Travel planning can be stressful, worrying and downright horrible. I hate having to think sensibly about important things as I’d rather just get out there and do it! But, when planning for a year abroad, a long-term trip, holiday or even a weekend away, there are several resources out there to make your life that little bit easier. Here are my favourite essential travel resources to help plan your trip of a lifetime!
Essential Travel Resources: Destination Planning
Personally, I tend to avoid places that are touted as “hot right now”, for example Bali and Iceland seem to be everywhere at the moment, so I keep my eyes on travel blogs to see where everyone is going and cross that off my list!
Cost can be a deciding factor for many people. Europe, Australia and North America are relatively expensive so I tend to stick with cheaper destinations like South America. Budget Your Trip is a useful site with cost estimations for a variety of destinations, and calculates prices based on your trip style (budget, mid-range, or luxury).
Remember to check if you will need a visa or any other requirements such as certain vaccinations, insurance or proof of onward travel before you book your flights.
In the UK I use: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ for up to date travel advice and entry restrictions.
Americans can use the Department of State website: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html
Canadians click here for Canada’s requirements: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories
Australia has Smart Traveller to help: http://smartraveller.gov.au/
Apologies if your country isn’t listed here – a quick google search for “(country name) gov travel advice” should bring up the relevant information for your country.
If you need any visas, http://www.embassypages.com has a list of all the embassies and consulates for countries around the world.
Essential Travel Planning Resources: Safety and Security
Travel Insurance is the one thing you should never travel without. When I had my laptop, passport and credit card stolen in Ecuador, I was very glad to have been covered with my travel insurance! The most important reason you need cover though is for health. Healthcare abroad can be very expensive, so if you have an accident or need any kind of treatment abroad you really need insurance to cover the cost of it. Expatriate insurance is perfect for those outside of their home country for long periods of time, or for shorter trips I use an insurance comparison site to compare a range of quotes and see which works out best for me.
Internet Access & Security while Travelling
Internet safety may not be top of your travel list, but it should definitely be on your list! If you are travelling with a smartphone and/or a laptop, I highly recommend Hotspot Shield to protect you from unwanted hackers. This is especially important when logging into open wifi networks as we frequently do when travelling. There is a free version which protects you from hacks, but the paid pro version has the added benefit of being able to choose your VPN’s country. For the non-too tech savvy like me, my Dad explained that I could now watch TV on demand from wherever I am. The VPN tells websites like BBC iplayer, Amazon prime, Netflix and streaming sites like popcorntime that you are in a certain country, in my case the UK, so I can still keep up with my favourite TV shows and catch a film every now and again! To avoid high roaming charges in the country you’re visiting, you could buy a local sim card, or look at a travel WIFI hotspot like Tep Wireless, which offers unlimited WIFI access for $9.95 per day for up to 5 devices – perfect for streaming!
Travel Planning: What to Pack
For buying any essential items for your backpack I use Amazon, which is great for a whole range of items, all being delivered to your door! Just make sure you allow enough time for delivery or use Amazon Prime for next day delivery. Perfect for those last minute purchases!
Travel Planning Resources: Flight Searches
I always use Skyscanner to search for my flights. If you still haven’t decided on a destination they also have a cool “to anywhere” feature that you can use to find great deals from your location all over the world. When looking for flights, try to be as flexible as you can, checking for alternative flight dates and nearby airports, to help bring the costs down.
If you plan on travelling for a long period or without fixed travel plans like me, you might find that airlines will ask you for proof of onward travel before they allow you to board the plane. This is more common at airports but can also happen when crossing borders by land too. Some people say they photoshop an old reservation to show a new date, but if they check up on you there is a risk you will be denied boarding. There are several websites that purport to offer proof of onward travel for you by booking a flight for you on the date you request it and send you a travel confirmation that you can use to show airline check-in agents or immigration officials that you have an onward flight booking. Then, 24 or 48 hours later they will cancel your booking, leaving you free to travel as you wish. Of course, you still have to make sure you adhere to the conditions of your visa, and not over-stay your time in the country!
I used to use a site called FlyOnward for this service, but their website no longer works. I have been doing some research into alternatives, and have been recommended onwardflights.com, returnflights.net or Bestonwardticket.com although I haven’t used any of these myself yet. If you know of any that definitely work please let me know!
Travel Planning: Booking Accommodation
When I’m looking for hostels I use hostelworld.com to search for accommodation. Most people looking for hostels assume they won’t find any on booking.com, but in my experience, they have a great selection, and sometimes B&Bs can be cheaper than hostels, especially if you are looking for a private room.
Hostelworld has lots of hostels and budget hotels listed too, and plenty of reviews from like-minded travellers and backpackers, which sometimes gives a better indication of the hostel than booking.
If I’m travelling with friends, or am staying in a location for more than a few days I like to check Airbnb too. For short stays it can work out more expensive than a hotel once Airbnb has added on the cleaning and service fees, but for feeling like home it can be worth the extra cost! There are other luxury home rental sites you can check as well to find the perfect fit.
For a real treat when I’m looking for a hotel I use hotelscombined as they compare all the top travel sites in one easy search, so I know I’m getting the best deal available.
Tripadvisor is also useful for checking hotel reviews and prices for a destination, especially if a hotel is relatively new or doesn’t have many reviews.
Travel Planning Resources: Getting Around
I have recently discovered Uber and love it! The only downside is you need wifi, so if you’re out and about and can find a hotspot it’s great. Register while you are still at home, and your account can be used all over the world – wherever you are, the Uber app will find your location so you can input your destination, it will give you a quote & tell you how long your nearest Uber driver will take to get there. You then get a message with the driver’s name, picture and license plate so you know who will be coming to pick you up. The best thing is you don’t have to worry about cash as all the payment is done online through their secure system.
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Bla Bla Car car share is useful for getting around Europe, and is growing in other countries too. Rather like Airbnb for cars, people driving a certain route advertise their journey, and if you’re going the same way as them, share their ride and pay a small fee to help them cover their petrol costs. Again, all payment is done online (in Europe at least) so you just arrange a pick-up and drop-off point with the driver and away you go.
Please always bear in mind your own safety when using any peer to peer sites – I only travel or stay with people who have plenty of positive reviews, and I try to let someone know where I will be & with whom.
Travel Planning Resources: What To Do
As well as travel blogs of course, I often use Tripadvisor to help me decide the must-see attractions in a certain location. Blogs are awesome for getting more detailed information, and from people you have got to know and trust, so I like a combination of the two.
The Lonely Planet Thorntree forum is also useful for specific questions, and of course Lonely Planet Guide Books are great for practical information, and suggested itineraries. This year I ordered a couple of guides to Mexico and Central America in the E-Book versions, so I didn’t have to carry around heavy books – you can also order individual chapters too to save some cash. This definitely helped me reduce the weight in my rucksack, but I do miss flipping through an actual book!
Travel Planning: Where to Eat
A downside of Tripadvisor is the possibility of fake reviews, and random opinions from people you don’t know. Zipkick is a new app that solves this by having a team of trusted travellers and influencers – travel bloggers (including yours truly), chefs and sommeliers who recommend their favourite places to eat and drink. You will have access to hundreds of trusted reviews from the experts all at your fingertips! For the moment its only available on iphone, so sorry to all you android users, you’ll have to stick with Tripadvisor. The app is growing quickly, and more influencers are joining every day to share their top picks in a city near you.
I hope you found this useful – do you agree with my picks, or have I missed your favourite travel planning site? Let me know in the comments below.
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