Updated November 2016: I have added some new favourites and have ditched some websites that are no longer as amazing. Let me know if you have any favourites to add. Cristal
If you've ever thought that planning a vacation and booking a flight yourself was too difficult and complicated then check out these travel websites which I use personally to plan and book my own trips.
This article is part of a larger series called "The Ultimate Guide to Booking Affordable Travel On Your Own". A Guide with detailed information to help you find and book travel for any budget.
This is my #1 go to for flight booking. I generally check a selection of websites but Skyscanner usually the cheapest. It’s pretty flexible in terms of allowing you to explore a variety of destinations and dates so if you don’t really mind where or when you go it can help you find the cheapest place to fly in a country, region or even all over the globe! You can search for a specific date, a whole month or even just ask it for the cheapest date to travel to specific location.
This is not as flexible so it’s the most useful when you know where and when you want to go. The best thing about Momondo though is that it rates each fare based on a calculation of duration and price so you can easily see which fares are the best deal. Momondo also has some great filters if you want to be more specific about which airline, how many stops you’d prefer and maximum flight duration.
This is probably the most flexible flights search engine of them all. It’s as searchable as Skyscanner but also allows you to see the destinations and prices on a map view which works well for me as a visual person. My only criticism of Google Flights is that not all of the super budget airlines are included so you might not always find the best deal. It’s a great starting point though if you really just want to explore the options.
Skiplagged is a special search engine that checks if there are any flights that stopover in your destination city that could potentially be cheaper than a direct fare. For example, you want to fly from Miami to Salt Lake City and you can get a fare for $200 but Skiplagged can see that there is a flight from Miami to Portland with a stopover in Salt Lake City for $150. You would take this fare and just leave the airport at Salt Lake City, no worries. They also claim to take advantage of other inefficiencies and round trip prices that could save you money. I have never actually found a better deal on Skiplagged probably due to my unique choice of destinations but I always check this website before I book anything and have heard some positive reports from the travellers.
A great website to help you discover options to get from Point A to Point B. Rome2Rio includes links to purchase directly with the providers and incorporates bus and train schedules, flights and car hire options.
This website encourages train and ferry travel by providing detailed information. Seat 61 has a heavier focus on UK, Europe and Africa travel but there is some information on most destination around the world. If you’ve ever fantasised about grand train journeys like traveling on the Trans Siberian Railway this is the place to go. There is ample information on what to expect, changing stations, connection times, classes and special needs. Honestly, if you’re thinking of train travel at all, I strongly suggest you check out this website.
Once I’ve decided on where to go and I’m ready to look into accommodation, Tripadvisor is my first stop. TripAdvisor relies on reviews from regular people staying in a hotel, compiles these into one page and ranks each hotel. If you enter your dates in it will also give you an idea of the cost and who you should book it through.
There are some useful filters including one for ‘Type of traveler’. You can choose ‘Family’ to read reviews by guests who stayed as a family or ‘Business’ for guests who stayed specifically for business purposes. My favourite filter is the ‘Time of year’ where you can see whether the hotel is as enjoyable in winter vs summer.
So Tripadvisor is a fantastic resource but this recommendation comes with a caveat. Like anything that is online, it’s very easy for someone to fake a review. This could be because maybe they represent a rival business and want to leave a damaging review or maybe the business wants to leave some sparkling reviews on themselves. There have been reports of business paying companies to leave reviews and other dodgy activity.
My number one tip is to take most individual reviews with a grain of salt. If it doesn’t sound like something a regular person would right then it’s probably a fake. Are there a spate of reviews left by people who only have one review? Then they’re probably fake or a business has enticed people to sign up and leave a review by offering some good or service, which is completely against Tripadvisor's terms and conditions. If there are hundreds or thousands or reviews and you just want to get an idea of whether somewhere is good or not, then just check out the overall score and leave it at that.
TravelPony is a great hotel aggregator that claims to have the best prices you can find anywhere. They’ve never steered me wrong and the website is very easy to use. It’s all about price on this website so you won’t find much more information besides the hotels address and contact number and a list of amenities.
Even though I use either TripAdvisor or TravelPony to help find the best prices for a particular hotel, if there was a choice, I would use Expedia to book. I have only ever received great customer service from Expedia and they have travel guarantees built in and a reward program that actually rewards you!
Agoda is a recent gem of mine for hotel booking. It's not always the cheapest but it does seem to be one of the cheapest options and their interface is one of the most pleasant to use. It's especially worth checking Agoda for travel around the Asia, Pacific and Europe regions.
Airbnb allows you to book the home of a local host. It can be just a room with access to the common space or a whole hours or apartment. There are also some interesting accommodation types listed in Airbnb, like castles, tree houses and houseboats if you want to try something different. Sometimes it can work out cheaper to book a vacation home through Airbnb than a traditional hotel and it can be a great option when traveling somewhere off the beaten track without a lot of accommodation options. There’s also a built in review system for piece of mind when booking.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, click here to get $25 off your first rental.
Hostelz is a great resource for those who like staying in hostels and other budget accommodation. It aggregates the hostel booking sites and gives you an overview of the reviews and prices so you can choose where to book from. It also includes the contact details and websites for each hostel so you can check them out and book directly.
To get an overview of a place it can be helpful to google the official tourism websites. Some are great and interactive and full of information and advice and others are lacking or non-existent. I would usually do a quick Google search to see what’s available and use that as a starting point in your research. Travel blogs like this one are also a great resource. You get insight from actual people who’ve been to these places and what their experiences are like. Just be mindful that most f the time, when someone writes about a destination, place or service, they’re only writing the positive stuff. It’s just human nature to want to highlight the ’best of's’ but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. When wanting to get inspiration from travel blogs, try searching: ‘destination’ ‘blog'
A forum is a place you can go to online to find like minded people and participate in discussions. Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forum is filled with other travellers just like you who are either destination experts that provide insights and updates or people searching for help and advice. You can post things like a tentative itinerary that you’ve planned and seek feedback on it or ask a specific question that you can’t find the answer for elsewhere. There’s usually a FAQ or destination guide for each place as well.
Tip: Basic forum etiquette is to search for your query first to make sure the answer hasn’t already been provided.
Local expat forums
Some locations have such a huge expat community that they’ve developed their own forums online. It’s worth it to google 'destination' and ‘forum’ to see what’s available. Often users on Thorntree will be the first to advise that you should check out another forum for help. When planning my trip to the Dominican Republic, I was directed by a Thorntree user to the forum DR1 for help with my questions.
A crowdsourced travel guide, Wikitravel is a great place to get an overview of a location with information on getting in and out, pubic transport options, top sights, places to eat and places to stay.
Tripadvisor is a great site to find things to do at a destination, with their user submitted reviews and ranking system you can find the most popular activities and tours available.
A website to discover unique, cultural experiences from local hosts around the world. You an find a variety of tours on Vayable centered around design, photography, street art, ethnic food tours, private dinners hosted by locals, underground history and general sightseeing.
You can even get $10 off your first booking, click here for more information.
Don’t forget about travel insurance!
Like my flights and accommodation I used to always compare prices for travel insurance. Now, after 10+ years of solo travel, I just book through World Nomads. They’re the most comprehensive, flexible and easy to understand. You always know what you are and are not covered for. For people traveling long term, World Nomads is one of the only companies that will let you buy cover while you are already traveling.
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