Got wanderlust on your mind? Many travelers plan in advance, but if you’re like this writer, you’ll leave it to the last minute. Congratulations, you are a “spontaneous traveler,” a term that’s being kicked around in the travel industry to describe a trend in post-Boomer generations.
This shift mirrors how we travel plan today. We no longer drive to the travel agency, but pull up a travel site to book our flights and hotels. But even that’s becoming old school: A lot more of us are now using apps on our phones. And with a desire for on-demand pricing and booking, there are plenty of travel apps that do just that.
But what if you are looking for inspiration? While most apps are good at handle the basic transactions, few can offer insights or recommendations. If you’re looking for some help in planning a last-minute getaway, these six apps are our current favorites.
Google Flights is useful for looking up real-time airfare and price fluctuations, but if you’re looking for inspiration, the website (there’s no app) has a handy discovery tool. Punch in some dates or search by month, length of trip, places, and interests. You can leave it vague if you want a wide selection of suggestions, or narrow down to a specific weekend or location.
The website shows a visual list of recommended cities, along with estimated pricing for flights (based on your point of departure) and hotels, as well as interests (we’re not sure we would count “fog” as our must-see attraction in San Francisco, but to each his own). If you have a strict budget, use the “Explore map” view to adjust the search parameters to include a price cap. Then, pan through the map to see what surprising locations pop up. Hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button if you really want to be spontaneous.
We’ve sung many praises for Hopper, the flight search app that uses artificial intelligence and big data to make fare predictions. It tells you the best times to book, and you can have Hopper keep watch for better prices. Hopper’s results can help you determine whether you should make that last-minute getaway or save it for another time.
A new feature we like is Fair Bear. Essentially, it’s an overview of the fine print associated with an airfare that many travelers may not pay attention to. While a fare may be the cheapest, it could come with a lot of restrictions. As airlines continue to introduce confusing pricing tiers and new fees, Fair Bear gives a quick nutshell of what you’re getting into, and whether the price is worth it.
With the rise in what’s being termed “spontaneous travel,” many hotel booking services are now catering to last-minute travelers. The one app that’s the most popular is HotelTonight, which focuses solely on this type of travel.
HotelTonight says it offers heavily discounted rates, and we found this to be accurate. In one search, a HotelTonight rate for one hotel was $100 (or more) cheaper than other booking sites, include the hotel’s. The only downside we notice is that hotels tend to be on the pricier side, but the positive is that they are all highly rated properties, so you don’t have to scroll through hundreds of listings.
While it’s better known as the app for short-term vacation rentals, Airbnb also offers a service called Experiences. As the name suggests, these are events hosted by in-the-know locals that focus on interests in the area, like sake tasting in Tokyo, home cooking in Bangkok, trail exploration in Portland, Oregon. If you’re looking to include some authentic experiences – whether it’s the arts, food, nature, etc. – in your trip, this is a nicer alternative to packaged tours. Of course, you can still use the app to book last-minute lodging.
Not to be confused with Google Flights, Google Trips is an iOS and Android app for planning and managing itineraries. It’s great for those who already have a flight reserved (if you use Gmail for bookings, it can search for trips – past and future – and automatically add them to the list), but haven’t done any research on things to do and see, places to eat, important info to know, how to get around, etc. – city guides essentially. Besides suggestions, Google Trips can even plan entire itineraries for select destinations, which is perfect for the lazy, last minute non-planner.
This article was originally published on April 16. It was updated on September 14 for relevance.
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