How to Plan for a Vacation

Travel Apps

Here are some travel tips, tricks, & tools I use to plan for a vacation.

Google Sheets: I use Google Sheets to create a spreadsheet with all my travel information. This is best done through your desktop/browser. If I end up without WiFi or data, I can still access any vital information or make updates on my trip.

I use the Google Sheets app on my phone to access the spreadsheets.

If you are traveling in a group, everyone can edit the Google Sheet once they have access to it.

Here’s a copy of my Ashville Google spreadsheet.

U.S. Department of State Website: This website is another excellent resource for travel planning. They indicate the level of safety in each country based on the local political and health situations, including COVID-19, laws, general country information, current COVID-19 restrictions, border closures, and more. It’sIt’s also a good idea to enroll in their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) when you travel, which will notify you of any dangers or exceptional circumstances.

Pinterest is great for finding travel tips.

BLOGS & WEBSITES

I’ll do an internet search for my travel destination and add the word “blog.” I think blogs offer the best itineraries and travel recommendations.

I save articles using the Pocket App and Pinterest.

Some of my favorite websites for specific travel destinations include:
Patricia Wells: Patricia chronicles her food adventures in Paris.

My Little Paris: Find out what’s new and happening in Paris: boutiques, restaurants, hidden treasures, and the latest trends.

The Hip Paris Blog: Insider tips and insights on dining, shopping, culture, renting, and living in Paris and Italy.

David Lebovitz: Acclaimed pastry chef and food writer David Lebovitz, who learned the ropes at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, has been Parisian since 2002. His memoir, A Sweet Life in Paris, is one of my book recommendations. Lebovitz records witty and mouth-watering musings on everything from his favorite Paris baguettes to where to hang with the kids in Paris.

Girls Guide to Paris: The site is curated by Paris insiders and experts to make your trip a dream vacation.

ItalyKatie Perla / Girl in Florence / Elizabeth Minchilli.
Goop Guides: Another favorite for popular destinations.

Suitcase / Boat /  Cereal / Petite Passport all feature online travel guides.

My favorite miles and points blogs are Frequent Miler / Miles to Memories / Doctor of Credit / Travelbloggerbuzz / Mileonomics.

*The Points Guy is owned by the banks.

GUIDE BOOKS

A few of my favorite guide books include: Paris By Design / Parisian Chic City Guide / Hello Sandwich Tokyo Guide / Petite Passport / Herb Lester / Cereal Guides / Drift / Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide.

MAPS

I like to create a custom Google Map to easily keep track of my hotel, attractions, photo ops, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and anything else I want to see. This is best done through your desktop/browser, where you can load tons of maps open various tabs during the planning phase and not while you’re out and about on the street.

Here’s how to get started setting up a custom Google map:

Open Google Maps, search for something (usually your hotel or lodging is an excellent place to start), click on the pin, then “Save to map,” and click on the drop-down and select “Create a new map” and “Save.”
Now that you’ve got at least one pin on your new map, I love clicking on it and selecting “Search nearby” to find all the essentials – coffee, of course, is the first thing I look for near my hotel. Most hotels have coffee in the room or the hotel lobby, but I like going to a local coffee shop.

As you continue to use Google Maps moving forward, don’t forget you can click on any landmark in your search results, then “Save to Map.” I usually find some grocery stores and pharmacies if I need to stock up on something or have an emergency. Then I start adding restaurants and shops that I discover or have recommended to me. I love going through bloggers’ recommended lists and then throwing everything into my map! I also like to click on the pin and add a link.

This Portland Maine Food Map is an excellent example of organizing your map with links.

Here’s a detailed guide for using Google Maps.

In addition to custom Google Maps, I always travel with a printed map when visiting international destinations and large U.S. cities like New York City and Chicago. Internet access and cell phone service can be an issue when traveling, so it’s helpful to have a printed map.

My favorite maps are the Streetwise MapsThese maps are easy to read and unfold for effortless use. The detailed travel maps are pocket-sized for discretion, so you don’t stick out like a tourist. Check out the Artwise New York CityParis, or London editions if you enjoy visiting museums.

PODCASTS

I like to search in the podcast app for a specific destination like Japan that requires a lot of planning.

A few favorite podcasts include:
Milenomics / Miles to Memories / Observation Deck / Extra Pack of Peanuts

Instagram: By clicking the location tag, you can see the location on a map and photos taken. It’s also helpful to discover fantastic photo locations.

Some of my favorite travel accounts: lucylaucht / local_milk / laurenswells/ jessomewhere / parisinfourmonths / ananewyork annstreetstudio.

FOOD

Find My Gluten-Free App: I use this app to find gluten-free restaurants.

Eater: Travel guides, tips, and advice on the best restaurants and dining for eating like a local everywhere.

Resy: A great website to find restaurants in the city you are visiting.

Gluten-Free Ireland Guide: This is the best website for eating gluten-free in Ireland.

MAGAZINES

Drift: Each issue highlights a different city and where to drink the best coffee.

A few more of my favorite print and digital travel magazines: Suitcase / Boat/ Cereal / Petite Passport.

NEWSLETTERS

Travel Zoo’s Top 20 Deals is a weekly newsletter of the best deals in travel.

Scott’s Cheap Flights is a daily deal newsletter for international and domestic destinations. It has free and paid options.

Thrifty Traveler is a daily email of the best flight deals of the day.

FLIGHTS

Frequent Flyer Miles

Create loyalty accounts with every airline you fly with, over time they add up. When redeeming miles, international flights often offer much better bang for your buck than domestic. Use airline reward calendars to find the best deals on mileage rewards. The strongest loyalty programs of major US airlines are Delta SkyMiles / Southwest RapidRewards / American Airlines AAdvantage / United Mileage Plus.

Google Flights is one of the best sites to search for flights and compare prices.

Staff Traveler is the site I use to check non-rev loads.

Skiplagged finds cheap flights where you want to go is a layover along the way.

AirfareWatchdog is another site for tracking cheap flights.

Momondo is an aggregator that searches for the best airfare across the web.

Award Wallet is a one-of-a-kind service that helps you track all of your loyalty points including, frequent flier miles, hotel points, dining rewards, and shopping rewards.

Before getting started with any flight search tool, be sure to use an incognito window for searching or clear your browser’s cache after searching to avoid price increases.

HOTELS

I use my Hilton Honors American Express card to redeem points for hotel stays. I think it’s the best card to earn hotel stays.

Two critical benefits on the card include no foreign transaction fees and complimentary Hilton Silver status. No foreign transaction fees come in handy if you travel internationally.

Here’s a link to sign up and receive a free night plus 130,000 points.

Trip Advisor is my go-to for hotel reviews. I think it’s the most popular hotel review site, so new postings are uploaded almost daily, and people are brutally honest.

BiddingForTravel is the leading resource for informed Priceline bidding.

Priceline / Hotwire / HotelsTonight are sites for booking discounted lodging.

If you prefer to rent a room, apartment, or house for your trip, Airbnb.com/ HomeAway / VRBO / HostelWorld are popular.

House-sitting provides free accommodations on platforms like House Sitters America ($49 membership for one year) / Trusted House Sitters ($129 annual membership) / and Mind My House ($20 a year).

Before getting started with any hotel search tool, be sure to use an incognito window for searching or clear your browser’s cache after searching to avoid price increases.

CRUISES

Cruise Sheet is my favorite cruise site to find all the deals and makes finding a cheap cruise easy.

CruiseCompete and CruiseCritic are also great sites for researching and finding affordable cruises.

SAILING

Serendipity Travel is perfect for small group sailing. Edward’s sailing trips are the best! Upcoming trips include Croatia, The Amalfi Coast of Italy, and Patagonia/Southern Chile.

CAR RENTALS

AutoSlash and CarRentals.com track the lowest car rental prices.

Turo is the Airbnb of rental cars.

Costco Membership ($60 to $120 per year) for access to its travel department’s rental car deals.

TRAINS

Amtrak is a great option for travel between Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and New York City. Check the Amtrak deals page.

Virgin Trains is a great site for booking trains in the UK.

The Man in Seat 61 is the ultimate resource for train and overland travel worldwide. Want to know how to get around a certain country? The Man in Seat 61 will tell you.

Rome2Rio will help you find the most affordable way to get from point A to B.

INSURANCE

SquareMouth & InsureMyTrip are both excellent companies to consider if you’re looking to insure your trip.

RV

RVShare.com is the best site to rent an RV from private owners and dealers.

APPS

Here are a few of my favorite travel apps to help with the travel experience.

PLAN

Google Sheets App is helpful on the go as you’re able to access your documents wherever you are in the world, even if you have no WiFi. Free iOS, Android

Pack Point generates a customized list of items you should pack. Free iOS, Android

Wikipedia Around You allows you to search your location for articles about places, events, and points of interest in your surrounding area. Free iOS

World Mate helps you plan your trip. Free iOS, Android

TripIt syncs your flight confirmations, hotel reservations and more in your calendar. Simply send your travel confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and TripIt automatically creates a detailed daily itinerary for every trip. Free iOS, Android

Drop Box saves files from your computer in an online account for later access anywhere in the world. Free iOS, Android

Been tracks which countries you’ve traveled. Free iOS, Android

MAP IT

Google Maps is my go-to map companion. I like the alternate routes for walking, biking, and public transportation.  Free iOS, Android

Google Travel Mapper makes it easy to set up a map and plan an itinerary. Free iOS, Android

Maps With Me is a popular app for navigation. One key feature is the ability to download maps for offline viewing. Free iOS, Android

City Mapper is the ultimate transit app for travel to London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Washington DC, Madrid, Boston, Barcelona, SF Bay Area, Chicago, Milan, Rome.  It is an amazing app due to the extensive information the app shares with you. Free iOS, Android

City Maps 2Go helps you plan the perfect trip with detailed offline maps, in-depth travel content, popular places, and insider tips. $2.99 iOS, Android

Around Me answers one of the most common questions any traveler has: What’s nearby? The app identifies your position through GPS and allows you to choose from a list of places, including banks, gas stations, hotels or supermarkets. Free iOS, Android

RIDE

Uber is a ride share app.

Lyft is a ride share app.

Curb operates like Uber except a taxi company sends a driver. If Uber is not available, Curb is the next best option. Free iOS, Android

Waze will alert traffic incidents in real-time. Free iOS, Android

Best Parking helps you find the cheapest and most convenient parking facilities in cities and airports throughout North America. Free iOS, Android

Bikemap can help you to discover new routes to plan your next mountain bike or cycling trip. Free iOS, Android

CarRental is the app I use to compare car rental prices. I think it is the best site for comparison shopping. Free iOS

Zipcar is ideal for short rentals. Check to see if your company has a corporate account with Zipcar for discounts. Free iOS, Android

FLY

Flight View allows you to track the real-time flight status and tracking map of any commercial flight worldwide. You can opt for push notifications for flight departure and arrival information as well as cancellations, gate changes, delays, and diversions. 99 cents iOS

Lounge Buddy tells you which lounges you can access at any given airport. Free iOS

Skyscanner flight search will help you find cheap flights and airline tickets to your favorite travel destinations. Free iOS, Android

Seat Guru is the ultimate source for airplane seating advice, in-flight amenity information, and airline recommendations by passengers. Free iOS, Android

Mobile Passport gives you the opportunity to deliver your passport information and customs declaration before being inspected by an officer to speed up processing at customs. Free iOS

SLEEP

Airbnb is a popular online community marketplace that connects people looking to rent their homes with people who are looking for accommodations. Free iOS, Android

Hostelworld brings you online bookings at thousands of hostels worldwide. Free iOS, Android

Hotel Tonight is a last-minute hotel deal app. It is available in select cities. Free iOS, Android

Trip Advisor is a travel website providing reviews of travel-related content. I use Trip Advisor to compare hotels. I also like the city guides. Free iOS, Android

White Noise works like a charm when I’m traveling and have to get to sleep in a noisy location. Free iOS, Android

EAT

Find Me Gluten Free is great for finding restaurants that offer gluten-free food. Free iOS, Android

Happy Cow is a useful app for locating vegetarian dining options. I think it is the best one available for vegan dining recommendations. Free iOS, Android

Resy is an app for people who love eating at great restaurants but hate hassling for reservations.

The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris is a food lover’s guide to Paris. Discover Patricia’s top picks of restaurants, cafes, wine bars, bakeries, pastry, chocolate and cheese shops, markets, wine shops, specialty food shops and kitchen and tableware shops. $4.99 iOS

GUIDES

EveryTrail enables travelers to track, share and search for nearby walking, running, biking trails. Free iOS, Android

Findery lets you take photos and notes from specific locations and tag them on a map anywhere in the world for other people to see and discover. Free iOS, Android

History Here is an interactive guide to thousands of historic locations across the United States. Free iOS, Android

GuidePal is a curated guide by locals featuring tourist information for worldwide destinations in a beautiful and interactive user interface. Free iOS, Android

Heritage maps over 1800 heritage locations across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. 99 cents iOS.

Triposo allows you to download country or city guides to your device for use offline. Free iOS, Android

Rick Steves Audio Europe is a collection of Rick Steve’s radio interviews, audio tours, self-guided walking tours of Europe. Free iOS, Android

CHAT

Skype allows you to make free voice and video calls to other people who also use Skype. Free iOS, Android

Wi-Fi Finder is simply the best app for finding free or paid public Wi-Fi hotspots online or offline. Free iOS, Android

Onavo helps you control the amount of data you consume on your device by shrinking it. It is primarily used to save data when you surf the Web, read emails, and use a map. Free iOS, Android

Viber lets you send free messages as well as make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Free iOS, Android

WhatsApp Messenger is a mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. Free iOS, Android

WEATHER

Yahoo Weather features stunning photography provided by Flickr. Free iOS, Android

Dark Sky predicts, down to the minute, when it will rain or snow at your exact location. Free iOS

Ski and Snow Report brings you current snow condition reports at more than 2,000 ski resorts around the globe. The app also features first-hand ski reports from users. Free iOS, Android

KIDS

Stack the States is an awarding win app. Kids will learn state capitals, shapes, geographic locations, flags and more. $1.99  iOS, Android

Stack the Countries is a game focuses on basic country information such as capitals, landmarks, major cities, continents, border countries, languages, flags and more. $1.99 iOS, Android

HELP

Travel Safe helps you make emergency calls and texts anywhere in the world. 99 cents iOS, Android

Flush Finder helps you quickly find nearby restrooms. Free iOS

World Clock is known for its accuracy to show current local times for cities around the world. I use this app on my trips. Free iOS, Android

Commander Compass Lite is a handy device to save where you parked your car. Free iOS

Survival Guide  uses the US Military Survival Manual.  Survival Guide’s 19 chapters of tips and techniques teach basic fire principles, how to deal with dangerous animals, how to survive all kinds of harsh environments, and much more. Free iOS, Android

SAS Survival Guide is the definitive guide to surviving any situation, anywhere in the world.  iOS, Android

m Passport provides access to the best local doctors, hospitals, and resources anywhere in the world. Free iOS, Android

Smart Traveler provides official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more.
Free iOS, Android

!Emergency! will dial the emergency services of your travel location. 99 cents iOS

Prey lets users track and locate a lost or stolen device. Free iOS, Android

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL 

Metro is a comprehensive guide to worldwide public transportation. Free iOS, Android

Rail Europe is a handy tool for navigating Rail Europe. Free iOS, Android

Rail Planner is a great app I could not do without when traveling in Europe. Free iOS, Android

HerdTracker is an online site for a safari adventure. Free

XE Currency shows live exchange rates and allows users to calculate prices. Free iOS, Android

LANGUAGE

Word Lens will translate printed words using the built-in video camera on your device.  Free iOS, Android

iTranslate Voice 2 is the best translation app. Using iTranslate Voice couldn’t be easier: Select the desired languages, tap the accompanying flag icon, speak into the microphone, and within seconds the translated text appears on-screen as well as spoken aloud.  It is important to note you’ll still need an active Wi-Fi or cellular connection for the translation process. $4.99 iOS

Duolingo is my favorite language learning app. Free iOS, Android

Trip Lingo is handy app for travelers visiting foreign countries to help them learn useful words and phrases. Free iOS, Android

World Nomads is a helpful free app that contain a conversational language lesson with a local, plus over 230 basic phrases to help keep you traveling safely. Free iOS

Google Translate instantly translates words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages.

If you have any recommendations, leave them below!

P.S. I write a weekly newsletter packed with obsessively-curated recommendations. Sign up if you like and get my newsletter delivered right to your Inbox via this link. Here’s a link to the travel planning edition of the newsletter.

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