Saturday, 8 June 2013

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TInd suggests the top 50 websites for the savvy traveller.  Once again we've not made the cut, so what do they know?

Not the London Transport card but “a refreshingly honest booking site that sends its own investigators to review and rate hotels and take warts-andall photos,” says Mark Hodson. “Its ‘photo fakeouts’ are a great feature: brochure images laid side-by-side with real traveller photos. Coverage is not extensive, but it is excellent on big cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and New York.”
Gogobot
“It’s hard to describe Gogobot and do it any justice,” says Abigail King. “It’s ‘Facebook for travel’ but it’s better than that. You can easily create trip itineraries by browsing through reviews and then add your own thoughts on your return. But the real gem is the advice you’ll get from other users when you post a focused question. It took me a long time to start using it because no one described it well. Don’t make the same mistake.”
In Your Pocket
“Entertaining and honest (at times devastatingly so), the In Your Pocket city guides make their rivals seem tame by comparison,” says Glen Mutel. “More than 100 European cities have been given the treatment, and all the key content from the print editions has been collated on this well-organised and userfriendly website. It also includes a series of YouTube vignettes.”
Eater
“I discovered this site while planning a New York trip, but it covers cities across the USA,” says Pat Riddell. “You can spend hours ogling the ‘38 essential burgers across the country’ or, for more localised content, a map of where to eat brunch in Manhattan as well as endless reviews of restaurants.”
Adioso
“This is a flight search engine for people who are flexible on when they fly,” says Mark. “So you can type in a request such as, ‘London to Los Angeles leaving next week under £800’ and see what comes up. If the fares are too high, you can set an email alert that will let you know when the price reaches your budget. It’s intuitive, fun to use and nicely designed.”
Skyscanner
“Skyscanner faithfully pulls in airfares into an easy-to-search, easy-to-use flight finder and fare comparison website,” says Abigail. “What sets it apart is the number of ways you can filter your search results. You can narrow it right down to a preferred airline, flight duration and departure time or go wild and search for ‘anywhere in the UK’ to ‘anywhere in France’. It’s an essential part of my travel armoury.”
The Man in Seat 61
“If you’re fed up with flights and like the idea of seeing the word through a train carriage window, Mark Smith (the Man in Seat 61) will lovingly spoonfeed you all the information you need,” says Glen. “Just click on the relevant country and you’ll be shown how to reach each of its key cities by rail, plus how to book, how much it’s likely to cost and even the times of your trains.”
Skypicker
“On a budget? If you’re not too fussed which airport to fly from or to, tell Skypicker when you want to go, and for how long, then pick any country in Europe and it’ll give you a list of the cheapest flights,” says Pat. “There’s no messing around working out which airports are the best option.”
About London
“Laura Porter, the mastermind behind this particular branch of theabout.com franchise, clearly loves London and knows her city well,” says Abigail. “She has a knack for seeking out the unusual as well as providing plenty of practical tips. Although the website isn’t the prettiest, the information you’ll find is always worthwhile.”
“Covering England, Scotland, Wales and France, Cool Camping is a painstakingly researched site with a lot of personality,” says Glen. “Its key selling point is a flexible and refined search function, which allows you to search by location, comfort level, specific facilities or local activities – you can even search for campsites that are near to a beach or a short walk from a pub.”
Skift
“A site for travel geeks, Skift offers everything from the latest Qantas cabin uniforms to infographics, pithy comments, destination updates as well as breaking news,” says Pat. “If there’s a travel story, there’s a usually an opinion on it here.”
Rome 2 Rio
“A door-to-door travel search engine that shows times, prices and even carbon emissions, whether you plan to fly, drive, take the train, bus or ferry,” says Mark. “For example, it’s a two-hour flight from Gatwick to Venice, but from my front door to Piazza San Marco will take six hours 24 minutes, apparently, including a 41-minute ferry ride to Ospedale, followed by an 18-minute walk. Getting to the Falkland Islands would take me 31 hours 40 minutes. It’s a fun and addictive site, but it can be beaten: it couldn’t find a way from my house to the South Pole.”
“Attracted by the name back in my student days, I’ve been a fan ever since,” says Abigail. “The chirpy website provides five-star deals at three-star prices through its ‘top secret hotel’ deals (you only see the hotel’s name once you’ve agreed to pay.) Its flight and spa packages are pretty good, too, and in all my years of using it, it’s never let me down.”
Mr & Mrs Smith
“After a romantic getaway in the perfect boutique hotel? Then check out Mr & Mrs Smith for inspiration before you book,” says Abigail. “Nothing whatsoever to do with the Brad and Angelina film, Mr & Mrs Smith rounds up and road tests the most stylish boutique hotels they can find. So you know that if you book one of theirs, you’re in for a treat.”
Gadling
“There are plenty of newsy travel websites out there, but I particularly like Gadling’s unpredictable scattergun approach,” says Glen. “For example, I’ve just given it a quick glance and the first three stories I saw covered the graffiti of Barcelona, wing-suit diving and Carnival’s multi-million pound safety programme. It’s the travel equivalent of an iPod shuffle button.”
TripAdvisor
“Love it or hate it, TripAdvisor is the daddy of hotel review websites,” says Mark. “Yes, it can be manipulated by unscrupulous hoteliers, but it has such a large bank of hotel reviews that the occasional bad one rarely influences the overall score. And it’s not just hotels – reviews of restaurants and tourist attractions are generally reliable, too. Its smartphone app is particularly good too.”
Hipmunk
“Kayak and Skyscanner go without saying,” says Pat. “This new travel-logistics upstart was founded by an MIT graduate and the co-founder of Reddit. Designed ‘to take the agony out of travel planning’, Hipmunk shows flight results in a visual ‘timeline’ and hotel results on a map. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference.”
XE
“Get instant currency conversions on the web or – better still – on your phone,” says Mark. “Enter the country you are visiting, then every time you tap in an amount, it will be displayed in sterling. The site uses mid-market rates, which are not the same as you’ll get from your bank, but there’s no quicker or easier way to check prices abroad.”
AA Route Planner
“Available to members and non-members alike, the AA website includes a free route planner that goes beyond the UK into the rest of Europe,” says Abigail. “It’s perfect for checking driving times, distances, and other useful tools include lists on what you’ll need for driving in different countries, from snow chains to fluorescent jackets.”
Londonist
“London-centric, obviously, but with almost endless content about the capital’s entertainment, nightlife,politics, transport and arts,” says Pat. “Why are there buttons on Tube train doors? 10 illegal things to do in London, a map of London’s cocktail bars… You’ll never be ‘tired of London’ with Londonist at your fingertips.”
Secret London
“An ideal accompaniment to Time Out, this site focuses on those odd little details that give London its charm,” says Glen. “Spend half an hour here and you’ll soon be able to impress friends by pointing out abandoned train stations, soliloquising on the different types of post box, and the pinpointing the exact location of the statue of Dr Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge (it’s in Gough Square, near Fleet Street).”
Weather2Travel
“Some travel brochures and tour operator websites have selected climate information, but it can be misleading,” says Mark. “For detailed climate information about any destination, Weather2Travel is the place to go. It shows everything from humidity levels to sea temperatures, for any month of the year, as well as the current conditions and forecast for the following day.”
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
“The leader in the world of special escapes, Small Luxury Hotels of the World is exactly as the name suggests,” says Abigail. “In addition to vetting boutique hotels for you, its membership scheme provides extra perks such as free upgrades, late check-ins and sometimes wine on arrival.”
i-escape
“This is one of those websites that’s as fun to browse as it is to book with,” says Glen. “With its clever dossier-style layout, i-escape is a joy to use, whether you’re just looking to find out more about a destination, or actually planning to try out one of its eclectic selection of recommended hotels (it tends to favour the quirky over chain properties).”
Airlinemeals.net
“What’s for dinner? Airlinemeals.net has been going since 2001, but now has more than 25,000 images of inflight food – from economy to first class, the delectable to the disgusting, there’s pictures from almost 650 airlines,” says Pat. “Perhaps not enough to change your mind but certainly, ahem, food for thought.”
WeLove2Ski
“There’s a lot of ski information on the web, much of it badly written or out-of-date,” says Mark. “WeLove2Ski is put together by specialist travel writers and is packed with balanced resort reviews, snow reports and advice on everything from technique to clothing. It’s the best all-round ski website.”
The Weekenders
“As a rule, I like sites that assume people have only a vague idea what they’re after,” says Glen. “This site, which specialises in UK short breaks, is a good example. If you want, say, a child-friendly break for roughly under £180, somewhere in the south, type this in and it’ll do your thinking for you. And there are plenty of creative suggestions on offer – for example, the home page is currently trying to entice me with a weekend in Broadchurch.”
Accuweather
“It does exactly what it says on the tin,” says Pat. “What’s the weather in Melbourne next week, if it will rain in Buenos Aires tomorrow, how hot will it be at 3pm in Cape Town… Accuweather pretty much ensures you’ll know what to pack and what to wear. Still no guarantees, of course.”
Hotel Guru
“Hotel search websites can be a bit overwhelming – it’s easy to get lost among the thousands of suggestions,” says Glen. “Hotel Guru cuts through all of this by cherry-picking what it considers to be the best on offer. I particularly like random ‘ideas to inspire you’ countdowns (e.g. top 10 chic London hotels, or cheap and charming Parisian dives). If times were better, they’d be just the things to encourage an impulse buy or two.”
Dropbox
“You might already use Dropbox for backing up files and using across different devices – desktop, mobile, tablet, etc. – but it’s also a great photo-sharing platform without any of the gimmicks of the wannabe social sites,” says Pat. “Create a folder of photos and simply send a link to share with friends; no downloads, no log-ins, just view.”
“Most travel writers have their own blog site these days and there’s a huge spectrum of quality,” says Glen. “But 501 Places (a blog on Palau nset), by Andy Jarosz, is one of my favourites. If you play around with it for five minutes, I guarantee you’ll find something you want to read.”
CDC Travel Health
“This is THE website my doctor friends swear by when it comes to getting trustworthy travel health advice,” says Abigail. “Of course, you should always consult your own healthcare professional, but this website can give you a crucial heads-up when it comes to working out what vaccines you’ll need. It also provides the latest news on travel health updates country by country and region by region. Essential reading.”
“If you’d rather not fly – whether you hate the experience or worry about your carbon footprint – Green Traveller is packed with holiday ideas,” says Mark. “There’s everything from yurt camps in the south of France to ski touring in Scotland, all of which you can reach by train, coach or ferry. The site is well-designed and written by expert journalists.”
“On yer bike! Cycling charity Sustrans has a national cycle network spanning 14,000 miles of walking and cycling routes,” says Pat. “Just enter a postcode or a route and its map delivers all your available options.”
Context Travel
“An afternoon with Context will change your impression of guided tours forever,” says Abigail. “Context recruits academics who are passionate about their subject and who live in the area they’re working in. Thus, you’ll find experts on the Cold War in Berlin and architectural experts tracking down Roman remains in central London. In-depth, informed and interesting, these walking tours are simply outstanding.”
The Festival Calendar
“With the huge number of spring, summer and autumn festivals currently running in the UK and Europe, it’s quite handy to be able to see, at a glance, what’s on offer,” says Glen. “This site has a good level of detail, particularly handy for smaller festivals, many of which have near useless websites of their own.”
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office Travel Advice Guide
“While it may not be the most exciting recommendation, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website still earns a place on my essential travel checklist,” says Abigail. “Problems abroad change fast and it’s always good to have reliable advice on what you’re dealing with. In addition to the latest security alerts and some travel health advice, you’ll find useful tips on what you can pack in your hand luggage plus the necessary emergency information should the worst occur while you’re away.”
Hostel World
“I love hostels, but the quality can vary wildly,” says Glen. “Hostel World runs the rule over an enormous selection of properties covering almost every city you could ever want to visit. It’s simple to use and easy to understand, with a great level of detail – and it makes it wonderfully easy to avoid the fleapits.”
“Rather than rely on an outdated guidebook, Spotted By Locals allows you to get tips from insiders,” says Mark. “Locals in 40 European cities blog about their favourite restaurants, bars, shops and festivals – it’s like having a friend show you the best spots. You can buy a PDF guide to each city or download the free smartphone app.”
The Bald Hiker
“An impressively comprehensive blog from travel writer Paul Steele, who seems to have roped in a legion of chums to help him cover as much of the world as possible,” says Glen. “A good spread of destinations, angles and styles make it an easy site to lose yourself in.”
The Grumpy Traveller
“Travel writer David Whitley’s online magazine has been growing steadily since he relaunched last summer,” says Pat. “It’s not always grumpy and it’s not even always travel, but his prolific output means there’s always something worth reading, whether it’s a guide to Edinburgh or a rant about journalists on Twitter.”
The Everywhereist
“Seattle-based writer Geraldine follows her husband around the world as he travels for work, blogging as she goes,” says Abigail. “That alone doesn’t make her site stand apart but her acidic observations and slicing sense of humour do. If you’re looking for entertainment, a dash of history and the occasional truly poignant moment, then tune into the Everywhereist.”
“This is a surprisingly useful site that does far more than merely catalogue National Trust properties,” says Glen. “It’s basically a planning kit for days out in the UK, with itineraries, a ‘what’s on’ guide and a very handy activities section covering walking, cycling, running, camping and horse riding.”
Travelfish
This independent guide to southeast Asia is well-written, packed with hard-earned information, opinionated and up-to-date,” says Mark. “Along with an authored guide, it contains user reviews, forums, blogs and general advice, mainly aimed at budget travellers. Arguably better than the big-name publishers.”
I Fly
“Covering practically every airport in the world, iFly.com isn’t the most exciting-looking website around,” says Pat. “But it makes up for this in invaluable information with terminal maps, airports, ‘layover ideas’ – essentially all you need to know about that obscure, or not-so-obscure, airport you might find yourself in.”
Travellers Point
“One of the world’s largest travel community sites, Travellers Point features 30,000 blogs and more than 1.4 million photos,” says Mark. “It has active forums where you can ask just about anything, plus a neat travel planning widget. Starting up your own blog takes seconds.”
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum
“Barely a question goes unanswered here, from snapping up a last-minute visa to Burma/Myanmar from inside central Vietnam to crossing between Bulgaria and Serbia when the trains are on strike,” says Abigail. “Stuck with a thorny travel problem? Check out the archives on Thorn Tree or post a question there yourself.”
Tingo
“This sister brand to TripAdvisor automatically rebooks you at the lower rate if your hotel drops its price – and then refunds the difference,” says Pat. “It’s not a unique proposition but could begin to challenge the way online hotel booking operates.”
Airbnb
“The idea behind Airbnb is simple: rather than stay at a hotel, you can rent somebody’s spare room,” says Mark. “Since it launched in 2008, it has become a global phenomenon, with more than 300,000 listings in 192 countries. Not just spare rooms, but apartments, family houses, villas, treehouses, you name it. The site is simple and easy to use, with lots of photographs, user reviews and star ratings.”
Environmental Graffiti
“A wonderfully eclectic collection of bizarre images and topical oddities, all gathered together under the fairly loose banner of environmental news,” says Glen. “Lots of interesting snippets, from pieces on ‘the phenomenon of whistled languages’ to pictures of ‘the lake that drowned a thriving tourist village’.”
Best for... Honest reviews
Oyster - It shares a name with the London Tube card but this website specialises in warts and all reviews of hotels. The Miami section is excellent
Best for... The planet
Green Traveller - Want to see the world without destroying it? This site is packed with great ideas for those that want to travel with a tiny carbon footprint. Well worth a look
Best for... Insider info
Spotted By Locals - Forget guide books and the big websites, this site hosts blogs from local residents telling you where (and where not) to visit

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