There’s just SO much on the internet, sometimes it ends up being information overload.
I have my own go-to travel resources and booking sites that I love to use when planning or prepping a trip. Here they are!
*Some of these contain affiliate links, which means I make a tiny bit of commission if you book through them. You don’t pay more, and I get a few cents to put towards my website hosting! I only recommend sites and services I actually USE and pay for myself! When I sit down to plan a trip, these are the sites I use.
The right accommodation can make or break a trip. Although I rarely look for fancy accommodation, I still want to find the right experience, and know I’m getting good value for money. If the location is wrong, too much time is wasted transiting to and from activities. And if no one’s sleeping well, no one’s having any fun! I don’t like to spent too much time looking at accommodation, but I have a few go-to sites that tend to have enough variety to find what I’m looking for. If I’m really stuck, I’ll do a good old google search “city name vacation rentals” or something similar, to find the one-off sites specific to different regions.
The site I use the most for accommodation is Booking.com, by far! I find it so much easier to have everything in the same place. Over the past few years they’ve really expanded, and now include hostels, apartments, guest-house, pretty much everything. The only thing I don’t like is the new “booking agent”. It’s so frustrating that anytime I want to contact a property, I have to do it via the booking agent, rather than emailing via the website. I’m hoping this inconvenience goes away soon!! Finger’s crossed!
The best site in Asia is by far Agoda.com. A few years ago they were bought out by booking.com (who was bought by Expedia), but it still has a few unique offerings for Asia. One nice thing about Agoda is the ability to pre-pay for accommodation online with a credit card. There are so many places in Asia that don’t accept credit card that it’s nice to pre-pay online and not carry around as much cash.
VRBO & HomeAway are my go-to for apartment/home rentals. They’re both owned by the Home Away umbrella, and seem to be in the process of merging into one. I always cross reference these with AirBnB as the prices can be different. HomeAway and VRBO used to be cheaper because they didn’t charge a booking fee, but they do now, making them all usually comparable in price. It’s always worth a check though!
This is a website I’ve only used a few times, but I love the concept of Home Stay. They don’t always do a great job separating out the hostels from the true home stays, but there are some gems on here! It’s a site I’m excited to use more of in the near future.
Flip Key is TripAdvisor’s attempt at putting their hat in the vacation rental ring. It often has different properties than HomeAway, VRBO or AirBnB, so it’s worth checking out. I find the selection isn’t as good as the other sites, and it looks eerily similar to the AirBnB website, but with different properties!
When it comes to non-hotel accommodation, AirBnB seems to be the go-to for many people. I’ve used it a few times, but I often get annoyed sifting through the properties. It’s hard to distinguish just how many rooms are available, whether it’s a guesthouse, home or hotel, and which are just beds in a dorm room. It’s almost branched out to be too similar to sites like booking.com, but it doesn’t do it as well. The ‘entire home’ feature weeds out some of this, but then it eliminates the possibility to stay with a local host. If I’m not finding anything good on the other sites, I’ll head on over here for a complete search.
Sometimes it’s nice to have everything in one place, and the only place to do this is either with Expedia or Travelocity. Both sites offer a discounted rate on accommodation if you purchase a flight with them, and they offer car rentals, activities, pretty much everything. It’s kind of like putting together your own package deal. I find that often the flight prices on Expedia can be a bit cheaper than many other places on the web, and then combine it with a hotel discount, and I’m happy!!
Airfare is often the largest expense when traveling, and a deal on airfare can significantly reduce the overall cost of a trip. This is especially true when you’re traveling as a family and have multiple airfares to purchase. I usually start my search with Google flights, it’s surprisingly comprehensive, and includes a link to the best deal. There are a few budget airlines that aren’t included, as well as some piece-meal segments, so if I’m flying somewhere a bit more obscure I’ll check a few more options.
Momondo seems to be the best site for searching out obscure connections and routing. One of the best tricks I’ve found so far is putting in “multi-stop” itineraries rather than “one-way” (when possible). I find the multi-stop can often save me up to 50% of the one-way fare, for exactly the same flight segments. And, even if it doesn’t save money, it’s often a way to add a short lay-over to a long flight without having to pay extra.
Skyscanner and AirFare Watch Dog are both great for tracking airfare. If I know in advance where I want to go, both of these are great for tracking deals on the web and sending them straight to my inbox. One Skyscanner feature that I especially love is the “go anywhere”. I’ve never actually booked a flight using this feature, but I sure love using it to dream and fuel my wanderlust!!
If airfare is the largest expense when traveling, other transportation likely comes in second for us. I can’t seem to be able to stay still for too long, so we tend to move around a lot when we travel. Getting from one city to the next can be almost as pricy as getting to the destination itself. Depending on where we are, we move around using a variety of different methods. I tend not to be too loyal to any one company, I just follow the best deals!
For non-Europeans, Auto Europe has been the best place to rent a vehicle in Europe by far. They’re basically a broker for a number of different rental companies in Europe. However, they always seem to come up with a smokin’ deal! As an added bonus, their customer service is fantastic. The first time I used Auto Europe was for a trip to France a few years ago. A few weeks after I made the booking, plans changed a bit. I called then up, and they re-arranged my rental, and even removed the insurance after inquiring about my credit card insurance. I saved a bunch more money on top of a great deal! I’ve used this company a number of times since and have never been disappointed.
In North and Central America, I seem to find the best deals with either Enterprise or Budget. (I haven’t rented a vehicle in Asia, Africa or South America yet!). I’ll usually search both, and go with the better price. It’s as simple as that!!
I have a love-hate relationship with train travel! On one hand, it’s my favourite form of ground travel. I love being ON the train, watching the countryside roll by. I also love being able to safely move around while the train is moving. However, getting on and off the train completely stresses me out! Why is it that they stop for such a SHORT period of time?! I’m always the person, standing at the doorway, wearing my backpack, 15min before the train stops.
Add the kids to the mix, and I turn into a bit of a basket case during train transfers. The only exception to this is if I’m riding the train from the first stop to the final stop. Then, and only then, will I embark and disembark in a relaxed fashion. One would think, that with the number of trains I’ve taken, I’d be over this irrational fear. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t want to go away!
It doesn’t stop me from riding trains, however, and Rail Europe makes this incredibly easy! I remember traveling on a Eurail pass when I was just out of high-school and it was so easy. We’d just jump on the train and write the date on our pass. It’s not quite as easy nowadays, as many routes require pre-assigned seats for a small extra fee. But, it’s still the cheapest way to train around Europe.
There are a number of great organizations out there offering great volunteering initiatives, however the only one I’ve used so far is Work Away. So, for now, it’s the only one I’ll recommend! The idea of volunteering and “giving back” when we travel, is important to me. There are so many volunteer organizations that try to do good, but do more damage in the process. And, many are for the volunteer to “feel good” as opposed to actually helping at the local level. My experience with work away, is that many are set up by a local, are sustainable, and really benefit the community. I’m sure some are better than others, but on the whole it offers a great, sustainable volunteering option.
I’m a “Lonely Planet” girl! Sure, there are other great guidebooks out there, but once I get used to one format I find it’s easiest to stick to one. Lonely Planet has the largest selection of guidebooks out there, and covers parts of the world forgotten by many other companies. I have a (very) large stack of Lonely Planet books on my bookshelf, and the pile keeps growing!
The other thing I love about Lonely Planet is the Thorn Tree Forum. It’s a great place to go for answers to out-of-the way destinations, and general travel tips and advice. I love that the information is from fellow travellers.
The other great forum out there is TripAdvisor. The general TripAdvisor page is great for finding tours and activities, although I don’t use it for food as much as I used to! It’s really important to read through the reviews objectively. I often look at the negative reviews, to see if there’s a common thread. Then, I look at the middle-ratings, because I get the most information out of them For obscure destinations or activities, the forum is invaluable. There’s a lot that doesn’t end up on the main search page, that can be found in the forum. Plus, searching the forum is really easy!
Language is one of those things I wish I was better at. Randy has it, he can hear something, remember it, and speak it again with a reasonable accent. Me? I’m awful! My accent always sounds ridiculous, and I just can’t seem to remember anything! I consider myself a relatively smart person (my multiple University degrees would agree!), but I just can’t figure out languages. The girls are both in French Immersion school, and we LOVE France, so I’m determined to improve my French speaking skills. This is where Preply is fantastic! It connects you with online tutors, via Skype, to practice with. I’ve tried other language programs before, but there’s no feedback, so I quickly fizzle out. Being connected to a real tutor is ideal. Finger’s crossed my French will be good enough to have an idea what the kids are saying when they’re talking behind my back!!
Thanks for getting this far!! Is there anything I missed? Any site you use that you think I should be using too?