Vacation planning is one of those things that people either love or hate.
For some, sitting down to map out an entire trip is entertaining. Finding hotels, interesting spots to visit, good restaurants, the best craft beer pubs in the area, rental cars, good deals on airplane tickets and advance bookings on shows and events is just sheer fun.
For others? They just read the preceding paragraph and felt that old travel planning anxiety wash over them again.
But there’s potential help from an area that many people perhaps have never considered. It’s a tool that can help make all of the above not only easier to do, but also make it all take less time.
In short, it’s Big Data to the rescue in the form of travel data.
Travel Companies Already Do It
Companies that specialize in planning use massive amounts of travel data to help develop itineraries for planning-weary travelers.
Flight-booking services are the most well known in the area. Sites such as Expedia and Travelocity use data on thousands of different flights used by all airline companies to determine routes to a destination.
All manner of filters are applied to this. They can, for example, rank routes from the cheapest to the most expensive. Or they can filter out all flights except those that are direct, which means the easiest trip for vacationers.
Hotel-booking services work in a similar way, finding the best hotels that are closest to places like Disney Land or sporting venues.
Big data also has led to creation of new companies. For example, Findmycarrots allows travelers in India to find destinations based on very specific criteria such as “hotels within 10 miles of downtown Dallas” or “rental houses near the beach in Sarasota Florida.”
So how does the wealth of information out there help the common traveler?
Ways to Travel Plan With Data
The biggest decision on any vacation involves picking an actual destination. That’s the easy part, although good luck making that decision with three or more people involved, especially teenagers.
Once that’s set, the data available out there can help make all subsequent decisions easier. Various web sites provide a wealth of information that makes travel planning much more convenient.
Keep in mind that travel data is a catchall. What you are looking for here are sites that have taken vast amounts of data – prices, location, reviews – and distilled that information to give you a very fast idea of where to sleep, what to eat, where to visit and how to get there.
Here are some sites that can help. There are literally dozens and dozens of sites that do much the same, and each person finds the one that best suits them. But these sites offer an example of how to use data to make this easier.
Trip Advisor. The wealth of information here is especially good for hotels. You’ll get a map showing the exact location as well as pricing information and the ability to book directly from the site.
Review data compiled by the site is used to rank the hotels by the number of stars given without you having to read a single review. They also can be ranked by price. This allows you to find a hotel where quality and price meet. Accommodations can be split into hotels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals. Also, the data can be filtered by those that offer services such as free WiFi, free breakfast and a swimming pool, among many other amenities.
Triphobo. This site partners with many other travel sites, such as Airbnb. This allows a planner to find the best rates for accommodations that include not just those covered by most travel sites. Also, by working with sites such as Priceline, they use data to find you the best flight tickets. The advantage here is that the site allows you to cast a wide net.
Trip.com. The advantage here is ease of use. Trip.com divides its information into “stay, eat and play,” and each section offers a wealth of travel data in each area. Hotels can be filtered in many different ways, but this site also offers data on the “type” of person who liked the destination, including nightlife lovers, “trendsters” and members of the LGBTQ community.
Google Trips. Allows for travelers to keep an entire itinerary in one place, rather than having to book through separate sites. Other itinerary sites also have become prevalent in recent years, including UTrip and Inspirock.
Flight deals. If you are a frequent flier in a points program with a specific airline, then skip this part. Clearly you benefit by sticking with Southwest, Delta, or whichever airline is your preferred carrier. However, most people are searching for a deal, and it can be exhausting going from site to site looking for one. Consider visiting the web site and Twitter feed of sites such as The Flight Deal, Secret Flying and Airfarewatchdog. All three do a good job of compiling information for you. All you have to do is look.
Multimodal. Many sites can help arrange transportation, including flights, but also those nagging jaunts to and from the airport and between destinations. Sites such as Rome2Rio allow you to consider every option for travel, from buses and trains to cars and planes.
Your Local Cousin. Don’t want to travel like a tourist? The Your Local Cousin website offers a chance to connect with locals and find out about cool experiences off the beaten tourist path.
Google Maps. Don’t overlook this simple tool. Some people may find Google Maps intrusive, but when it comes to travel planning, it’s a beauty. In a few clicks you can see exactly what a hotel or restaurant looks like. You can virtually drive around the neighborhood and see whether it’s to your liking. A picture is still worth a thousand words.
Keep these in mind. Once you check out the above, it could also lead you to other sites that offer similar services in a way you find works best for you.
The point is: Don’t panic, as a famous travel book once advised. Vacations are meant to relieve stress, not add it. Put travel data on your side and make it easy on yourself.