Overwhelmed with travel planning? We tried 3 apps to help you.
My Airbnb’s 4.8 star rating was more a reflection of its low price and central location than the quality of the place. The opening hours listed on Google for restaurants and shops were hit-and-miss, leading to a few thwarted dinner plans and wasted taxis across town. A day trip to Hierve el Agua, a mountainous site of nearby petrified waterfalls and mineral springs, included a round trip that took four hours due to protest blockades that I later learned are common on along this road.
I called my lack of preparation an experience, but it was really the result of feeling exhausted from a process that typically takes me eight to 12 hours of planning for a trip of any length.
According to a pre-pandemic survey out of 7,800 tourists according to Hotels.com, the average person spends 10 hours or more researching a vacation. Forty percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay more to avoid all this planning. The oversaturation of choices, review sites and booking platforms has taken its toll.
So what if you’re in too much of a rush to do the legwork, but also don’t have a few thousand bucks to throw at a personal planner or a packaged experience? A handful of new websites attempt to address our collective trip-planning fatigue by focusing on conservation, convenience, or your existing social network.
I’ve tried three on recent trips, including a members-only website that lets you share your home with mutual friends and an Instagram-like app dedicated to travel.
Instead of a rental service populated by hosts trying to make a profit, the website functions as a shared calendar. Members can define who sees their ads and then determine costs based on two levels of contacts. You can invite your inner circle over for a free stay, for example, or set up an exchange of favors (like babysitting) for a group of friends and offer to cover cleaning costs for mutual acquaintances. You can still set a nightly rate, but the platform is trying to phase out that option by this year to encourage members to stick with sharing.
To register, you must either be invited by someone already in the network, or register on the waiting list, which requires bringing at least one friend. (There are currently 7,500 people on the waiting list.)
I was added to a beta group of over 2,000 members. Scrolling through the listings, I lived out my traveling fantasy, made possible by the generosity of stylish friends doing the same. From a four-bedroom villa overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s Joa Beach to a pretty A-frame setting in the heart of the Catskills, many of these homes seem like a whole trip worth planning.
The viability of the site relies on users engaging with it more as a social network than as a marketplace. Instead of reviews, hosts who receive a DM stay request often share the friend for approval. If someone leaves a house in poor condition and cannot make amends with the host, they risk being excluded from the community.
The bottom line: Planning a trip based on the availability of a friend’s house not only narrows down your options, but also provides a source of information that is likely more in line with your tastes and preferences. As the platform expands its member base and narrows their degrees of separation, this could be a feasible first stop for travelers trying to decide where to go next.
And after: In the spring, MyPlace plans to come out of beta and introduce an app, complete with a homepage that will function as a feed of available homes and dates in your network.
With an interface that looks like Instagram, this free app shows the travel activity of friends and others you follow, allowing you to organize and filter your sources.
A home screen displays recent activity, an “explore” tab lets you search for places by keywords and location, a “trips” tab lets you create destination routes, and a profile page helps you to track your own recs and wishlists. At each location listed, you’ll find basic information, such as photos and hours of operation, as well as user reviews and tags such as “pet friendly” and “suitable for groups.” Creating an ad or recommending an existing ad does not require writing a review. You will therefore often find ads that only contain basic information (photos, keywords, opening hours) followed by the number of people who have recommended it (if there are any beyond the person who created the ad).
Since its launch in August 2021, the platform has accumulated nearly 150,000 members, resulting in recommendations and reviews in over 3,500 cities.
To plan an upcoming trip to Istanbul, I started with the city’s homepage. Most immediate listings were of well-known sites and restaurants with no reviews, but scrolling further I spotted Pandelia blue-tiled restaurant above the Spice Bazaar where I had a memorable meal a few years ago.
I clicked on the profile of the person who listed it and discovered his collection of 38 rooftop restaurants, hip cafes and other places I had heard good things about or was looking forward to to try.
Because many places lacked descriptions or reviews, I still had to do some additional research. But the leads saved me a lot of time searching.
After creating a wishlist, I switched to a map view on my schedule page to organize the days by neighborhood, adding hours for each stop and tapping on the opening hours for each list to make sure that they are aligned. What probably would have been nearly three hours of switching between multiple tabs took a streamlined one.
For those who prefer to travel more freely, the “explore” feature tracks your location and displays nearby pins.
The bottom line: The search potential will improve as the number of members grows, but what will keep you connected are the app’s smart organizing features. Instead of being scattered across spreadsheets and Google Maps pins, directions can live in what looks like a fun memory bank.
And after: The app’s algorithm will continue to evolve, directing you to like-minded travelers and tailoring recommendations to your preferences.
For $250 a month, this membership based app allows you to submit unlimited itinerary requests, each reviewed by a team of trip planners who send out recommendations within 24 hours.
As well as covering the basics like whether you are traveling for business or leisure, who will be going with you and how familiar you are with the destination, the app’s questionnaire includes your activity preferences, hotel budget and the desired location.
The prompts come with sets of playful multiple-choice answers to choose from. For example, in response to what you want as the general theme of the visit, you can decide to “totally relax”, “do as the Romans do”, “go on an adventure”, “see all the sites” or ” Let the festivities begin.”
I tested the app before a recent trip to Maui. I’ve been there twice and felt like I knew the island quite well, but I was traveling with a family who had never been there. Within hours of submitting my application, I received a brief overview of what to expect, a bulleted list of what to know, and three to six suggestions each for restaurants, bars, experiences, coffee breaks and accommodation options.
I was surprised to see several places I had never heard of before such as a wood fired pizza kitchen called marlow in the outback town of Makawao, which was a hit with the whole family (watching the sunset from the balcony of the nearby brewery, Mahalo Aleworks).
Where the guide failed was in his experiences, which included sailing, snorkeling, and rafting trips, but no DIY options. Two sample itineraries I requested for other destinations had much better variety.
The bottom line: If you travel often enough to justify the high price, Brevity is your best bet for saving on planning time. The number of suggestions matches the length and nature of each trip, so you don’t have to sift through a ton of options and the recommendations are aimed at helping members avoid tourist traps while not fearing popular stops worth the crowd.
And after: The company is currently developing an algorithm to introduce more affordable membership levels by summer. This includes a free tier to give new users a free route and a $30 per month option for unlimited access to scheduled routes, which will cover at least 250 cities at launch. Those who stick with or opt into the $250 per month tier will continue to receive curated referrals from the staff.