Years of creating itineraries and planning hundreds of trips has led me to favor five travel-oriented websites. If you consider yourself a DIY traveler and plan your own trips, this list of the BEST travel planning websites was made for you!
I've spent thousands of hours browsing the web for travel tips, itineraries, and vacation inspiration. There are five travel websites that have become staples in my research phase. These sites are reliable, have consistent high-quality content, and are a significant help when narrowing down your options on what to see, eat, and where to stay.
This list of the best travel planning websites will be a huge help to my fellow DIY travelers.
Best Travel Planning Websites for DIY travelers
1. U.S. News – Travel
The travel section of U.S. News is the first website I visit when I start dreaming up the next trip. The “When to Visit” feature puts it at the top of my list for best travel planning websites.
The creators of this site and I are of like-minds when it comes to deciding when the best time to visit a destination is. Avoiding hordes of tourists while trying to catch decent weather is the name of the game.
U.S. News features helpful graphs showing trends in temperature and rain month by month alongside a very simplified explanation on when the best time to visit a city is. In fact, I consider this topic so important I started creating my own "best time to visit" posts for some of my favorite destinations.
These posts offer additional detail and give a more in-depth look compared to U.S. News. I'll often include things I find missing from U.S. News like festivals, events, my own personal experience, average hotel prices, and more. Though U.S. News might not offer as much detail as I would sometimes like, it's perfect when you're just starting the research phase and want a really quick take on weather and crowd levels.
I also use this site for hotel ideas. I will occasionally browse the hotels section as a cross referencing tool when comparing to other websites.
Once I make an educated decision on when to visit my next destination, I move on to planning my time.
I've been using Frommer’s for trip research for over 10 years. The “Suggested Itineraries” is the only section I consistently use and why this website makes the list for the best travel planning websites for DIY travelers.
It’s perfect for when you're visiting a city for the first time as these itineraries lay out what you need to see and do in the order of importance. You'll typically see 1-day to 1-week itineraries with the occasional 2 or 3-week itinerary.
If you're a DIY traveler making your own itinerary, I suggest copying Frommer's itineraries into a word document and then deleting what isn’t important to you. Frommer’s will also give you a good idea of how many days you need in each city.
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3. Travel and Leisure (T&L)
I usually browse Travel and Leisure first when researching hotels because they do a great job of staying in the know on hotels that are popular and an all-around great experience. Looking at their top picks also gives me an idea of the best areas to stay in a city.
It’s worth noting that they offer a helpful “Overview” page which includes a short paragraph on “Best Times to Visit”, “Weather”, “Transportation”, etc. Many of the hotels they recommend are on the expensive side, so I will begin to cross-reference. Keeping T&L open on one tab, I will then head over to my next travel resource, Trip Advisor.
Another reason Travel and Leisure makes my list of best trip planning websites is because they do the "World's Best Awards" each year listing the best hotels, cities, beaches, etc. The perfect tool to give you inspiration for your next trip.
4. TripAdvisor (TA)
Tripadvisor is my cross-referencing go-to and should be on every DIY travelers list of travel planning websites. After putting in my city and dates I will sort my hotel options by “traveler ranked”. If you’ve learned from T&L or other websites that you want to base yourself in a certain neighborhood, filter your search to include that area only.
As I’m scrolling through my choices (with the prices conveniently listed) I keep my eyes open for any hotels I have seen listed on T&L (possibly U.S. News too) and crossing my fingers that a great price appears. If it does, great! I’ll look at the reviews to make sure they are on par with what I have learned thus far and book.
If not, I will narrow down what area I want to stay in and go purely on what TA reviews are saying about the property. Price, location, cleanliness, and a good experience are all on my checklist. A good experience is listed because it’s not worth it to me to stay in a hotel that is so rundown or ill-kept that it taints my overall experience of the city just to save a little more money. Determine what you are willing to pay and what is important to you first and that will help narrow down your search.
I also use TA to cross-reference restaurants recommended from other websites.
Below are qualifications I personally use when narrowing down my options for hotels and restaurants:
- I will not stay or eat at any place where less than 50% of reviews give 5 stars. Why bother if over half the reviewers were not completely satisfied with their experience?
- I typically stick to places that have a 4.5 or 5-star rating. Every now and then I will consider a 4 star if other websites I trust already sold me.
- Look at the number of reviews. A venue might have a 5-star rating, but with only 10 reviews. Unless the restaurant/hotel is brand-new I won’t pay much attention to anything with less than 200 reviews.
Read, read, read! When I’ve narrowed my search down to a few spots I will spend at least 5 minutes reading through the reviews to get a good feel for what people are saying (the good and the bad). Don’t let the one nasty review scare you! Some people are just impossible to please.
If something is important, like the noise level or breakfast buffet, search the reviews for those specific topics to see what others are saying.
Eater is the bomb! Foodies reading this probably already have this food-focused website saved to their favorites and wholeheartedly agree Eater should make the list of best travel planning websites.
Once I have an idea of where I’m staying and what I’m going to see in a city, I move on to what and where to eat. I love that they list the “38 Most Essential Restaurants” for major cities and a “hotlist” where they focus on what is “hot” right now (usually for each month).
I browse Eater for restaurant ideas and then cross reference with Trip Advisor and Travel and Leisure. If a restaurant is on Eater and T&L and also has good reviews (over 4 stars) on Trip Advisor, chances are it’s a winner!
After I have the basics of my trip planned I’ll search for blogs and other websites that focus on more specific recommendations like best restaurants in the St. Germaine area, best coffee shops, etc.
TimeOut and TheCultureTrip tend to offer great suggestions for more specific needs. I also spend a lot of time searching on Pinterest. Pinterest is a search engine of it's own and you'll be able to find lesser known (often higher quality) content on Pinterest because these blogs aren't having to compete with big names like Trip Advisor and Travel and Leisure on Google search.
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I hope these travel websites help in planning your next adventure! Do you have any favorite trip planning websites you use for every vacation? If so, let me know in the comments!