As I’ve started travelling more over the past few years I’ve found a variety of internet sites/tools which I find useful so I thought I would share them. These aren’t the only sites for travel information on the internet (or even the best ones), they are just the ones that I have come to rely on.
- Tripadvisor.com forums: This is my single most used site. The travel forums (e.g. the Kauai forum) are an incredibly rich source of information about a destination. The information on the forums is provided by travellers themselves so you don’t get all the glossy brochure hype. The search function is a great way to find the information you are looking for. Unless your question is very unique, it’s probably already been asked and answered on the forums. The forums provide information on things to do, places to stay, where to eat, costs, weather etc. In many cases a forum will be moderated by an expert who either lives in the destination or travels there frequently.
- Tripadvisor.com Reviews: If you are looking to see what others think of specific hotels, vacation rentals, timeshares, restaurants or attractions, the reviews are a very good source of information. The reviews are written by people who have actually been there so the information is, for the most part, free of the glossy hyperbole you get in brochures and travel magazines. A word of caution: People’s travel tastes are as individual as they are. To get a reasonable overall impression you need to read quite a few reviews and be prepared to critically examine travellers comments through the lens of your own likes, dislikes and desires. For example, one gentleman was slagging an all-inclusive resort in Mexico because their selection of ‘fine French wines’ was very limited. Seriously? I find that as you read through the reviews an overall impression and pattern forms in your mind. If 4 out 5 reviewers complain of bad food then I’d be thinking of passing on that resort. Another good source of information is to look at the travellers photos (as opposed to the “professional” photos). I’ve researched all our trips using the Tripadvisor forums and reviews and without exception have generally got what we thought we were going to get.
- Tripadvisor.com Flights (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Flights): There is no shortage of travel booking sites on the internet but this is the one I keep coming back to. They have a research tool to search for and pick your flights (even if you book somewhere else). It searches many different airlines and returns all the possibilities in a very useful interface. You can use the sliders on the left side of the screen to refine your search using things like number of stops, takeoff and arrival times, airline etc. This saves a lot of time so you don’t have to slog your way through hundreds of different variations. Another cool feature of the site is ability to click on the ‘details’ of a flight and see kind of aircraft will be used. Look for a link to ‘SeatGuru Review’ and you will be able to see the aircraft seating arrangements (which seats are good vs bad e.g. which are the emergency exit seats with more legroom) as well as other features like in-seat video monitors and AC plugs.
- Yapta (http://www.yapta.com). This free site allows you to track flight prices for trips you set up. While it can’t predict if flight prices will go up or down, it will track the current price for you to give you some information to go on when to buy. In some cases its even useful for tracking the price of a flight after you have bought since certain airlines (e.g. Alaska Air) will refund the difference to you if the price goes down before you fly (but only if you catch it!).
- Hotwire (http://www.hotwire.com): With hotwire you search for a hotel, car or flight but while you can see the price before you guy, you aren’t told which hotel/car rental/airline it’s with until after you book and pay for it (and no refunds!). I’m afraid I’m too picky a traveller to be comfortable doing this with flights and hotels but I do use it for rental cars and have saved a lot of money doing it. Since you are guaranteed a car from a major rental company like Budget or Enterprise and I don’t really care which company I rent a car from (as long as it’s a reputable, major one), it’s worked out well for me. I’ve booked cars and then when I found which company it’s with checked their website to find out their regular posted rates are 2x what I paid. Another good way to save money is to delay booking your car until a few weeks before you go. Often the rates go way down. Of course this only works for destination that don’t have a shortage of rentals (check the tripadvisor forums for information like this).
- Google Earth (http://www.google.com/earth/index.html): Not many people would call Google Earth a ‘travel site’ but I sometimes find it useful when choosing a place to stay. I’ll locate potential hotels or resorts on GE and zoom in to see what kind of beach the resort is on (we’re beach people) or how far it is from the beach. I also use it to get an idea of the topography of a place that we are thinking of going to (I don’t like flat places) and to look at local photos that other travelers have posted (GE has photos embedded in it that you can click and view).
- Google Maps (http://maps.google.com): Although Google maps is a useful way to see a map of a destination, its killer feature for travel planning is Street View. By dragging the Street View Icon (a small orange man) onto the map, you enter an interactive world of 360 degree photos that give you a spectacularly detailed view of your destination. Wondering what the area around your hotel looks like? Now you can see it before you book. More information on Street View here: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview. Google Maps also has the ability to calculate a route from a start and end point. This is useful to print out maps of the route from the airport to your hotel (although I usually just use my GPS for that).
I hope you find these useful in some small way. If you’ve found other good sites let me know about them.