Tuesday 26 July 2011

Travel websites: the best ever

Don't just Google 'holiday'. Here's the Guardian Travel team's list of our all-time favourite websites – to help take the stress out of planning your next trip
travel websites
Click and go ... Photograph: Walker and Walker/Getty Images

Fabulous accommodation

If you want to stay in a flying-saucer-shaped cabin in Wisconsin, a windmill on Santorini or a house in the Lake District that featured on Grand Designs, Holiday Pad will sort you out. You can't book directly, so think of it more as inspiration, with links to the websites of unique, unusual places to stay across the globe.

We probably mention this lip-smacking site most weeks, but it is our first port of call for gorgeous boutique accommodation around the world. Lots of photos, honest reviews by writers that list what's good and bad about the properties, tons of detail on the place and surroundings, rates through the season and a mix of mid-range to high-price luxury properties make it one of the best out there. And though they're not cheap, they're not all eye-wateringly expensive either. The site currently features a list of bargains for summer, eg this week
La Sommita in the stunning white hill town of Ostuni in Puglia, Italy, has 55% off rooms normally costing from €290 a night in July.

The site for globetrotters who like a teeny bit of glamour, specialising in boutique/ luxury
hotels. You can book through the site and there are quirky extras, such as cool soundtracks to listen to while searching, top 10 lists and an "I want to get away" button to click when you just need a break but lack the energy to research destinations. It also features last-minute deals such as rooms at the Apostrophe Hotel in Paris down from €270 to €159.

For a property to make it on to this site it needs to be architecturally interesting and something of an interior design delight. Choose, say, between a cave in Sicily or a rooftop apartment in Buenos Aires. You can search by location or interest, whether that be culture, nature or simply staring at the (beautifully decorated) walls.

All the quaint and lovely places to stay in 17 countries, from the popular guidebook range. A mix of charming little guesthouses, B&Bs, self-catering properties, restaurants with rooms and hotels. There are more than 2,000 in Britain, nearly that many in France and hundreds more in Spain and Italy, Ireland and Portugal. Also see Sawday's latest site,
canopyandstars.co.uk, for glamping and quirky accommodation – gypsy caravans, yurts, safari tents, etc.


Best travel websites – campinmygarden.com

The concept is simple: people offer their gardens for you to camp in. You can search for suitable sites by event and they range from the basic – bring a primus – to the more glamorous, with access to a toilet and kitchen. It's free to join, as is listing your garden, and costs from £5pp per night to stay – though it may cost more near popular events.

Glamping is the latest camping craze ... and this site, an offshoot of Holiday Pad, has the pick of the crop, from camps with four-posters next to Lake Garda to a safari-style retreat near Sydney and a collection of Airstream caravans in Cornwall. It currently features 110 in the UK and a scattering around the world, that are being added to all the time.

pitchup.com This website screams "camping is fun!" You can scour campsites close to festival spots or search for one best suited to your interests, whether that's hiking, families or naturism. Once you've found a site you can check availability and book online.

Discounts and deals

It's not just cut-price eyebrow threading and bargain military fitness sessions that can drop into your inbox. Holiday companies are getting in on the act of collective buying power through groupon.com and the like, which deliver a list of deals that have to be booked that day, or within the next few days, and which only become active when enough people sign up to them. Good for spa breaks, country-house hotels, activity weekends.
An alternative is voyage-prive.co.uk, which fires off weekly emails featuring loads of heavily discounted trips to really nice-looking hotels in the boutique/luxury vein – you then have five days to book before the opportunity is lost. Recent deals have included 68% savings on five nights at Koh Samui's Kanok Buri Resort and Spa, right on the beach, and 41% off a seven-night Tyrolean valley break, with half-board at the Hotel Sonnschein in the Kitzbühel Alps.

vouchercode.co.uk This site gathers together every discount voucher code on offer. So if you weren't aware that Hotels.com were offering 10% off bookings at a given time then Voucher Code is for you. It gives you a code, which then takes you direct to the provider's site – you enter the code at checkout. Sign up and you get a weekly email with the latest deals.

ilovecashback.com This takes the idea of cashback to a whole new level: search for a holiday on the site to find the best deal, get the voucher code, receive the discount at the provider's website, then ilovecashback also gives you a portion of the revenue from advertising the deal.

livingsocial.com To make the most of this site you need a lots of friends, but be motivated by inherently selfish reasons. Sign up to the site for your city and each day receive a discount for a local business. Buy it, and then share the info with your friends. If enough of them buy it too, your deal will be free.

Budget accommodation

Best travel websites – airbnb.com Rent a New York loft with airbnb.com

This site is particularly useful for trips to cities like New York, where it is really hard to find good cheap accommodation. Rather than splurging on a tiny designer room, or slumming it in a hostel, why not borrow a local's gorgeous loft apartment at a bargain rate, or stay in their spare room? Launched in 2008 and now covering 181 countries, airbnb lets you meet locals and experience a bit of real life.

Many other websites are getting in on the borrow-a-home concept, including istopover.com and crashpadder.com. The first generation of meet-the-locals websites – including couchsurfing.org, stay4free.com and hospitalityclub.org,– still have a large online community and are good for meeting people in thousands of cities, either for a drink or to crash on their sofa or in a spare room for the night.

This home exchange service has been around so long that members used to correspond by telephone and snail mail, and it claims many second-generation members. You pay £50 to join for a year, but that gives you access to 30,000 rated and recommended listings, which you can view in no more than two clicks. Also try
homeexchange.com and, of course, the Guardian's home exchange (guardianhomeexchange.co.uk).

Cheap flights

There is no simple formula for finding absolutely the cheapest flight. You have to shop around, and you need to book early. But there are comparison sites to help you. Cheapest flights to western European destinations tend to cost between £50 and £100 return, long-hauls to Asia and the US from £500 (though look out for off-season bargains), South America from £700 upwards. These are the sites we go to first to compare flights:

Great for comparing the cost of flights from different airlines all over the world. If you get a tad frustrated searching hundreds of travel sites, let Kayak do it for you; it also pulls up the best-value flights, hotels and car hire deals from sites such as Expedia and Opodo. It also has an interactive flight price map and a fare tracker. It's not a beautiful site but it's speedy, functional and takes the hard work out of trip planning.

If you've ever wondered which budget airline flies to which airport in Europe but passed out at the thought of searching for hours on Google, flycheapo will come up with the answer. Though not quite 100% reliable in our experience, it's better than most. Type in where you start and where you want to finish and the site does the rest. You can't book or search available dates so it's a starting point to check out individual airlines rather than a booking site.

Another good flight comparison site. One handy feature lets you choose the dates you want to go away – for a short break, a week or longer – and it will bring up some of the cheapest flights available all over Europe, in ascending order – good if you aren't sure where you want to go or are just looking for a bargain.

This chirpy new site displays results in easy-to-understand form. Flights, including those using multiple carriers, are displayed on a timeline and accommodation options (including those offered by sites such as airBnB) on a map. So instead of multiple pages of information you see everything at a glance.

Adventurous trips

Grand Canyon Trek the Grand Canyon with Mountain Kingdoms. Photograph: Alamy

Want to bore your friends to tears with tales of "the most amaaaaaazing" place ever? Even if you'd rather go independently and set up a trip yourself than pay an adventure operator you can get great ideas by perusing the sites of the most inventive adventure operators. We love Wild Frontiers (wildfrontiers.co.uk), Mountain Kingdoms (mountainkingdoms.com), High and Wild (highandwild.co.uk), On The Go Tours (onthegotours.com) and the sheer volume of options from Explore (explore.co.uk) and Exodus (exodus.co.uk).

The Association of Independent Tour Operators brings lots of great small tour operators together on one website. All offer interesting independent or group tours, lovely accommodation, adventurous breaks and inspiration and you can search for them by destination or type of holiday. All the operators on here offer financial protection for their trips too, and often have last-minute deals. Many specialise in certain places (Journey Latin America, Inside Japan); others in a certain sort of break (Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours, Regaldive). Many have their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, forums and YouTube pages where you can learn more.

Last-minute package deals

travelrepublic.co.uk For packaging up your own cheap or last-minute combination of flights, car hire and accommodation. Other sites worth looking at are directline-holidays.co.uk, travelzoo.com/uk, travelsupermarket.com and hotels.com.


The premise is to support local businesses and reward those who embrace ethical practices by rating companies according to their eco-values. The site gathers – and vets – independent adventure providers in one place and quickly sums up why they make the grade, then you can book direct and leave your own comments afterwards.

Register as a HelpXer for free – premier membership is €20 – and you can view the postings of hundreds of primarily organic farms, B&Bs and homestays around the world who will offer accommodation and food, in exchange for your help for about four hours a day. It's so simple to navigate, you'll find yourself herding sheep in New Zealand within 24 hours.

workaway.info This is similar to HelpX, but with a broader spectrum of placements, including just lending a helping hand in people's private homes (doing the garden and babysitting, say), in return for food and lodging. Though be warned, hosts vary wildly; you might get your own luxurious lodge room, then again you might end up on a bed in a garage.

Find free board and lodging in return for a bit of graft on gorgeous organic farms, all over the world (yes that means Hawaii, Uganda and Ecuador, as well as the more obvious Italian homesteads).

This site puts you in touch with green hotels and holidays across Europe, everything from treehouses to agriturismos, and you can choose via activity if you prefer. You can research train and ferry routes before being taken to an external provider to book your chosen route.

Providing holidays with the emphasis on grassroots initiatives and local providers, it has a huge swathe of lovely trips – from Costa Rica to Senegal, via Bulgaria and good old Wales. Companies are screened for their compliance with environmental, social and economic criteria.

City guides

inyourpocket.com Brilliant for winkling out weird, esoteric or just plain wonderful places in European cities, especially eastern Europe.

timeout.com An obvious one for London, New York, western Europe, but did you know they also cover Beijing, Bucharest, Israel and Omsk?

lecool.com Simply the best for arts events, clubbing, pop-ups, supperclubs, poetry and anything arch, ironic, eccentric or a bit mad in London, Barcelona, Vienna, Budapest, Dublin, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Moscow and Istanbul. One of our all-time faves.

Useful services

Best travel websites – rentalocalfriend.com Hire a holiday pal with rentalocalfriend.com. Photograph: Alamy

Not got any friends where you're going? Then hire one. On this site, brainchild of Brazilian journalist Alice Moura, you can request a personal welcome to the city of your choice – or some online guidance beforehand. Rates vary depending on the guide and how much time you would like, but tours are personalised and payment is taken at the end.

OK, it's not exactly glamorous, but this ingenious site allows you to rent a residential driveway or garage in 10,000 locations around the world. You can book for the day, week or longer, and sites are reviewed by previous users. And if there are no listed driveways it brings up the nearest car park instead.

If you haven't got time to plan your six-month South American expedition, call in someone who can. Tripbod launched in 2009 with the aim of teaming travellers up with a vetted local with similar interests at their destination, who can offer pre-trip advice and local knowledge for anything from an arty weekend to two weeks' mountain biking. Prices start from £16 for a one-day trip.

A forum for helping you find a travel partner, but complete with pictures and good layout. You post the trip you're planning and invite others with similar interests to join you. If you're looking for an adventure, it's a great place to start and offers the opportunity to travel with others without sacrificing the flexibility of solo travel, as you can hop in and out of trips as you fancy.

Travel knowledge

Want to know what's new in luxury travel? This site, founded by a contributing editor to Condé Nast Traveler, offers luxurious travel porn that will give you great ideas for destinations … even if you can't afford them.

Everything you need to know about what's developing in travel technology, from which hotels have launched online check-in in exchange for an upgrade (Harrah's, Las Vegas) to new apps.

Hotel news, reviews, openings, closings, advice and surveys in one busy, chatty website, written in a gossipy style. There's a lot of bitching about big American chains failing to open their latest style hotel on time – so it's not for everyone – but we first
learned about the cheap new Avo Hotel in Dalston, London (avohotel.com), on here, so it's worth keeping an eye on.

Find inspiration on this site, which collects the offers of niche travel providers from around the globe, and has a search engine that lets you enter individual specifications – duration, budget, activity. It amounts to a pretty slick product for the often fragmented
adventure travel market.

Thinking of a travel career break? Meet Plan Go has most bases covered, from helping you gather the courage to jack in your job, to offering planning tips, inspirational advice, testimonies and support.

Author | Source | and the Guardian Travel team


    1. Very informative!

    2. I believe the travel agent has to be someone with common sense and good judgement. That is the person that makes tourist choose hotel, restaurants or shopping malls over others. When I travelled to Argentina I had a travel agent that told me to get an apartment rental in Buenos Aires rather than get a room at the hotel because it was cheaper. He was right and I´m thankful he knew about this!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Thanks for sharing this post. Keep sharing. When i traveled Ireland then a travel agent tell me about the beauty and services of Cork Hotels.


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