A year before we left for our travels, I considered hosting Couchsurfers in my flat. I saw it as a way of investing in the Couchsurfing community before tapping into some of the good karma on our travels abroad. Alas, I was instead seduced by Airbnb with its clean design, intuitive user experience, useful reviewing system and, of course, the chance to make some extra money for our travels. Surprisingly, we haven’t used Couchsurfing on the road. Peter and I agree that paying for accommodation makes us feel more comfortable and less indebted to our hosts. That may change when we start to get low on funds but for now we remain true products of our decorous western society. That’s basically a long-winded way of saying you won’t find Couchsurfing on the list below but you will find 10 other sites that are excellent for travel, both long-term and short-term.
We were introduced to this site by a Derby lass called Mandy whom we met in Tonga. Mandy had been on the road for five years and had used HelpX to find placements in a number of cities. This super-useful site provides an online listing of farms, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpacker hostels and even sailing boats that invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. It sidesteps visa restrictions as you aren’t essentially ‘paid’ for ‘work’, rather hosted for helping out. There are limited opportunities in the South Pacific, but we’ll be signing up for the premium service as soon as we hit South America ($20 usd for 2 years).
This is useful for water babies that want to travel by ship or boat. It’s designed to connect both amateur and professional yacht crew with sailing and power boats from all over the world. You simply set up a profile with details of who you are, what you’re after and any relevant experience you have, and either wait to be contacted, or proactively go after advertised opportunities – all for free. Peter and I are heading in the wrong direction for the season (eastward) but our housemate in Suva managed to jump on a boat headed westward to Vanuatu. If you have time to spare and are keen to keep costs down, Crewbay is a great way to see the world.
Peter swears by Busbud as a way to find bus routes, prices and timetables across the world. It’s been of limited use in the South Pacific (there are no buses from Samoa to Tonga!) but we’ll certainly be using it in South America. Between all the diving we’ve done in the South Pacific, not to mention swimming with whales (and merely getting online in Rarotonga!), we’ve burnt through a bit more of our budget than we had hoped. As such, we’ll have to travel in the cheapest way possible once we hit terra firma – enter Busbud.
I’ve mentioned before that SeatGuru is a great way to make sure you’re comfortable on a flight. Especially useful for long-haul, this site provides seat maps for various aircraft, helping you avoid a dud seat. For example, an exit row can be tempting for the extra legroom but did you know that on some aircraft, exit rows are smaller, not bigger, than other rows? SeatGuru makes this information clear so you can choose wisely. It may not be important on a short hop in the Pacific but, believe me, for London to Vanuatu, it was a Godsend.
Peter loves camping and though I’m less enamoured by it, I can’t deny that it’s a super-cheap way of travelling. Finding good camping spots in the South Pacific has taken a lot of careful research (scouring forums, reading review sites, contacting hosts only to find that the spots don’t exist anymore), which is why we’d love Pitchup to extend its offering. Currently covering 5,000 camping sites across 12 European countries, Pitchup lets you search by date, location and available amenities, offering up a list of possibilities.
And, now onto the more well-known useful travel sites:
For searching flights, there’s no better site than Skyscanner. Unlike so many other flight aggregators, Skyscanner lets you search a whole month in one go – perfect for long-term travellers with time on their hands.
TripAdvisor has become the best way to check the quality of accommodation online. Plus, with its wealth of information on local attractions, it’s a great way to decide where to go and what to see. We use it all the time.
We’ve long been fans of Airbnb (see Airbnb etiquette: 10 tips for guests and 5 reasons why Airbnb kicks ass). Although there are a number of quibbles we have with its current state (namely the increase of actual hotels on there instead of person-to-person listings) it remains unparalleled for variety and value.
4. Lonely Planet
As mentioned in In defence of the guidebook, we firmly believe in the value of a good guidebook and so have no shame in reverting to the experts for the answers we need.
Hostelworld is a trusty site we’ve used for years, ideal for those looking for cheap backpacker accommodation.