Last week, I wrote a post that listed my favourite travel websites, the ones I go to when I’m looking for plane tickets, train reservations and cruise vacations. But there’s more to travel than getting there, so this week I’m going to give you my favourite travel sites when it comes to hotels, other accommodations, and general travel information.
There are hundreds of hotel sites out there; the 15 you’ll find in my hotel resources page just scratches the surface. And when you’re looking for a hotel, it’s always a good idea to check more than one site, since you never know where the best deal will pop up. But you can’t use 100 sites to plan every trip, so generally I find myself going back to a handful of favourites. On the same note, there’s a world of travel advice on the web, but when I’m looking for authoritative info on destinations and such, I’ve narrowed it down to a few sites I’ve found helpful and trustworthy.
So here’s my second list of favourite travel websites that I use frequently. I hope you find them useful. And if you have a favourite that’s a real winner and isn’t listed in my resources section, leave a comment and let me know about it.
As I’ve said, it’s always a good idea to check multiple hotel sites. But that’s a lot of work, so increasingly, I use an aggregator site. And the one I choose is usually Trivago. It lets you search using a number of criteria, including type of room, amenities and type of trip. Results show competing bids and ratings from the different hotel sites. Click on an offer and it sends you to the booking site in question. There’s also a handy map views, showing where all the hotels are; click on the box at top left.
If I’m going to use one particular hotel site, this is the one I generally go for. It searches 290,000 hotels worldwide, plus the odd Airbnb-style property. There are links to Tripadvisor reviews and a map view, which I find often turns up better choices than the listings. As well, regular users get lower, “secret” prices. But the best feature is that for every 10 nights I book, I get one night free (in reality, a dollar credit, based on the average value of the hotels I’ve booked). If you travel frequently as I do, that’s a 10-percent discount on every booking. I’ve had several free nights from Hotels.com, and I’m close to another.
This giant of the travel world offers almost every kind of booking, as I explained in last week’s post. But I find it particularly useful for finding hotels, as well as flights. I can search based on criteria like location, amenities and meal plans, and I like its handy “distance from downtown” button. Expedia has its own user reviews, which seem genuine based on the number of negative ones I see. And as a member, I get Expedia points, which may be worth something one day. I’m also a fan of the “flight + hotel” feature, which lets you build your own vacation package. You get to pick the flight and the hotel you prefer, and save a few dollars by bundling. One drawback: these tend to be non-cancellable.
This is an aggregator site like Trivago, but it’s even more of a generalist because it includes Airbnb along with the hotel booking sites it surveys. As well, it has a unique and useful interface, which presents the list of accommodations side by side with a map that shows their locations, plus landmarks and transit stops. You can refine your search using a long list of criteria, including distance from a landmark, amenities, hotel chain and accessibility. Like Trivago, it sends you to the originating hotel site to book.
If I want a hotel with something extra — like some history, some atmosphere, and a fascinating story or two — this unique site has just the thing. Into History offers a great selection of vintage inns, cottages, hotels and even castles around Europe. You can search by country, accommodation type, building type, period, price and themes like “adventure and mysteries” or “life in a castle”. Some of the properties are amazing. with histories that reach back hundreds of years. Some of the country manors and castles are best visited by car.
This is the most famous “homestay” accommodation site, with extensive listings of homes in 190 countries worldwide. The cheapest places are just a room in someone’s house or apartment; the more expensive ones give you the whole home. I’ve found bargain accommodations in expensive cities using this site, but be aware that the added cleaning fee and booking fee can push the price well above the one that’s advertised. I’m still a bit ambiguous about Airbnb because it rents places that shouldn’t be used as hotels, but while that gets straightened out, I’ll use it. (If you do want to sign up, use this link and we’ll both get a $45 Cdn discount.)
There are a lot of sites out there that let people swap homes for a week or two, but this unique British site deals exclusively with exchanges between baby boomers. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel more comfortable having some boomers in my place than someone younger, or a family with rambunctious kids. The site has a good number of listings in Europe, North America, Asia, and even Africa, plus a few in Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s open to North Americans, and I’ve signed up myself, but haven’t yet done an exchange. A one-year membership costs 49 British pounds.
Paris is one of my favourite destinations — and very likely one of yours. But finding an affordable hotel room can be tricky in this expensive city. Paris Address has an extensive listing of apartments in all parts of the city, even in the most desirable areas, like the Champs Elysées. The apartments vary from tiny studios to luxury digs, and most have cooking facilities. And surprisingly, many are priced comparably to a hotel room. You can search by district or landmark, and for long or short-term stays. I haven’t used Paris Address yet, but my colleague Maarten Heilbron, of the popular Maartech youtube channel, is a happy customer.
If Cuba is your destination, this is a good place to find accommodations. It doesn’t always have the best price on big hotels, but I’ve found it a good source for getting the real Cuban experience. In part, that means booking homestays, or casas particulares, as the Cubans call them; for these, you’re usually forwarded to Homestay.com. There’s also lots of information on the different vacation spots all over the island, including things like excursions and restaurants, and the site has apps as well.
Tripadvisor has become a conglomerate, and it’s now all about selling you hotel rooms in addition to reviewing them. But it’s still my mainstay for checking out hotels I’m considering; there’s nothing like first-hand reports from hotel guests, especially when they add their photos and tips. Reviews can vary wildly for the same hotel, and there are claims that some reviews are fake. So it’s best to read several and get an average.
The Lonely Planet website, once the bible for budget travellers, is another site that has become a marketing tool for the brand’s travel guides and tours. But I still go there for its free primers on destinations around the world. You can click on just about any country and get an introduction, basic survival tips, maps and info on the major cities. And if you want specific information, you can try the Thorn Tree forums, still up and running. The lush photos and descriptions help get me excited about the places I’m going, too — just like the Lonely Planet guides did back in the old days. I still buy the books, too, and here’s why.
This is a great resource when I need detailed info on my next destination. It has a wealth of information on every apart of the world, mostly delivered through articles like “How to plan the perfect trip to Madrid”. There’s info about hotels, transport, attractions, day trips, and most other things you can think of. You can find out what the weather is like when you’re going to visit, and what events are scheduled during the month. As well, Tripsavvy has tips on things like packing, travel insurance and safety, and “inspiration” sections on food travel, beaches and islands, sustainable travel — the list goes on. I only discovered Tripsavvy recently, but it’s fast becoming one of my favourite travel sites.
I hope these listings will give you a few new resources to use the next time you’re ready to travel. The internet is an amazing tool for trip planning, but it can be hard to find exactly where to look. So I’m happy to erect a sign post by sharing some of my favourite travel sites. Use them in good health.