But we prefer to pay a bit more for the ability to change our plans.)

    Another plus: With Booking.com, once you book a second hotel within two years, you automatically become a “Genius” member.

    Depending on your Genius level, you get 10% to 15% off hotel rates, free breakfast and free room upgrades at select properties around the world.

    Agoda

    Agoda is widely used for booking hotels in Asia – we used it successfully to get good rates on hotels on one trip to Thailand. (Interestingly, it’s owned by Booking.com.)

    Rates for some hotels in Asia may be slightly less than on Booking.com.

    And some people find that the reviews on Agoda are more detailed.

    Finding great hotels

    So how do we come up with possible hotels we might like to stay at?

    Why we like Booking.com for hotels
    We snagged this great villa hotel in Sri Lanka after looking at reviews

    We read hotel reviews by The Telegraph (British newspaper), Mr. and Mrs Smith, Condé Nast Traveler and Forbes.com.

    Google, for example, “best luxury hotels in X city” or “boutique hotels in X country” – these publications and sites often yield articles on great places to stay.

    We also scour pictures on Pinterest for hotels that look incredible.

    Then we dive deeper and check out reviews of particular hotels on TripAdvisor. If a common theme crops up (like “thin walls” and “noisy”), well give the hotel a pass.

    Other hotel booking tips

    1) Make sure airport hotels are actually at the airport and have a 24/7 airport shuttle.

    2) Check that the hotel is walking distance to restaurants and cafés. You don’t want to be stuck with limited eating options and forced to pay high hotel restaurant prices.

    3) Book hotels close to train and subway stations if in big cities, so you can easily get around.

    Vacation homes and apartments

    Vrbo

    If you’d rather not stay in a hotel and would like more space to spread out – plus a kitchen! – check out Vrbo (Vacation Rentals By Owner).

    We’ve had great success with Vrbo, booking cottages for summer vacations on Salt Spring Island and condo-style units for winter vacations in Kauai.

    When we’ve had to cancel, we’ve always received a full refund (no issues).

    Having a “home away from home” is especially nice when you’re staying put for a while.

    Vrbo is like Airbnb. But Vrbo only offers whole apartment units, cottages and homes.

    Vrbo doesn’t offer any single rooms in a house. (This means you don’t have to filter out shared stays when you search.)

    Tip: For search filters, we always click “highly rated for cleanliness” plus properties owned or managed by “Premier Hosts” that are rated 4+ stars.

    Airbnb

    We’re also a fan of Airbnb.

    We stayed at several Airbnbs in Victoria, BC – the city where we now live – before moving and buying a home here.

    Tips for finding great Airbnbs

    1) Pick Airbnbs with great reviews and whose hosts are quick to respond to your emails.

    2) Choose Airbnbs that are rented out exclusively as a business (not used personally at all) and ones that are professionally cleaned after each stay.

    3) Pick a place with Super-hosts– this almost always guarantees a good Airbnb experience.

    4) Look at at Airbnb Plus properties – these are listings boasting “exceptional quality, comfort and style” (4.8 average guest rating in the previous year).

    Flights

    Here’s to a good flight!

    Tips for booking flights

    Google Flights

    We often start looking for flights by checking Google Flights first.

    It’s great for getting an idea of prices and the airlines that fly to where you want to go.

    We also check directly with the airline website to see what prices they offer and if they have better connections or routes.

    Kayak

    Kayak is one of the most popular flight (and travel) search engines.

    And for good reason.

    It’s trusted and reliable, and it’s designed to help you quickly research the best flight options. (You’ve no doubt heard about it!)

    Enter your destination and dates, and in just a few seconds, Kayak will compare the airfares from hundreds of airlines and travel sites to come up with the best flight deals.

    Clicking through takes you directly to the airline or online travel agency, where you can book your flight and finalize your payment.

    If you’re not yet ready to book, Kayak can send you price alerts.

    Expedia

    For booking the cheapest flights, Expedia is one of the biggest and best online travel agencies.

    (If you’re in Canada, use the Canadian Expedia site.)

    Flight cancellations and refunds

    It’s very tempting to buy your airline tickets through a third-party website or online travel agency like Expedia, especially when you can find better fares through them.

    Just be aware that your tickets may be non-refundable. And if you need to make a change, you typically have to go through the seller; the airline may not deal directly with you (much more hassle than contacting the airline directly).

    If the airline offers flights for the same price as Expedia, for example, you may be better off to book directly with the airline.

    Sometimes you may even prefer to pay more than the lowest price for the ability to change your flights or cancel them for a refund (perhaps with a penalty) – without losing everything.

    Because, you know, the best-laid plans of mice and men…

    SeatGuru

    And don’t forget to check SeatGuru before booking your seat!

    It provides seating plans for most airlines and planes. You want to pick a “green” seat. (We personally also like to be closer to the front of the plane.)

    Airline reviews

    Read some of our airline reviews:

    Getting around on the ground

    5 Ways to get around within a city

    Walk: If we can, we like to walk most places.

    Bus, subway, train: For longer distances within a city, check out bus, subway and train transportation options.

    Transport pass: Consider a city transport pass. Will it be cheaper than doing multiple bus or subway rides?

    Taxis: Don’t assume taxis are always expensive. In some places, cab rides are only a few dollars and worth shelling out for.

    Uber: See if Uber is cheaper than a taxi. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

    Renting a car

    Discover Cars

    Discover Cars is a reputable search engine platform for car rentals that’s been around since 2013.

    They were named the world’s best car rental booking website in the “World Travel Tech Awards” in 2022. They’ve won this award for 3 years in a row now. (They’ve also been nominated for “Europe’s best car rental booking website 2023” and the “world’s best car rental booking app 2023.”)

    They’re a price comparison website for renting a car, operating in over 150 countries.

    Pop in your dates and where you want to rent a car, and the Discover Cars site will return a choice of different car rental agencies and vehicles (from economy up), along with the best prices.

    You’ll find a number of the big-name car rental companies like Hertz, Budget and Alamo showing up, as well as smaller rental options that you’ve probably never heard of.

    You’ll also see each car rental company’s rating and links to their rental conditions.

    We’ve used Discover Cars. And we find their prices are significantly cheaper than going directly through the car rental company.

    For example, in one instance, we could get a Hertz car through Discover Cars for about $150 less (for a 6-day rental) than by booking directly through Hertz.

    Now, typically you pay a deposit when you book online with Discover Cars. Sometimes the full amount is required upfront.

    (If you book directly through a big-name car rental agency, you have the option of not paying anything upfront – but of course, the rate is more expensive).

    You can cancel for free with Discover Cars up to 48 hours before the scheduled pick-up. You’ll receive a credit, valid for up to 3 years, toward another booking with Discover Cars.

    Renting a car is a great way to explore as you wish, on your own terms

    Hertz

    Hertz is one of the biggest rental car companies, with over 3,700 locations in the U.S. and offices in 150 countries around the world.

    You can find offices in cities and places away from airports, which can be convenient if you don’t want to rent directly from the airport.

    When booking, you often don’t even have to give your credit card number to reserve – you can choose just to pay at the counter (no prepayment or deposit).

    There’s usually also a “Pay Now” option if you want to pay less upfront (with cancellation fees if you cancel more than 24 hours before the pick-up).

    Hertz also has a good loyalty rewards program.

    As with Discover Cars, we’ve been happy booking with Hertz too.

    Car rental insurance

    Note that car rental insurance is typically an extra cost.

    You might have to pay (or choose to pay) for:

    • Collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW) – to cover loss or damage to the rental vehicle
    • Third-party liability insurance – to cover claims for vehicle damage or injury to others

    Refunds and early car rental returns

    You’ll typically snag great deals and the cheapest prices if you pay in full in advance.

    The downside is there’ll either be a cancellation fee, or your payment will be completely non-refundable if you have to cancel in advance. And you usually can’t get a refund for unused days if you have to cut your car rental short after picking up the car.

    For example, we booked and prepaid RentalCars.com almost $600 for a rental car in Sicily for six days. (It was a little cheaper than going directly through Europcar, the main car rental company in Sicily.) But we returned the car within 24 hours, upon quickly realizing we were no match for Sicily’s drivers – and requested a refund for the unused rental.

    Too bad, said RentalCars.com. There are no refunds for canceling after the arranged pick-up time. It was in the fine print (which we didn’t read.) Ouch!

    Many big-name car rental companies even charge you an additional fee (early return fees) for returning the car early!

    Enterprise Rent-a-Car is known for having one of the best early return policies. They’ll only charge you for the days you had the vehicle (unless you prepaid in full, then there’s no refund for an early return).

    But, of course, you’ll typically pay more for this flexibility than you will by booking through, for example, Discover Cars.

    Local tours and attractions

    Guided Tours
    Booking guided tours can unveil hidden gems in your destinations

    GetYourGuide

    Traveling independently? You might want local experts to show you around in the city or country you’re visiting.

    GetYourGuide is where you can book guided sightseeing and other tours plus adventure activities.

    It’s a global platform, used by millions, that connects travelers with more than 60,000 tours and excursions around the world.

    Choose from a wide range of experiences – everything from guided walking and bicycle tours to cooking classes to pottery lessons with local artisans.

    Sea kayaking in Rhodes, Greece
    We used GetYourGuide to book a sea kayaking trip in Rhodes, Greece

    Viator

    A TripAdvisor company, Viator is another leading global site for booking local walking, food and other guided tours.

    You’ll find more than 300,000 travel experiences on Viator.

    CityPASS

    CityPASS bundles the admission fees to some of a city’s best attractions and tours in one low price (saving you up to 30 to 50%). And you get to skip many ticket lines too.

    Cities where the pass is offered include New York City (Yeah! We loved visiting the Met Museum and other NYC hot spots with CityPASS), Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Orlando, Chicago and more…

    Travel insurance

    We never travel without travel insurance.

    Travel medical insurance covers you if you need emergency medical treatment while traveling out of your country.

    It can cover things as simple as getting an ear infection while snorkeling in Thailand and needing to see a doctor for antibiotics. It also protects you in the case of serious accidents or illnesses requiring hospitalization.

    What’s covered are your medical expenses.

    Then there’s trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance.

    This insurance reimburses you for your prepaid (and non-refundable) trip costs if you have to cancel your trip because, for example, you get sick before you go.

    It also reimburses you if you have to cut your trip short and fly home if, for example, severe weather cancels your flights or damages your hotel. And if your trip is interrupted, it will pay for you to get home.

    Sometimes a travel insurance package includes both the medical expenses component and the trip insurance.

    You can also buy just the travel medical insurance separately and the trip cancellation and interruption insurance separately.

    Your credit card

    You may already have travel insurance coverage through your credit card. Do check the details and limits. For example, if you have a premium credit card, it may cover the first 15 days of your trip if you’re under 65.

    SafetyWing

    SafetyWing has created a travel medical insurance program, designed specifically for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads.

    They pay up to $250,000 in medical care ($100,000 for travelers aged 65 and older). There’s a $250 deductible.

    SafetyWing’s travel insurance covers a whole range of adventure sports and activities (including scuba diving for PADI-certified divers), so you can explore your boundaries. 

    What’s included in their insurance coverage? Some examples:

    • Emergency medical treatment
    • Emergency dental expenses
    • Medical expenses
    • Hospital expenses
    • Transportation of family member from home country in case of an extended hospital stay
    • Medical visits in your home country (up to 30 days; 15 days if your home country is the USA)
    • Lost checked luggage
    • Trip interruption
    • Travel delay

    Like most travel insurance policies, certain things aren’t covered, for example, pre-existing conditions. (And SafetyWing doesn’t offer coverage if you’re over 69 years of age.)

    Even if you leave home without travel insurance, you can buy it while away.

    SafetyWing works like a monthly subscription. It automatically extends every 28 days until you choose an end date.

    Medjet

    As well as travel insurance, we also have a Medjet membership.

    If hospitalized, Medjet will fly you to the hospital of your choice within your home country.

    Yes, standard travel medical insurance covers emergency medical evacuation. But it will only cover transportation to the nearest hospital they deem acceptable that can treat you.

    After reading about a traveler stuck for weeks in a South African hospital who couldn’t get flown back home to the U.S., we decided to buy peace of mind with Medjet.

    It means we can be transported to a hospital back home if we end up in hospital while traveling.

    Travel gear

    Our travel product reviews

    Beach sandals: Find cute flip-flops, comfy water shoes and other lovely beach sandals for women.

    Travel sandals: See this selection of the best travel sandals for men and women – they’re stylish and super comfortable!

    Water sandals: We’ve also sussed out the best water sandals for women. (Hmmm… Do we have a thing for footwear?)

    Men’s footwear: Hey guys! Check out the best flip-flops for men (ones that are comfortable to wear all day long in summer).

    Ear plugs: When you’re a light sleeper, you want the best ear plugs for sleeping (these ones are perfect for at-home and traveling).

    Essential carry-on items: Check out the carry-on travel essentials you’ll want to take on the plane with you, from the best travel neck pillow to nifty disposable toothbrushes.

    Our travel shop

    Looking for luggage? Snorkeling gear? Beach stuff? Click here to browse our travel shop.

    Looking for more travel stuff?

    We love Amazon! Shop on Amazon now.

    Sand In My Suitcase is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

    Enjoy your trip!

    These essential travel resources should help you travel more confidently. Now you know how to better research and book hotels for the best rates, scout out affordable car rentals and more…

    And it’s worth repeating: Never overlook the safety net of travel insurance!

    Safe and wonderful journeys begin with smart planning. Enjoy!


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    Travel planning and travel resources

    About the authors

    Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

    Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!