Planning a trip can be a hassle. There are so many different travel resources out there from review sites to flight search tools to maps and apps. Even as someone who has spent the past 5 years travelling full time, it can all get a bit confusing and, usually, the second you think you’ve settled on your favourite websites, someone tells you there’s another much better/cheaper/faster way to do it all and – boom – you’re back to square one.
Well, my plan with this article is to share with you what I think are the top travel sites. I’ve even included a section towards the bottom that will help you travel for free.
It’s going to be an evolving page as I try out new resources and I’ve made a note to add a section on the best travel apps because they’re something I use a lot and I’m sure you do too. I’ll also throw in a few links to some of the most popular sights even if I don’t rate them because, hey, the definition of the top travel sites doesn’t start and end with me.
I’d like to have your input too so if you think I’ve missed something, drop me a line.
Top Travel Sites
If you read no further, check out my favourite 5 top travel sites. I search elsewhere but I frequently find myself coming back to this core set to plan my trips.
Skyscanner – I’ve listed more flight websites below but I consistently find Skyscanner to be the cheapest on a global basis so I rarely waste my time looking anywhere else.
Trivago – When it comes to hotels, I now have one go-to resource: Trivago. I like that it searches some of the top hotel booking sights and you can then sort the results.
Hostelworld – While I love a bit of luxury, I don’t mind a hostel dorm either – especially if it means I can save money and travel for longer. The reviews are one of the most valuable parts of this site.
Tripadvisor – Some people love it, some people hate it, but you can’t ignore the sheer size of this community review site. If you’re after some tips on how to read between the lines with Tripadvisor reviews, see my article here.
Intrepid Travel – I travel independently about 98% of the time but sometimes I want to join a guided trip, not least because planning your own trips all the time is exhausting. And when I do hop on a tour, I like Intrepid best for their small groups and focus on local culture.
Want one website that will do all the searching for you? There are a couple of sites that will search multiple airlines.
Skyscanner – my all-time top travel site, as mentioned above. I particularly love the flexibility to search by month/cheapest time of year and the fact that you can search by country or even ‘everywhere’ has sent me on plenty of adventures.
STA Travel – when I’m compiling a complex itinerary with multiple-stops, STA usually beats the price I’ve been able to find on my own and without the effort. It’s not just for students – you can book with STA whatever your age (phew says the girl who recently said goodbye to her 30s).
Cheapair.com – is it wrong to include Cheapair because I love the look and feel of their website? Plus, the search function is really simple. If you’re new to online flight checking, start here.
Cheapflights.com – unlike the other sites, you can search other booking websites as well as the airlines so it’s worth a check.
CheapOAir – they have a best price guarantee and real humans to speak to if you want to (not to be confused with Cheapair).
Flight Network – the price drop protection offer looks pretty compelling: if the price drops, they will refund the difference – in credit, not cash, but still…
Kayak – particularly useful if you’re travelling in the USA and I love the ‘explore’ map featuring prices – hours of fun can be had.
Google Flights – Google launched with a pretty rigid offering (specific dates and destinations) and rarely offered competitive prices, but the search function seems to be getting better so I’m keeping an eye on this one.
For more tips on booking flights, check out my related articles:
If you only have time for one other article, read up on dynamic pricing – it’s a web-wide way of making you pay more for your flights and all the airlines seem to be in on it. Don’t worry, I have tips for beating it.
With all the flight search websites out there, why would you book direct? There are a few reasons: not all airlines are covered by all of the search sites; if you’re trying to spend air miles (or, in some cases, collect them); if you want a bit more control/information over your booking (e.g. booking seats and checking luggage); and sometimes booking direct can be cheaper.
This list isn’t exhaustive (at the moment) but I’ll keep adding to it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to collect air miles, check out my series of travel hacking articles here. Sorry, it’s aimed at people in the UK but you can find details about collecting USA air miles here.
Holiday Autos – name a travel booking site and you can usually book car hire through it (Expedia, Skyscanner, Lastminute). However, my personal preference is Holiday Autos because of the vast number of car rental companies they search (1,500) across many destinations. The website is clear, they offer free cancellation and amendments and the prices are competitive. What more could you want?
If you’re looking to book direct (to earn points, priority pick up or other benefits), here are some of the main companies.
BlaBlaCar – I first heard about BlaBlaCar in Spain and I think it’s a brilliant idea – pop in where you are and where you’re going to and a list of ride shares (with associated fuel costs) are listed. If you don’t want to hire a car or go by public transport, this is a great alternative.
One of my favourite ways to travel is by train and, if I can, I’d rather sit on a train for several hours than hop on a flight. I’m still researching train booking sights for other areas, but here are my favourite sites in some of the spots where I’ve taken some epic train journeys. Let me know in the comments if you’ve got other suggestions.
Rail Europe – my favourite part about this website is the ability to seamlessly plan a trip across Europe without going via the various country-specific websites. You pay a small fee but it’s usually worth it, not least because you can book in English without questionable translations and instructions for ticket collection.
The Trainline – if you’re booking in the UK, I’d highly recommend the Trainline. Like Rail Europe, it seamlessly integrates all of the disparate regional companies and it can often be quicker (especially if travelling from London) to get hold of tickets (the ‘collect tickets’ machines usually have fewer queues). Bonus tip: book via the app and for some trips there are no fees (compared to booking the same trip online).
Amtrak – I haven’t found a simpler or cheaper way of booking rail travel in the USA than via Amtrak.
ViaRail – I’ve got plans to take a coast to coast trip across Canada and this has been my favourite planning resource.
The Trans-Siberian Railway – ok, so this link is to the Seat 61 website (see below) – there are many different options for booking this train and the man in seat 61 does a great job of giving you all the choices.
The Man in Seat 61 – For all train trip planning, check out this website. This man is a Wikipedia of train travel.
As with train travel, buses are going to be a highly local experience but here are some of the top bus websites to get you started. I’ll return to this section and add in the country specific services I’ve used e.g. in Mexico, Cuba, Asia.
Megabus – strange but true – bus travel is my least favourite form of transport outside of developing countries. Why? I guess there is something exciting about sitting on a sack of rice in an aisle on a local bus in Colombia. Sitting on the rice of your neighbour’s burrito on a trip in the USA: somewhat less exotic. Still, of all the bus companies, Megabus has got to be the best of them (IMO) and they operate in Europe and North America.
National Express – a similar offering to Megabus – compare the two if you’re on a budget.
Greyhound – I’ve sat on more Greyhound buses in the USA than I care to remember and all with varying quality (the ones in Texas are very glam – elsewhere, not so much). However, it’s a cheap way to get around even if I find the company lacking in anything close to customer service. Available in North America and Australia..
Rome2Rio – this is one of my top travel sites (let’s call it my 6th favourite) because it lets you plan any route with impressive detail. I’m including it here because it’s a great way of identifying which bus companies operate in which cities.
I’ve got a couple of recommendations for taking the time, stress and cost out of air travel. I’ve used all of these companies and would recommend them, which is why I’ve listed only these as my top travel sites for airport stuff, but I’m happy to hear other suggestions.
Airport Parking Reservations – if you’ve ever turned up at the airport and paid on the day, you’ll understand the value of booking parking in advance.
Super Shuttle – With availability in the USA and some of the major European cities (London, Paris, Amsterdam, for example), I use this shuttle service when I can. Door to door but at the snip of a taxi price, particularly if you’re travelling solo. Also, booking is simple.
Priority Pass – if you do a lot of travelling but you don’t have enough airline status to get free access into an airport lounge, Priority Pass could be the answer. I travelled with one for a year and it was worth the cost not only because coffee and croissants are pricey at the airport but for fast wi-fi, a quiet space too and even shower facilities if you’re on a particularly long trip.
Uber – I get the feeling Uber is a bit like Marmite (a strange British spread that half the country loves and half the country hates). Like Marmite, I love Uber – cheap prices, no rip off trips, no haggling. If I can Uber to the airport (and around town when I arrive), I do. If you’ve not tried Uber, here’s a discount code: jof558ue and for those who aren’t familiar with this taxi service, it’s an app so you’ll need a smartphone. Worried about safety? Read my article here.
I suspect there are as many hotel booking websites are there are countries – probably more. Here are some of my favourites as well as some of the more popular ones. As mentioned above, I tend to stick with Trivago but it’s worth playing around with a few sites to find the one you prefer.
Trivago – one of my all time top travel sites because it searches across the following websites, some hotel brands websites and even a few sites I’ve not heard of. In short, it does all of the hard searching work for you:
Amoma – I’ve personally never booked via this site but they do have a best price guarantee.
Expedia – I got excited a while back by Expedia’s points program until I realised the points were worth less than a grain of sand. Still, they regularly have some of the best prices on the market.
GetaRoom – another one I’ve not used, but I’d be interested to hear is anyone has used their ‘call for unpublished rates’ option.
Hotwire – great deals, especially if you don’t need to know the name of the hotel before you book – the map and search results make for great browsing, too.
Otel – another site offering best price and telephone support. I’ve not used them – let me know if you think they’re good or not.
Orbitz – also offering a rewards program, I should check this out to see if you earn anything useful for loyal booking.
Priceline – Priceline is rarely competitive for named hotels but using their ‘Name Your Own Price’ (bidding) and ‘Express Deals’ (the hotel name is a secret until after you book), I’ve booked some brilliant hotels at bargain prices. I’ve written about how to get the best deals via Priceline here.
If you want to supplement your search, here are a few more sites to try (I don’t believe Trivago covers them, but feel free to correct me).
Agoda – I’ve found Agoda to be particularly competitive when booking in Asia – less so elsewhere.
Booking Buddy – With a similar function as Trivago, you can search other sites in one place. However, the interface bothers me – it’s not as slick, but it’s worth a try if you have more patience than I do.
Hotels.com – I’d feel remiss if I didn’t include this site.
Lastminute.com – is it me or does Lastminute.com feel a bit vintage these days? Still, I love their secret hotel deals (I recently booked one in Barcelona).
Venere – What makes Venere stand out is that you can search hotels, Bed & Breakfast and apartments in one place.
As with flights, there are occasions when it pays to book hotels directly with the company – some offer a best price guarantee, you can collect points with some big brands and there might be bonuses e.g. breakfast, free wi-fi or a room upgrade.
Also like the airlines, it’s pretty difficult to cover ALL hotels, so I’ve stuck to the main brands and groups – do let me know if you think I’ve missed anything big and I’ll also update this over time.
Accor Hotels – the group that includes Sofitel, Novotel, Raffles, Swissotel, Pullman, Grand Mercure, Ibis, Fairmont, Adagio and a few others.
Citizen M – if you’re after a chain hotel that doesn’t feel like a chain, check out this brand. Sign-up to their newsletter for freebies (cash discounts and welcome drinks) as well as other offers.
Hilton – the brand also behind Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hotels and Embassy Suites.
IHG – the Intercontinental Hotel Group has you covered for Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Kimpton and Hotel Indigo (to name a few).
Luxury Hotels Group – if you’re after luxury and five star boutique hotels and resorts, check out LHG.
Radisson – Part of the Carlton Rezidor Group, last time I looked on this website there was a $20 off steak offer, which pleased me immensely.
Riu Hotels – offering both hotels and resorts worldwide.
Small Luxury Hotels – I went through a phase of only booking through this website. Checking back, I think I need to go through that phase again.
Thistle Hotels – with a curious offering in the UK and Asia, Thistle has a small but interesting collection.
Wyndham Hotels – another huge group covering TRYP, Ramada, Super8, Days Inn and Travelodge (amongst others).
I was in my 30s before I stayed in my first hostel and I was thrown by the lack of concierge. Still, I got into the groove and I will still happily stay in a hostel. Great for meeting people if you’re travelling solo and also keeping your budget intact if you’re on a longer trip. There are a few great booking sites but don’t neglect to check the hostel websites directly as often the price is cheaper.
Hostelworld – another of my top travel sites, if you want only one hostel booking site, use this one. It’s the biggest and most popular site for a reason.
Hostelbookers – when I first started booking hostels, this was my preferred site – they were often cheaper and offered a greater range of rooms. But things change. For example, did you know that Hostelworld now owns Hostelbookers? So, same, same but different. If you prefer a different interface, check out this site.
Hostelz.com – the Traivago of the hostel booking world, I’ve only recently started playing around with this site and I like what I see. Searching across other hostel booking sites, you can easily compare prices. I’ve yet to book through this site but will give it a go next time I try a hostel.
YHA – I’ve stayed in some excellent YHA (Youth Hostelling International) hostels around the world (including one that was in a mansion in the USA!) but, depending where you’re going, they don’t always feature on hostel booking sites, so it’s always worth checking the site directly.
Peer to peer rentals have become big business in recent years and I’ve definitely taken advantage of this new trend. From a centrally located apartment in Florence to a month-long stay in Madrid, you really can live like a local. Just check the fees – for a short stay on your own or as a couple, the fees can push the price past a decent hotel.
Airbnb – no doubt the biggest of the apartment rental websites out there, I’m a huge fan of Airbnb and it’s always my first port of call if I’m looking to rent a place. New users can get a discount here.
Home Away – I treat HomeWay as my ‘price check’ for Airbnb. You can find similar properties on both in my experience and often some slightly more upmarket choices.
VBRO – I’ve yet to figure out the Home Away group but it includes VBRO as well as Owners Direct, Stayz, Vacation Rentals and Homelidays. I do believe they have different offerings (which is kind of annoying because wouldn’t you like to search in just one place?) with slightly different slants e.g. apartments versus villas versus country specific sites.
More often than not, I turn up and book my trips in-country, but that doesn’t always pay off (twice I’ve been to San Francisco and I’ve still not managed to get tickets to Alcatraz). So, booking in advance definitely has its advantages, which often includes discounts for booking online. This list will grown but for now here are some of the top travel sites for booking sightseeing trips.
City Pass – if only there was a website that offered one pass that gave you access to the top sights in major US cities and with great discounts on entry. Oh, wait there is. City Pass. If you’re big on sightseeing and like to cram stuff in, these passes are likely to pay off.
City Sightseeing Buses – ever since I ruptured the ligament in my knee (ouch), I’ve become a huge fan of the city sightseeing buses. Well priced, good routes, reliable, fantastic for getting a city overview and with great commentary (even if the local background music usually ticks the cliché box), I’ll be taking these buses even once my knee if fully recovered.
Smart Destinations – a similar idea to City Pass but allowing you to choose the number of attractions, the Go City Card is also US centric but with the addition of London.
London Pass – speaking of London, here’s the main attractions pass operator in the city. If you want to see whether the London Pass is worth the money, check out this article by the lovely Megan from A Passport Affair.
The New York Pass – likewise for New York.
I know that 3 cards for 3 cities isn’t enough – consider this a work in progress and feel free to ping me any recommendations.
Viator – No doubt one of the biggest tour providers out there, I love that they always seem to have a tour no matter which country I’m in and they’re well-priced too. Not only that, there are some pretty inventive options as well as private tours and cooking classes. You name it, Viator will probably do it.
Intrepid Travel – I mentioned above that Intrepid Travel is one of my 5 favourite top travel sites and I’m pleased to see that they do shorter day (or multi-day) sightseeing tours. If you’re looking to get under the skin of a country, start here.
Urban Adventures – the sister site of Intrepid Travel. If you’re after a day of the ‘best fun ever’, these 100% responsible tours across 70 destinations are well priced and brought to you by a well-trusted brand.
Travel insurance is a tricky one. Different countries have vastly different offerings and the landscape is constantly shifting (for example, mobile phones have become too expensive for many insurance companies to include them as standard). I would like to use my legal knowledge (and inner geek that likes reading small print) to put together a resource for the best travel insurance companies and I’m sure I’ll get this done one day.
For now, I’m going to include one link only to a website that I know many travellers use and trust. I’ve personally not used this insurance company and it may be that you can get cheaper insurance in your home country (in the UK, it’s usually easy to beat the price), but check it out because it does have traveller’s needs in mind.
If you’re looking to buy travel insurance, check out my article:
Couchsurfing – couchsurfing has had it’s ups and downs but it’s still going strong, which is no surprise as it lets frugal and social travellers grab a free bed for a night (or more) courtesy of generous locals.
Trusted Housesitters – although I’ve never been in the right place at the right time, I know plenty of travellers who use this website to bag free stays around the world. Usually there is pet-sitting involved but not always. Downside: there is a sign-up fee so it’s not entirely free.
Find A Crew – want to offer up your skills (cooking, deck hand) in exchange for a free sailing adventure, check out Find A Crew. Do a bit of research on your captain before you board – I know one friend who ended up stranded on a strange island after the captain got drunk and abandoned his crew! It all ended well but still…
WOOF – if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a the anti-mother nature who can kill a thriving tree with the wrong glance, this would be on my bucket list. Operating for 45 years, WOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Farms) connects volunteers with farmers where you can trade work for room and board.
Workaway – similar to Woofing but with a much broader set of volunteer jobs, you can teach, nanny, work in the hostel/hotel industry and even help build a sauna (probably a one-off gig, but still cool).
Free City Tour – want a guided tour without the cost? Covering cities all over the world, Free City Tour offers a fantastic selection of local tours provided by local guides. Do be aware that the guides offer their time for free so work based on tips. Even a small contribution is better than nothing and just think of the good travel karma you’ll get.
I’m disappointed that most of the crowdsourcing sites that focused on travel have fallen off the map (I had grand plans for Trevolta) but I live in eternal hope and will keep you posted if I find one (or let me know if you’re aware of one).
Best Travel Apps
Best Websites for Booking Package Travel
Note to self: stop binge watching Orphan Black and get on with this. Chop-chop. And if there are any extras you’d like me to cover, let me know in the comments below.
So, there you have it – my list of what I think are the top travel sites. Now let me have it – what have I missed? Share your suggestions in the comments below.
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