Plan the Perfect Trip
If you're planning a trip any time soon, you now have more options than ever — not only in places to go, but also in how to get there, where to stay and what to do. In recent years, traditional trip planning has gone the way of the big three television network stations. What used to be confined to the websites of relatively few corporate transportation and accommodations providers has now been subdivided into tiny slices of opportunity by niche market technology vendors who connect travelers like us with real-time alternatives in nearly every category of price and experience. To participate, all you need is a little time and an Internet connection.
These emerging trends in travel are being fueled in large part by what is known as the sharing economy. According to Forbes magazine, companies in the sharing economy are creating platforms that help people generate wealth from underused and excess assets —like cars, houses and spare time. In the process, we get great personal and social customer experiences where trust, not company size, is the underlying measure of quality.
During the past year, I've been experimenting with non-traditional resources, often referred to as “travel hacks.” Here are a few of my favorites.
Trip Planning: If you're on a budget, but not picky about where to go, try Kayak Explore. All you do is put in your originating airport, and the site shows a map pinpointing the lowest airfares to cities around the world. Keep checking back to get a feel for pricing trends. (www.kayak.com/explore)
With enough lead time, you can learn the fastest ways to accumulate and redeem reward points and frequent flier miles for free travel from Brian Kelly, The Points Guy. (www.thepointsguy.com)
Accommodations: On a recent trip, I booked a room using Airbnb, a room-sharing service started by two guys who rented a spare air mattress to raise cash to pay their sky-high San Francisco rent. Their simple idea has now mushroomed into a community of hosts who rent out their unused spaces to travelers who search for and book accommodations in 192 countries worldwide.
My first-time experience was great. I booked a private room with a private bath, posted by a female college student who ended up being out of town skiing during spring break. Her boyfriend brought me the key to her apartment, which I rented in its entirety for $50 a night. (www.airbnb.com)
Other options for entire-property rentals include
Vacation Rental by Owner (www.vrbo.com) and Home Away (www.homeaway.com), which allow you to rent everything from cabins and condos to castles and villas. More adventurous? By joining Trusted House Sitters (www.trustedhousesitters.com), you'll be eligible to apply for housesitting gigs worldwide, giving you a free place to stay in exchange for watching over someone's house (and usually their pets) while they're away.
Transportation: Uber (www.uber.com) is a ride-sharing service that connects riders with private drivers through a GPS-based app service. I used it a couple of months ago for a 20-minute ride from the Wilmington, N.C. airport to my $50-a night apartment. My driver was prompt, polite and professional, and the fare was just over $13, which I actually got free as part of the “first-time rider” promotion.
Before you leave home, check out thrift stores where you might be able to purchase a secondhand bicycle for much less than you will spend for daily or weekly rentals. At the end of your stay, you can donate it back to the thrift store for a tax deduction. Or simply do good by giving a free bike to someone on the street. Dining: At my Airbnb apartment, I ordered a meal to go through www.SurfsideExpress.com, a food delivery service (requires a $15 minimum) that brings your meal from restaurants that do not offer their own delivery service. Customers create an account, enter their location zip code and order from restaurants located within a certain mileage radius and are promised delivery within one hour. I was notified by text when my order was placed, when the driver picked it up and how long it should take the food to arrive.
My credit card was charged for the food plus a $5 delivery charge when I signed for the order. I loved the service — which performed exactly as promised. No money exchanges hands between customer and driver. My food arrived hot. I got to continue working without taking out a chunk of time to go out for dinner. And the $5 delivery charge was a lot cheaper than cab fare to a restaurant, especially since there were none within short walking distance from my apartment complex. A simple search for “food delivery services” should turn up similar options in your location.
Another option to traditional restaurant dining is Cookening, a service that pairs home table dining with travelers who want a socially rich environment. Hosts willing to enter details about themselves and their cooking can sell a place at their table to tech-savvy guests who can search for nearby available meals. All money changes hands online, which prevents it experience from feeling too commercial. (www.cookening.com)
My fabulous in home dining experience took place last summer in the Wilmington, N.C., home of Alexander and Elizabeth Fouros, who regularly host groups up to 12 guests for gourmet cooking demonstrations. Alex, author of Feast for the Gods: Classic Greek Cooking from the Seven Ionian Islands, fed us four courses (wine optional) as fine as any I've eaten in Greek restaurants anywhere. The complexity of the meal did not permit last-minute listing on Cookening, but I did find the event listed on the convention and visitors website.
I should warn you — travel hacking can be addictive. But if you find the challenge appealing, I recommend my friend Matt Kepness, otherwise known as Nomadic Matt. His book, “The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking,” is valuable for beginners and advanced travelers alike. It's one of my favorite go-to resources to maximize points, miles, money and time. (www.nomadicmatt.com/guideto-travel-hacking)
Above, expanding global access to Wi-Fi services makes it easier than ever for travelers to find alternatives to traditional transportation, accommodations and dining options.
Services like AirBnB connect people who rent all or only a portion of their homes with people looking for accommodations. Hosts list and rent unused portions of their homes with travelers in 192 countries.
Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft generate traffic as on-demand car services that connect riders with private drivers through mobile smartphone applications.