Top 10 travel resources you need to start using NOW!
It does not matter what kind of trip you are planning, whether it's a world tour or a two-week trip to a luxury hotel, a hike or an island vacation or even a family trip, there are so many resources that can make your trip better, longer and cheaper, and if you’re not using them yet, you should certainly start NOW!
Whether you are planning a long exotic holiday or a short stay closeby, Airbnb is always a great shout when looking for accomodation.
My husband and I always try to use Airbnb where and when possible. We have found some pretty amazing stays and rentals on there - often cheaper than hotels. Think: panoramic view over Paris for less than £50 a night or amazing old church for a mere €30.
As someone who does not feel compelled to book an all in holiday at a resort, Airbnb is really my go to. Especially when hotels are expensive or just not worth the price.
My top tips for using airbnb would be to look up the area. For instance: when we were looking to book our Airbnb in Beirut we first had a look for a hotel in "downtown", however after some research we found out Hamra is the best place to stay when visiting Beirut.
Also take a good look at the reviews. No matter how amazing a place looks, reality can be very different.
Not many people know this, but Airbnb has some serious competition on VRBO. I myself love using VRBO - especially when travelling to the USA.
Vacation Rental By Owner has the most beautiful beach houses, the best ski condo's and the most amazing sky scraper apartments!
I discovered VRBO when I was looking up places to stay in Colorado. Airbnb was fully booked (or so I thought) and the few places that were left were not worth the money. After a bit of Googling I found VRBO and an amazing condo to share with my husband and our American friends.
Which one do I like best? VRBO or Airbnb? I guess it depends on where I am going. VRBO isn't very well known in Europe and thus Airbnb seems like a more viable option. When you want to splash out during your Euro trip and stay at amazing and fascinating locations VRBO is still a good idea.
I love this website! I just wish they would get more traction outside of the US.
I have found some amazing castles and old houses in the UK I want to stay at and some amazing apartments in Dubai with great views that would be worth your while.
Overall the houses and apartments on VRBO look and are a lot nicer than the ones on Airbnb. However, it is harder to find places to stay at low prices ($40 per night or less for 2 people) on VRBO than it is on Airbnb.
I love Google. Their apps, their services, their ideas - they are all just so incredibly helpful and easy to use! Take Google Trips for instance.
I started using the Google Travel App on our holiday in Beirut, Lebanon. I had just received a confirmation about the Baalbek Tour we were going to take and Google notified me that I could save the ticket in Google Trips (if I downloaded the app)
I was bored and my husband was in the shower so I hit the download button. Low and behold! The best travel app I have seen so far!
Not only does Google recommend you great places to visit, eat and drink, you can also map out an itinerary of your trip and save places you definitely want to visit.
Google Trips works together with other apps such as Google Maps and Gmail. This way you can download the city map on google maps on your phone so you can navigate to and from places without having to use any WiFi or data.
As we were unable to buy a data sim in Lebanon and internet cost about £6 a day with our UAE sim (from the UK we were unable to roam AT ALL), this map saved us multiple times. it works just like regular google maps except that you won't be able to get real time traffic updates.
Whenever you book travel tickets, your trip will be added to google trips. If I would buy tickets for our April trip to Oman for instance (still need to do that!), the trip would just pop up in the app after I received the confirmation on my gmail account.
This app is completely free but a life saver on holiday!
No money? Try couch surfing!
Couch surfing - although my parents would probably have a heart attack if they knew, I did it a lot when I was still studying.
I remember having a boyfriend in my second year in uni who wanted to go to Paris with me. His uncle owned a hotel on Place De La Concorde and we would be able to stay there. I broke up before we left and decided to go on my own.
With no place to stay for 90% of the trip.
Because a film crew asked me to participate in an episode they were doing about couch surfing and I could stay with a fire breather and amazing photographer Von Wong.
I was unable to find the video but I will post the picture that was taken below.
Now: couchsurfing is a very viable thing to do when travelling the world and I almost forgot about it until researching this article.
Foto: Yes that is a very awkward 20 year old me in Paris. And yes - that was real fire.
Anyway. After that day I roamed around Paris aimlessly. I had a smartphone - but we all know the 2013 smartphones to be shit and hardly deserving of the term smartphone, and I had to start looking for accommodation as my host had canceled 2 days prior.
I found someone willing to take me in outside of Paris. I didn't feel safe. In fact. I'd rather sleep on the streets.
After sitting around a hotspot for 2 hours I received a message that I was able to stay with a bunch of guys my age near La Defense. I had the time of my life! I didn't see much of Paris. But it was a lot of fun! So yeah I love couchsurfing.
But I guess you need to be careful about staying with people you don't trust. When there's an alarm going off in your head - like it did with me and the guy outside of Paris, you need to back off and look for other options.
Before Airbnb was a thing in Western Europe, I was also a couchsurfing host. I only hosted about 2 or 3 people but it was a big heap of fun every time. I still keep contact with some of them over Facebook.
I cannot recommend couchsurfing more as long as you stay safe. I might look into couchsurfing on our next trips - although I also like the comfort of having your own place (we always hire a complete place on airbnb) and a normal bed (not a couch).
A few weeks ago, friends from Europe visited us in Dubai. Their search for good value tickets was hard and long. Why? Because for some reason they were looking solely on the websites of the airline companies.
Booking through the airline is a good idea when you have an airmiles account or when you can collect airmiles via your credit card. If that is not your jam or if you are solely looking for the best value tickets, you should always use a comparison site.
My husband and I like using Skyscanner. Not only does skyscanner provide you with an overview of the cheapest, the fastest and the best routes and companies, you are also able to see the prices would you travel on different dates.
When we are not sure where to go to - or when, we can have a look at the cheapest destinations for our selected dates, or the cheapest dates for our selected destinations.
Hands down, I love this website. We have booked through Skyscanner ever single time we travelled, just because it is so easy to use.
I would recommend signing up to Skyscanner's email list as you will be the very first one to know about great deals and cheap flights. They also have an app whith the same functionalities. I myself use the app to track certain prices. You can set notifications for dates or destinations which will then notify you when the price has dropped or when it is the best time to book.
One of my absolute favourite websites to do up some travel or trip ideas is Trip Advisor. Whenever I research a location, I always have a look on TripAdvisor first. I find the website gives great information and the reviews are actually helpful.
I especially use Tripadvisor for finding the main attractions of a trip I am planning. For instance: my husband and I will travel to Nepal at the end of March. When I was planning our Itinerary, I used a mix of Pinterest, Maps, Tripadvisor and blogs to plan out the main tour. This way I know if something is a worth a visit or not.
Tripadvisor also has an amazing forum where you can ask questions and get a ton of info on travel questions – whether you are a backpacker or just someone who wants to go on a beach holiday, you will find a ton of great info on the forums.
I have not yet booked accommodation on Trip Advisor but if anyone has, I would it if you sent me an email to tell me about your experience!
My husband and I used Viator for the first time on our trip to Lebanon. We wanted to visit Baalbek, but as Baalbek and the Beqaa valley are not very safe for tourists and lie close to the Syrian border, we wanted to take a tour. You do not want to get abducted or jailed in Hesbollah territory!
We booked a tour and it went absolutely amazing! I cannot recommend it more and I am very sure that I will be writing a review of the tour we took because it was absolutely amazing.
We used Viator again when booking a Desert Safari in Dubai (will write a review for this one as well) and again: it was all just perfect. Because Viator provides you with such a large amount of choice and encourages reviews, I always felt like I found a great deal and I made a good choice when purchasing a tour or a package.
For our trip to Nepal we will be using the site again and I honestly do not know what I would do without Viator. I know for a fact that our Desert Safari ($39 pp with 45 min dune bashing, small camel ride and bbq with show) was very cheap and honestly is not very different from any other desert safari you can buy in Dubai – and they can be VERY expensive when purchasing through your hotel.
When you are travelling to a country where English is not that prevelant, you might want to look for a great translating app. I know there are some apps that will translate text on images for you – which is great when you have difficulties reading a menu in Chinese or Nepali, but they do not always work that well.
When I was looking into translating apps, I noticed that Google Translate has a similar option, where you can take a picture of something and it will them translate into English or any other language you prefer.
I tried it with Nepali (since that is where we will be going to next) and noticed that “MoMo” was translated as “Mime” and “Beef Stew” was “Seed Stove” ( What?! My dirty mind had a bit of a lol with this one) so I don’t know how useful the Google Translate app really is.
Microsoft doesn’t have Nepali and so I tried Itranslate. I translate was a bit of a bummer. First of all you needed to have a subscription for £4.99 a month – which is not nothing! Although their type to translate functionality includes a lot of languages, their speech to text or speech to translation or lens functionalities are only integrated for 44 languages.
Most backpackers will not find the languages they need on this app. I would personally not use it when you have Google Translate – even though Google Translate doesn’t work 100% it still seems to be the best there is.
Check whether you need a visa before travelling
As a Belgian – and thus a European Citizen, I am a lucky bugger when it comes to passports and visas. I am allowed to visit most countries on a tourist visa of which most of them are provided to me on arrival.
But this is not always true! When I was looking up ways to get to Iran from Dubai (I really want to visit Iran), I noticed that my British husband would not be allowed it unless with a travel group! Bummer!
It is very easy to assume you can just go and travel to wherever you want. In order to avoid awkward situations however, it might be a very good idea to check visa requirements before travelling.
https://www.passportindex.org is – for me, one of the most handy websites when it comes to checking whether I need a visa or not. A lot of websites will “check” whether you need a visa or not and then tell you, you need to send them your documents and that they will make your visa in order. EVEN WHEN YOU CAN JUST GET IT DONE ON ARRIVAL!
It is just opportunism by those companies, I know, but less informed travelers will pay about $20 more for their visa when landing on those websites and will start their holiday with a bad taste in their mouth when they find out they have been ripped off by the online website.
Check how much a prepaid data sim card costs and how to get it
Whenever I visit a foreign country (outside of the EU because in the EU there is free roaming for EU sims) I purchase a local sim card for data. You never know when you need to check something online on the go – and WiFi is not always available.
One of the websites I recently found to be incredibly helpful was https://prepaid-data-sim-card.fandom.com . We all know the Fandom websites to look up details about books, movies series etc (or, well, that is what I use them for), but this one is an incredible source of local telecom operators, data prices and ways to obtain a sim card.