People managed to travel quite well before the Internet came along, although how they did it is now shrouded in mystery. There are so many Web sites to help you plan trips and book trips and fantasize about trips and (best of all) save money on trips that the difficulty is not finding a site that will help you but choosing from among the bounty.
It's been a while since I updated the bookmarks you'll find next to the articles on the Frugal Traveler blog page, so I've decided to add a bunch more, ranging from the indispensable to the just-for-fun. Here is a selection of 10 that you should consider bookmarking.
Though if I had to pick just one site to help with restaurant recommendations around the globe, it would be Chowhound, DishTip organizes the world of eating out in the United States a whole new way: By clam chowder. Or turkey sandwich. Or blueberry pie. In other words, by single dish, not by restaurant. The site sorts through reviews across the Web, figures out what has been raved about, aggregates its findings and spits out rankings of the best dishes in Denver or the pizzas in Portland or the fried food in Phoenix.
The result may not be perfect, but it sure is helpful if you're obsessed with one dish or simply like the very rational idea of determining where you'll eat by the meal you want rather than by the chef who will cook it or the neighborhood it's cooked in. Go ahead, try it with a dish you like in a city you know. Sure, you may not specifically agree with its "choices" for, say, the best cookie in New York City - 1. Oatmeal raisin from Levain; 2. Chocolate chip from Jacques Torres; 3. Macaroon from the Meatball Shop - but you have to admit, not bad for a computer.
Skypicker basically helps you figure out where you can fly within your budget. It's sort of like the "explore" page of Kayak.com, but focuses exclusively on Europe, and on very, very cheap flights.
Let's say you're somewhere in Europe (or planning to be), and you want to see where you can go from there for very low cost. You plug in your approximate date of departure, about how many days you want to stay, and voilà: there's a list of the cheapest flights available. (Not all fees are included - you won't find out the exact cost until you go to the airlines' Web sites to book.)
When I tested the site, pretending to be driven insane by foggy, rainy London and wanting to go anywhere cheaply for a long weekend two weeks ahead, I ended up with a 38-euro (or $48) round trip on Ryanair to Nîmes in the south of France. When I actually went to Ryanair to book, the cost was £35 (or $55), including fees, and I assume the final cost (with a luggage charge, perhaps) might be a bit more. But still, a good deal.
I'm generally dubious of sites that claim they can plan your trip for you. But for a quick and dirty agenda with a few useful extras, stay.com is not bad at all.
Here's what you do: Choose one of more than 100 destinations, from Aix-en-Provence to Marrakesh to Lake Tahoe. Then go through their listings of top attractions, museums, shopping, restaurants and the like, clicking on whatever appeals to you. Those choices magically turn into a personalized itinerary that you can either turn into a pdf file and print or, better yet, send to your smartphone, where with the Stay.com app you can use it - and the city map that comes with it - even when you're offline (meaning no international roaming charges).
And you're not limited to the places you've initially chosen: you can add from their lists (and, theoretically, from your friends' suggestions) on the run as well. Sure, guidebook apps might be more in depth, but stay.com is free and easy.
A neat site that matches hosts from around the world with travelers looking for unique local experiences. That can mean volunteering to teach English or doing farm work in exchange for lodging and meals, or simply paying a small fee to move in with a local resident. The site is not overly populated with opportunities yet, but shows a lot of potential.
Vayama is a flight search engine that specializes in international routes - the Achilles' heel of the sites you already use, whether you know it or not. Vayama simply seems to know about more airlines and often finds two one-way flights on different airlines that beat out a round-trip flight on a single one. It also occasionally offers you a lower price on a "secret carrier" whose identity you don't learn until you've booked the flight.
If you want to compare many hotel sites at once (including heavyweights like booking.com and hotels.com), try Trivago, an easy-to-use metasearch site. Trivago can be especially helpful in more unusual destinations. I was recently searching for a hotel stay in Fortaleza, Brazil, and Trivago included a few affordable rooms that were exclusively from volayo.com, a Brazil-based hotel booking site I had never heard of.
Matador is a free online travel community whose site contains treasure troves of articles written in a variety of styles, organized into topics like "art and design," "culture and religion" and "language and study abroad." You can get lost in here, coming in via a search for essential Russian phrases and ending up craving lavender and hibiscus Popsicles from an Edmonton farmers market.
"It would be lovely if there was a single Web site that sold tickets for any European train journey at the cheapest price, but there isn't," writes Mark Smith, better known among the frugal train-riding set as "the Man in Seat 61." You could just go to raileurope.com and book a ticket, but in many cases you'll pay more than necessary. Mr. Smith's site is friendly and informal in style but encyclopedic in content, and full of links to get you to the right booking sites.
No idea where you want to go? With Triptuner, just use a panel of six sliders (like the kind on graphic equalizers) to "tune" your trip. Do you want "relaxing" or "active" or somewhere in the middle? "Bikini" weather or "parka" weather? An "urban/lively" spot or a "remote/quiet" one?
When I maxed out the sliders toward relaxing-bikini-urban/lively trip, I got suggestions like Miami, Phuket and Salvador, Brazil - pretty good choices. When I went the opposite way - active-parka-remote/quiet, Triptuner came up with Jungfraujoch, Switzerland, or Torres del Paine, Chile. The site doesn't go much farther than that (though you can book hotels), but it's enough to get you thinking.
The best travel guides are often expatriates who have lived in a destination long enough to know it intimately but still maintain an outsider's perspective. This site lists over 300 expat blogs by destination, and in many you don't have to delve very far to find travel tips disguised as personal narratives.