I think travellers should get down on their knees and worship the internet gods. The longer Nathan and I travel (and the more foreign languages we encounter) the more I appreciate having an English-speaking, all-knowing navigational expert to pull out of my pocket whenever I need.
The following are the top five websites that I would be lost without.
This website collates reviews from customers about hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and airlines. When we've taken the most popular opinions at their word, they have usually turned out to be spot on. After our less-than-successful hotel booking incident in Seattle, not one place has been booked without TripAdvisor's help. Another upside is that you can review, and thus helpfully recommend good places or vent anger about the disappointments. Who would have thought that reaching the "Senior Contributor" grade would feel like such an achievement?
2. Google Maps
Very good at preventing you from doing that massive tourist thing where you stand on the edge of an intersection with a big map looking desperately up at street signs around you. It's also amazing for finding your way through public transport, and getting step-by-step instructions for which subway to take.
I'm not as on to it with the whole directions thing. I'm quite happy to wander till I'm lost and then try to backtrack. Example: On Monday we went for a walk to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. I was leading and, obviously, Nathan was getting a bit suspicious.
Him: "Do you actually know where we're going?"
Me: "Yeah, of course, it's this way (pointing vaguely)"
Him: "So, we're going up this road?"
Me: "Um.. yeah."
Him: "You don't know where you're going."
Me: "Yes I do! Look, here's the thing, my navigating is much like an Aboriginal tracker - I can feel the direction. I have a vague idea, and then the crowds will lead me." (Though I did get lost at Disneyland.) Nathan looked blankly at me for a minute, then compared his navigational abilities to Captain Cook and pulled out the iPhone. Humph. I would have got us there - and pretty sure Cook didn't have Google Maps.
I've praised the website before, but I include it in this list for its telephone, rather than video phone, abilities. We are yet to buy a sim card in Europe, so we've been using Skype to make phone calls - extremely cheaply. I've also been told the Local Phone website is good, but haven't yet tested it. Anyone use it? Opinions?
This is my favorite accommodation website. Even if I'm not going anywhere, it's so much fun to look at the possibilities. (I am one of those people who move into a flat and then continue to search for another one on Trade Me. I really like house hunting.)
Airbnb helps people rent their private places to travellers. There's a huge range of accommodation, stretching from a couch in someone's lounge to entire luxury penthouse apartments in Las Vegas.
We used Airbnb to book our apartment in Paris for two weeks, and it couldn't be better. However, we also booked a room in San Francisco where the upstairs neighbour turned on their death metal music (and we're talking the comedically bad screaming music) about midnight. When booking, do read the reviews.
There are hundreds of those best-deal websites, but during our three months in the US this website actually did get us some good prices. We booked a car in Michigan for about US$24 a day, and also got a couple of good hotel rooms cheap (having checked TripAdvisor before confirming, naturally). It's also nice to be able to go to one website to get the list of options, rather than have to go to each company yourself.
So those are my five. Can anyone recommend others? I'd really like to hear about any good ones for Europe.
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