Vacation inspiration: Alternative travel sites for flights, hotels, and more

vacation-beach-chairs

The days are getting longer, the weather (fingers crossed) warmer, and we’re accordingly getting more and more restless. It’s time to plan those summer vacations – with the help of travel sites. And no, we’re not talking about the likes of Kayak, Travelocity, and TripAdvisor. With their crowded, clunky UIs, these sites just about zap the fun out of planning your trip, and staring at a list of flight information becomes so mind-numbing you forget where you wanted to go in the first place. Most discouraging is the lack of inspiration: Not sure where you want to go, what you want to do? An orderly grid of specific flights and their prices won’t help you.

In their place have come intuitive, gorgeous travel sites. While they might not have the science of vacation planning down pat, what they lack in technicalities they make up for with truly inspiring travel ideas.

WanderflyWanderfly

As Wanderfly puts it in its blog, “you, dear traveler deserve better” than the glossy, uninformative vacation articles many publications and aggregators pump out. The site is still in beta, but it’s been getting positive feedback since it debuted last October.

Wanderfly works by letting you fill out a minimal amount of information and then pick and choose a few things you want out of your trip: You provide where you’re leaving from, the amount you want to spend, when you’re leaving, and select as many of the options (beach, outdoors, spa, food, romance, singles, etc.) as you like. Of course, this means Wanderfly is best for the traveler seeking a little motivation. So if you operate on the OCD side and need complete control over your trip, forget it. If you like a little mystery, Wanderfly’s intensely gorgeous layout and photos paired with planning advice will do just fine.

What’s it missing? While the photos and writing make you ready to jump on the next flight, it doesn’t have its algorithm down to a science, and the travel scenarios it throws out aren’t exactly unlimited. The young site boasts over 1,200 destination possibilities, but for someone wanting to peruse endless options to find the perfect fit, it might not be enough. But Wanderfly serves its purpose, does so beautifully, and will connect you to flight bookings, hotel reservations, entertainment options, and restaurants in the area.

Snique AwaySnique Away

If you get excited by the occasional Groupon or LivingSocial deals featuring weekend getaways, you’ll want to jump all over Snique Away. The site is currently only available if you request a membership or are invited, but we were immediately given access after filling out the application, so give it a shot. Inside, you’ll find discounts on various vacation resort packages of every shape, size, and color.

Like group buying and daily discount sites, there is a time limit, which can be trickier when it comes to planning a trip. But the four- and five-star hotels and their accompanying sale prices are enough to make you grab them up. Snique Away also shows you deals in advance for extra planning and how much you’re saving on these awe-inducing resorts with these packages. According to the site, it’s able to offer such deep discounts because of its member exclusivity.

The site is an affiliate of TripAdvisor, but makes the veteran travel site look like it’s run out of someone’s garage.

JetsetterJetsetter

Jetsetter is the love child of Wanderfly and Snique Away. It takes a little of the upscale, luxury vacations Snique Away specializes in while also pairing some of the customization elements of Wanderfly. There are a few ways to use the site, which is a Gilt affiliate. You can view its collections (example: New York weekends, Romantic Caribbean sunsets), check out popular locations, or sort its offers by interest. And if you’re still in the early planning stages, you can get help from its “Plan a Vacation” aggregator, providing options based on your destination, interests, or hotel name of choice paired with projected dates.

Be prepared, however: This site isn’t trying to save you money. Jetsetter offers endless options in appealing locations based on the information you provide, and will even throw in some surprise locales you never would have thought of on your own. But it will cost you – the least expensive hotel returned was $200. Jetsetter doesn’t have much to offer for the road-tripping, campground-loving, backpack-wearing set. There are sale listings of course, similar to Snique Away, where you can seriously save on some upscale resorts that are worth a look. Jetsetter doesn’t skimp on background for each resort, with in-depth analysis and lists of its most alluring features and surrounding activities.

TripItTripIt

Sure, presentation is nice, but all the jaw-dropping photos and interactive interfaces in the world won’t do it for all the type-A folks out there. But you don’t have to be banished to the disarming, cold reality of the average trip aggregator. Instead, there’s TripIt. TripIt comes with a social element (that you can opt to or not to participate in) as well as customization features. You’re more than welcome to indulge and utilize every nook and cranny of the site – or you can simply use it for its more practical purposes. You won’t find the gorgeous layouts or discounts on luxury getaways here, but you will be able to collectively plan every element of your trip while also pulling in necessary information from separate travel accounts, like frequent flyer miles and hotel points you’ve accrued.

Sound a little too no-nonsense? TripIt also weaves in some features, like travel stats showing the distance, days, and places you’ve covered. You can add plans to individual days of your vacation and add photos to specific activities or places you’ll visit.

Just to be clear, TripIt functions as your organizational tool that will keep track of your vacation while doubling as your scrap book. This means finding a flight and hotel are entirely up to you – the site doesn’t provide suggestions.

PlnnrPlnnr

Plnnr’s UI is reminiscent of Wanderfly’s and similarly allows you to pick and choose what you want out of your trip, and in few seconds spits out your full itinerary. You’re even allowed some flexibility with the results, and able to alter recommended hotels and attractions to visit, which Plnnr dutifully takes into account and adjusts your itinerary to. And while it won’t have quite the amount of picturesque teasers and cleverly written descriptions of your vacation destination, it will plot your entire stay on a map to show you exactly how much of the city you’ll be covering.

The only catch with Plnnr is that it’s new and thus only offering a handful of large cities to choose from. But part of Plnnr’s beauty is that it’s ideal for day trips, long weekends, or extended stays, offering up more than enough to keep you satisfied during your visit. It also takes into account the intensity of your trip: Want to see as much as possible or would you rather take your sweet time? Plnnr adjusts to your personal travel motivation level.

airbnbAirBnB

AirBnB landed itself some buzz with a recent listing for some lucky and loaded buyer to rent the country of Leichenstein for a minimum two night stay at $70,000 a night. But there are far more realistic and affordable options on the site. Simply provide your destination of choice, travel dates, and guests in your party and voila, a host of affordable rooms. No, you won’t find luxury resorts, getaway packages, or even hotels or hostels – you’ll find rooms. Generous homeowners in attractive locations rent out their (generally) eye-catching abodes at various prices. Trying to save money during a road trip? Stay on a couch in San Francisco for the night. Want to go all out for a week in Paris? Rent an upscale flat for $1,139 a night.

And you can customize how you view your search results: By photo, map location, or simply listed. AirBnB also provides collections to browse for more specific queries as well as a top cities and communities section. Avoid hotels devoid of personality and bring a bit of home on the road with you.

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