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The 50 Best Travel Websites

Published 27/05/2009

<b></b><br/> Want a heads up on what the visa regulations are for visitors to India, how much duty free you can bring back from France, what the main sights are in Yemen or when the best time of year to go to Jamaica is? It's all available here, and quickly searchable by country or region. The site also lists contact details for embassies and tourist boards so, if you're sceptical of any answers, it's easy enough to double-check.
Want a heads up on what the visa regulations are for visitors to India, how much duty free you can bring back from France, what the main sights are in Yemen or when the best time of year to go to Jamaica is? It's all available here, and quickly searchable by country or region. The site also lists contact details for embassies and tourist boards so, if you're sceptical of any answers, it's easy enough to double-check.
Apparently, this was inspired by a scene in Lost in Translation, in which a bemused Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are introduced to Tokyo's nightlife by some young Japanese people they meet. The site is designed to help visitors hook up with locals wherever they are in the world. Currently free to use - though the site's directors suggest it would be polite to cover your insider's expenses - you can search by destination and interest.
This straightforward site brings together a vast but carefully selected collection of stylish, individual properties (no chain hotels here) around the world. The focus on customer feedback is reassuring, too. Each property is rated on things like rooms, service and facilities by people who have stayed there - these are verified by the site to avoid the manipulation that can come with anonymous ratings - and poorly scoring hotels are bumped from the list.
Car sharing is designed to help cut down the number of cars travelling with only one person in them. A bit like organised hitching, the web is the perfect medium for this and there are several sites that put drivers in touch with wheel-less travellers. Usually free to use, you register online and are then put in touch with people who are driving the route you want to cover. Passengers share the cost of the journey with the driver. This site works as a directory of some of those sites.
Bored of sun, sand and sangria? Help is at hand from the France-based laboratory of experimental tourism. There's only one page of information but what's there will keep you going for years if experimental travel is your bag. An A-to-Z of alternative trips, suggestions include by-night travel (arrive at your destination in the evening, spend the night exploring and return home at dawn), counter travel (visit famous landmarks but photograph the view from rather than towards them) and double travel (visit places with repetitive titles such as Sing-Sing, Bora-Bora and Baden-Baden).
An excellent first point of reference for anyone considering travelling to a politically - or geographically - unstable destination. This is where you'll find the Foreign Office's official advice on everything from the risk of terrorism to how bad the roads are in a particular country or, in some cases, whether it believes you'd be better off staying at home. With detailed country-by-country listings, it's a doddle to navigate.
This cult site puts budget travellers in touch with people who are willing to let someone stay on their sofa or in a spare room, or otherwise offer a friendly face in an unknown destination. Free to join, it has a useful members' reviews facility and operates a circle of trust - users are vouched for by existing members - and, on the host's part, there's no obligation to let someone stay if you don't like the sound of them. Other security measures include a name and address verification scheme. This is the classic ridge tent of the travel website world. There are no fancy graphics or all-singing, all-dancing extra features here. Instead, it offers a straightforward but useful directory of UK and European camp and caravan sites, with basic information about each site and contact details. You can search by location and it will tell you which campsites allow pets, are wheelchair-friendly, rent out bikes, have restaurants, swimming pools, tennis courts and much more.
Aisle or window? This site takes your inflight choices to an altogether more sophisticated level, giving seating plans for most airlines' fleets of planes and information on things like which places have storage boxes under them, which have the most leg room and which are nearest to the toilets or aligned with an exit. Handy if you're checking in online and want to bag the best seats.
Nicely designed and easy to use, this not-for- profit site, started by one-woman whirlwind, Laura Burgess, is a great source of information on eco-friendly holidays in the UK and Ireland. A good idea, intelligently executed, it lists green places to stay and visit and, though the list is not yet comprehensive, more suggestions are being added all the time.
There are few surprises with this site, which does what the name suggests. If you want to know when a particular event takes place you can look it up by name. Otherwise search by location, date and type of event (art, music, sport, festivals, family) and it will tell you what's on and pinpoint it on a map. It does come up with some permanent attractions too, which can be good or bad depending on what you're after. My one quibble is that, if you do an open search, cafés, restaurants and other businesses that have advertised with the site come up, irritatingly, within the listings.
The Facebook of the travel community, this is one of the few travel networking sites that has a really mainstream following (membership is currently over 13 million). Where Are You Now? lets you keep track of friends, family and on-the-road buddies based around either where you are, where you've been or where you're going. Understandably popular with gap-year travellers when it started out, it's now gone global.
This does pretty much what it says on the tin. Offering an online directory of worldwide hostels with ratings by ordinary travellers who have stayed in them, if you're inspired to book into one of them you can do so straightforwardly through the site and, unlike most of its competitors, it doesn't charge a booking fee for this service.
One to bookmark if you're trying to avoid travelling by air, or you just want to find out how to get from A to B overland. Mark Smith's cult website - named after his favourite Eurostar seat - is a helpful worldwide journey planning tool for train and boat travel. You can find out just about everything you need to know to organise a journey (there are even photos of most trains on most routes). The only thing it doesn't do is sell tickets, but it tells you how to do that and contains all the relevant links.
A basic but brilliant idea, this stylishly designed but easy-to-use site is designed to put travellers in touch with the best local guides in the destination they're heading to, thereby also helping local communities benefit from tourism. At the moment it's not a genuinely comprehensive point of information - the vast majority of guides listed so far are in South America, where the project started - but it has oodles of potential once the site becomes better known in other regions.
In case you've been holidaying on Mars and haven't yet discovered Google Earth, it is not a website in itself but a free application that's downloadable online. Working like a photographic map it lets you explore the world by zooming in and out of satellite images. What's that got to do with travel, beyond general curiosity? Well, it's a great research tool. Want to check how close your hotel is to the beach or see how private the pool really is? OpenGoogle Earth and you may well be able to find out, though there are still lots of gaps.
Know where you want to go and when but your friends can't get those dates off work, or can't afford to join you? If you don't want to travel alone, there are various sites now dedicated to putting would-be travelling buddies in touch with each other and this is one of the best. Membership costs £5 per month or £25 per year and, for that, you get a personal profile page, access to the site's message boards and permission to contact other members.
A one-stop shop for tracking down independently owned, stylish and usually small places to stay around the world. Covering a wide spectrum, from budget self-catering properties to lavish boutique hotels, though more upmarket choices have been added as the site has developed, it's the quirky, "hidden" choices that make I-Escape's listings stand out from the crowd. All the properties it covers are rigorously and independently reviewed and it's gradually adding more destinations to its range.
For anyone needing to borrow a car temporarily, the days of having to shop around different car-hire firms for individual quotes are thankfully long gone. With comparison sites like Carrentals you can type in your pick-up and drop-off location, tell them how long you want the car for and what size of vehicle you're after and they will come back to you in a trice with a list of deals from various suppliers and brokers, both national and local. This site is run by the Ski Club of Great Britain and is a really handy tool for finding out about resorts or, particularly if you're trying to decide where to go at the last minute, what the current snow conditions are like at hundreds of ski resorts around the world. If you want to find a resort best matched to your ability or interests (which are best for families, which have the most sustainable policies, which are the most upmarket and so on), this is the place. You don't have to be a member to use most of the search options.
The idea here is a good one - members of the public post up personal, unbiased reviews of accommodation, restaurants and so on, producing listings by destination according to popularity. No longer can pesky hotels post up pictures of palatial rooms on its website and then check you into a shoebox, because the real deal will be there for all to see here. The catch is that there's no accounting for taste. I've stayed in gorgeous places that have been slated on this site and vice versa. There have also been reports of some people posting glowing reviews of their own businesses.
The craving for good home-cooked food must be one of the most sure-fire routes to homesickness there is. Short of bringing your mum with you on every trip, this website may be a possible solution to restaurant fatigue. A service that pairs up hungry travellers with people around the world willing to cook for you in their homes, the website puts participants in touch to agree the date and time. The deal is that all dinners last two hours. There is a fee involved, but it really just covers costs.
A spin-off from owner Alastair Sawday's series of Special Places to Stay books, the website makes a two-pronged attack on the character accommodation market, with Special Places to Stay focusing on hotels, B&Bs and inns, and Special Escapes concentrating on self-catering properties. Both are searchable by word or by map. You don't get as much information online as you get in the books but it's a good starting point, with links through to the properties' websites for those who want to book.
It's a rare day when I don't find myself using this site at some point. Though it has a useful basic map function, the site's route planner is its key selling point. Mainly covering Europe and the US, though its range of countries is expanding, you can type in your starting point and end destination and it will plot a recommended route from door to door, tell you roughly how long it should take and what the petrol costs are likely to be. You can also choose to plot a route by bike, on foot or by speed, economy or sightseeing opportunities.
A one-stop shop for tracking down activity holidays, this site lists a vast range of holiday courses according to destination, length, budget and type of trip: choose from sport, language, cooking, creative or well-being breaks. Current popular searches include learning Spanish in Spain, cooking holidays in Italy, surfing lessons in the Canary islands and scuba courses around the Red Sea.
To take malaria pills or not? If that's your conundrum, or you have any other travel health-related queries, this advice website, run by the Scottish NHS, is a great first port of call. Once you know where you're going you can look your destination up and find out what the current official line is on health precautions, disease prevention and possible treatments relevant to that region.
The idea behind this site is a simple one - ask the question "what are you doing?" and your friends can text, instant message or post a reply of under 140 words back in a jiffy. This may have won Twitter fans for its ability to report almost instantly on breaking news stories through its army of mobile phone-toting members, but it is useful for travellers too. Send a "tweet" from your mobile, saying you're looking for a real ale pub in York or a vegan restaurant in Shoreditch, and you can tap straight into the knowledge of fellow Twits.
This directory of boutique B&Bs and small hotels is worth its weight in churros for anyone looking for off-the-beaten track accommodation throughout Spain. Listings are chosen for their architecture, surroundings, service, attention to detail and individuality and it shows. Click through to the English language site to make searching easier. It also now covers a clutch of properties in Andorra, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Morocco.
Another useful comparison site, this one does what its address promises, comparing airport parking prices through six different brokers at the airport of your choice. You can also search according to whether you want on-airport, off-airport or meet and greet parking. In most cases, the earlier you book, the cheaper the rate will be, and usually substantially less than if you just turned up and parked on the day.
Plummeting demand means there are some good hotel deals around at the moment, especially at the higher end of the market. If you don't like the idea of haggling directly, this site is a useful comparison tool. Hotels contact Laterooms if they have late availability and are willing to hack their prices in favour of higher occupancy and beady-eyed browsers can bag a deal. It has a global reach, though it does most of its business with UK and European hotels and there's no booking fee.
This site began life as a spin-off from, a resource tool for film-makers. Now it covers the weather in pretty much any holiday destination you might be interested in. As well as quick, clear snapshots of average weather conditions in various destinations, there are some more fun tools. "Hot or not?" for instance tells you where's currently hottest - and coldest - around the world and "When to travel" tells you which month is the best, climate-wise, to visit a given destination.
Short for "help exchange", this website puts willing volunteers in touch with people or businesses who need help with their farms, vineyards, ranches, hostels or sailing boats throughout Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Europe. After signing up for premier membership, which costs ?20 (£18) for two years, volunteers can search the current vacancies noticeboard and reviews and sign up for work, usually unpaid but in exchange for free board and lodging. Free membership gives access to basic information about some vacancies.
This site isn't going to win any awards for style and it can be a little fiddly to use, but it's a triumph of function over form, and well worth persevering with. For journeys on public transport throughout the UK, it will help you plot a route from A to B, giving a variety of options and operators so you can compare journey times. A non-profit service funded by the UK Department for Transport, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government, it also gives car-route options for those who want to compare public and private travel.
As with the Sawdays website, this one is an offshoot from a successful guidebook company. The difference here is that the focus is firmly on the upper end of the market - boutique hotels, luxury, self-catering properties and stylish ski chalets. The listings are extensively researched, giving it an insider feel. Reviews include information on which rooms to book, where to eat and drink in the neighbourhood and, in some cases, which local guides to employ to make the most of your stay. Sign up as a member and you get hotel discounts, special offers and access to a loyalty scheme.
Proving that green holidays no longer mean roughing it (though there are plenty of back-to-basics options for those that want a more earthy escape), this personally chosen selection of accommodation and attractions covers organic farms, B&Bs, hotels and other businesses in the UK and beyond. Entries give a short description of the place, including a rough percentage of how organic it is, and contact details. The listings are also available in book form.
Another long-standing site, this self-proclaimed "urban travel guide" is definitely not for the banana-pancake brigade. Instead, it uses a network of local insiders to offer tips and stories on the hottest bars, restaurants, clubs, shops and events in major cities around the world at any given moment. A bit too cool for school for some, but undeniably useful if you want to avoid the usual tourist haunts.
For no-nonsense fare comparisons on various airlines between set destinations, Kayak is hard to beat (it also covers hotel and car hire prices). Simple to use and intelligently arranged, it covers both no-frills and with-frills airlines and you can search for flights from differing departure and arrival airports. Fare alerts tell you which dates flights are cheapest on a particular route.
Voluntourism is a booming sector of the package holiday market, but some international volunteering trips have come in for criticism for not vetting prospective travellers properly and failing to ensure the projects are of real benefit to local communities. If you want to make sure a well-intentioned trip is of value both to yourself and the people you work with, this website offers sensible, clear advice based on research carried out by Kate Simpson at Newcastle University.
As many a disappointed British holidaymaker knows, a quick trip to Cole & Son does not a boutique hotel make. But while the number of look-alike places to stay spirals ever upwards, there are some more eclectic options available for those in search of accommodation that's just a bit different. Many of them are on this site. Fancy a night in a dockside crane, a concrete bunker or a showman's wagon? This is the place to find it.
Set up by well-travelled mums, and making the most of feedback from its followers, this site is a wide-ranging reference guide for parents travelling with babies and children. Covering a huge spectrum of topics, destinations, budgets and interests, its advice, reviews and location reports are independently compiled, free to use and easy to navigate.
We all crave a hit of whatever our particular passion is when we're on the road and this site aims to fill that gap. Putting members in touch with likeminded folk around the world, you can look up the details for everything from local dog-lovers' groups to petrolhead outings and arrange to join them. Outside the UK, US and Australia, where members tend to be focused at the moment, it's also particularly useful for anyone wanting to improve their language skills.
Group get-togethers can be tricky for the organiser, who may be left out of pocket if one of the gang backs out at the last minute or "forgets" to pay. Rather than getting one person to take sole responsibility for proceedings, this site gives you the option to suggest an event, get your friends to commit, collect everyone's share of the costs into an online event account and then use a virtual prepaid MasterCard to book everything.
The main difference between this self-catering site and its rivals is that, as well as advertising properties for individual owners (over 10,000 of them at the last count), it also takes credit- and debit-card payments for them. Given that most holiday home-owners don't have this facility themselves, it makes booking stays in countries with a different currency much more straightforward.
With so many to choose from, I have purposely stayed away from specific destination websites in this list, but this one deserves a mention in my book because it beats the competition hands down. If only all tourist board websites were as easy to navigate, information packed, stylishly laid out, quick to load and regularly updated.
If you haven't sworn off travelling altogether by now, at least buying an "offset" against the damage caused by using carbon-emitting forms of transport helps you keep track of your own carbon footprint. Ticos, the Tourism Industry Carbon Offset Service, uses revenue from its offset scheme to fund environmental and community projects worldwide.
Old-fashioned it might be but sometimes in this corporate, modern world, a little personal quirkiness is just what you want. If that's the case and you're into luxury travel, Arsycamel is a godsend. Packed with unbiased but flagrantly opinionated hotel, restaurant, bar, airline and resort reviews by the site's owner, who travels anonymously and pays his own way, it covers destinations in almost 30 countries.
It may look as though it's been designed in someone's garden shed, but don't be put off by the dated styling. If you're looking to compare routes and prices for ferry (and Eurotunnel) trips from the UK and beyond, this is one of the most useful comparison sites. You can search rates from all the main operators here and there's plenty of port information thrown in. It also includes a special offers service for email subscribers and short-break packages
Most of the traditional guidebook companies now have decent websites, with plenty of advice and information either freely available or downloadable for a fee, but is also well worth a browse. Concentrating on both well-known and more offbeat European destinations, its free downloadable city and country guides are compiled by locals and regularly updated.
Trips away are not always as straightforward as they might be for disabled travellers, but this handy site helps smooth the ride. It gives links to special-needs flight services, disabled-friendly accommodation, car rental, insurance, taxis, resort support and mobility-equipment suppliers, and also travel operators for people who prefer not to organise everything independently.
In these credit-crunched times, home-swapping is becoming an unsurprisingly popular way to holiday. Cheap, comfortable and a direct route straight to the beating heart of whichever community you end up in, what's not to like? Spotting a gap in the market among house-swapping sites, which are normally tailored towards international exchanges, this new site puts like-minded people in touch to arrange temporary home swaps in the UK.

Bag the prime seat on your flight, find a local who’ll cook you dinner, save cash on car hire... Rhiannon Batten sees the world the smart way

>> Click the image to the right to launch the 50 best travel websites

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