My Airbnb’s 4.8-star rating was more of 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-or-miss, which resulted in a few thwarted dinner plans and wasted taxis across town. A day trip to Hierve el Agua, a mountainous site of petrified waterfalls and mineral springs nearby, included a return trip that took four hours because of protest blockades that I later learned are common along that route.
I called my lack of preparation an experiment, but it was really a result of feeling burned out from a process that usually takes me eight to 12 hours of planning for a trip of any length.
According to a pre-pandemic poll of 7,800 tourists by Hotels.com, the average person spends 10 hours or more on researching a vacation. Forty percent of respondents said they’d be willing to pay more to avoid all that planning. The oversaturation of choices, review sites and booking platforms has taken its toll.
So what if you’re too time-crunched to do the legwork, but you also don’t have a couple grand to throw down on a personal planner or a packaged experience? A handful of new websites are trying to address our collective travel-planning fatigue by homing in on curation, convenience or your existing social network.
I tried three of them on recent trips, including a members-only website that allows you to share your home among mutual friends and an Instagram-like app that’s dedicated to travel.
Instead of a rental service populated with hosts trying to make a profit, the website functions like a shared calendar. Members can set who sees their listings, then determine the costs according to two tiers of contacts. You could invite your closest circle for a free stay, say, or set up an exchange of favors (such as housesitting) for one group of friends and offer to cover a cleaning fee 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 to sharing.
To join, you either need to be invited by someone already in the network or apply for the wait list, which requires you bring on at least one friend. (There are currently 7,500 people on the wait list.)
I was added to a beta group of more than 2,000 members. Browsing the listings, I lived out my peripatetic fantasy, one made possible through the generosity of stylish friends doing the same. From a four-bedroom villa overlooking Joa Beach in Rio de Janeiro to a lovely A-frame in the heart of the Catskills, many of these homes seem worth planning an entire trip around.
The site’s viability hinges on users engaging with it more as a social network than a marketplace. In lieu of reviews, hosts who receive a stay request often DM the mutually shared friend for an endorsement. If someone leaves a home in bad shape and can’t make amends with the host, they risk being barred from the community.
The bottom line: Planning travel around the availability of a friend’s home not only helps narrow your options, but offers a source of intel that’s likely more in line with your tastes and preferences. As the platform expands its base of members and narrows their degrees of separation, it could be a feasible first stop for travelers trying to decide where to go next.
What’s next: In the spring, MyPlace expects to launch out of beta and introduce an app, with a homepage that will function like a feed of available homes and dates in your network.
With an interface that resembles Instagram, this free app shows travel activity from friends and others you follow, allowing you to curate and filter your sources.
A home screen displays recent activity, an “explore” tab allows you to search for places by keywords and location, a “trips” tab lets you create destination itineraries and a profile page helps you keep track of your own recs and wish lists. On each place listed, you’ll find the basics, like photos and opening hours, plus user reviews and tags like “pet-friendly” and “good for groups.” Creating a listing or recommending an existing listing doesn’t require writing a review, so often you’ll find listings that only have basic information (pics, keyword tags, opening hours) followed by how many people have recommended it (if there are any beyond the person who created the listing).
Since launching in August 2021, the platform has accrued close to 150,000 members, resulting in recommendations and reviews in more than 3,500 cities.
To plan an upcoming trip to Istanbul, I started at the city’s homepage. Many of the immediate listings were well-known sights and restaurants without reviews, but scrolling further I spotted Pandelia blue-tiled restaurant above the Spice Bazaar where I had a memorable meal a few years back.
I clicked through to the profile of the person who’d listed it and discovered her collection of 38 rooftop restaurants, hip coffee shops and other places I’d either heard good things about or was excited to try.
Because many places lacked descriptions or reviews, I still had to do some extra research. But the leads saved me a lot of time sleuthing.
After creating a wish list, I switched over to a map view on my planning page to organize days by neighborhood, adding times for each stop and tapping on every listing’s opening hours to make sure they lined up. What would have likely been close to three hours of toggling between multiple tabs took a streamlined one.
For those who prefer to travel more free-form, the “explore” function tracks your location and shows nearby pins.
The bottom line: The research potential will improve as membership grows, but what will keep you logged in is the app’s smart organizing features. Instead of being scattered across spreadsheets and Google Maps pins, itineraries can live in what feels like a fun memory bank.
What’s next: The app’s algorithm will continue to evolve, directing you to like-minded travelers and adapting 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 travel planners who send over recommendations in under 24 hours.
Along with covering the basics, like whether you’re 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 desired location.
Prompts come with sets of playful multichoice answers to select. For example, in response to what you’d like the general theme of the visit to be, you can decide to “totally relax,” “do as the Romans do,” “have an adventure,” “see all the sights” or “get the party started.”
I tested the app ahead of a recent trip to Maui. I’ve visited twice and felt I knew the island well, but I was traveling with family who had never been. Within a few hours of submitting my request, I received a brief overview of what to expect, a bulleted list of need-to-knows, and three to six suggestions each for restaurants, bars, experiences, coffee breaks and lodging options.
I was surprised to see more than a few places that I hadn’t heard of before, like a wood-fired pizza kitchen called Marlow in the upcountry town of Makawao, which was a hit with the whole family (catch the sunset from the balcony of the brewery next door, Mahalo Aleworks).
Where the guide fell short was in its experiences, which included packaged 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 hefty price tag, 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 focus on helping members avoid tourist traps while not shying from popular stops that are worth the crowds.
What’s next: The company is currently building out an algorithm to introduce more affordable membership tiers by the summer. This includes a no-cost tier to give new users one free itinerary and a $30-per-month option for unlimited access to programmed itineraries, which will cover at least 250 cities upon launch. Those who stick to or opt for the $250-per-month tier will continue receiving recommendations curated by staff.