Favorite Travel Websites: Transport & Accommodation

I promised Sean I wouldn’t start planning a bunch of trips for 2016. Yeah…I lied. The thing is, I love to travel. And everybody knows that. So I’m pretty much always planning some trip or another. With the year winding down, I cannot help but look forward to what trips I can take next year, so the past couple of days have been spent looking up itineraries and flights and AirBnbs.

I’ve been so fortunate to travel so much over the past couple of years that my friends often come to me for advice on planning trips – where to go, where to get cheap deals, etc. So, since I’m doing a bit of planning on my own right now, I’ve decided to put together a list of my favorite places to go to find accommodation and transport for the many trips I plan in my head.

Flights & Trains

Direct Websites – BA, EasyJet

For loyalty purposes, I go straight to British Airways. It’s always my first stop for flight checking. BA is easiest for me since I’m flying out of London, but when I was Boston-based it was JetBlue. I recommend picking an airline that serves your local airport and covers nearly any destination you could need to get to! I also use EasyJet when they’re having a sale. Honestly, you can get European flights for so cheap…usually about £60 RT even if booked last minute. It’s not the most comfortable airline, but I really don’t mind it that much, especially for the price.

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[A quick (and cheap) EasyJet flight to Nice and bam…this view!]

Skyscanner

When I’m not getting my way on the BA website (aka prices are extortianate), I pretty much always use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight options. It pulls together different airlines and even mix and matches to find the cheapest combination. My favorite part is that I can filter the departure times to get the most out of my stay!

Seat61

Sean and I do so many weekend trips that trains are not usually an option. However, for longer trips (often when I’m doing many cities at a time), I find it to be a cheaper and more scenic alternative to planes, especially when traveling within the same country. Seat61 is great because it tells you the best and cheapest way to get from place to place.

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[My friend Jamie and I did a lot of train travel on our Salzburg – Vienna – Budapest – Bucharest trip. I used Seat61 throughout the entire planning process to figure out our options]

Accommodation

AirBnb

As I’ve stated before, and will continue to state, AirBnb is my first choice when it comes to planning trips. For a cheaper price, you get clean and modern accommodation (if you look carefully) in a great location with a host that will give local advice. I’ve had some amazing experiences and some questionable ones, but I still consider it to be the best source for accommodation. I recommend researching neighborhoods and reading reviews before picking a place to stay – pictures may lie but reviewers rarely do!

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[The AirBnb Marisa and I stayed at in Marseille is probably the nicest one I’ve stayed in yet – I honestly wanted to copy and paste the furnishings into my own home!]

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[Sean and I stayed in a gorgeous and perfectly located AirBnb in Florence with THIS view. It was right on the water, so I’m not even kidding that this was the exact view. I was in heaven for four straight days.]

Booking.com

I found the B&B my dad and I stayed at in Bruge on Booking.com and it is probably my favorite B&B…ever! This website brings out unique options, not all of the main brand named hotels. It has a mix of expensive and inexpensive, so is good for anyone. The only downside is that there aren’t many listings in some cities.

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[Our breakfast at Maison Bousson in Bruges, complete with a flight of juices/smoothies/yogurts]

Expedia

For everything else, there is Expedia. It’s great for last minute deals or special packages, but I don’t think the prices vary much when booking in advance, which is why the above two booking methods always come first!

Bonus: Groupon

I like to keep an eye on Groupon deals because they can sometimes cover both flights and accommodation! Sean and I booked our trip to Milan for about £220 for both flights and two nights accommodation in a 4* hotel. Of course, they try to get you to buy add ons and try to rip you off with flight times and hotel location, but it was a nice to not have to worry about finding stuff for ourselves. I love planning, but for those who don’t (or for a last minute getaway), packaged deals are great!

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Perfecting the Airbnb Experience

I am a huge advocate for Airbnb and am always really disappointed to hear when my friends do not have a good experience – or are hesitant to even try because they don’t trust the concept. While it seems a bit odd at first to stay in some stranger’s house, it’s great to get the experience of how someone would really live in the city you are visiting.

I only stayed in a few AirBnbs before coming back to London this past January, but since then have been at least looking for and AirBnb option for each trip I’ve taken. I had incredible experiences in Munich, Nice, and Florence and while my brother picked AirBnbs in Istanbul and Bozcaada that I wouldn’t have necessarily gone for, they served their purpose and had a few perks – the location and the cottagey feel, respectively.

There are many ways to go about the AirBnb experience, so I am sharing my tips for creating one you’ll absolutely love!

Search for “Entire Propertys”

I usually go for an entire property solely out of preference, but if it is your first time in an AirBnb this could also help the experience feel more natural. It’s much like checking into a hotel room or renting out a condo at the beach for a week. The only difference is that there (might be) someone’s stuff stored there and you do not have an entire fleet of staff there to help if needed. While renting out the entire property is usually the most expensive, it still often falls cheaper than a hotel room so the comfort is an added bonus!

Use the Neighborhood function

To be honest, I do not know if this is a new feature or if I just recently discovered it, but in some cities AirBnb has descriptions on the neighborhood. This can help you search for accommodation in a neighborhood that has what you want, whether that is night life, museums, or the best shopping around.

If the function is not available, I usually use Google Maps to see what sort of stuff is around the destination – tourist attractions, transport, etc. but these are usually mentioned in the property description, as well.

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Read ALL the reviews

Reviews are the most useful part of AirBnb. If 9/10 people had a bad experience, you most likely will too! I tend to choose property’s that have at least 15 reviews, most of which are positive. I also use reviews to get ideas on what to do, what to ask the host, and so on.

Look for key words

What matters the most to you? Does the AirBnb have everything you need (wifi, air conditioning, a washer/dryer, etc.)? Check for your priority list in the description of the property. The amenities list is really useful for this, as well as the reviews. I always check for wifi and heat/air conditioning and then look for keywords regarding the location and how interactive the host is.


Communicate with your host

Hosts are the best resources/travel guides and also probably have the biggest impact on your experience. It is best to ask them questions up front so you are not disappointed. Sample questions:

– I read a review that the air conditioning was broken. Were you able to get this fixed?

– I can confirm two guests right now but might add a third once I receive their confirmation. Is this a possible adjustment after booking?

– Can you confirm if there are any fees aside from the nightly rate and the security deposit?

Once you are happy with the responses and book the property, you can use the host for recommendations of where to go and what to do, as well as public transport tips and tricks. Sean and I wouldn’t have eaten at half the restaurants we went to in Munich without our hosts’ recommendations and we DEFINITELY would not have found out about Calcio Storico in Florence!

Soak it all in

Explore your temporary neighborhood. Grab a bottle of wine and enjoy the balcony at the AirBnb. Cook a meal “at home” if you’re their for longer than a weekend. Of course, always clean up after yourself and respect the property!

My favorite way to explore a city is to pretend I live there and uncover local favorites in addition to visiting the tourist attractions. Staying in a real persons real home and using their real knowledge on the city can enhance the experience even more and I highly recommend it.

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[The view we enjoyed from our AirBnb in Florence]