How I Planned Our Trip to California

How I Planned Our Trip to California

The last big trip Omar and I went on was to Orlando, Florida and I shared exactly how I planned our trip in this blog post here. Everything from the flights to where we were staying. I wanted to do the same thing with this trip to California, because traveling plans are constantly changing! I think for the most part some of the tools I used were the same, but since this was a 15-day trip I used a lot more websites to compare prices for places to stay.


Travel Dates & Flights

1. The first thing I did was pick dates. I knew I wanted to do two weeks, but the dates themselves were pretty flexible. I knew it had to be at the end of summer to give everyone enough time to save up and take time off of work for it. I honestly just randomly picked end of July to August and started comparing flight tickets!

2. The next part was to invite everyone. This trip to California is Omar's birthday gift so I invited his best friends and his brothers. The best part of planning this was that I told everyone the dates we were going, where we were staying each week and about how much it would cost (flights, hotel/airbnb, car rental, etc). I let everyone decide what dates they wanted to join us (some did a week, some did a few days) and left it up to them to book their own flights. I wasn't going to stress myself out renting out a huge airbnb and at the last minute someone had to cancel. Keeping it super casual was important to me because I basically planned this trip for just Omar and myself and whoever wanted to tag along was more than welcome to.

3. I decided that in our 15-day trip, we would do the first week in Los Angeles. Omar has actually never been to California (except for training, which was just in the desert), so I knew we had to do the whole LA thing. Then the rest of the trip would be closer to Irvine (SoCal area) where my cousin lives. That way we can do all the nice beaches like Laguna and Huntington Beach.

4. Since I knew the [flexible] dates that we were going I started to look up flights. I wanted to get a general idea of how much flights would cost, but I knew I had a few months before purchasing. The cheapest I was seeing (round flight, non-stop) was $240 + tax/ea. I kept my eye on some different websites, until one random Sunday, I noticed the flight I had been looking at was going for $212 including tax, if we came back home on August 15th instead of August 14th. I pulled the trigger right away! On top of that, Omar gets free checked bags since he's military. Here are some websites and tricks that I used when looking up flight tickets.

 Airplane mode or multiple computers. Once you start searching for flights the prices will start to go up and it’s important to write down the cheaper websites (my faovirets are CheapOAirSTATravel, and JustFly). Once you search through a ton of website, switch computers and do your final search and buy your ticket from there.


- Buy your ticket on a Tuesday (it’s cheaper for some reason), but if it’s a Wednesday and you just happen to see it’s really cheap and you don’t think you’ll get a better deal than go with your gut. (Like I said, I bought our tickets on a Sunday and went with my gut!)

Call the website and buy tickets through the phone. For our last trip, we found tickets on JustFly through Spirit airlines and even though they were a great deal, I knew with Omar’s military discount we could get a little more off. So I called Spirit and told them I found these tickets on this website for this amount, they confirmed and because we had the military discount we got additional cost off.

- Try to bundle. Bundling a flight and rental car can definitely make things cheaper, but not always. You really just need to shop around and see what works best for you (military discounts and such can affect this). 

- Start early. The earlier you book everything the cheaper it will be.

- Don’t be afraid to shop around. Sure you can check Travelocity, Kayak and all those, but what you should also pay attention to are those last minute deals. There are certain Twitter and Instagram accounts that will post last minute flight deals and if you’re lucky you may just see your trip come up. @Airfarewatchdog@cheapflights@theflightdeal and @secretflying are some of my favorites.

- Use Cashback apps or cards. Pay attention to your current cash back cards and accounts and see if you have any rewards you can take advantage of. Omar and I have been using the app Get Upside where we get cash back on gas and groceries (Use my code: UTUBE to get an extra 20 cents back). We basically saved all of that money and used it for some extra spending money on our trip.

- See if your company (or a friend's) has corporate discounts. My job and my friend's does and I used our logins to see if hotels, excursions, car rentals and even flights were cheaper versus external websites.

- Don't forget to take advantage of student and military discounts too!

- Some sites I used to compare flights were: Justfly.com, CheapFlights.comCheapOAir.com, Travelocity.com and ultimately I purchased our tickets from FlightHub.com

5. Be flexible. It would be awesome if you could be flexible on dates. We are fortunate to live in Northern Virginia which means we have three airports to fly out of. If you can be flexible with dates, airports, or even locations than go with those! It’s all about taking the time to actually shop around.

Hotels & Car Rentals

1. Renting a hotel or Airbnb and a car rental is going to be very similar to finding flight tickets. It's all about starting early and comparing prices. A lot of my tips are going to be the same, but there are some that don't apply to this category so I took those out and listed alternative sites. Here are some websites and tricks that I used when looking up hotels and car rentals.

 Airplane mode or multiple computers. Once you start searching for hotels and car rentals the prices will start to go up. Once you search through a ton of website, switch computers and do your final search and buy your ticket from there.

- Try to bundle. Bundling a flight and rental car can definitely make things cheaper, but not always. You really just need to shop around and see what works best for you (military discounts and such can affect this). 



- Start early. The earlier you book everything the cheaper it will be.


- Use Cashback apps or cards. Pay attention to your current cash back cards and accounts and see if you have any rewards you can take advantage of. Omar and I have been using the app Get Upside where we get cash back on gas and groceries (Use my code: UTUBE to get an extra 20 cents back). We basically saved all of that money and used it for some extra spending money on our trip.



- See if your company (or a friend's) has corporate discounts. My job and my friend's does and I used our logins to see if hotels, excursions, car rentals and even flights were cheaper versus external websites.



- Don't forget to take advantage of student and military discounts too!



- Some sites I used to compare car rentals were: Justfly.comCheapFlights.comCheapOAir.comTravelocity.com, RentalCars.com and ultimately I booked a 2-week car rental through Turo.com! You can also use Uber  and public transportation to get around, it just depends where you're going!



- Some sites I used to compare places to stay were: Hotels.comVRBO.comAirbnb.comTravelocity.com and ultimately I booked through Airbnb.com.

- Get $55 towards your first trip with AirBnB, by clicking the link here. Get $25 towards your first car rental with Turo, by clicking the link here. Get travel credit through Uber, by clicking the link here.



2. Now, after you set your dates and location, you just have to decide when it's best for you to book. I gave everyone I invited a deadline of May 1 to decide if they were going on this trip with us and what dates they were coming. This is because if we had 4 friends joining us our party of 2 becomes a party of 6 which means we had to look for enough hotel rooms or a big enough Airbnb, which changes the price. Depending on how many people went we also had to rent a bigger car or potentially even 2 cars. Obviously when you share the price of a car rental or a hotel room the price goes down. I still budgeted everything as if it were just Omar and I going and what we could afford, the fact that a couple friends came and the price went down was just a nice bonus.



Excursions



1. Since Omar had never been to California, I knew that there were some things we were definitely  going to do. While others things were sort of up in the air/play by ear situation. I tend to save a ton of stuff from Instagram and save them in blog posts for the next time I visit a place so a blog post like this, Next Time I Visit Los Angeles, was perfect when picking out some places to go.



2. I also used a blank calendar image that I made a "mock" schedule. I knew that certain things had to be on certain days to avoid a majority of the crowds. Your trip doesn't have to be planned down to the second, but knowing to go to Disneyland on a Tuesday is better than going on a Friday.



3. Since I have corporate discounts through my job and Omar is military, I was able to get some discounted tickers on certain excursions. Make sure you look into discount options like Groupon, Honey or Ebates when you're planning a trip. Here are some excursions that we looked into; Warner Brothers Studio Tour, Disneyland, Live Audience Tours, Soul Cycle Class.



Save Money

This one is just super obvious, but if you plan ahead of time and you know your trip is coming up then you should set some money aside for it. I’m very fortunate that I have PTO at my job and I’m able to not feel like I’m going a week with no pay, but also with each paycheck leading up to this trip I set aside money for this trip. Make sure you look into discount options like GrouponHoney or Ebates when you're planning a trip. Again, using other tools to help save, like Get Upside or your tax return, is always helpful. If you plan it all ahead of time then not only will you get the best deals, but you’ll also be ready and financially stable to take it.

I hope that some of my tips help you when planning a big trip like this. I know it’s a lot and if you have a question about anything just leave me a comment down below!

xoxo, Michele



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