I am certainly no guru of vacation planning, but I have collected some websites that I regularly use to help me when I travel plan.
We try to avoid hotels as much as possible because we are a family of 5, and my mother-in-law often accompanies us on long trips, which makes us a family of 6.
Finding one hotel room that can handle 5 people is difficult, but when we need a hotel, I try to use this site to help me locate one.
I have had great success using VRBO to find houses and condos--in South Carolina, in Alabama, in Florida, in Michigan. I have not used Airbnb only because I've had good luck with VRBO.
I have used Roadtrippers to help find unusual things along the route that we plan to take. On one drive to Sanibel Island, FL (a 14-hour drive), we stopped at Foster Falls, TN because I found it on Roadtrippers. It was a lovely hike that broke up the drive.
To be perfectly honest, most of my travel "finds" have been pure dumb luck.
We used a Canadian travel agency for our Quebec trip that I just happened upon one day while searching---Fresh Tracks Canada. The company completely rocked it out with super personalized service. I could not recommend them more highly.
In thinking about a trip to Utah, I have been using this site a lot. One of the things I like about it is that it lists trails that are good to do with kids. I just googled "Mighty 5 Utah with kids" and found it. It has been very good at taking me down a travel rabbit hole from which I reluctantly return to real life.
When we've gone to Disney, we never stay on property but have always used Florida Sun Vacation Homes to book a house within a mile or two of Disney property. A friend of mine from back in Mom Club days turned me onto this site. A three-bedroom, 3-bath condo during peak season is around $150 a night. We'll drive ourselves 1-mile to Disney for $150 a night, thank you very much.
A big part of planning is knowing what you and your family like and don't like. We do not like busy, touristy places with lots of people and traffic. Anything with a "strip" is to be avoided, which means my searches do not involve those types of things.
G always likes to play miniature golf, so that is one of the things I look for whenever we do a beach trip. We aren't big on eating out, so I don't spend a lot of time looking up restaurants. One of my rules is that if there is a lighthouse where we go, we have to see it. I just like 'em, so when I research places that are near water, I always check for this.
In the past, I've tried to do one day trip to a nearby city when we go to the beach. When we went to Edisto Island, we were an hour from Charleston, so we drove over and spent the day. On our upcoming trip, we'll be near Savannah, but I've decided we will not go there. D and I visited Savannah prior to kids and have nice memories of it which we would like to keep intact.
Also, I think since D and I did Quebec, I kinda got the "do something more than sitting on the beach" thing out of my system.
When I see essays in magazines on travel, I make a point to cut them out and save them. I did this eons ago with an article about the UP. It took us a long time to get there, but that article planted a seed that eventually grew into a trip. Call it an "inspiration board" if you like.
These are two articles I found---one from Better Homes & Gardens on national parks, and the other from a travel magazine that came with the newspaper. I have them hanging from a magnet board in my kitchen so I can see them and reference them if needed.
I also keep a manilla folder on my desk for brochures that I pick up. I think Chattanooga, TN would be a great little trip at some point.
I take a lot of notes and look at a lot of maps to figure out where we want to go, and then I draw my route so I can get a better handle on it. I also plot time distance between spots.
When I was talking to my parents yesterday about Utah, my dad was like, "Oh, it doesn't take long to drive between Zion and Bryce," but I had to remind him that travel time with two adults in the car is different from travel time with 2 adults, 1 teenager and 2 very loud little boys in the car. Two hours with two adults is a nice drive. Two hours with the aforementioned combination whose Kindles have run out of juice is the premise of a horror film.
Anyway, I'm always game to talk about travel with people, share my dumb luck finds, and utilize their knowledge. I think people who enjoy travel tend to find each other. One of my girlfriends has been a great source of inspiration for trips. I've also used Facebook a lot to get in touch with people. A friend of mine from book club grew up in Michigan---she got me in contact with a couple of her friends who could provide me info on the UP, which was super helpful.
This is SO MUCH BETTER than reality television, right?