When I was a child of seven, my father planned an all summer-long cross-country vacation hitting most of the United States. From our home in Washington, D.C, the destination was Disneyland… way across the country and a mecca for a wide-eyed child in love with all things Disney. I have fond memories witnessing America’s splendor from the rear-facing back seat of our family’s yellow Chevette. I watched my father meticulously plan that trip with a AAA Auto Club advisor, carefully highlighting a yellow line on customized “Trip-Tik” map pages that folded out for each day’s driving indicating routes, hotel stops, and even activities.
Flash forward years later. I’m planning to see Italy with my best friend and partner on a 10-day vacation and “Trip-Tik” is a relic of 70’s history. We wanted a comprehensive visit, but both of us prefer to explore on our own rather than being held to a set schedule on a day-long tour bus. So we decide to fly into Rome and rent a car to drive north, hitting Italy’s best attractions and food, eventually ending up in Milan to fly back home.
Aside from a broad idea of things we wanted to see (i.e. Rome’s Vatican City, Tuscany, the canals of Venice), we had no idea of where to stay and what to see. I had heard about TripAdvisor from a friend and decided to check it out. Being able to read about hotels, restaurants, and attractions by order of ranking proved to be a great way to find comfortable hotels and B&Bs along our route that were high quality yet fit nicely into our budget. Reading the feedback of other guests really provided invaluable information, not only on the properties themselves, but other valuable travel planning tips.
For example, we learned the #1 highest rated accommodation in Venice was a charming, family-owned B&B called Locanda Orseolo, right off St. Mark’s Square. Guests described everything from the personal hospitality of the family who operated the hotel, to custom-cooked chocolate crepes served at breakfast while gondolas drifted past the windows. We were enchanted. Unfortunately, this B&B (being ranked #1) at a popular tourist city was insanely difficult to score a reservation with only 15 available rooms. Fortunately, a TripAdvisor reviewer recommended reserving with the hotel directly by email, exactly one month in advance. It worked! We had our three nights booked in this gem.
The B&B is difficult to find and no taxis serve any hotels in Venice (you walk or boat everywhere), but several reviewers made finding the proper garage parking, water taxi stop, and walking directions easy as pie. We even had photos to steer us in the proper direction off St. Mark’s Square. We were personally welcomed by the owners outside the hotel, just as described by previous guests. If not for TripAdvisor, we would have missed out on what became our most memorable hotel stay in our favorite and most romantic city in Europe.
After a week of big cities, popular cafés, and restaurants, we had eaten some truly great meals, but we were growing a little tired of hotel stops and looking for some quintessential Italian pizza off the beaten path. We were staying in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, in the quaint village of Radda in Chianti. TripAdvisor described a local pizza shop no more than a few cobblestoned blocks away from our hotel. Reviewers marveled at the quality of their pizza pies and reasonable prices.
We tentatively entered the shop no bigger than a bedroom closet, with only three tiny tables and many local Italians waiting for carry-out orders. The elderly Italian couple didn’t speak any English. We exchanged a glance that suggested this might have been a mistake. Using sign language, we managed to order by pointing a lot, and waited for a table to open up, which was no bigger than a round cocktail table. When the pizza arrived, it filled the entire tabletop. Our first reaction… no way we’re going to finish this monster. Well, from the first bite to the very last, we marveled at the fresh ingredients… vegetables picked that morning right out of a nearby garden, sauce made from fresh tomatoes, and dough hand-formed into a crust both super thin and delicious. It was the best pizza we’ve ever eaten, and also the least expensive dinner of the entire trip. To this very day over ten years later, we still remember that amazing pizza and all subsequent pizzas that never quite measure up.
For 2016, TripAdvisor has matured from a one-stop information resource to a full-fledged booking tool, integrating a robust calendar and pricing engine to book hotels, flights, restaurants, and tours for the best prices available. As we plan for our Asian experience in Vietnam, I can input the specific dates we are going to be in Ho Chi Minh City and receive prices and availability during our stay. The results can be sorted by ranking, price, or even distance from our hotel. We already have our hotel selected, but are looking for private tours around the area. By clicking on the “Things To Do” tab, TripAdvisor pulls up a ranked listing of attractions and tours. A convenient link allows us to make a booking directly online. Of course, TripAdvisor’s reviews and photos really give us a feeling of confidence that we are booking a tour that will give us the experience we are looking for. The nice thing about TripAdvisor is that reviews are carefully vetted to make sure they are honest reviews written by impartial guests, and not biased input posted by boosters and optimizers.
TripAdvisor is now my invaluable, first-source tool for finding places to stay, where to eat, and what to do while exploring new places. I used to check three to four websites to guarantee the best prices for booking my flights, hotels, and tours, but now I find that TripAdvisor gives me all the information and confidence that my travel adventures will make lasting memories at the best prices.
Are you planning your 2016 getaways? Then the best time to do it is right around the corner with TripAdvisor’s Trip-A-Day Giveaway from March 1st through March 31st, 2016. TripAdvisor is giving away a Trip-A-Day to those booking a hotel through the site during the month of March. #BookToWin
Have a dream getaway in mind? Post it on your social media with the hashtag #BookToWin.
I love TripAdvisor. It’s a brand I believe in and personally use. Sometimes worlds come together in the best possible ways. I’m now compensated by TripAdvisor which allows me to spend more time supporting a brand I love and use.