I am always amazed when this happens, but sometimes people come to me for advice on travel (shock!).
I get asked questions about which websites and apps I use for cheaper, easier travel, or for advice about what to take on a trip abroad. For the sake of convenience, I thought I’d put together a handy resources page where I can compile that information all in one place!
I’ll update this regularly with new discoveries as and when I come across them.
(Note: you might have seen some of these tips before, in articles such as this one on budget backpacking in Australia and this one on how to sort your life out before going away – so forgive me for repeating myself!)
There are a couple of sites I tend to use to check the prices of airfares before I book. But FIRST OF ALL, make sure you are using a private browser when looking for flight prices. Otherwise, websites will notice your interest in a particular flight and the price will then, unsurprisingly, increase.
To open a private browser in Google Chrome, just click on the three dots in the right hand corner of your browser window, and select ‘New incognito window’. In Firefox, click on the three lines in the top right and select ‘New private window’. For Safari, just go to ‘File’ and then ‘New private window’.
This is a brilliant, brilliant service that I have just discovered. All that happens is that you sign up to their newsletter and they send you the cheapest flight deals every week. For free.
This is great if you don’t have a particular destination in mind, and are open to going somewhere dictated merely by flight prices. Which, I would argue, is as good a reason as any.
Skyscanner is, in my opinion, the best flight search engine out there (though there are many). This is because it often includes even budget airlines (which some search engines don’t), and also includes results taken from other flight search engines and online travel agents, such as Kiwi.
The site is dead simple to use. It’s a basic comparison site, so you just put in your desired dates and destination, and off it goes! I most often use this just for idle browsing, as there’s an ‘anywhere’ search function – perfect for spontaneous holidays.
Also worth noting is that Skyscanner actually includes results from some other comparison websites, like Kiwi, so you can be pretty sure that it’s giving you the best results overall.
Directly through airline websites
It’s always worth looking at individual sites for a final check on price. In the UK, budget airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet may not be included on comparison sites, and can be especially good for short hop journeys (i.e. when you don’t care about low-quality experience). Similarly, for Australia, Jetstar and TigerAir are the go-to budget airlines. Even if you find a price on a comparison site, sometimes by booking through the airline direct, you can get it cheaper.
Pro tip: sign up to airline newsletters to get the first hint of bargain prices!
I’m sure the whole world is aware of Hostelworld by now, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock I thought it be worth a mention. A comprehensive resource for most good hostels in any given city, Hostelworld is a great tool for booking budget accommodation. I always try to go for places with a rating of above 8, because bad hostels can be reeeeal bad. I’d recommend checking on the list of amenities for free wifi, secure luggage storage, and a kitchen (if you’re in a country where self-catering is cheaper).
Sometimes it can be worth having a look on Hostelbookers too, either for comparison or because the price might be different. I’d also suggest, if you’re not sure about a place’s reputation, looking it up on TripAdvisor. And remember, not every hostel will be listed on these sites, so don’t panic if everywhere seems to be full – browse online or ask around when you get there.
One of my favourite more luxurious place to find accommodation is Air Bnb. Through this site, people can rent out their properties to holidaymakers and travellers short-term, often at a low price. In quite a few places, this can be cheaper than getting a hostel (and a whole lot nicer). Follow this link to get £30 off your first booking!
Despite the annoying TV adverts, Trivago is actually a great additional option when you’re looking for accommodation. Especially when all the hostels seem to be booked up. Trivago basically finds you the cheapest price online for a particular hotel, without you having to search yourself. And sometimes, the hotels available will be cheaper than a hostel – so it’s definitely a worthwhile option.
A fairly recent discovery of mine is the fact that things can end up cheaper through Booking.com – but even better than that, you can actually earn money (!) through using it. Once you’ve signed up to an account, you can refer a friend and get £15 / $30AUD when they book and stay.
Sounds too good to be true but actually it is just true!
Both of these sites link up volunteers with hosts, in order for travellers to work in exchange for accommodation and food. The concept of both is similar, but HelpX has a broader range of work available, whereas WWOOF is limited to farming. The terms of agreement vary, but I had a fantastic experience volunteering on an organic farm in Ecuador, and would highly recommend trying out this option. It’s also a great way to see a different, more local side of any country you are visiting.
This is nowhere near a comprehensive list of everything I take with me (that would be quite boring). But it’s a pretty good summary of the things I feel have been the most useful to me over the past five years of travel.
I. Love. This. Bag.
Maybe I’ve got Shiny New Thing syndrome, but I was recently given one of these for Christmas and it has changed my life. Now that may be largely because my previous backpack was more than ten years old and literally ripping at the seams, but even so.
This bag is great because you can unzip it from the front, so instant access to whatever you need, and it has a series of ingenious zips and straps that make it really easy to use. You can secure stuff to the back of it (no more damp stinky towels shoved into bag), and it comes with a small, removable day pack. I am seriously in love.
But perhaps the best thing about Osprey is their commitment to quality products: if your pack has a defect in its structure they will repair it free of charge. Plus they are all for repairing over replacing, which is something I am very on board with.
I can’t recommend Kindles enough. While I’m still a bit skeptical about e-books (I do love the feeling and smell of a new book in my hand), when you’re travelling there’s just no beating a Kindle. I especially love the Paperwhite because you can read it in all conditions: on a bus, in a dark hostel room, in bright light on the beach.
When I first got a portable charger, they were a pretty niche thing to have. Now, they’re everywhere – but I think that Anker is by far the most reliable brand to use. Mine (which is this one) can charge my phone several times before it dies, and it’s very durable – plus it has two USB slots so you can charge more than one device.
Camelbak water bottle, or similar
Please, PLEASE take a re-usable water bottle with you when you travel! Buying bottled water is terrible for the environment. (Obviously, though, also don’t drink dodgy unfiltered tap water just to save the environment).
I love Camelbak bottles because they last so well and there are so many designs, but there are plenty of other reliable brands out there. I’d suggest getting one with a cover for the mouthpiece, like this one, to avoid it getting gross from being in your bag. You can get bottles with in-built water filters, too, which some people swear by.
Before I started taking my laptop travelling with me, I used my iPod for all my internet needs. I love my iPod touch because it’s soooo easy to use and has almost all the functionality of an iPhone. Most websites these days are mobile-friendly and the majority of apps work on the iPod too.
I only discovered the existence of dual-SIM phones when I went to India in 2012, because for some reason everyone seemed to have multiple SIM cards there. It’s useful having two SIMs, because it allows you to keep your number from your home country while also having a SIM from whatever country you are currently travelling through.
If you’re travelling relatively short-term (and you’re from the UK), Three Mobile is a great option as a phone provider, due to their “feel at home” roaming options. Essentially, you are charged no more than you would be in your home country even for travelling in places as far flung as Australia. Worth a look!
As a space-saving solution, micro-fibre is brilliant! Regular towels can be bulky and take ages to dry (read: gross when you have to pack in a hurry).
A sarong is a fantastic multi-purpose must-have. They can act as beach towel, scarf, wrap to cover shoulders or makeshift long skirt if you’re going into religious buildings. You can get them online, but if you’re going somewhere with any kind of market culture, you can get a beautiful one for no money at all.
I’m no photographer, but luckily DSLR cameras take good photos regardless of the user’s skill. The one I have is a Nikon D300 (pretty defunct now), but the Nikon D3300 is pretty well equivalent (and probably better).
If you’re going to try and take good pictures, having a tripod is always handy. Especially for low lighting or trying to capture movement, such as running water. Gorilla pods are generally the most popular option for an easy-to-use tripod.
It’s so hard to pick a a good day rucksack, but I’m pretty pleased with the one I’ve got. Dakine is a good make: their bags are durable, large enough to hold all my stuff, and they also look pretty good as well. I wanted a bag which had a separate compartment for my laptop, which the Dakine Trek does – and it has a separate zip to access it, making it more secure.
If you’re looking for something a bit less practical and more fashionable, I’m currently lusting after these cute Fjallraven bags.
I don’t know why I’ve only just discovered packing cubes. They. Are. Brilliant. They help you out with the worst task in the world (packing), and mean you can actually find things when you are looking for them. I’d really recommend these Rhino Tough ones, as some of the cheaper versions can break quite easily – I’ve had zips break on my others.
How I survived in cities before this app is beyond me. It is so unbelievably useful and user-friendly, and makes it so easy to get from one place to another. For cities like London and Melbourne (both of which can be confusing in their own way) it is invaluable, giving you step-by-step guidance on how to reach your destination. And it’s got a whole lot of cities in its database!
Language apps are admittedly only of limited use (you can’t really have a conversation using an app, for example), but it’s still good to have them in case of emergency. Google translate will generally do the job, with a few flaws. If you’re going to China, though, I’d recommend getting Pleco as it’s more accurate.
With Google Translate, one great pro tip is to download your language offline before you go. A lifesaver when you can’t remember how to say something!
For anyone who struggles with maths (or just can’t be bothered working out how much something costs in home-money), XE is a great app to have.
More user-friendly than the mobile website, it’s good to get the Hostelworld app just for ease of browsing.
I’ve already talked about Skyscanner as a tool above… the app is good too!
I am a HUGE fan of podcasts at the moment. Put on an educational one to soothe you to sleep, or something gripping or interesting to listen to as you wander the streets. I use the Castbox app to get my podcasts as I have an Android phone, but the iPhone has a podcast app built in which is also really good.
Music is SO important when you’re travelling. How else do you while away long bus journeys, or drown out the noise of traffic or irritating hostel bunk mates? Spotify is my favourite source of music because there’s so much variety available. And if you can deal with the extra expense, I’d always say get Spotify Premium if at all possible. It’s so great to be able to download playlists to listen to offline (and not have to listen to annoying adverts).
Similar to podcasts, audiobooks can be such a great source of entertainment while travelling. Also good if you can’t be bothered reading long long books like Game of Thrones, for example. It’s a bit pricey if you’re strapped for cash, but luckily you can get a 30-day free trial by clicking this link!
Then if you’re a broke backpacker like me, you can just cancel it after 30 days…
I’ve only recently been converted to Uber, but I’ve found it to be great! It’s cheaper than a taxi (and therefore great for backpackers), and very reliable. And you can still get home if you don’t have any cash on you, because the app is linked to your card.
Since I’ve been in Australia, I’ve heard this app recommended no end. It is BRILLIANT for road trips and camping. It tells you where campsites are, any local points of interest, and allows users to leave reviews and recommendations for others. A lot of great campsites get the majority of their customers through this app! Let’s just hope they develop similar tools for the rest of the world soon.
This app is created by the same people as Wiki Camps, and again it is incredibly useful for road trips. Pretty straightforward: it tells you where you can find the cheapest fuel within a given area.
Surely THE best language learning app out there. AND it’s free! I used this online tool to learn (some) Spanish before I first went to South America, and have since got the app. It makes learning a language into a game, and I am addicted.
… and a bonus that fits nowhere else:
I’ve recently discovered the wonder that is Time Out – the site with the low-down on absolutely everything going on in your city. Bars, clubs, restaurants, attractions, events: it’s got it all! I’ve used it to find fun, free things to do in Melbourne, and I’ll certainly be using it every time I’m in a big city from now on!
Hopefully you have found something helpful here for you and your travels. Give me a shout out on social media if you follow any of these tips – I love to hear from readers!
Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you click through and purchase something, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Any money I make goes straight back into travel so think of it as an investment in my blog…