Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travel/backpacking websites I love

So, when I get bored, I usually look up stuff related to travel. Anytime I'm sitting at home not doing anything, it's usually what I do; I even search for facebook groups about backpacking in Europe, or look up travel products on Amazon. I like to live vicariously through other people's travels until I can get out there myself. So I thought I'd share my favorite links with the blogosphere in case anyone else in anxiously awaiting a trip like I am and wants to rummage around online in their boredom. :D So here goes:

Backpack Europe
This site/forum, run by Kaaryn Hendrickson, is a MUST if you're traveling anywhere in Europe. Even if you are going elsewhere, like Australia, India, or China, you should still join and post as there are members who have been to or live in a wide variety of places. It's a very active forum with a medium number of users. The mods are fantastic at answering questions and also setting you straight when you think 13 countries in 3 weeks is a good idea. The associated website, backpackeurope.com, has a wealth of knowledge about packing, planning, and places to go in Europe. Some of the links are a little outdated; however, I would still recommend this website as the ultimate source for information about backpacking in Europe.

No, not the terrible movie. This website, also a forum style, is very active and has a large number of members, though many are newbies. While the forums are nice, my favorite feature is the Eurotrip planning feature. You can create an itinerary which is then displayed on a Google Map. It's very easy to do; Here is a link to my upcoming UK trip map. I find it a great tool as you can see very clearly your cities and which route would make the most sense. You can input your budget and number of days traveling and the application will tell you if your budget seems too low or if your route looks feasible. Others can also comment on it to let you know if something looks a bit wonky to them.
In addition to this fabulous tool, there's also user-created tips on planning, packing, accommodation, and many other topics. You additionally can book a hostel, rail pass or tour through the website, though I have not tried this. They claim to be the cheapest prices on hostels and rail passes. Their hostel booking feature looks to be pretty reliable though, as it uses HostelBookers software. (more on HostelBookers later)

Student Universe
This is the website where I bought my plane ticket for my upcoming UK trip. It was only $592 round-trip non-stop from Atlanta to London! It is not just for students, but anyone under age 26. I'm 21, but not a student anymore, and it was still very easy for me to book my flight. All I had to do was confirm my age by sending in a photo of my driver's license. If you are a young person or college student, this should be your first stop when searching for flights. It's not always cheaper, I'll give you that, but it's at least on par with other sites. Not to mention, whoever's running the place is generally awesome; they contacted me saying since I was active on their facebook group, that they wanted to send me some stuff to thank me! How nice was that?? I sent them my address and had the stuff (which included a t-shirt, several pens, and a luggage tag!) in a few days.

Independent Traveler
This website has many tips on all kinds of travel: by air/train/car, with kids/family, international, senior, etc. They also have destination guides, and a section for user-generated Trip Reports, not to mention basic packing, planning, safety and money/budget tips. Their weekly e-newsletter, which I receive, sums up new articles on the site, informs you of upcoming travel deals, plus names a destination of the week and has a trivia question which you can win prizes for if you submit the correct answer. I believe it is run by the same people as TripAdvisor, but I do not have much familiarity with that site.
They also have a forum, but it seems targeted towards a slightly older crowd (more the vacation package, family travel kind of people), although it pretty extensive and still useful to the younger, hostel-stay types like me. I like the travel polls a lot personally. You can also discuss the articles from the main site on the forum and add your own tips.

Nomadic Matt's Travel site
This man is brilliant. He's been near constantly traveling for the past several years all over the world. He's got a blog, videos, travel articles/tips, and a twitter @nomadicmatt. I find it hard to sum he and his website, so I'll just say this. He's fantastic: go read.

XE foreign exchange
Yeah, I'm a dork, but I have been obsessive about tracking the pound to dollar conversion rates lately, and this site is my favorite site for that. I've been using it since I went to France in 2008. Any currency rates you want to check, they got 'em, and the format is very easy to read and use. Even has graphs showing the fluctuations over time so you can see if your chosen currency (mine=US dollar) is going up or down against other currencies. Updates every minute of the day for obsessed people like me, so you always know exactly what the rate is.

This is where I book my hostels. I've used HostelWorld in the past, and still find that their ratings tend to be the best just due to the high volume on the site (more reviews=more accuracy), but nowhere I've seen beats HostelBookers' prices. I don't know how they do it, as the hostel's own websites are even higher, but they claim to be the cheapest (apparently 8.7% cheaper than HostelWorld, on average) and from what I've seen, they are. I used them to book my hostels in Edinburgh and London for my upcoming trip and got some great deals. Their booking system is very user-friendly and they send you a prompt email with your details after booking is completed.

Twenty-Something Travel
Finally, a website specifically geared to my age group! I just discovered this website earlier today actually, but I love it already. It has posts written by a girl called Steph, who is 25 and gearing up for a solo RTW (that's "round the world" for you non-travelers out there) trip starting this fall. If you're on twitter, follow her @20sTravel. I love her attitude about travel, particularly solo female travel (which is what I'm doing too, obviously).

Travel blog with many different writers, it covers dozens of destinations throughout the world, in addition to travel news (like Alitalia airlines joining Delta, KLM, and Air France in a flight network), Daily Photos, and Daily travel gear deals. It's updated several times a day so you never run out of things to read about travel. :)

Honorable Mentions
Megabus --super cheap bus and train seats in the UK, US, and Canada.
Rick Steves --the guidebook guru's website, which, while targeted towards a slightly older crowd also, has the best packing philosophy (PACK LIGHT!) and a packing list to go along. Also, if you buy your rail pass from them, you get 20% off in the travel store, if you want any of his packing cubes, day bags, or backpacks too.
eBags --this is where I bought my backpack (eBags Weekender etech convertible), and my day bag (Travelon large messenger style bag). Routinely have sales which make them cheaper than almost any other website (occasionally Amazon is less, though, so I always check both). Plus you get rewards points on all purchases, which are equivalent to 5% of the amount of your purchase (if you spend $20, you get 1 point, for example). Later you can redeem these points for the equal dollar amount on another purchase (1 point = $1 off).

Oh, and hey, since I've mentioned twitter a few times, you can also follow me @kayling05. It's not related to travel a lot of the time, but I'd still love to see you there (beware my True Blood rants and raves on Sunday nights ;D).

So long for now!