Hottest New Travel Sites: An All-in-One Guide

Traveling doesn’t have to be difficult. That’s why we’ve listed the hottest new travel sites, designed to help you travel like a rock star on a groupie’s budget.

And to make it even simpler, you’ll also receive our own Travel Master List macro, which opens each website for you automatically. So when researching your next trip, one click opens everything. (Update: I’ve recently launched Trekity.com which is a new kind of travel site. While not originally part of this article, it’s well worth a look!) But first, let’s look at the hottest new travel sites and why they’re making waves…

Airfare Search Engines

Human-Powered Discounts With AirfareWatchDog  

www.airfarewatchdog.com

AirFareWatchdog has a crack team of real people – affectionately known as “watchdogs” -  scouring the web for special airline promotions. They sign up for rewards programs, search web-only fares, and even confirm seat availability before listing the fare. This “human touch” provides discounts program-based booking engines cannot beat.

Another distinct feature of AirfareWatchdog is selectivity. Unlike other travel sites, AFWD only lists valuable flights. These include flights which suddenly drop in price, are lower than the historical average or have a few open seats available.

My favorite feature – which most travel sites don’t offer – is you don’t have to choose a destination. Simply type in your departure city, and AirfareWatchdog provides a listing of the best fares currently available.

Two additional benefits:

  • all fares listed include taxes (so you’ll really know what it costs)
  • includes Southwest flights; a HUGE advantage over competing booking engines

Bottom line: AirfareWatchdog’s transparency of fees, simple interface, and inclusion of Southwest fares make it my number-one pick.

Most Popular (With Good Reason): Kayak

www.kayak.com

No discussion of fare-aggregators would be complete without mentioning Kayak. It’s currently the leading aggregator because of its ease-of-use and additional functionalities such as mobile apps, itinerary-to-go pages and travel planning tools.

Bottom line: Kayak scores big with its uber-simple interface. You can sort

results based on price, number of stops, length of trip, flight times, nearby airports and fee restrictions.  The calendar shows price variations by day; a useful feature for flexible travelers.

Reduce “Agony” With Hipmunk.com

www.hipmunk.com

This up-and-comer takes Kayak’s simple interface and adds a few unique twists. First, Hipmunk automatically discards flights which (presumably) no one wants.

And secondly: it introduces a unique “agony” algorithm which orders flights by a combination of price, duration and number of stops.

Here’s a screenshot of Hipmunk’s results page:

Hipmunk Results Page - Sorted by "Agony"

Admittedly, Hipmunk’s results page takes some getting used to. But everything you need – from duration to number of stops to overall cost – is on one page. Plus, the live chat feature speeds up the learning curve.

As functional as Hipmunk is, there are two areas for improvement. Firstly, it does not list all fees (which skews the results if sorting by price). Also, you cannot modify results for nearby airports.

Bottom line: the unique “agony” algorithm and visual sorting make Hipmunk an excellent resource, though it does take some getting used to.

Home Exchanges

These have grown in popularity over recent years. If you’re leaving a place behind, you can travel longer and cheaper by signing up for a home exchange program.  You may even make some friends out of the deal!

The following sites all charge a membership fee (anywhere from $50 – $125 per year).

home exchange

www.homeexchange.com

US Based: HomeExchange

  • HomeExchange, P.O. Box 30085, Santa Barbara, CA 93130; (800) 877-8723 or (310) 798-3864,
  • Estimated number of listings: 5,000
  • Cost: $49.95/year. HomeExchange guarantees a successful exchange or the second year is free.

International: Intervac

  • Intervac International, 30 Corte San Fernando, Tiburon, CA 94920; (800) 756-4663, info@intervacUS.com.
  • Estimated number of listings: 10,000
  • Cost: $50 – $65/year for web only; $99 – $125/year for web plus three directories.
  • Over 80% of homes listed are outside the US, making it an ideal option for international travel.

Determining Costs

www.numbeo.com

Cost-of-Living Made Easy With Numbeo

Numbeo.com Provides local cost-of-living expenses, including average rentals, home prices, hotels, groceries, dining out and alcohol costs.

Numbeo provides its own cost-of-living index (relative to New York City) so comparing two cities – even if they’re halfway around the world – is easy.

Getting Local Info… Without The Sales Pitch:

  • Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory: an updated directory listing tourism bureaus for every country in the world. These are government sites – not commercial ventures – so the information is objective.
  • State Directory (USA) Lists state tourism boards throughout the United States. Great for planning cross-country road trips.

www.perpetualtravel.com

Long-Term Travel Advice

This Round-the-World FAQ is the gold standard for long-term travel advice. Extensive articles on everything from planning your trip to dealing with culture shock upon your return. I’ve spent hours on this site (an eternity in Internet-time) plotting my next journey.

Bottom line: Required reading for aspiring travelers.

Hotel Bargains/Reviews

www.hotwire.com

Book Blind, Save Big With Hotwire.com

Similar to Priceline, Hotwire offers last-minute discounts on hotels. The downside is, you don’t know exactly which hotel you’re staying at until after the booking. Hotwire offers several criteria – such as average price, ratings and general location – to make sure you get what you expect.

Bottom line: In my experience, however, Hotwire has delivered value on every booking I’ve made with them.

www.oyster.com

Professional Hotel Reviews: Oyster.com

Oyster features professional hotel reviews from (gasp!) real journalists. Every hotel listed on their site is reviewed by a paid employee, and given a rating in “pearls” (instead of the standard stars or diamonds).

Unlike HotWire, hotels are listed and reviewed before purchase. And here’s the best part:  Oyster will match lower-priced offers, even after your purchase!

Bottom line: This professional angle and full transparency of fees separates Oyster from other hotel booking sites.

Food, Glorious Food

Eat Like A (Gourmet) Local With ChowHound.com  

www.chowhound.com

Looking for the best Koay Teow Soup in Penang, Malaysia? Or how about BBQ in Texas? Chowhound provides real reviews from real people. From street carts to fine dining… from Singapore to Saskatchewan, chances are a Chowhound’s chowed down there.

Bottom line: Eat like the locals, only better.

Getting The Best Airplane Seat

SeatGuru's seat maps (click to enlarge)

Provides detailed seating charts of major airplanes, and tells you which seats provide the most (or least) legroom, best views, reclining room and bathroom access. Seatguru also notifies passengers of seats which may carry additional fees.

Bottom line: Three minutes on this site translates to hours of extra legroom. ‘Nuff said.

Live Flight Updates

AvoidDelays.com, a site maintained by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, offers free advice on the best days/times/terminals to fly for specific airports.

FlightStats.com offers live updates for flights on their website, or you can sign up for free email/phone alerts on their website.

Wanna Get Away… But Don’t Know Where?

Kayak's Explore Page (click to enlarge)

This hidden gem on Kayak’s site lets you see average fare prices anywhere in the world. Fares are listed over a world map; you can zoom in for regional prices, or zoom out for a global glance.

You can also filter results by region, budget, season and selected activities. Wanna know where you can ski in July for less $600 round-trip? This page makes it a snap.

Frequent Flier Miles

At WebFlyer.com, you can see how your miles convert between programs, learn about changes to your frequent-flier program and discover how to maximize the value of your mileage awards when you redeem them for merchandise or services.

Travel Insurance

InsureMyTrip.com lets you compare quotes from top insurance providers, and purchase your policy immediately from their website. Even short-term travelers should consider insurance: check to see if your health insurance protects you internationally.

Currency Conversion 

www.xe.com

XE.com provides easy-to-understand tools for business travelers, including currency conversions, travel expense management, and international credit card charges.

Train Travel

Seat 61 is without a doubt the most in-depth website for train travel. Covers every route imaginable around the world, plus hundreds of specialized itineraries (e.g. ski trips, wine trails, long-distance travel, etc.). Even if you’re not planning a ride on the rails, Seat 61 provides plenty of ammo for archair travelers.

Want These Sites

Bookmarked?…

Grab them on Delicious by visiting http://www.delicious.com/TimeshareSecrets

Opened With One Click?…

Use this handy Travel Planner to open the following sites in one click:

  • Kayak world map
  • Airfarewatchdog.com
  • Hipmunk.com
  • Seatguru.com
  • InsureMyTrip.com
  • XE.com
  • Hotwire.com
  • Oyster.com
  • Hotels.com

Now you can check flights, seats, hotels, currency exchange, track business expenses and obtain travel insurance faster than ever.

Here’s a short video of the Travel Planner in action:

Open Top Travel Websites In One Click

Here’s how to get it:

Step 1: Download iMacros for Firefox.

Step 2: Click here for the Travel Sites Master List

Step 3: You’re done!

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Thank you for reading and have a Happy New Year!
-Dan Connelly