My favourite travel planning sites

Planning your next adventure has never been more accessible with everything you need at your fingertips online. These days, there’s not much need to go see a travel agent – everything can be booked online, and with a bit of research, you can get some great bargains.

But with so many competing websites for accommodation, flights, and volunteering – where do you start to get adventures suited to your budget and travel style.

Here’s the sites I use to plan my trips.

Flights

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Google Flights

I don’t use anything but Google Flights when researching flights. Many people swear by Skyscanner but I was never a fan and found Kayak or Opodo worked better. But Google Flights leaves those flight search engines for dead.

The beauty of Google Flights is you can put in your desired departure airport, destination and date and it will tell you if there’s a cheaper day to fly. As an example, you select to fly on 4 April – Google Flights will tell you if you fly on 2 April you’ll save $99.

Just want to find the cheapest flight into Europe from the US? Type in your departure city, enter Europe into the origin section and then you’ll see the cost of flights into cities all across Europe.

Google Flights has saved me a lot of money solely from these two functions – as long as you’re flexible with your plans, you can get very cheap flights.

Accommodation

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I flick between four accommodation booking sights depending on where I’m going to. I try to spend no more than $A40 a night for accommodation, although sometimes it blows out a little bit more in places like the US or Scandinavia.

Booking.com

Booking.com is usually my first port of call when I’m looking for a place to stay. Each property is rated, includes reviews only from people who have stayed there and most properties have free cancellation between 24 hours and 72 hours before your booking in case your plans change. There’s often discounts on rooms or dorm beds available.

Most places don’t take a deposit on Booking.com, except at peak times such as a festival or public holidays when they might charge the first night or the entire booking cost before your stay.

Read the terms and conditions on booking to check cancellation and deposit terms.

HostelWorld

Not all hostels can be found on Booking.com so I usually have a look at both if I’m looking for a hostel. HostelWorld also has reviews from people who have stayed there and ratings.

HostelWorld requires a 10 per cent deposit for all bookings and you can choose to purchase cancellation insurance – usually only a $1 or $2 in case you have to cancel your booking. This fee ensures you get your deposit back and can use it towards future bookings.

AirBnB

I usually use AirBnB when I’m going further off the beaten path or I’m booking late and other places are full. For example, I used AirBnB to find a place in Norway’s Lofoten Islands as there wasn’t any hostels where I wanted to stay.

And sometimes you just need a break from hostel dorm rooms. When I need a break, I head to AirBnB as it’s usually cheaper than a hotel and you often have use of kitchen facilities.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is also another great site which I usually use for last minute accommodation or when I’m staying in expensive cities. I’m fairly new to the Couchsurfing game, only using it in Norway and New Zealand but with great success. In New Zealand, I met a couple of friendly and fun Brazillians guys working there. I had a great time seeing Queenstown with them.

Couchsurfing is free but the general rule is you’re not just using it as a free place to stay – but to meet other like minded people and share your travel stories with them.

Getting Around

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Rome2Rio

Rome2Rio is a great way to see flights, buses, trains or taxis to your next stop. The website is easy to use and gives you estimated cost and well as timings to help you make your decision on the best way to get from A to B.

Google Maps

Google Maps is also a great way to see buses and trains to where you want to go. I also use it regularly to help me choose accommodation by seeing how far it is from the city centre and bus and train stations and if I can walk there or take a bus.

Volunteering

Looking to really get a feel of a place and stay for a couple of weeks? Then consider volunteering.

My go to for volunteering opportunities is HelpX but there are others like WWOOF and WorkAway.

While it’s not the most modern site, I still find HelpX easy to scroll through and the filters are good. For example, select accommodation business if you’re looking to work in a hostel in reception or as a cleaner. But there are other options like working on farmstays, teaching English or helping people renovate.

I used HelpX to spend a week in Hungary teaching conversational English to locals. It was a great way to meet some lovely locals, well travelled English speakers, and learn a lot about Hungary.

Tours

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Ok, so tours are not a budget way to travel. But tours can lead you meet a great bunch of people and lead you to adventures that it would be difficult to get to on your own, or unsafe as a solo traveller.

As a solo female traveller, there’s some places I prefer to go to on tours. Especially if I don’t speak the language. Planning a tour allows me to see places I would feel too unsafe to go to on my own – so now I often incorporate a tour into my travel plans.

My go to company is G Adventures. I’ve only done tours with G Adventures, and Croatia’s Med Experience and Sail Croatia but once you find a company you really like, stick with it.

The tours I’ve done so far with G Adventures are the Machu Picchu Adventure in Peru, Volcano Trail from Guatemala to Costa Rica and the Caribbean Colombia Express in Colombia, and I’ll be travelling Jordan and India with them next.

The tours I’ve done have taken me to so many interesting places and the guides are knowledgeable, organised and fun.

If you want to pay off a G Adventures tour over time, you can put down a deposit with STA Travel and then pay off the rest six weeks before your trip. Other tour companies include Intrepid Travel, Contiki, Top Deck and Gecko Adventures.

Research

Guidebooks

What’s the best way to research a trip and figure out where you want to go?

Grab a Lonely Planet guide. I usually borrow these from the library (those books are expensive!) Lonely Planet is filled with great suggestions on things to see, do, eat and where to stay.

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is also a great way to research. You can see the most popular attractions in a city and get reviews on tours. TripAdvisor is also another tool where you can check out reviews of hotels or hostels.

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