So you’ve landed on a dreamy destination. Now what? When planning for a trip, even before we’ve booked flights, I dive head first into research mode. No matter where we go or for how long, I always want to get the most out of the experience. I’m insanely passionate about travel planning, and I often get asked by friends how I discover the great hotels, restaurants and activities we’ve enjoyed in far-flung locations across the globe. Over time, I’ve gathered some resources that rarely let me down in helping me make a trip come to life, so I thought I’d share my go-to planning resources to help you plan your next great adventure!
I’ve broken this into three sections: Boutique Hotels, Home Rentals & Things to Do. Of course, personal recommendations and insights from people you know (and who share similar taste) are invaluable if you can get them. And guidebooks are not to be underestimated for crucial destination information and tried-and-true restaurants. I like Fodor’s and National Geographic’s travel guides the best—National Geographic books in particular always outline great self-guided walking tours to help you explore key sights. But for finding that cool place to stay and uncovering those off-the-beaten-track things to do, here are my online resources…
I prefer not to stay at chain hotels and love the hunt for a luxury, yet affordable stay. Here are a few boutique and luxury hotel sites with expertly curated options:
- Tablet Hotels – In addition to properties all over the world, Tablet also offers tips from travelers and hotel concierges on must-do activities and restaurants in major cities. We stayed at the stunning Hotel de l’Opera in Vietnam, a hotel I found through Tablet.
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith – Incredibly easy to search by your desired type of stay or by destination, Mr. & Mrs. Smith offers up an overview of each hotel, great photos, reviews, and even a few local tips. I found a super chic hotel for our stay in Cambodia, Viroth’s Hotel, here.
- Kiwi Collection – More hotels high on style. I found several cool options in Cartagena here, then landed on Hotel Casa Lola for our most recent trip—a hotel I wanted to move into, literally!
- Jetsetter – While I’ve yet to book a trip through Jetsetter, I constantly keep an eye on their great limited-time deals. Many of their options would be especially great for booking an impromptu, romantic getaway, like a weekend trip to New York or Napa Valley.
One last tip: If I strike out with any of the above sites, I’ll Google search for luxury boutique hotel groups that curate beautiful properties specific to a destination or region. For example, I found Coppola Resorts this way (we stayed at two properties for our Belize honeymoon) as well as Icon Villas (we booked a lovely cottage in Cape Town).
I find TripAdvisor to be overwhelming for general hotel searching, so I read reviews of hotels there only after I find them through one of the sites above.
I’ve mentioned before that my family has had great luck finding homes and apartments to rent. It’s easier than ever with sites like Airbnb and VRBO, and a great option if you’re staying a full week in one place.
- Airbnb – Live like a local in thousands of cities around the world, from quirky stays to more luxe accommodations.
- VRBO – Make someone else’s home your own. We recently rented a colonial home in San Miguel de Allende found through VRBO.
- HomeAway – Another great resource for finding a home away from home. We found a stunning villa to rent in Santorini here.
- FlipKey – Vacation rentals brought to you by TripAdvisor.
- Boutique Homes – A super stylish collection of vacation homes and very small hotels for chic travelers.
Tip: For even more local finds, be sure to search the web for “apartment,” “flat,” “house,” or even “villa” rentals combined with the name of the city you’re visiting. This is how I came across a bevy of options for our stay in Barcelona, by finding Cocoon Barcelona.
Things To Do
Ready to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of a new city or country? While some of that you can wing once you arrive, with recommendations from the locals, it’s important to do a little homework on off-the-beaten-path things to do. Some excursions may need advance planning, like booking a rental car for a drive down the Cape of South Africa or an overnight cruise through Halong Bay. Other ideas are just good to jot down—hot restaurants, best beaches, classic sightseeing spots. You don’t want to miss a thing!
- New York Times 36 Hours In – I’m obsessed with The New York Times’ “36 Hours in” series. Every time we decide on a destination, it’s the very first place I check to discover the best restaurants, hotels, and things to do in a city. Anthropologie recently started carrying the book series too.
- Travel & Leisure – My favorite travel magazine and its online destination are loaded with travel information and articles. You’ll find great tips with a little searching on your destination.
- Fathom – Fathom boasts a growing collection of city guides from LA to Paris, as well as personal stories and insider tips from travelers on the best hotels, shops, restaurants and sites.
- AFAR – I love picking up a hard copy of this magazine on occasion, and the online site is also a wealth of travel inspiration, easily searchable by continent and city.
- Luxe City Guides – Stylish suggestions for where to stay, eat and play in cities around the world. Find your city and for just $10 you have the perfect, slim travel companion.
- Unlike – City guides for 20 cities across the globe, captured in bite-sized pieces for our short attention spans. I personally find the site a little harder to navigate, but there are some great nuggets buried within.
Any tried-and-true travel resources you use? I’d love any new suggestions!