In the last seven months, I’ve visited nine countries, flown on 12 airplanes, embarked on 8 long-distance buses and 12 long-distance trains, volunteered, house-sat, and stayed in more than 13 different people’s homes. Whew!
For the most part, I use (or have used) and endorse all the travel applications and websites listed here. They are part of my regular routine of travel; be it managing finances and websites, to booking travel, to saving money and finding volunteer opportunities.
Here’s a collection of useful travel applications and websites that will help you make your own travels a smooth ride.
Booking flights is one of my least favourite travel tasks. But I’m pretty good at it, since I can often save up to 70% of the cost of airfare with some hard-earned leg-work. A few tips include booking through the airline themselves, since the after-service (if there are problems) is much easier than going through an internet portal with minimal customer service and likely extra booking fees.
Which Budget is one of the tools I use to locate budget airlines that are flying my desired route (or something close to it) that might not have been picked up with a larger flight search engine. Once I know the budget airlines, I head directly to those airline sites to see what sorts of deals I can find.
Nothing can ruin a long-haul (or even a short-haul) flight more than a truly crappy seat. Likewise, your flight could be a dream if you had the right seat. Seat Guru will show you the exact airplane you’re flying in based on the airline and route, and will alert you to the good seats, the bad seats, and the seats with cautionary notes. I use this site while I check-in online for flights, so I can choose the best available seat.
Booking Overland Travel
Whenever I can, I’ll travel overland instead of in the air. Here’s how:
The Man in Seat Sixty-One
As a train travel evangelist, The Man in Seat61 is a dream come true. Dedicated to overland travel, you’ll find out how to navigate the rails, buses, and even ferry networks around the world. There are detailed descriptions on how to book the most cost-effective travel, and lots of information about what to expect of the journey.
One of the ways I keep my travel costs low is to volunteer in trade for my accommodation (and sometimes food). Here are some of the resources I’ve found gigs through:
The Caretaker Gazette
The Caretaker Gazette remains one of my favourite publications for finding work-trade gigs. The quarterly newsletter (and weekly email updates) is jam-packed with opportunities all over the world, varying from picking fruit, to managing hostels or campgrounds, to trail maintenance, to caring for the elderly, to ranch hands, and on and on it goes. The common thread among all listings is that they are for people who wish to work in trade for their accommodation expenses.
Through The Caretaker Gazette, I found a place where I volunteered in Hawaii for 2.5 months learning to live “off the grid”, and another place where I stayed for 7 months in the countryside north of Melbourne, caring for animals, cleaning cottages, and landscaping.
I particularly like the format of the newsletters, since they showcase opportunities all over the world (unlike WWOOFing, where you can only apply one country at a time). I’m willing to travel based on an intriguing work-trade opportunity, and The Caretaker Gazette gives me lots of fodder.
House Carers is brilliant for finding house-sitting opportunities. There are listings all over the world, and once you’re a member you can set up email notifications of house-sitting jobs that become available in the countries, time frames, and durations of your preference.
It was through House Carers that I found my house-and-dog-sitting gig in Hampshire, England, and enjoyed the cozy feeling of “’home” for a few weeks. It’s a fabulous way to secure free accommodation and create lots of time to work on a craft, be it artistic or entrepreneurial in nature. House-sitting is a location independent person’s dream come true!
I used Grow Food (when it was still known as Organic Volunteers) to locate a hostel in Hawaii where I worked in trade for accommodation for four months. Although the platform caters mostly to farm-hand opportunities, there’s a fair bit of variety in there, and it’s worth a peek.
Although I can’t attest to EcoTeer myself, I have a few friends who are currently volunteering in Africa, having found the opportunity through this service. If you’ve tried it or have experience, please let us know in the comments!
The Hospitality Club
Similar to couchsurfing, The Hospitality Club is a hospitality exchange site that connects travelers with homes to stay in while they’re abroad. It’s a great way to experience a slice of local life, and for the hosts to show off their home town and connect with travelers. I’ve used The Hospitality Club for a few exchanges in Australia and some valuable information in Asia.
Online Storage and Work
A fellow travel blogger lost all the photos on his site when the server crashed. After that point (and many days of hard work to reestablish the links), he stopped relying on his server and started hosting his photos online. This has the added benefits of being a backup for photos, taking up less space on the server (to allow web pages to load quickly), and is even a great platform to sell photos if you so choose to. Here’s an excellent breakdown of the various photo hosting services, what they offer, and how much they cost.
I chose Zenfolio because it gives me the best bang for my membership buck, and has a reliable fast server for uploading photos. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can set up a free trial account.
And if you choose to go with a subscription program, use the following referral code to get $5 off!
Word Press is fantastic for setting up and managing a travel blog (or any blog for that matter). You can create a marginally flexible site for free directly on the Word Press platform, or you can host your own domain using Word Press as your platform for uploading posts and managing the site. (I recommend getting your own domain if you eventually want to monetize it) It’s highly customizable with many simple plug-ins and lots of information available on building and monetizing your blog.
Host Gator is one of the major providers of domain names and hosting services. I use them for both my domain and hosting, and I’ve been quite pleased. Server problems have been minimal, and tech support is very knowledgeable and patient when there are glitches (even if the glitch is on my computer and not the server).
If you’re ready to go for a hosting package, you can get $10 off the package price by using the following coupon code:
Paypal is an essential tool for location independent entrepreneurs to get paid or receive donations. For increased security, I use their two-factor authentication security button, to reduce the chances that my account can be compromised by adding an additional level of security on log-in. Here’s some more information about protecting your laptop computer and other sensitive information abroad, including password storage options.
XE is one of the most user-friendly currency converters I have found. And because I can juggle up to 10 different currencies in the course of one year (all of which requires reconciling at tax time), this tool is invaluable to me when I manage the books each month.
Budget Your Trip
Budget Your Trip is a free tool that is an excellent way to budget for and keep track of your travel expenses. You can analyze the data many different ways to learn where you’re spending your travel dollars and how far they can go in various countries.
Miscellaneous Travel Tools
Since my humble beginnings in the world of frequent flyer miles, I have amassed numerous frequent flyer membership numbers and programs that are getting onerous to manage. Although there are many critics of Points.com, it is a free service that allows me to see most of my frequent flyer mile balances in one place. Periodic deals also come available for transferring miles from one program to another or the like.
iTravelFree (for iPhone/iTouch/iPad)
I’ve just downloaded iTravelFree so the jury is still out, but it appears to be a great way to access maps and other wiki-travel information both online and offline, which is fabulous for iTouch users like me who have trouble finding free wifi spots.
What travel applications and websites do you use to make your travels go smoothly?
Editor’s Note: There are some affiliate links in this post. I only included them for services I use and endorse, and it doesn’t increase your own cost to use the links.