Do you know which companies are the best when planning and booking a trip?
With almost two decades of trip planning experience, I have come to learn which companies to work with and which not to. I know which tour operators are best for package holidays, how to find the cheapest flights and which rucksacks will be the most hardwearing!
I’ve organised and booked a lot of trips all over the world from backpacking solo through Asia to taking a student group to The Gambia to travelling through Canada with a baby! I’ve tried and tested many different companies and I’ve learnt a lot of lessons over the years. So, I thought I would save you a job and recommend to you my favourite travel companies that I have tried and tested.
In this post I have categorised the different types of travel companies that I work with into the following groups: travel research, flights, car hire, airport parking, accommodation, package holidays, tours, travel insurance, currency exchange and travel gear.
I have used all of the companies listed below and I have had good experiences with them- that’s why they’re listed.
The first that I do when planning a trip is to do my research. Whether this is leisurely reading or serious itinerary development, I have two main resources that I always consult: Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. (p.s. I have a handy post that you might also look outlining my 7 stages of trip planning)
I never leave home without my Lonely Planet guide! I’ve been collecting these travel books since my first solo backpacking trip in 2011 and I have a nice collection now. Whilst they are no longer the ‘bibles’ that they once were, these books are brilliant when you are doing your initial travel research and when you don’t have wifi.
In many ways TripAdvisor has become of the Holy Grail of travel research. Want to know the best place to eat with kids nearby? Need to check the opening times for the tourist office? Want to know which is the quietest beach? TripAdvisor ALWAYS has the answers. While I am away, this is probably the most used app on my phone!
Booking flights is one of the most important aspects of planning a trip because they are often the biggest outlay (especially when you are paying for kids to travel too!).
For me, I want to find the best value for money but also the best arrival and departure airports as well as flight times. Whilst the airline is less important to me, this is also a consideration (I HATE Ryanair, for example).
Below are my three go-to websites when looking for flights.
I always start my trip planning by looking at Skyscanner. This comparison site assesses the best deals with a range of airlines which can be filtered by time, duration, airline etc. One thing I love about Skyscanner is that you can search ‘everywhere’ and it will bring up the cheapest flights, showing you the bargain destinations from all over the world.
If I want to book multiple components of my trip in one convenient swoop, I always consult Expedia. You can create your own package (hotel, flight, transfer) or you can book elements individually on this comparison site. It also gives the option to book ancillaries including day trips or car hire.
This is a great flight search engine. Google Flights lets you enter your departure airport and see flights all over the world in a map so you can see where the cheapest destination is. They also suggest different dates for cheaper flights.
Now that I travel with my children, we almost always hire a car. It makes life easier for nap times and toilet stops. Being able to break up long journeys with playtime is invaluable too! Car hire can be great on many trips though, you don't need to be travelling with children.
We have hired a car in Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Israel, Abu Dhabi, Costa Rica, Canada and South Africa in recent years. That's A LOT of driving! So I have lots of experience (good and bad) of hiring cars through various companies. Here are the ones that I recommend you take a look at.
You might also be interested to take a look at my post tips for hiring a car abroad.
I like Europecar as they are reliable and have great customer service. They are not always the cheapest option, but I know that I will be getting a good quality car, which when travelling with children is very important!
Most people think that Booking.com is just for hotels, but they actually have a really handy comparison search engine for car hire too!
If public transport or taxis work for you, then great! But for many of us, it is easier and cheaper to leave our car at the airport.
We always leave our car at the airport. BUT this can be pretty costly if you don't book ahead, trust me I know from experience (*puts hand on head). We almost always book with Purple Parking because it offers the best value for money at Heathrow and Gatwick, which is where we usually fly from.
Purple Parking offers car parking close to the airport with a shuttle bus running every few minutes. Their prices are competitive, and the service has always been great. And the added bonus is that we know that when we land our car will be there waiting for us by the gate to the car park so that we can get straight on the road and get home.
Finding try with accommodation has always been important to me, but it is even more important now that we travel with young children. Here are my favourite sites. We have found some amazing deals (especially with Airbnb- see my post why Airbnb is my favourite accommodation option)
Booking.com provides a great range of accommodation options for you to compare. I like the way that you don’t usually have to pay up front and that the site hosts user reviews- so you know what you’re getting. They also have a loyalty scheme whereby you get discounts after booking with them a certain number of times.
Airbnb is my preferred accommodation choice because there are so many options that I can almost always find something to suit me. This site connects homeowners who rent out their homes to you. You’ll get all the comforts of home, the chance to stay in a local, non-touristy part of where you are going, and pay a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.
(If you’re new to Airbnb, get £34 off your first stay!)
This is a great website for picking up a last-minute bargain. Whilst the choices aren’t always huge and it isn’t for the ultra-organised, book everything ahead of time type of person, this can be a great travel resource.
This comparison site allows you to compare hotel prices around the world.
I usually plan our travels myself, but there are times when we decide to just booking a relaxing beach break where everything is included. I did this when travelling to The Gambia and Goa, for example.
Package holidays can be great, because everything is organised for you. It can take the stress out of planning a trip and make it hassle free.
If package holidays are your thing, then here are my recommendations for great companies to book with.
Travel Supermarket is one of the leading comparison sites for in the travel industry. You can compare flights, hotels, car hire, insurance and ancillaries on the website. My favourite, however, is the ability to compare package holidays.
This is one of my favourite sites for finding a pre-organised holiday at a bargain price. I actually booked my very first ever holiday without my parents on this site!
This is another great site for looking for summer holiday bargains. Holidays typically include a hotel, flight and transfer and there are optional extras too.
As I mentioned before, Expedia is a great website that allows you to create your own package holiday, known as dynamic packaging. You simply find the flight, hotel, and transfer that suits you best and book. Beware though, you won’t be covered by ATOL if you book your package holiday this way.
I have booked more tours in my time than I can count! Whether you want to tour across an entire continent or to book a day tour, sometimes booking through a tour company is the most convenient and cost effective method. Here are some of my favourite companies to use.
What I love about Travel Zoo is that they send me special offers each week. From afternoon tea on Oxford to a 6 week overlanding adventure in central Africa, there are a wide range of tours and experiences promoted on this site. I recommend subscribing to their weekly newsletter for the latest deals.
This tour operator promotes a wide range of tours around the world. I like this company because I have always had really good service with them. They offer everything from tours across China to voyages on the Black Sea.
This is a great company for booking day tours. From wine tasting in California to Stonehenge and Bath in the UK, Viator has a great range of tours all over the world. Said tours are particularly good if you want to take the stress out of organising your travel itinerary or if you are tight on time.
If you are travelling through Europe and taking a lot of trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass a couple of times and saved hundreds of Pounds each time. The math just works.
Buying your travel insurance might not be the most exciting part of trip planning, BUT it is really important! You do not want to get stuck abroad with a broken leg or be handed a bill worth thousands of Pounds when you eat some dodgy chicken.
I dread the day that the kids get chicken pox right before we are due to leave for a trip (because you know that this will happen at some point!)… but at least I know that we won't lose our money because we always have insurance!
Here is the company that we buy our annual travel insurance with each year.
Whilst getting travel insurance for your standard two – week beach holiday is pretty easy, finding insurance that covers you for over 30 days or if you are planning to do adventurous activities, such as diving or skiing, can be a bit more tricky. Personally, I buy annual family travel insurance these days, but I have also used World Nomad’s backpacking and single trip policies. Luckily, I’ve only had to claim once and that was hassle free and straight forward. Travel insurance is soooo important so I recommend that you choose a good one to make sure that you are covered in the eventuality that you do have any issues during your travels.
Organising our travel money is usually one of the last things that I will do before we leave home. Here are my favourite companies, which I find usually give us the best rates on our money.
I always check rates on the XE website. They also have a great app that I use on my phone too. XE show the most up to date exchange rates and you can do your currency exchange calculations quickly and easily.
Once I know what the going rate is, I then look around for the best place to change my money. If we need cash, we tend to use find that the Post Office usually has some of the most competitive rates on the high street.
If you're happy to wait until you get to the airport then I recommend reserving your money in advance with which ever currency exchange provider is located at the airport you will be flying from. It is always cheaper to reserve your money. I NEVER recommend just turning up at the airport and changing your money because you will never get a good rate!
In recent years I have been using cash when I travel less and instead I use my Monzo card. I love Monzo because there are no fees for using your card or withdrawing cashin any country around the world.
Below are some of my favourite brands for travel-related items. I personally use all of these companies and I wouldn't shop elsewhere (I've tried, and failed…).
These are the best quality suitcases on the market. While they can be a bit pricey, you will make your money back when you don’t need to replace them for years! They are hardy and come in a range of sizes and colours.
If you prefer to travel with a rucksack then I recommend Osprey. I LOVE my Osprey day bag- it comes with me on all of my travels and doubles up as a changing back for the kids too. I’ve tried many rucksacks and they often hurt my back after I’ve been wearing them for a while. I could wear my Osprey, however, for hours!
If you are travelling with children then you will need a good baby carrier. I have tried several carriers now and I have finally found one that I love- Tula. I love it so much that I have bought the toddler and the baby version so that I can tandem carry. It is super comfortable, and I can carry the kids all day long with this carrier.
Choosing the right camera can be tricky. I am really happy, however, with my Nikon DSLR. I’m no photography expert, so I use it in auto mode and my pictures come out beautifully. You can buy a range of lenses for different types of shots.
I never travel without my GoPro! This is fantastic for filming our travels and is particularly good at action shots, such as skiing or mountain bike riding. You can buy a range of accessories too.
There’s nothing a hate more than being cold, which is why I LOVE my North Face fleece. In Fact, I love a lot of the clothes that North Face sell. They are excellent quality and long lasting. I always take my North Face fleece on flights with me in preparation for the air conditioning being turned up high. And if it’s warm onboard then the fleece is small enough to fold up and put inside my bag.
An old school friend of mine was orphaned in Sri Lanka during the 2004 tsunami. In honour of his parents’ memory he has since started up a clothing company, with a large proportion of the proceeds being used to open up orphanages around the world. This company has an excellent cause, but it also makes great clothes too- win, win!
Haviana flipflops- a staple of any traveller’s wardrobe, right? I wouldn’t wear anything else on a hot day!
There are lots of mosquito repellents on the market, but I have been super impressed with these patches. They are made from natural ingredients and work like a charm! Deet-free, they can be used when pregnant or on children- so we always have these in our house!
A kindle is great for reading books on the beach or during a long bus journey, but it is even better for entertaining the kids- which is priceless on a long flight or car journey! I recommend the Kids Kindle as it comes with a range of games, videos and parental restrictions all pre-installed. It also comes with a soft case to protect it from little hands and a one-year warranty.
So, those are my favourite travel companies that I use when planning and booking a trip. Do you have a company that you know and love? Share them below!