All things are ready, if our mind be so – William Shakespeare
Traveling to new places can be both exhilarating an unbelievably rewarding. Conversely, without proper preparation, traveling to a new country or unfamiliar place can also be a source of great anxiety and in the worst case, dangerous. A tiny incident can easily snowball into a disaster. Preparation and research will make all the difference between a mediocre trip to a great one. As well, as much as we would like to bring with us all the conceivable comforts of home, a great trip is one where you’re not bogged down by over-packing. Freeing clutter, is freeing your mind. One of the tenets of traveling-pack light!
I’ve compiled a list of resources that we feel will help you pick your next dream destination, mitigate the unforeseen, assist in preparations and planning, find the coolest traveling gear, and most importantly, save money. Travel cheap, travel smart, and travel safe.
Many of these sites, I’ve had phenomenal experiences with. Worthy of mention are the sharing recommendations. Not only do they lessen the financial impact of traveling, they also provides fantastic opportunities to meet like minded adventurers facilitating experiences otherwise not found in guidebooks.
Part of the preparation process that I thoroughly enjoy is the gearing up. Being a bit of a gear junkie myself, I’m always in search of the most awesome light-weight gadgets and clothing. What’s needed is always determined by destination, activity and desire. You can find anything you need at these sites:
Brick and mortar stores throughout the US with great membership benefits and points program. Great selection of everything you need, and even their in-house brand is high quality. Awesome return policy.
A huge reputable online emporium of gear. . Decent and reasonable return policy on used and unused equipment. Truly a site for the avid adventurer.
Tons of products at good prices. They primarily sell sports and outdoor gear, but oddly have a section for home goods as well. I’m not complaining. After 3 months beating down mountains and eating dry food, returning to a decked out home, sounds pretty good to me.
As much as we try, it’s hard to completely disconnect from the grid at times. Roam4less has affordable World SIM Cards, and World phones to keep you connected when traveling the wide wide world. You can monitor usage onsite, as well as recharge when necessary. They aren’t the cheapest, but after traveling through SE Asia and Europe using their service, they are certainly the most dependable.
I love hostels and community sharing services. Both are fantastic opportunities to meet new people, and really be part of the vibe that makes travel so fun. For a fraction of the cost of hotels, hostels now offer clean private rooms, food, and free wifi. Although the price range of hostels have slowly begun to creep north, they are still a fraction of what you would pay at hotels. Here are some of my favorite services:
An amazing community of people all over the world willing to open their home’s to like minded travelers. Couchsurfing.com is a great way to travel on the cheap while meeting locals and making new friends. They do take safety seriously, so stay informed, but don’t be afraid to use them.
Technically this could be considered more voluntourism then it does accommodations, as you do offer part of your day to help around the farm. In exchange though, you are provided food and accommodations. Experiences do differ depending on the host, but personally I had an amazing host that made my Italian immersion complete.
Like the name suggests, you can find customer reviewed quality hostels in thousands of destinations worldwide. A very good resource for anyone looking for budget accommodations. They have no booking fees and they take their “lowest price guarantee” quite seriously. I used them religiously while traveling through SE Asia without any hiccups.
A very dependable hotel booking site. They don’t offer the cheapest results, but their customer service does make up for the price at times, making quite the difference when traveling overseas or when you’re in a pinch. I use them on occasion to supplement my choices.
I haven’t used this site personally, but I really like the concept. Basically the company helps facilitate a “home swap” with other travelers. There is a monthly fee to be a member. Again, I’ve never used them personally, so I can’t honestly share any relevant experience.
A membership based hostelling group with destinations worldwide. Hostels in this group do need to meet minimum standards of safety, quality and location. Not absolutely necessary, but certainly doesn’t hurt to have additional budget options especially when traveling with family.
This resource is certainly subjective. Wherever you may go, there is no limit on how to travel or how to get from point A to point B. Within each country, options abound. I’ve listed the main resources for macro planning.
A meta search engine for flights, cars, hotels and even vacation packages on trips originating from the US. Great service for quick comparison shopping across multiple companies.
Another great search engine to include when planning your travels. Use in conjunction with other search engines to increase your choices and chance to find the best price.
One of the cheaper flight, cars and hotel search engines I’ve used. Results are noticeably cheaper, providing options across major carriers and budget carriers.
An international fare specialists. Like all, travel sites, you can search for every facet of travel you need, but Vayama touts themselves as being uniquely focused on international travel. I have seen significantly cheaper fares when compared to other search engines.
Like the name suggests, this site monitors US airlines for changes in ticket price and deals. Be sure to sign up for their fare alerts and newsletter. You can never get enough information.
This site has a very interesting business model, and really worth watching. With some clever planning and flexibility you can definitely find significantly cheaper flights. The service takes advantage of “hidden city ticketing” whereby your target destination is enroute to the final destination. Since ticket prices are based on market forces and not necessarily distance traveled, skiplagged takes this under consideration and finds the best prices. There are risks though. So read through their policies and stay informed.
Europe is best traveled by train. With tracks crisscrossing all across the continent, you’re almost certainly going to find yourself on a train more than once. With a rail pass, your life not only gets easier, but you’ll save tons of money for your beer budget. On my 4 month trip through Europe, I saved easily hundreds of dollar; and you will too!
For those who love traveling via train and ferry, this website by Mark Smith is the definitive site for all things rail. An incredible resource to find routes, ticket prices, times, and status anywhere in the world. A must for the overland traveler.
Covers probably any destination and activity you can think of. Policies are exceptionally accommodating, allowing claims while still traveling. Company also has worldwide service for emergencies, and also covers your gear! Also did I mention the traveling community loves them? Read the fine print though. No two policies are ever the same.
Guidebooks (Lonely Planet)
Personally I use Lonely Planet. However, there are literally hundreds of guide books to choose from, and I can’t honestly say one is better than the other. Preference would be wholly dependent on your style of travel, the writing style of the guide book itself, and cost.
Reason I do like the Lonely Planet series: they have a very casual and easy to follow style of writing; they offer great suggestions for the backpacker; they include cultural expectations such as tipping etiquette; and they have individual destinations or compilations of regions in digital format. Their city guides also have detailed maps, including suggestions on modes of travels to the most far reaching places.
But as with all guidebooks take it merely as a loose framework and find your adventure outside of it.
What better way to learn about a destination than from a friendly local? With Vayable you can request a trip from a local “Vayable insider” to cultivate an experience of a lifetime. All guides are non-commercial and range from writers, historians students to farmers, dancers and more. Best of all, you’ll make new friends in the process.
From their website: WWOOF organizations link people who want to volunteer on organic farms or smallholdings with people who are looking for volunteer help. WWOOF aims to provide volunteers with first-hand experience in organic and ecologically sound growing methods, to help the organic movement, and to let volunteers experience life in a rural setting or a different country. WWOOF volunteers (‘WWOOFers’) generally do not receive financial payment. The host provides food, accommodation, and opportunities to learn, in exchange for assistance with farming or gardening activities.
Vacation Booking companies
Unless you’re one of the fortunate few who already have their favorite “secret” campsite hideaway, finding the perfect campsite can be tantamount to mission impossible. Lucky for you, I’ve put together a guide “camping preparedness, along with the below resources:
Great site providing a broad overview of all National Parks managed by the Federal National Park Service. Regular updates on weather and park conditions are also included.
Each state manages their own parks and accordingly have their own websites and policies. I’ve prepared the page, “state parks” consolidating all their websites by regions. Go here for detailed information on fees and regulations.
One of the biggest problems of choosing a campsite is trying to pick one based on a campsite number. Campsitephotos.com combats this problem through their huge library of actual campsite photos. Organized by park and site number, you can easily reference the precise site on campsite reservation portals. Public and RV campgrounds also included.
Reservations are highly recommended during high season at most National and State parks, and can be made at either of these 2 sites:
Backpacking is quickly becoming one of the most popular styles of camping. Offering unparalleled scenic vistas and solitude, the journey is sometimes more rewarding than the destinations. Finding the perfect trail that satisfies all your objectives can be very daunting. With hundreds of crisscrossing paths throughout the US, knowing trail information in advance is worth it’s weight in gear.
Day hikes and overnight hikes galore! From national parks to city hikes, this site has it all. Great functionality including offline TOPO maps for smartphone users. You can also create and share your own hiking experience with the community.
This site is an awesome idea that incorporates our love for watching and sharing videos! Videos are of great quality and provide visual answers to the questions we’re all asking. Somewhat limited in their inventory of available trails, what they do offer is still top notch! I’m going to enjoy watching these guys expand their offerings.
A bit more commercial than the previous recommendation, this site is very sleek and provides ample information and detailed guides. You do have to sign up for a free account to view the guides.
Literally a ton of information, with a forum to boot. Site navigation can be a little overwhelming, but information provided is exceptionally valuable. Make sure to add this site as part of your planning repertoire.
I like this site because It’s real people sharing real trips. Although some of the entries are not as detailed as some of the other sites, they offer a practical, and often entertaining overview on what can be expected in the wild. Every experience is beautiful and unique, and it’s spirit is captured in these personal entries.
Dog Friendly destinations/Dog Friendly guides
Some trips by their nature are not conducive to bringing along fido. However, there are times when fido needs a vacation just as much as you do, and bringing them along becomes a requirement, not an option. Here are some links that aggregate dog friendly destinations and facilities:
Fantastic resource that functions better than it looks. Don’t get thrown off by the “directory” feel of the site as it offers valuable information for dog friendly hotels, dog city guides, parks, attractions and more across the US and the world.
Another awesome resource site for all-things-pets incorporated in a familiar interface. Bringfido providers an additional service where you can speak to a Pet expert who will assist in planning Rover’s ultimate getaway. Services are worldwide, with an existing community to bounce questions and ideas off of.
For the wilderness aficionado, hikewithyourdog.com compiles a list of pet friendly trails across the State and National parks in the US. The site is very bare bones, but a good place to start in your research.
Need more information? Want to do some comparison shopping? Pettravel.com, providers yet even more info to ensure your pets are happy and well cared for. They also have a Pet travel store to gear out your pup.
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