A Travel Expert’s Favorite Free Travel Planning Tools

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I haven’t traveled far from home over the last several months, but I’m always on the lookout for not only where I might go in the future. The anticipation of travel can be half the fun of a trip, right?

Best Free Travel Planning Sites

Here are a number of free travel planning sites that can help you save time and find inspiration.

WithinHours

Where do you start to search for somewhere new and interesting to explore that’s only a few hours drive from your hometown?

WithinHours lets you search in any direction based on travel time or driving distance to find places to go and things to do.

I chose a travel time of 4.5 hours from my home (about 240 miles) in Florida. Here are the results I got:

  • Saint Marys
  • Amelia Island
  • Fernandina Beach
  • Port Saint Joe
  • Saint George Island
  • Wakulla Springs
  • Tallahassee Museum
  • Florida State Capitol

Trippy

When you click on a destination on the WithinHours site, you’ll land at Trippy, another community-based trip planning tool for road tripping. Here you’ll find answers to your travel questions.

Destination results include recommended things to do, popular attractions, recommended dining spots, insider tips to links to area hotels and more.

You can also explore travel ideas and itineraries with Trippy on Facebook.


Trips To Discover

Another fun site for inspiration and/or just dreaming is Trips To Discover. Lots of gorgeous captioned photos and lists including:

  • Top 14 Walkable Cities
  • Top Tallest Hotels
  • Top Springs in Florida
  • Top Lake Houses in Vermont
  • Top Coolest Treehouses in Bali
  • Top Quirkiest Airbnb’s in Europe
  • Top Romantic Retreats in Tennessee
  • Top Airbnb Wedding Venues in the US

Plus there are destination ideas and guides sorted by categories such as “Budget,” “Bucket” and “Adventure.”

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Click on a list to find trip tips and links to suggested accommodations.

I’m recommending this travel planning site just because of my recent discovery! I’ve added a new Bucket List spot (for me, at least) to one of Europe’s best-kept secrets that promises jaw-dropping mountains, crowd-free beaches, tiny villages with stone cottages to rent, castles and local delicacies. No, not telling.


Google Flights

At Google.com/Flights, type in your departure city but leave the “Where to?” box blank and hit SEARCH. A map pops up to show you the price of airfare from your departure city to several cities across the United States. And if you take your cursor and move (or minimize) the map, you’ll see airfares for destinations all over the world.

This is a great way to find cheap airfare as well as new destinations for a vacation! Craig of Team Clark details other Google trip planning tips here.


Kayak Stays

If you’re like me, you have multiple tabs open when searching for hotels and private rentals. Once I have enough ideas, I begin the process of elimination.

What drives most of us in choosing a particular accommodation is cost. But one of the most frustrating parts of the booking process is finding out all of the extras that are not shown upfront and may not appear until you get to the final booking page. These might include taxes, fees, host fees, cleaning fees, resort fees and more.

But Kayak Stays posts the complete cost of a stay. To view the inclusive cost, enter your destination and dates. Click beneath the blue price graph and choose “Total stay + taxes & fees.”

Here’s an example of why we need this pricing option for transparency:

I searched for a four-night Florida beach stay and found what looked to be a nicely located condo at a great rate of $99 a night. I clicked to book directly on Vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) where the total price for four nights showed up as $615: an average of $153.75 a night. But once I tried to complete the reservation with payment, the price jumped to $681, or $170 a night, a far cry from the $99 that originally caught my eye.

But right from Step 1, Kayak showed me upfront that my condo stay would be $681.

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Rome2Rio

If you’ve ever wanted to search online on how to get from A to B — conveniently — from any two points on the globe, let Rome2Rio be your guide. Let’s say you want to travel from London to Chester (near Liverpool). This site lists several different routes in the results.

Here’s what it showed me for my London-to-Chester search.

RECOMMENDED OPTION: Take the train from London Euston to Crewe and then take the train from Crewe to Chester $92-$323, 2h 20m

CHEAPEST OPTIONS: Take the night bus from London Victoria Coach Station to Chester National Express $13-$17, 5h 50m
Take the bus from London Finchley Road to Chester Bus Interchange $21-$31, 5h 58m

FLIGHTS: Fly from London Heathrow to Manchester (1h) then the train from Manchester Airport to Chester (1h 20m) $106-$309

SELF-DRIVE: Approximate fuel cost: $ varies

On the site, you can click on your preferred option to book transportation directly through the provider.

Travelers also have the option to book trains, buses, ferries and car ferries almost anywhere in the world. Here are the results of my search for a ferry from Bodrum, Turkey to Kos, Greece:

The ferry journey time between Bodrum and Kos is around 30 min and covers a distance of around 12 miles. The fastest ferry normally takes 30 min. Services are operated by Dodecanese Flying Dolphins, Ye?il Marmaris Lines, Bodrum Ferryboat and others. Cheapest price: $45. Carbon emissions: 0 kg CO2

Rome2Rio also details up-to-date Covid-19 requirements and restrictions for both your start and end destinations.

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Seat61

Seat61 focuses almost exclusively on train-based travel within and between the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, Indonesia, South America and other nations.

The site says it “aims to inspire people to do something more rewarding with their travel opportunities than schlepping to an airport, getting on a soulless airliner and missing all the world has to offer.”

Here’s how site founder Mark Smith describes the Caledonian Sleeper: “It’s the most civilized, romantic, time-effective & environmentally-friendly way between central London and the heart of Scotland, for a weekend in the Highlands.”

The page also describes in detail the train amenities, accommodations features, station updates, timetables, direct links to book, video clips and more.


FlightsFrom

Who doesn’t prefer a nonstop flight to a connecting flight?

FlightsFrom details all routes and scheduled flights from every airport! Explore the destination opportunities with nonstop flight service from a specific airport, city or by airline.

Did you know that you can choose from 210 nonstop destinations from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International?

This site is a particularly useful scorecard as airlines have recently been adding and or removing flight routes at breakneck speed due to customer demand (or lack thereof).

I didn’t know that my hometown airport, for instance, now has 36 nonstop routes. The last time I recall checking that number was 19!


TripIt

Once you’ve planned out your journey, TripIt keeps all components of your planned trip in one place.

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You can create a custom itinerary with your flights, hotel confirmations, car rentals, day tours and restaurant reservations. You can accessTripIt on the go, export to your calendar, or share trip details with your travel mates and family.


Final Thought

If you’re not ready to travel due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, your budget or any other reason, just the thought of planning a trip may improve your mood. Science suggests that just thinking about or planning a trip can give your brain a boost. Luckily, these free tools can help! And daydreaming costs $0.

More Travel Tips From Clark.com:

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