The Best Travel Sites for Trip Planning

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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 many 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.

In this article, I will share the top travel sites. Bookmark it for future trips.

My All-Time Top 5 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.

Tripadvisor – more than just a review site, Tripadvisor is a brilliant and quick way to check hotel prices in one click. And you’re probably going to bag the best price – exactly as you’d expect from such a travel giant.

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.

Get Your Guide – want to go cooking in the sunflower fields on a Vespa in Italy? Get Your Guide probably has a tour for that. You can read reviews and book ahead which is much better than turning up and trying to scratch around for good tours that have last-minute availability (as elusive as a unicorn).

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.

Flight Search Websites

Want one website that will do all the searching for you? There are a couple of sites that will search multiple airlines.

Skyscanner – 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.

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.

CheapOAir – they have a best price guarantee and real humans to speak to if you want to (not to be confused with CheapOair).

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:

101 Tips for Cheap Flights

Dynamic Pricing: Flight Pricing’s Biggest Scam

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.

Collecting airmiles: 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.

Car Rental Comparison

RentalCars.com – my go-to car rental site is RentalCars.com. It’s a price comparison website for cars which saves you the hassle of searching on each rental brand’s individual website.

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.

Booking trains

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.

The Trainline  – My absolute go-to for train booking. The Trainline not only seamlessly integrates all of the disparate regional companies, but there’s also a great app and it all just works. Bonus: when my train from London was delayed recently, The Trainline claimed a refund and popped the money back in my bank before I even realised it had happened. That’s what I call good service.

GoEuro – 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.

Caledonian Sleeper –  taking the sleeper train from London to the Scottish Highlands had been on my bucket list for a long time but finally, I did it. You can read about that trip here.

AmtrakI 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 JR Pass – If you want more tips on booking your rail pass for Japan, you can find out more here. Beware – you need to book this money-saving ticket before you arrive in Japan.

El Chepe (the Copper Canyon Train) – after years of dithering with safety concerns, I finally took this amazing journey through Mexico’s Copper Canyon. You can read my tips for booking here.

The Blue Train – another journey I’m desperate to take is on the Blue Train in South Africa. Have you been? Share some pictures with me on Facebook!

The Man in Seat 61 – For all train trip planning, check out this website. This man is a Wikipedia of train travel.

Websites for booking buses

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 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 favourite sites 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.

Websites for getting to the airport

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.

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 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.

Best Hotel Search Sites

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 TripAdvisor but it’s worth playing around with a few sites to find the one you prefer.

Hotels Combined – this site is great 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.

Booking.com – I like Booking.com when I’m feeling indecisive as they usually have great cancellation options.

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.

Priceline – Priceline is an auction site where you can name the price you’d like to pay for a room in a hotel in a specified city. I’ve had some great deals but you must be prepared for the unknown. You do not bid on a specific hotel, this is only revealed once the deal is done. I’ve written about how to get the best deals via Priceline.

Agoda – Agoda is one of the best sites I’ve used for cheap sleeping options in Asia.  I’ve stayed in a 3-star hotel with pool for under $25 a night during low-season in Thailand and had discounts as high as 75% with Agoda when booking last-minute. Outside Asia, the rates aren’t as competitive.

Booking Buddy – With Booking Buddy, 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).

Hotel Tonight – same day hotel bookings are typically the most expensive, but not with Hotel Tonight which collects daily deals. Just click on the location and ‘tonight’ to see what’s available at impressive last-minute rates. How good are the prices? Last time I stayed in Liverpool (England), I paid £180 for a 4-star hotel that is on offer for £90.

Hotel websites for booking direct

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.

Accor Hotels – the group that includes Sofitel, Novotel, Raffles, Swissotel, Pullman, Grand Mercure, Ibis, Fairmont, Adagio and a few others.

Best Western – I used to think Best Western was best kept for cheap airport hotels…until I found a beautiful Best Western in an old Italian building in the Prosecco area of Italy.

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.

IHG – the Intercontinental Hotel Group has you covered for Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Kimpton and Hotel Indigo (to name a few).

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).

Best Hostel Booking Websites

Hostelworld is the market leader for booking hostels, covering over 180 countries. Hostelworld has a great app which clearly shows room types, prices, availability and room photos. The reviews are legitimate and therefore helpful, too. You just pay a deposit to book a bed or room. You can book private rooms as well as dorms.

Hostelling International (HI) – HI have been going since 1932 but they have moved with the times, today focusing on sustainability. They have over 2,600 hostels around the world and you get the best deals if you sign up to an annual membership but you don’t need to be a member to book. HI hostels don’t always feature on HostelWorld so it’s worth checking directly.

YHAis a branch of Hostelling International focusing on hostels in the United Kingdom.

Best Apartment Rental Websites

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. From cheap rooms in homes to renting entire apartments and villas, Airbnb is the go-to site for booking accommodation through locals. Look out for unique stays – tree houses, trains and air streams. But also factor in fees and the time needed to confirm you booking (if ‘book now’ isn’t available).

FlipKey – as well as the usual apartment rentals, you can get some pretty spectacular spaces on Flipkey, like that time I stayed in a castle in Ireland.

VBRO – more vacation rental than renting a place in someone’s house, if you’re looking for somewhere that has been designed for renting out for holidays, VBRO is it.

Snapstays – pre-vetted rentals that are ideal if you’re looking for a medium-term rental (a week or months). Started by a couple of guys who were frustrated at the lack of reliable rentals (and Wi-Fi) when they wanted to rent for longer-term stays with a focus on business travelers.

Websites for booking tours and sightseeing

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 include discounts for booking online.

Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is my go-to tour booking company. One of the most popular and often cheapest tour booking search engines online. If you’re not sure what’s going on where you’re going, start here. They have a slick app and it’s good to read honest reviews from other tourists.

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.

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.

Intrepid Travel – I mentioned above that Intrepid Travel is one of my 5 favourites 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.

Websites for cheap and free travel

Couchsurfing – Couchsurfing is a community of travellers who can offer their couch or a bed for other travelers passing through. As you can imagine, the website has had its ups and downs, but it’s still going strong. After years of being free, Couchsurfing now charges a subscription ($15 a year). It’s worth it even if you grab one a bed for one night.

Trusted Housesitters – Trusted Housesitters is another peer-to-peer website which connects pet sitters with home owners. It’s a great way to get some free accommodation if you’re happy to look after someone’s pet. You pay an annual subscription which starts at $99 for sitters.

Mind My House an alternative to Trusted Housesitters, Mind My House has a lower annual fee of $29 (but also fewer ‘assignments’).

Luxury House Sitting – another house sitting website, but with a focus on luxury homes. The fee is low at $25 a year. There aren’t many listings for sitters so you can’t be picky on locations. Still, you can browse the listings before paying to apply for a free stay.

Find A Crew  – want to offer up your skills (cooking, deckhand) in exchange for a free sailing adventure, check out Find A Crew. The locations and length of sail can vary a lot from a 2-week trip in western Europe to a longer adventure through Asia. Make sure you have the sea legs and get on well with the Captain before you commit.

WOOF – if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m 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).

Making Travel Easier

Best Onward Ticket – most countries require you to have a return ticket before you’re allowed in. If you’re on a one-week vacay, it’s almost a given you’ll have one. BUT, if you’re traveling around the world or on a one-way ticket, you might not know your next destination. This can leave you without a return flight. Fortunately, there is a solution. I’ve used Best Onward Ticket with success when I was in Costa Rica with open plans. How it works: they buy a fully refundable, legitimate ticket on your behalf and in your name. After you’ve travelled and passed immigration, they cancel the ticket. You pay a small fee of $12 for the service.

Airalo – I discovered this app when I was stuck at the airport in Cappadocia on my way to Istanbul and my flight was delayed. I’d been relying on wifi only since my mobile data was too expensive in Turkey. My friend sent me a link to Airalo which lets you set up a virtual eSIM on your site and buy a package of mobile data. I bought the lowest plan of 1GB of data for under $5 for 1 week. It was enough to use Google Maps, Whatsapp messages, check mail and Google search for the rest of my trip.

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Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.

10 thoughts on “The Best Travel Sites for Trip Planning”

  1. I absolutely love this! Ive done a lot of Couch surfing and WOOFing too (which I thought was Willing Workers on Organic Farms). They are not all farmers though. I stayed with families who just grow organically and live off their own land. Also many of them rescue animals so I spent quuiye a lot of time nurturing and feeding wildlife before releasing them whilst also chopping wood for the fire and picking the veg for dinner that night. I some times stayed in a caravan onsite and sometimes absolute luxury. One was haunted. I would highly recommend it.
    also did you know you can rent university accommodation too? Apparently can be really central and quite cheap. Not tried it yet though. Have fun x

    Reply
    • I was all for this right up until I read the word ‘haunted’! I have stayed in university accommodation over summer – thanks for reminding me. I’d forgotten about that. I’ll add it to the list. Thanks.

      Reply
  2. Hi Jo, You need to be careful with booking.com. When you choose a hotel and the dates, you almost always get a message saying ” Only one room still available at this price”. I just booked a room in an unknown village in the depths of Derbyshire for a week-day in September and got this message. No way is this true. So I booked it, cleared my cookies and tried again. Sure enough, I got the same message, having just booked the “one room still available at this price”. Again, you sometimes get the message “x people are also looking at this hotel”, to get you to make a quick booking. I no longer believe these messages.
    Gary

    Reply
    • Interesting, Gary. I’ve seen that myself and, I admit, it’s made me book more readily than I might have otherwise. Maybe this is something I should look into. Did you know that in the UK it’s illegal to engage in this kind of practice – promoting a sense of urgency in order to procure a sale when no such urgency exists…

      Reply

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