The Ten Best: Travel websites
Thursday 13 January 2005
With the ski season upon us, this well-designed site is probably the best place on the web to look for excellent deals on winter holidays.
With the ski season upon us, this well-designed site is probably the best place on the web to look for excellent deals on winter holidays. Iglu Ski is the largest independent retailer of ski breaks in the UK and works with over 100 tour operators, rather than just promoting trips run by sister companies. Incidentally, if you're looking for unbiased reports on snow conditions at a particular resort, head for www.skiclub.co.uk.
You may know what the weather should be like at your destination, but Mother Nature doesn't always play ball. Before setting off on a trip I always like to find out what the weather will be doing when I get there. Things can change, but this, the website of the Weather Channel, based in Atlanta, Georgia, offers ten-day forecasts for thousands of destinations around the globe along with dozens of other weather-related features that may be useful.
If you know where you want to go and need a website that can help you find the right no-frills flight, this is the best of a bad bunch. I've yet to find a site that lists all the airlines (scheduled, no-frills or charter) that operate all possible routes to a selected destination, suggests alternative airports (with their pros and cons), and shows reliable prices and availability, but until such time as one is developed www.skyscanner.net fulfils some of the criteria.
Other sites may be better for specific interests, but www.whatsonwhen.com is a good place to check out the events, festivals and performances that will be taking place at a particular destination between set dates. It's worth looking at even if you're not hoping to travel somewhere for an event or exhibition - if anything special is going on when you intend to visit, there may be an unusually high demand for accommodation.
If you want an overview of a place and feedback from people who have been there before, try www.tripadvisor.com. The site brings together genuine "user reviews" of destinations and properties, and a good - if not particularly comprehensive - selection of newspaper, magazine and guidebook pieces. Although the site is US-based its global coverage isn't bad, and you can also sign up to be e-mailed when articles about a particular place are posted.
It's not always impartial, but information from tourist boards is usually comprehensive - and free (as long as you're not phoning a premium-rate line). Finding the website address of the official tourist office you want can be difficult, but you'll find the details of those with UK offices at www.antor.co.uk. Of course, not every destination has representation in the UK - if it's not listed here, try www.towd.com.
Many travellers now take advantage of the deluge of cheap flights to Eastern Europe, but there's no point finding a great deal on your air fare and accommodation and then spending a lot of money on a guidebook. Download over 25 city and over a dozen country guides to destinations from Berlin to Zagreb, Albania to the Ukraine. The writers/compilers live locally and the guides are frequently updated.
HotelShark.com is renowned for its balanced hotel reviews and is edited to weed out feedback from those with a conflict of interest. The site's editors don't generalise when considering chains, and reviews are done on a property-by-property basis. There's a sister site for Bed & Breakfasts - www.bnbshark.com - but at present it only covers properties in the USA. Both sites are US-based and would benefit from a more global perspective.
Lonely Planet may be best known for its huge range of informative guide books, but its website also has a very useful feature: the Thorn Tree Forum. Named after a café in Nairobi that has a notice board on which travellers leave notes and advice for those who are following in their footsteps, the forum is easy to use and can be very handy for getting up-to-date information on just about any topic you can imagine.
Am I the only one who finds car hire websites confusing and infuriating? There's no doubt that car rental is one area where internet rates are usually much lower than those offered over the phone, and this site allows you to compare different companies' rates so you can work out which is the best deal for you. Holiday Autos doesn't actually rent cars itself, but instead acts as a broker for a number of vehicle hire firms.
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