There’s an array of travel sites even your average once-a-year vacationer knows well— Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Kayak, etc — plus, of course, your best friend’s travel blog. While these are indubitably resourceful, there are some less-utilized travel sites that, once discovered, prove invaluable and will lead to a stress-free vacation. And because world travel is a rite of passage for all passport holders, it’s only right that I share my thus far undisclosed preferences. To follow are arguably the best travel sites you should consider in lieu of the mainstream.
Pro Tip: Regardless of what travel website you opt to use, always search these websites in a private or incognito browsing mode; companies often track your visits and boost prices the more you return. Likewise, online retailers will often charge differently according to your geographic location, so connecting to a remote network and changing your IP address will facilitate your hunt.
There’s no better flight aggregator to search for multicity travel than Momondo—the third party platform that compares airfare, hotel bookings and car rentals. A lesser-known alternative to Kayak, Momondo offers the option to search one-way, round-trip and multicity flights using the destination “take me anywhere,” which allows you to check out airfare in the cheapest cities given your specified dates. Then, the multicity option allows you to swap cities in and and out to determine the cheapest routes, as well.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can scroll over to the Trip Finder tab, under which you can narrow down your search. You can select the type of experience you’re seeking, the continent to which you’d like to visit (or anywhere), the month in which you’d like to travel (or anytime) and your budget. Momondo will curate a list of destinations and deals that can be sorted by popularity, cost or weather, or the most social, fancy, cultural, family-oriented, local or romantic places.
Skyscanner is a travel metasearch engine that allows you to book flights and a gamut of accommodation options, and rent cars direct without fees.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature, however, is its flexible airfare search engine. You can search “everywhere” as your flight destination if you’re unsure where to go but certain you’d like to travel for travel’s sake (as long as you can find a good flight deal), so it’s great for booking last-minute travel.
Moreover, you can explore specific dates, entire months or the “cheapest month.” Skyscanner will populate a list of all cities in ascending order of cost, which is miraculous for those of you who know you have paid time off of which to take advantage, but aren’t sure where or when to use it.
Avid backpackers know CouchSurfing; the remainder of the human population is bemused by its concept. In short, CouchSurfing is a free social networking site and hospitality service for over 14 million locals and travelers committed to sharing authentic experiences. Members create profiles and sidestep hotels by offering up their couches/spare rooms/entire homes to each other.
And it’s all free. There’s no catch. People are innately skeptical, but CouchSurfing is founded upon a trust in the good faith of humankind and a common interest in cultural exchange. Travelers use it to meet locals, who can be the best kind of travel guide; wander off the beaten path and cultivate insider experiences; hosts use it to swap stories, learn from new people from inimitable backgrounds and ensure that visitors love their cities as much as they do—because they’d want someone to do the same for them.
Nothing is expected in return except, of course, for good company. You can also just use CouchSurfing to meet up with locals, attend traveler events in cities across the globe or start discussion boards to research destinations.
Traveling on the cheap is a lot about getting there. Rome2Rio has by far the simplest interface of any travel website to determine the fastest or cheapest routes and modes of transportation for getting from Point A to Point B.
When you enter any city, address or landmark as your destination, the global trip planner will instantly pull up flights, trains, buses, ferries and driving options with estimated duration times, fares and booking details containing routes from over 4,800 transport operators in over 158 countries. This includes rideshare and rental car options. The Rome2Rio app also works offline, in the event that you are traveling devoid of data and without WiFi.
Wanderful is an international membership community of likeminded women who have an affinity for independent travel. Its mission: to empower women by inspiring and being inspired. Members are offered support before, during and after their travels through the active online community, global Facebook group, powerful stories on the blog and live Twitter conversations every second Wednesday of the month at 2 pm ET using the hashtag #Wanderful.
Wanderful also hosts events in 25 cities around the world through its various chapters, as well as two annual events, the Women in Travel Summit and Wanderfest. Additionally, the company hosts small group trips to unique destinations to which women might not otherwise feel inclined to venture alone, and it has also recently launched the first-ever all-female home-sharing network, through which women can find accommodation for free or small fees in other members’ homes around the world.
SecretFlying’s Facebook page might be the best-kept secret of frequent budget travelers—and so very surreptitious. That’s because it’s one of the single most resourceful sites for finding error fares. While computers often calculate fares, humans are often the ones who post them online. Well, computers can glitch and ordinary people make typos with numbers and mistakes like forgetting to add tax charges. The result: a totally valid flight deal that was never supposed to be there.
Though some airlines won’t honor the deal (they’ll cancel and refund), SecretFlying catches error fares rather often. The best way to find them at real-time, before the airlines, is to follow SecretFlying on Facebook and star it to “show first” in your feed. You can save up to 80 percent on flights around the world by doing so.
Facebook is the third most trafficked website, just behind Google and YouTube, but we often think of it more as a platform that induces jealousy over friends’ travels than a platform that could facilitate our own vacation plans.
Point blank: There’s no safer way to travel than by way of recommendations, which is why Facebook is arguable one of the best travel sites. Through Facebook, you can ask friends to serve as your travel guide by encouraging them to submit tips (all you have to do is turn on “Recommendations” on your posts); friends can comment with suggestions and Facebook will map them out for you and save them all in one place. Likewise, Facebook’s “Explore” tab offers you the option to check out “Nearby Places,” and then check out those places’ reviews, locations and contact information on their own Facebook pages.
Whether you’re booking last-minute travel or you’re planning well in advance of your trip, you can also check out events in the area where you’ll be on vacation—so long as your location is updated—and sort through them based on categorical preferences.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
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