Travel Research and Planning Resources

For me, planning my travels is half the fun. I love researching, planning and designing my itineraries. Here are some helpful websites that I have used and recommend for planning and booking.

ACCOMMODATION:

Airbnb: Airbnb is a fantastic accommodation alternative to hotels and hostels, that offers a more local experience. It is a short or long term house rental booking website, where you can find a variety of unique properties including private rooms in locals’ apartments and houses, as well as entire houses/apartments, treehouses, castles and more. You have the opportunity to stay with locals and enjoy the comforts of a home (often in a non-touristy area of your destination) who can offer you great recommendations and tips for your destination. If you’re traveling solo, the downfall is that are staying by yourself so it would be more difficult to meet fellow travelers than it would be at a hostel. It is easy to communicate with hosts using the site’s message system and the hosts I have contacted so far are very responsive. Once you book your stay, you receive an email from the host with all of their contact information, house rules and information and directions to their place. Make sure to check the cancellation policy for rentals, as each host is different. Airbnb has a great smartphone app with a simple and beautiful design, which makes it easy to keep in contact with your host while traveling.

I have used Airbnb once so far in San Francisco and had an amazing experience! You can read my review here. If you sign up using this link, you will receive a free $25 USD credit towards your first Airbnb booking!

Hostel World: Hostel World is my favourite website for booking cheap hostels. They have a huge inventory of both hostels and small hotels with a large variety of properties to choose from all around the world. You can view photos of the hostel, read reviews from other travelers, see maps for the hostel location with directions on how to get there, information about the facilities and what amenities are offered, and policies/cancellation policy. The Hostel World website is easy to use and they send you a confirmation email upon booking. They also have a user-friendly smartphone app which is great for booking hostels during your travels.

Hostel Bookers: Hostel Bookers is a hostel booking website where you can find a large variety of budget accommodations ranging from hostel dorm rooms, to private rooms in hostels to cheap hotels.

Trivago: Trivago is a website that compares hotel prices from a variety of other booking websites, like Expedia, Booking, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Orbitz and others.

Booking.com: Booking.com is a hotel search engine. They have a variety of properties available including cheap hotels, independent guesthouses, hostels and B&Bs in a range of destinations, including smaller towns and off the beaten path towns and cities. They have good prices and the website is easy to use. They have free and flexible cancellation, no reservation fees, and instant email confirmation after booking. You can also book on-the-go using their smartphone app, which is nicely designed and easy to use.

Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is a website that allows you to stay on local’s couches, spare bedrooms or (sometimes) private guest rooms for free. The average length of stay for Couchsurfing would be between 2-7 days, so it is a good option for short term stays in a place, but usually not long term (unless you become great friends with your host and can work out a deal with them). It’s a great way to meet amazing people and save money while traveling, as you are able to stay with locals who can provide you with insider tips and recommendations about your destination and maybe even lifelong friendship. The site also has groups in many destinations that host events and meet-ups, which is a great resource for meeting other Couchsurfers (both travelers and locals) while participating in a fun activity. The site also has forums where you can ask questions about a destination. I have yet to use Couchsurfing for accommodations, but I enjoy searching through profiles when I am researching my travels, to see what is available and seeing if there are any events to meet locals and fellow travelers that are taking place in my destination. This is a good reason alone to have an account, even if you don’t plan to use it for accommodation.

Expedia: Expedia is a search engine for flights and hotels. I have used this website to book a hotel and have no complaints. The site is easy to use and provides confirmation along with the hotel contact details after booking. They also have a smartphone app.

Hotels.com: This is a website with a large selection of independent and major chain hotels in every destination around the world.

Trusted Housesitters: This website along with the three websites listed below, are all houses and pet-sitting websites. You pay a membership fee to make an account and then have access to browse through listings and connect with homeowners around the world looking for someone to live in and take care of their house and/or pets while they are away (often on vacation). You get a free stay in their home, in return for your help and you have the opportunity to live like a local in your destination. You will usually have the entire apartment or house to yourself (privacy!) and you will have the comforts of a home, if you are tired of staying at hostels and hotels. In exchange for the free house to stay at, you may have to various small chores like watering plants, taking care of gardens and swimming pools, collecting the mail shoveling show, cutting the grass, taking care of pets, etc. Trusted Housesitters has the largest inventory for housesits, but the below two websites are popular as well.

House Carers, Mind My House and Nomader: These are some more great house-sitting websites. I have yet to try to house sitting, but it’s definitely a great way to save money on accommodation and I plan to use some of these websites during my future travels.

FLIGHTS:

Kayak: When I am begininning my research for flights, I always go to Kayak to use as a comparison point with other sites. I have never booked a flight on this website but I like the design of the site and you can search a wide variety of airlines. They offer affordable tickets to many destinations and they offer a smartphone app to make booking easy from anywhere.

WestJet: WestJet is well known as the best airline in Canada. They have amazing customer service and they are very helpful and responsive via phone and social media channels. WestJet is (so far) the only airline I have traveled with and I have always had a great experience. Their staff are professional, humorous and helpful. Their website is easy to use and understand and I love the simple layout when you are choosing your flights. I have booked all of my flights from WestJet directly from their website and have gotten good deals. They often have amazing seat sales and will send you emails about these. For the most recent two flights that I have purchased from them, I have saved close to $400. On Tuesdays, they often sell flights for cheaper as well. I highly recommend booking a WestJet flight if you have the opportunity to do so!

Skyscanner: Skyscanner is an online flight search engine that is user-friendly and includes a wide variety of airlines. This is always a site that I use to compare flight prices when doing my pre-travel research. I also love that you can choose “everywhere” as your destination, if you want to know the cheapest places to fly from where your current location! They also have a smartphone app, which is useful for on-the-go booking.

Google Flights: What I love about Google Flights is that if you don’t enter a specific destination, the site will search flights everywhere and tell you which cities are the cheapest to fly to from your current location. It can also tell you when the cheapest time to go somewhere is, which is handy if your travel dates are flexible. I like that the website is simple and easy to use.

Hopper: Hopper is a free app for iPhones. I haven’t booked any flights using it yet, but I love the design of the app and its ease of use and it is a great tool for finding cheap flights. You type in where you are flying from and your destination and Hopper will tell you when the best time to purchase your tickets will be, by predicting when they will be the cheapest. It will send an alert to your phone when the price of your flight increases or decreases and it will tell how much the price is expected to increase or decrease as you get closer to your flight departure date.

Airfarewatchdog: If you already know where your next destination is going to be, this is a great website which allows you to monitor and sign up for alerts on the flights you are searching for. The website will email you when the price of the fare drops.

Seat Guru: With this website, you can view the seating plans for a variety of airplane models and decide where would be the best place to sit, before you select your seat with your airline.

Gate Guru: With this smartphone app, you can type in your airport and terminal and the app will inform you of which restaurants, services, and stores are close-by.

TRAVEL RESEARCH AND PLANNING:

Trip Advisor: Trip Advisor is my favourite website for doing travel research and planning. It is full of reviews for accommodations, tours, activities, attractions/things to do, restaurants and more. I also love browsing through the destination-specific forums. If you have a specific question, you can search for it in the forums or ask it yourself and wait for the experts to respond. I also often private message Trip Advisor users individually after reading their review about a certain place to ask for more specific tips and advice.

Amazon: Amazon sells guidebooks, travel gear, and pretty much anything else you might need.

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forums: The Lonely Planet forums are a great resource for travel planning. You can view country specific forums and use the “search” function to look for specific questions you may have. I frequently use this site for searching and posting my own topics and questions.

WikiTravel: This website is a great starting point for your travel research. It offers a lot of helpful information about many destinations from which you can continue further research from there. Each destination is broken down into sections like where to eat, where to stay, how to get there, safety and more.

Evernote: Evernote is great for keeping your travel research and plans organized in one place. It’s also great if you are writing a travel journal and need to write some quick notes on the road. After you create an account, your notes are accessible from anywhere.

Bootnall: Bootnall is a fantastic online resource with many articles about independent travel in destinations around the world. They also have a helpful forum where you can ask specific questions and connect with other travelers.

Travel Independent: The amount of detailed information and advice for specific destinations on this website is amazing. The website is geared towards budget and independent travelers and backpackers. It has a simplistic design with lots of great information!

LANGUAGE LEARNING: 

Study Spanish: This website offers both free and premium resources for learning the Spanish language. You can learn everything about pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary and there are lots of quizzes to take throughout the lessons to test your knowledge.

Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet sells phrasebooks and dictionaries in a variety of different languages. They are small and compact and are a great resource to take with you when traveling. I always take my Mexican Spanish phrasebook with me to Mexico and study if often!

DuoLingo: This website and smartphone app allows you to learn a variety of languages for free, through simple exercises and games, where you practice reading, speaking, writing and listening.

FOOD AND RESTAURANTS: 

Chowhound: I love searching for my travel destination on Chowhound to discover recommendations for local, inexpensive and authentic places to eat.

Happy Cow: Happy Cow is a great resource for finding vegetarian-friendly restaurants and health food stores in destinations across the globe.

Yelp: Yelp is a great resource for finding reviews on restaurants as well as attractions and activities in many different cities. What I love about it, is that you can filter your restaurant search by price, neighbourhood, type of cuisine and distance.

FINANCES:

Google Spreadsheets: I use Google Spreadsheets for keeping track of my expenses and budget before and during my travels. If you have a Gmail account, your spreadsheets are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.

Mint: I use Mint for keeping track of my expenses and budget in my daily life and during my travels. This website and smartphone app connects with your bank account(s) and allows you to create a personalized budget for yourself. You can track your expenses and see what categories you are spending on and where you may need to cut back.

XE Currency Converter: I use this website and smartphone app often, especially when I am traveling, for looking up currency conversion rates.

ORGANIZATION AND PRODUCTIVITY: 

Trello: Trello is a great website and smartphone app for making to-do lists and keeping organized. I use this website for making my list of things to do before I leave for traveling and keeping track of what needs to be done and what has been completed.

SMARTPHONE APPS: 

Google Maps: You can save offline maps on this app which is very helpful for finding places and getting unlost while traveling, especially if you aren’t connected to the internet or Wi-Fi. It even allows you to zoom in and out on the saved map. I also love checking out my destination before I leave home using Google Street View. It is very helpful in travel planning and research as you can search for directions from place to place and the maps display local bus schedules and prices.

Maps.Me: This smartphone app is a great resource to have with you while you are traveling. It’s completely free and after you download the app, you can download detailed maps of your travel destination. The great thing about this app is that you don’t need to be connected to the internet or Wi-Fi for it to work and you can use all of the functions (GPS included) while offline. This is a very handy resource, and is especially helpful for those times when you are lost or if you are planning a road trip.

TripIt: Using this app is a great way to organize your travel information and all of the details (flight and hotel confirmations) in one place. The app creates an itinerary for you and also suggests activities and attractions according to your schedule and includes helpful information like the weather, directions and local maps.

Google Translate: This app is great for those times when you need to know how to say something in another language (or figure out what someone else is saying!). Unfortunately, it needs a Wi-Fi or internet connection to work. However, you can view your favourite words and phrases for offline access.

Skype: Skype is a great service for keeping in touch with friends and family at home while you travel. You can make video calls for free between other Skype users or make cheap phone calls around the world by purchasing credit or a subscription. I always buy a one month subscription for less than $10 CAD before I travel, that allows me to make an unlimited number of free phone calls to anywhere within North America. The smartphone app is great for communicating on the road when you may not have access to a computer. It requires mobile data or a Wi-Fi connection.

PACKING:

One Bag: This website is a great resource for those looking for tips and advice on how to pack lighter.

Her Packing List: This website features a variety of destination-specific packing lists, tips and advice for female travelers.

WORKING/VOLUNTEERING ABROAD: 

WWOOF: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and it provides volunteers with work placements on organic farms around the world. In return for your help, you receive free food and accommodation. You register with the country in which you want to work (Australia, Latin America, etc.) and browse through the listings.

Workaway: Workaway is a website that offers free accommodation (and sometimes food) in exchange for working 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week for a local individual, hostel/B&B/hotel, organization, etc. in need of your time and skills. You usually have half a day and the weekends to explore your destination. This is a great option if you are interested in experiencing the daily life of locals in a new place and immersing yourself in the local culture and language. There are many options of places where you can provide your services.

HelpX: Help Exchange is a website similar to Workaway. It is short-term volunteer work in exchange for accommodation and food. You can find listings for a variety of places to volunteer like farms, backpacker hostels, B&Bs, homestays, small businesses, and more.

Transitions Abroad: This website provides great information about volunteering, working and studying abroad.

TRAVEL INSURANCE:

World Nomads Insurance: I always buy my travel insurances from World Nomads, because I have heard and read many great things about this company from guidebooks and other travelers. I have never had to use it, but I love their user-friendly website and easy to understand policy. You are also able to submit insurance claims online through their website, which would be very convenient when traveling. You can extend your coverage online as well (from anywhere and at any time), if you decide that you want to travel for longer. The price is a great value and it includes in-depth coverage. I will continue to purchase this insurance in the future and recommend it to others.

GUIDEBOOKS: 

Lonely Planet: I love Lonely Planet guidebooks and highly recommend them. They have a nice layout and are geared towards the independent and budget traveler. I have stayed at hostels, ate at restaurants and visited attractions based on their recommendations and have never been disappointed. They are comprehensive and the guides even include some photos and maps. I use LP guidebooks before I travel to learn about my destination and research and plan where I want to go and what I want to see and do.

Moon: Moon guidebooks are always a must-have for me when I am researching my travels. I love that they include information about small towns, off the beaten path activities and attractions, and the specific details of how to get to and from certain places. The guidebooks include lots of detailed maps and photos as well. I have found that the level of detail and the logistics of transportation that the Moon guidebooks exhibit, are sometimes lacking in other guidebooks. I also love the simple design and ease of use of their website. Highly recommended!

BOOKS: 

Note: I have read the book titles that are italicized. The books that I have not read yet are on my list of ones to read next!

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

This is Mexico by Carol Merchasin

The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

The Alchemist

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Unlikely Destinations, The Lonely Planet Story by Tony and Maureen Wheeler

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Life is a Trip by Judith Fein

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matt Kepnes

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

Made in America by Bill Bryson

What I was doing while you were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Go Your Own Way by Faith Conlon

Female Nomad and Friends by Rita Golden Gelman

Wanderlust and Lipstick by Beth Whitman

How to Drop Everything and Travel the World by Dagny Taggart

The Solo Traveler’s Handbook by Janice Leith Waugh

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I hope this resource list is helpful for you! Feel free to contact me if you know of any other great websites, smartphone apps or books that are helpful for travel planning, researching or organization.

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