Based on own Easter European trip planning experience, destination websites suck, social websites are good, paper guidebooks are very helpful, mapping services, transportation and accommodation metasearch websites rule.
When we decided on our vacation this year, the plan was to go to Eastern Europe, but we didn’t exactly know where. Our itinerary depended on time, transportation and what suits us the most. I have a lot of places I want to see in Eastern Europe and we had to visit my family in Amsterdam and meet up with Sheri’s in Austria. So we had no idea what the best itinerary would be.
Using tourism information websites to get a sense of priority for places to visit was almost impossible. According to EVERY destination website, it is THE place for culture, entertainment, and the culinary center of the universe. So I stopped visiting them in this phase of my planning. I did read a bunch of experiences on peer review websites such as IgoUgo and Gusto. That gave me a better idea of what was going on in the destinations, but it did lack a bit of authority.
Out of frustration with tourism websites, I went to my local bookstore and bought a guidebook. So I bought Rick Steve’s guide to Eastern Europe/”. This is exactly what I needed, and his website is helpful as well. Here’s somebody who has some authority (he’s been traveling to Europe forever) and is also not afraid to recommend the top things, warning about where not to go, and capture the real essence of each place. He also had some great tips and tools for transportation.
Our shortlist was long so transportation would be an important factor in finalizing our itinerary. We decided to use the train or the budget airlines in Europe. Destination websites were useless again. Just a list of airports and airlines is not helpful; it takes me 2 seconds in Google to find that information. I did find some other resources on Ricks website and message boards and found two very handy websites:< br />
- A website for train schedules in Europe. Unfortunately, they don’t tell you the prices.
- A website that aggregates flights from budget airlines. Not always 100% accurate but perfect for planning purposes.
So with the help of primarily Rick, a few message boards and a few transportation websites, I locked down our itinerary. I booked our flights, both to Europe with BA, and in Europe with Easyjet. The BA website is absolutely fantastic by the way. Booking train travel online can’t be done. There are travel agencies in North America but the message boards told me they overcharge. Rick told me to just buy tickets in Europe. And he was right, thanks Rick.
Next was accommodation. I must have looked at 40 or 50 websites. The main criteria were location, location, location. I wanted to be in the city center. Rick recommended some places but the long tail of the internet, combined with traveler reviews prevailed.
To select an accommodation, I had one tab in my browser to find an accommodation option. Another tab was reserved for (a href=” http://maps.live.com”>live.com maps (I found it easier to located addresses then Google Maps) to see the location in the city. Another tab was for Tripadvisor, although some booking services also offered traveler reviews (hostelworld does a great job).
I didn’t even bother with Expedia, Travelocity or Hotels.com anymore. It was all Kayak. Kayak became my benchmark for further exploration. I used Kayak to book a hotel in London and Salzburg. In Ljubljana and Krakow, I ended up finding good hostels on hostelworld.com, also found through Kayak. In Budapest I found a website that facilitates apartment rental and I found a similar service in Prague. This saved some money because you don’t have to pay for all the hotel amenities we didn’t really care for anyways. Another nice thing about this is that we lived in a residential building. Made us feel less like a tourist.
Now that the itinerary was locked down, planning details in each city was hard. Destination websites, again, told me everything was wonderful and tried to sell me packages and other stuff I’m not interested in. And how hard is it to put a map on a website? I gave up. I’m not much of a detailed planner so I decided to wing it and figure it out when we got there.