A friend of ours is getting married next summer and already daydreaming about the honeymoon to far away, exotic places. Doing a search for a trip to Bali, they discovered the airfare to be far out of their price range (traveling in summer from an airport that is not a major hub). Also, with so many hotels boasting to be the best or most romantic, they were feeling planning fatigue before ever really getting started! Because we travel 365 days a year and are always trying to find the best deals on transport, tours and accommodation, we were able to help them out by looking into several different flight options and giving advice on how to find the right honeymoon hotel. For them, the travel websites we recommended were completely new, and others they just hadn’t thought to check.
That got us thinking – what travel website could we NOT live without? We came up with several, and below are our top five:
Maximizing our Great American Road Trip experience from New York City to New Orleans this summer was an intense undertaking. Between planning the route, researching hidden gems and main attractions in each destination, booking hotels and then actually enjoying ourselves in each place, we often left certain things until the last minute. And by certain things, we mean hotel bookings. This resulted in some surprising accommodation experiences – some were incredible while others were itchy, stinky and terrible. That is where our love of Hotwire really began.
Hotwire.com is a travel deal aggregator which finds users great deals on hotel rooms/cars/flights that would otherwise go unbooked. While Hotwire does have international deals, we find using it in the U.S. yields the best deals. The most heavily discounted rooms, up to 60% off, came when we booked ‘mystery’ rooms. This means that you aren’t able to see the actual hotel, but you know the neighborhood, how many stars and what other hotels are similar. We were able to book into three-star hotels in the downtown city center for $49 a night and even a trendy four-star spot for $79 that we absolutely loved and never would have considered for ourselves for just a couple of nights on the road trip. If you are willing to take a risk and are not loyal to a certain hotel brand, Hotwire.com makes some incredible hotel deals available. You can also use this site for rental cars and flights, too.
This is our ultimate price comparison website, we use it constantly for travel planning. Depending on what type of search you are doing (flights, rental cars, hotels, and even vacation packages) BookingBuddy.com opens up to seven travel websites into tabs, allowing you to compare prices across sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Booking.com, etc all in one place without you having to actively search each of these sites yourself for the best prices. BookingBuddy.com also searches sites you may be less familiar with. Here’s an example: when we were looking for flights from Lisbon to Toronto in the summer, we found, and booked, $299 flights on AirTransat, one of the flight comparison site results in our search on BookingBuddy.com, that had not come up in any other searches. We’ve used BookingBuddy.com to compare and book car rentals as well, including our road trip car rental this summer.
When we are looking for hotels, we are usually happy when we can book with Booking.com. We get great rates, even on hotels in some of our more far-flung locations, we like the search filters we can sort the results by (price, stars, amenities, kind of hotel, certain chains, review score) and the map where the hotel is located which also shows nearby attractions and landmarks. What we like best about Booking.com are the quality follow-up reviews. Just after checking out of a hotel you had booked on booking.com, you will receive an email asking you to rate your hotel on a scale from 1 to 10 and offer a quick paragraph on highs and lows of your stay. Because of the survey’s timely delivery, while the hotel is still fresh, we tend to review almost all of our stays through Booking.com, and if most people are like we are, then that means that these reviews are both accurate (albeit opinionated) and trustworthy, as they have been provided only by people who have stayed at the hotel. Reading these reviews is easy and so useful when deciding between hotels in any given location.
We do not book hotels without reading the TripAdvisor review, period. Unlike Booking.com, TripAdvisor can’t prompt you to review the hotel as they don’t actually know whether you have been a guest there. This means that, based solely on self-motivation, more people tend to get on TripAdvisor to review a hotel negatively than positively. That is alright with us. There is something to be said for knowing the worst case scenario of the accommodation. In short, knowing what you are in for. If there are two reviews that are polar opposites (This is the best hotel we have ever stayed in vs whatever you do, do not stay here) we just check out both people’s profiles and previous reviews. Does one look like they work for that hotel (sneaky!) and are trying to promote it? Does the other look as they they might work for a rival hotel and are trying to trash the competition (even sneakier!). Taking these reviews with a grain of salt is necessary, but at the same time, if a hotel has 58 five-star reviews and two negative reviews, we feel pretty confident when making that booking. Tripadvisor is also great for info on destination-based tours and tour operators as well as general travel info for each location.
This is our most recent go-to-site in our travel bag of tricks, but easily one of the most useful. Wikitravel is literally the Wikipedia of travel. In contrast to Wikipedia, where you can also find all of the cities & countries that are listed on Wikitravel, the site focuses on the travel aspect of a certain location and rather than including an entire overview, history, politics, etc., it focuses on topics every visitor needs to know: How to get there, how to get around, what to see, what to do, where to shop, where to eat, where to sleep and possible dangers or scams. The site is a constantly updated crowd-sourced travel guide updated by travelers for travelers. Even if you have your trusty guidebook or read hundreds of travel blogs (which we do), Wikitravel is much more detailed. Find out the cost of taxis and buses in each destination, a full listing of hotels in three budget ranges (backpacker, mid-range and luxury), as well as the same three tier food/restaurant breakdown. For some destinations, there are little known bars you wouldn’t have found otherwise, while for other destinations there are photos or facts about attractions and tours (including which ones you might need to watch out for in terms of scams or shady deals). Because this information is crowd sourced and content is not written by one single provider, anyone can go in to change/add to it. While that could possibly mean the entries contain certain untruths, we have found the information we get from Wikitravel to be so accurate, that this site has really become our first and last information source on the destinations we have traveled to in recent months – from Canada, through the U.S. and now in South East Asia – small towns, big cities and everything in between.
What websites can you not travel without? Please add your recommendations in the comment section below.