Travel isn’t always as pretty as it looks. While social media would make us think otherwise, these platforms offer a very one sided image of the travel experience. What these sights do not show you is what is happening behind the scenes. While no traveler will ever hit the road without a few bumps along the way, these words of advise should make your travels a little easier and smoother.
Depending on what you are looking for, you should use different sites when searching for accommodation. For Claire and I, we usually are searching for the best value within our budget so we will check more than one of these sites in any given location.
Waiting until you arrive at your destination and looking for a deal usually doesn’t work anymore. Most accommodation sights have rules that accommodations have to follow including not being able to offer lower prices than they list on their sights. With more hotels and hostels using these sights, finding a better deal off off these search sights is becoming harder to find. Below are the sights we use for different types of accommodation.
This website focuses mostly on hotels but also will show you some hostels and bed and breakfasts. It is an easy to use website and allows you to filter results based on price, accommodation rating, and location. The map, showing accommodation and prices is particularly useful when trying to find a place close to a specific location where you want to be.
Similar to booking.com, I use agoda as a crosscheck to booking.com to see if there are any hotels for a lower price that are not listed on booking.com. It is always good to check multiple sites as you might find a better deal on one over the other.
Hotels are nice because they offer you privacy. Chain hotels also take the thinking out of finding accommodation as they guarantee a certain quality from hotel to hotel. Hotels can be problematic for backpackers as there is no kitchen to cook in and it is difficult to meet new people. We try to avoid hotels as much as possible and tend to stick to hostels and airbnb when we can.
This sight works like booking or agoda but focuses primarily with hostels.
Hostels are a great way to meet fellow travelers and locals alike. Sharing rooms and common spaces, along with activities hostels offer daily offer ample opportunities to interact with other guests and staff. Hostels vary from country to country and will offer you different experiences depending on where you travel. Hostels also vary widely in quality. As a general rule, the cheapest hostels tend to have more of a party atmosphere meaning they are loud and have less amenities. If you’re looking for a good night sleep, avoid these and shoot for something in the mid range of the prices you see.
Airbnb is where people can offer entire homes, private rooms, or shared rooms to people looking for a place to stay. It is very safe as in order to use the site, you must register with your identification card. Reviews are very accurate on this site and are easier to follow than other sites. The only problem is that you will not know the exact location of the home until you book it, making it a little harder to pinpoint a location you prefer.
Airbnb is by far our preferred style of accommodation. It takes the best of what you get from a hotel, a hostel, and couch surfing. Most places make you feel at home and offer you a private space. In addition to this, you have access to a kitchen, like a hostel, which is great for backpackers. It is also a great way to meet locals, get tips from them, and possibly make a new friend. If you are traveling as a couple or a group, the price of a place on airbnb can often be cheaper or just a few bucks more than what you would end up paying for at a hostel.
While reviews are great, they can often be misleading as people’s standards vary widely. I have stayed in places where people complained about cleanliness and staff only to find out the place was very clean and had friendly workers. I have also stayed at places where people have raved about a place only to find it to be a nightmare of an accommodation. My best advise is to read the best reviews and worst reviews and then expect the place to lie in the middle of those reviews. This method tends to work out great and helps you avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Getting From Point A to Point B
The internet makes this much easier. However, the less developed a country is, the less likely you will be able to depend on apps and the internet. In many places, the only reliable place to get information is at the bus and train stations themselves. Plan ahead in these situations, otherwise you might be waiting around for a long time. Below are sights we use when it is possible.
By far the best site I have used to purchase flight tickets. I have used this site for the past few years and it keeps on getting better. You can set alerts to be notified when a flight hits a price you want and it will also show you if you can save money by switching your flight dates. Great app and website.
This app is great to compare fares between buses, trains, and flights between European cities.
This German bus company usually offers the cheapest bus fares between a fair share of European cities. Set up an account and you can use your phone as your ticket.
A great app that works offline once you download the area’s map. I use this app whether I have a phone card or not.
Google maps is a good supplement to maps.me . The big plus with google maps is in larger cities, transportation systems are usually integrated into the app, helping you get from point A to B within cities much easier.
Where to eat
use trip advisor or google in heavily visited locations! Usually if you follow these, they will lead you straight to tourist trap restaurants and rarely to any great hole in the wall joints. To be honest, I avoid using tripadvisor for most research as usually it does not give any useful information other than the big sights you already know about when you visit a place. There are plenty of good blogs and travel sights to use instead that will match your style of travel.
Ask locals any chance you get whether it is at your accommodation, at a store, or an attraction you are visiting
Lonely Planet books’ eating sections are usually excellent, containing everything from fancy dinning to hole in the wall places. I have rarely been disappointed by places listed in this guidebook.
Just walk around! See which places are packed with locals and head there yourself!
Lonely Planet guidebooks are the most user friendly for independent travelers. In addition to providing basic information on sights and activities (open/close times, etc.), these books also help provide you with a foundation upon which to build your own personalized trip. While this should not be your only source of information, the books will help steer you in the right direction. Instead of spending hours searching the internet to come up with ideas, start here FIRST and then move on to the internet as it will save you time and frustration.
If you edit your photos and want something really nice to remember your travels through, than ditch the point and shoot and upgrade to a DSLR. While point and shoots are convenient due to their size, they are extremely limited when it comes to what you can do with them. A DSLR lets you become more creative with your shots and increases the quality of the photos you are left with. DSLRs are becoming more affordable and are worth the extra couple of hundred dollars to purchase. I currently use a Canon 700D (an entry level DSLR) and have been very happy with it.
Don’t know how to use a DSLR? Don’t worry about it! With a little research online and some experimenting on your own (in manual mode) you will get the hang of it over time. The learning process is fun and will make photography an enjoyable hobby to carry around with you as you travel.
Long Term Travel
Traveling for a long time changes how you travel. In addition to needing to spread out money over a longer period of time, you will also have to be more mindful of what you pack. There are many items that will make your life easier while on the road. To find out what you should bring on a long trip, check out my advie here.
Get Up Early
If you keep on getting frustrated by never having an iconic place to yourself, then you’re not alone. We all long for that perfect shot you see on google where it is just you and that famous place you have been dying to visit. The truth is, it is very easy to have that wish come true and it just takes a little bit of effort on your part. As a general rule, places will be at their quietest in the early morning. Tour buses tend to roll in to places by late morning and most people don’t like to get up early, meaning places are pretty empty if you get up early enough. Get to big sights as early as possible and you will most likely have free reign of the place. If you just can’t wake up early, then your next best time to visit famous locations is during lunch hour where people are usually not touring but rather out eating.
Document Your Experiences
While you think you will remember all of your travel experiences forever, that will be harder and harder to do as the years roll on by. To keep those memories fresh, write down your experiences and take pictures. Start a journal, or better yet a blog. Something online will allow you to share your experiences with friends and family and will help you document your travels and memories for yourself as well.
Get Your head Out of Your Phone
I prefer to travel without a phone card when I can. While this means you will have to do research on where to go and how to get to places before you leave, it allows you to leave the distractions at home. Disconnecting while you are out exploring allows you to focus on the world around you rather than the world that is the internet. It helps you prioritize your time and prevents you from being distracted by the buzzing in your pocket. If you are ever in a pinch, there is always a cafe or a restaurant with wifi not too far away.
Traveling will never run perfect. We’ve missed buses, had trouble finding accommodation, and mismanaged routes from time to time. Build flexibility into your travels and learn to go with the flow. Understand that no matter how nice travel appears through blogs and instagram, that you will experience your ups and downs. Be prepared for them and just move on and find the GOOD in the bad. This will make your travel more enjoyable and less stressful.
Anything You Want us to Discuss?
Comment below with any questions or topics on travel that you would like us to discuss. We might just write a post about it! Happy Travels!