To me, there’s something special about searching to discover bits of secret travel and sightseeing tips about exotic places from all over the Internet and then anticipating a great vacation that will benefit from all of them. When I research the area of the world I plan on traveling to, I’ll frequently find little hidden treasures, secret restaurants, ignored little tourist gems and little-advertised local events that no one else knows about, and of course, I’ll find some of the best fares to everywhere. I’ve come by quite a few useful travel resources over my years trotting the globe; some of them are new, and some of them have seen many travel seasons. Information being power and all, here is my list of the best travel sites that I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
Let’s start with the places that will give you an edge in the race for the cheapest air tickets. Everyone knows about the mass-market ones like Kayak, Expedia, and Bing Travel (Microsoft’s relaunched travel service that’s supposed to so creative, they call themselves a travel decision engine (as opposed to a travel search engine). But how about some of the new upstarts (or should I say startups?) that have come up over the past year or two – the ones that claim all manner of innovative discount searches? There are just so many of them – Dohop, SideStep, Mobissimo and Vayama are some of the more interesting new names in this business.
In my opinion, these travel sites deserve at least one visit at least for the kind of psychedelic names they’ve managed to come up with. On a recent trip that I made from New York to London, I decided to try all of these. Still, for me, the travel giant Bing and the upstart Dohop both did better than any of the other ones. On these two sites I could hit Buy on a round trip to London at $771; not every one of the others though, if I had hits Buy, I would have taken a hit for an extra $100. There is another booking site called cFares that’s picqued my fancy recently. The first and the most intriguing part to this travel site is the fact that they try to keep the rif-raff out by making you pony up the cash for a $50-a-year membership before they let you do anything on it. When I tried looking for the same flight on cFares, it saved me a further $70 on the fare. So the moral of the story is, travel sites for low fares, as great as they are, are not perfect. They don’t all win all of the time. The best I know how to snag cheap flights now is to take the advice of Dohop and cFares, and always pick Thursdays and Wednesdays to fly – lots of fares are predictably cheaper these two days of the week.
So these travel sites can help you buy a ticket, and book a hotel room; and everyone knows about SeatExpert and SeatGuru as the people to go for the best seat on the flight you’re taking; but is there such a thing for hotels though? That should be much more useful – you spend a lot more time in the hotel. As it happens, there is.It is called TripKick and it’s a really neat idea; it has an alarming amount of information on which particular rooms in a hotel of your choice have a bigger bathroom, a better view, and so on. For my London trip, told me to take room number 218 at a hotel on Oxford Circus, for a great view out on a park. The only problem with TripKick though, is that it only covers expensive hotels, and not the budget ones.
But enough of the mundane in travel sites; how about ideas and how to enjoy your destination once you get there? For anyone traveling to Japan, I found AitaiJapan, a great well-informed tip surce for the entertaining in the obscure. It is a great site that aims to bring a touch of local flavor to your travels; anytime you visit Japan, you could get in touch with this site to find a local volunteer who will be happy to walk around town with you and show you around. It’s so much better than being part of a travel group – with a tour guide who gives you the same old spiel everyday. It’s a wonderful feeling to just show up in Japan and find a new friend waiting for you – and every volunteer speaks English too. The best part is, they refuse to accept anything for the service.