Active Travel Adventures Airline and Hotel Resources
I can't possibly recommend a particular airline route or hotel chain as there are too many variables. So what I've outlined below are the main resources I use when I'm not using a tour operator so am planning my own room and flight. Some of these links may be affiliate links, which means that — at absolutely no cost to you — if you use the link, I may earn a small commission. You can show your support of Active Travel Adventures by using my links so I can continue to bring you great content and the ATA podcast (you have subscribed, right?). Thanks for showing me a little love, Kit!
Mostly I am choosing to do guided or self-guided adventure tours these days as I find that these tour operators do a better job than I do in selecting my accommodations. This is because the tour operators know about many cool places such as a small guest house that doesn't have a website or cannot afford to list with a booking aggregator. Most importantly, it saves me a ton of time, which at my age, I consider my most valuable resource.
However, when I do personally book my rooms, I choose from these resources depending on my budget and goals for my trip.
www.booking.com I use this site (a Priceline site) if I know all I want is a decent hotel room. I usually choose hotels when I want to stay by the airport and want the free airport shuttle. [Be sure shuttle times work with your flight itinerary.]
www.airbnb.com When I want to stay in a neighborhood and meet more locals, I choose Airbnb. First I find the neighborhood I want, and then narrow down by price, and then select the highest rated in my price range. I never stay in a home that is unrated or only has a few ratings. This option is usually cheaper than a hotel, but you may have more ground transportation costs to figure in. My biggest hangup with Airbnb is the check in: I find it is worth choosing a home that offers easy check in (say a digital locked door, for example). Coordinating check in with the owner has sometimes been a pain. For the most part, the homes or rooms that I have rented have been as promised, and the owners have bent over backwards to please me.
www.hostelworld.com I used to think hostels were just for kids – WRONG! When I use hostels these days, I am usually not the only one over fifty. Many offer private rooms these days. I go to hostels when I need more socialization. Now that I'm travelling solo, sometimes I just want to hang out with someone and the hostels offer that. They virtually all have a common room that you can meet fellow travellers. What usually happens with me is that I meet some people at cocktail hour, we go out to dinner and then the young ones come back to the hostel to get dolled up for the night. They are heading out when I am heading to sleep, so it's nice and quiet for me. I tease that they are just coming in as I am waking up, so I never have to share a bath:) I prefer private rooms of course, but when not available, I go for the smaller female en suite (bath in the room). I once stayed in a mixed dorm (multiple beds of both sexes) with no issues. Bring a small padlock for your locker (although I've not had any theft issues), earplugs, and a lightweight pair of flip flops for the shower. Using hostels not only gives me socialization (and I am still keep up with many young people I've met at hostels), but it is super cheap!
These are my personal favorite places to shop for airline deals:
Research says that the best time to book a flight is late Tuesday night. It is also recommended that you book a domestic flight about six weeks in advance, and international flights about 90 days in advance to get the best price. I use these parameters as guidelines only, but use the following excellent resources and tips:
www.kayak.com You put in your desired air plans and it comparison shops most major airlines. HOWEVER, it does not shop some important airlines like SouthWest. I use Kayak.com to get an idea of what price to beat. I like that you can input +/- 3 days to see if you would get a better price by adjusting your plans, if possible. You can also choose nearby airports, which is helpful as some of the budget airlines fly into regional airports, not the main one [ but remember you may need to budget for additional ground transportation costs, and sometimes mroe time, so figure that in, too.]
Another favorite is www.google.com/flights. You can do a similar search here.
One good trick is to go to to the wiki page of your destination to see which airlines fly into your preferred airport. This is how you can pick up the airlines who don't participate in the kayak or google aggregating program, like Southwest Airlines. Then go directly to that airline's website to check pricing. Simply google: your destination airport code wiki. This trick is cool for planning one other way in that it lists each airlines and where that particular airline flys to. So let's say you can get a cheap flight to a Southwest hub from your home airport, then you can complete your trip with an inexpensive Southwest flight. One caveat: when you split your ticket like this and your first flight is really delayed causing you to miss your connecting flight, it's your problem, not the airlines. So it would not be a good idea to use this technique to for example, use Chicago O'Hare as the switching point on a Friday afternoon. Delayed flights are another good reason to get travel insurance [go to www.insuremytrip.com for a free comparison of available trip insurance options.]
Airline Route Price Alerts: My favorite resource for this is www.airfarewatchdog.com . On this site you can get a price alert from your favorite airport, which lets you choose a destination based on a deal. Or, what I do more commonly, is set up a price alert for a route I will be taking in the future. I get (weekly but you can get daily) an email with the best deals found. By paying attention, I get a feel for if prices are going up or down, which lets me know when I should buy my ticket and about what price I should be paying.
Screaming Good Airline Deals: My favorite site to get killer, don't last long deals is hands down, www.skyscanner.com. Sign up to get weekly deals in your inbox. Sometimes it's fun to let the fate of a too good to pass up deal help you to plan an adventure! They also offer a complete air/car/hotel booking service, but I haven't used it yet. I like it for the newsletter.