When planning out our trips, I do a TON of research. I always check out things to do in the area we want to visit, nice hotels or resorts, and whether we have to drive or fly.
City websites, like the chamber of commerce, can offer so much info like best places to stay, favorite restaurants, and upcoming events. Sometimes it's nice to plan a vacation during a city festival or event. Just beware that hotels will be booked far in advance for those certain times.
Always read the reviews for any place you are going to stay. The reviews may vary from good to bad for the same place. However, if the majority of the reviews are not good, I am not going to book that place.
I LOVE Trip Advisor. In fact, I am a top contributor to the site. It's a large travel site to book hotels, flights, rentals, etc. It's also FULL of reviews. After I check out a hotel or restaurants reviews, I always check it out on Trip Advisor as well. In fact, this site is where I found most of the cool eating places in Ruidoso, NM.
For our California trip, I had some help. First, Heather Newton from Shipsmart Travel, Inc. booked our lodging for Anaheim and San Diego. She was also able to include the San Diego Zoo tickets in our package. If we chose to, she could have booked our flights as well. Going through a travel agent requires a down payment at time of booking and then you pay off the rest of the amount over time. Payment must be paid in full 30-45 days before your trip. I loved doing it this way because we had options to choose from and we saved some money in the process. Plus, we had peace of mind knowing that our rooms were secured.
Our second travel agent was Abbey Mings from Vacations Gone Goofy. She helped me get my Disney tickets and knew exactly what I needed. She can plan out entire Disney vacations as well as cruises. She offers tips just for her clients and is so eager to help in any way she can.
Maps and Gas Buddy:
It helps if you know where you're going. Ha!!! There are so many map sites to provide directions. We usually use Google Maps. Since all of our trips have been driveable so far, we look at every possible route to get to our destination. Some routes may be a little longer, but they are more scenic. If we are going to a new place, we like to stick to the main interstate.
Gas Buddy is a great site that lets you know the current gas prices around the country. That way you can budget your gas cost for your trip. We used this for San Diego and our actual amount was spot on to what we had figured it would be.
Using all these great resources, I have already been doing lots of research for next year's trips and are so excited. If you have any tips to add, please send them my way.
I have not been compensated by any of these sites. All opinions are my own.