I used to hit new cities without looking at maps beforehand; I’d also have no clue as to where to go, sleep, eat, etc. Now, with the fabulous internet, I check everything (and I am addicted to Google Maps):
– How to get to my destination (including how to get to and from an airport, which can be a hassle)
– Where to sleep
– What to see and do
– And, most importantly, where to eat (I have a not-so-secret obsession with food)
And all of this must be done on the cheap! So, what are my go-to websites when I’m planning a trip?
Well, if you’ve chosen where you want to go, that’s one thing. If you haven’t, think about it carefully. What do you want from your trip? A tip: you can sign up to some good deal-a-day websites for inspiration (like Groupon or Wowcher) that sometimes have fantastic travel deals (right now, on the UK Groupon website there is a good deal for a weekend in a 5* hotel on the Croatian Coast; I’m tempted, actually!). There’s also this excellent ‘personalised trip’ website called TripTuner; check it out!
Once you know your destination, you have to choose how to get there. In Europe, the fastest (and often, overall cheapest) way to get anywhere is by plane. But you can look into buses, trains and ferries, as well.
#1: I check my flights on Skyscanner.net. There I can see the different airlines, length of flights, and airfares for any specific date or month; the website lets you check best prices on and around your dates, and it’s user-friendly. For airport transport, I always go to the airport’s own website; they usually have a to and from section.
#2: If I’m thinking of taking the train, a bus, a boat or a ferry, I use one of my favourite websites, written by Mr Mark Smith: The Man in Seat Sixty-One. I used his advice for all my train travel in Thailand and Malaysia, and am quite in awe of the amount of places he’s seen and traveled to. His site is very useful, and will give you all the information (and links to buy tickets!) you need, especially for lesser-traveled routes.
#3: When I’ve chosen my means of transport, I start reading about the place I want to go to. I like to read the tourist information websites and the international travel sections on government websites (there’s the US Department of State one, but I prefer the British travel advice format); they’re good for travel warnings, visa & vaccination information and quick country profiles.
#4: Then it’s time to look at local transport and accommodation. Here the seat61 website comes in handy again, but I also just type keywords into Google; if I want to know about bus routes in Western Australia, that’s what I put into the search engine. Of course, there are specialised travel agencies/websites that you can and should use, because they can be wonderfully descriptive (personal favourites are: Lonely Planet (quite famous; their books are amazing), Travelfish (which is specific to SE Asia) and Frommer’s travel guides); overall, if you just type in the name of your destination and the word ‘travel’, you’ll find that websites abound. Accommodation-wise, everything depends on what you want: I have a major soft spot for websites like Housetrip and Airbnb (usually individuals renting their extra room out; what you get is a very personal atmosphere), and I’m always thrilled to find a good hostel on Hostelbookers. The cheapest you can get away with is Couchsurfing, which is also great for meeting new people. If you couchsurf, don’t forget to be a model guest: polite, engaging, helpful and nice. And bring a gift from your hometown!
#5: Those same specialised travel websites also help when you’re researching local sightseeing, and where to feed and water yourself. Here I’d say read specific websites, like TimeOut (great tips and ideas on what to do and see, but only available for certain cities) or journals, that publish great articles and ‘best of’ lists, like the Guardian or the New York Times. Last but not least, you can also follow travel blogs, but there are too many to name here!
Don’t get swamped by too much information (I realise there is already too much here!); just read up on where you’re going to get a feel for the place and to have an idea of where you want to end up during your stay!