Travel Resources. The world of travel has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. And when it comes to technology, it is virtually unrecognizable. There are a multiple of websites and apps that I use prior to a trip and during my travels that have made a world of difference. Here is my list to make your travels more rewarding and efficient. And yes, some of these are affiliates, and I will earn money.
I typically look at three sites when I book an airline ticket … Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Kayak. I feel quite confident that these three sites provide me with a wide and varied selection of flights.
In addition, before I start my planning, I like to check out what connections are direct to my destination. FlightConnections provides an awesome job of showing direct flight options. This allows me to reverse engineer where I can travel to and from.
And a final step if you are going to a more obscure airport is check out Wikipedia and look up the airport you are visiting. Some of these small airlines will not show up on the meta search engines and you might need to book direct with the airline.
I usually use Agoda for hotels in Asia and for the rest of the world I will check in with Booking.com. They are actually owned by the same company. I like both websites and find them to be quite powerful in terms of sorting by needs and amenities. I also sometime look at a neighborhood I want to stay in and see what hotels are there via Google Maps. Of course, Booking and Agoda both have mapping features as well. Both web interfaces are excellent, Agoda’s customer service when you need to reach out to them is less than professional.
If I am considering staying somewhere for an extended time or traditional hotels (for example in Zurich) are just too expensive, I will look at Airbnb. In general, I am a bit hesitant using Airbnb since you are dependent on an individual host and not a hotel staff. Think about trying to track down your host in Ouagadougou when you flight is delayed by 4 hours. Not fun!
Mapping My Day
It is hard to beat Google Maps when it comes to planning on the ground. I so often use this tool to for on the ground logistics. Maps.me is another very popular mapping app. Always good to have a second map on your device. Another powerful tool for logistics is Rome 2 Rio. Just type is where you are going and the output will include planes, trains, automobiles, buses, Uber, ferries and sometimes other surprises. Rome 2 Rio provides a good 30,000 foot overview of all of your options, and it is simply a very cool app.
Remember you are able to download sections of Google Map and Maps.me, so you can use it when traveling offline. Make sure you do this before your trip.
I use ride-hailing services quite a bit. In the US, I use Uber and Lyft. When I am overseas I look to Uber and many of its peers. Think Yandex when in Russia. GrabTaxi in South East Asia. GG in Armenia. Cabify in Portugal. RideGuru is a search engine for many ride-hailing options. When these services work, they work. When they don’t, expect some bad customer service.
There are many benefits of ride-hailing services over taxis. With ride-hailing you know the price beforehand there is an added level of security. But, then I can recall an interesting ride to the airport in Mandalay, Myanmar when my driver decided to drink some beers enroute. Grab’s response was “we will not provide that driver to you in the future”.
I save emails, I create spreadsheets, I print out confirmations, but I think the best product in this space is Tripit. Tripit has saved me an incredible amount of time organizing my travels … planes, hotels, and everything else. It is so simple; you simply forward your confirmations to Tripit and they are magically able to organize it in your account. A true time saver. I believe it is worth it to upgrade to Pro then you are able to get automated flight information and keep track of all of your miles.
Hanging With The Locals
Want to talk to that taxi driver in Jordan or order dinner in Chiang Rai but not up to speed in Arabic or Thai, break out Google Translate on your phone or computer. Google Translate will provide a visual and sometimes an audio translation. Also, remember before your trip to download your favorite language when you will be off-line.
What to do? Where to go? I rely on a number of sources when planning a trip. Two great resources, especially when it might be a bit off the beaten path are two message boards: Trip Advisor Forum and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. Here you can post questions and have them answered by fellow travelers or locals. And of course, you can search previous conversations. I sometimes will read months of threads when going to a less visited country.
Tripadvisor is also helpful in generating lists of places to visit and local tour providers. I also check out WikiTravel. It is not perfect, and it is sometimes light or non-existent in content, but regardless it is a great mechanism to get an overview.
And I am still a fan of Lonely Planet. Yes, the critiques all hold true, dated material and sometimes limited content. I still find it immensely helpful when listing out must-see places in the country and to also provide a high-level overview on logistics. A hack for Lonely Planet guides, is you can sign up for Amazon’s $9.99 reading plan, and all LP Guides are included in that monthly fee.
Are you cheap? I am. This drives me crazy … “4 passport photos only $17.99!”. This is the ultimate scam. You have two options to save money. When traveling to a developing country like India or Nicaragua I have been able to buy passport photos at an incredible discount such as 8 photos for $2. Another great option is to you Passport Booth an app for your smart phone. Take a photo with your smart phone, save the image, and develop with your local photo shop. This is literally as cheap as 6 photos for 20 cents.
You will want to have a VPN or two in your arsenal to protect yourself and to stay in touch. A VPN will protect your identity and mask your location. A VPN will make it more difficult for hackers to grab your information. And many countries will block your access to websites including many social media sites. A VPN allows you to circumvent these restrictions by making it appear you are in a different country. I use Private Internet Access.
A simple hack is using Wikipedia and typing in “Visa requirements for ‘your country here’ citizens”. A color-coded map will pop open with the visa rules. Another option, for example, is the United website, this is pulling from the same database that UAL employees (and other airlines) will utilize to make sure that you have the proper documents. This information is a lot more detailed.
Tracking and Mapping
Travelerspoint is a free website that allows you to create maps of your trip. Another app which I am really digging is App In The Air. This app is able to scrape your data from Tripit, create maps, list the different planes you flew, and track the number of flights you took. This is a really cool app that keeps track of your statistics.
Don’t be stupid. Get travel insurance. Travel insurance has made a difference more than several times when I have been on the road. I used World Nomads for several years, but the service was incredibly atrocious. I have been with Allianz for a couple years. I filed a bigger medial claim and they processed the claim professionally and quickly. Check out Life360. This app can track your location and share it with people that you choose.