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Wednesday 4 April 2012

Travel Tools - Taking the Hassle out of Trip Planning

Do you remember when booking a holiday meant going to a travel agent?  When you had to choose where you were going to stay based on photographs in a grainy holiday brochure and the recommendation of a bored travel agent who'd probably never even been to Thailand let alone stayed at the hotel that she was assuring you wasn't a cockroach ridden, fleapit?

Luckily those days are well and truly behind us.  The internet lets each of us play travel agent.  We can book our flights and hotels separately, construct the perfect itinerary and discover places that don't feature in holiday brochures, where we're not going to bump into every Chloe, Jack and Harry from the exact same place that we've travelled thousands of miles to escape.

But the problem now is that the choice is enormous.  We need to decide where to go, who to fly with, the quickest route (or if the quickest route's extortionate the route that gets us there fastest for a price that doesn't make our eyes water), where to stay when we get there, whether to do a stop over on the way, how to travel from airport to accommodation when we arrive... the list goes on.  Oh and then you need to check whether you need a  visa or vaccinations.  It's exhausting.  Suddenly you're pining after that archaic arch-angel resplendent in nylon uniform, the travel agent.

But it doesn't have to be painful.  Armed with the right resources, plotting your next trip can be a breeze.  We bring you a round-up of our travel planning secret weapons.

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Digital inspiration to get those feet itching for adventures to far flung corners of the globe (or a couple of hours up the M1...).  These sites offer inspiration in every form from photos of incredible places, to vintage travel posters, to blogs tracking trips of a lifetime - go and check them out now and we guarantee you'll be mentally packing your bags in moments.

Picked where you're off to?  Need to work out the best route?  We have a total travel saviour for you. Rome2Rio is a route plotting genius.  Find out how to get from A to B even when A's Easter Island and B's Ittoqqortoormiit.

So you've carefully plotted your route, now find and book flights for the best price at times that fit with your itinerary.
Flying from Asia
Flying from Europe

The best online resources for finding a pillow to rest your weary traveller's head on when you get there.  From 5 star luxury resorts to eco-chic hotels to a quirky B&B in a lighthouse - you'll find every hotel you could imagine and more on these websites.
  • Mr & Mrs Smith - The luxury boutique hotel gurus.  I've never stayed at a Mr&Mrs Smith recommended property and been disappointed.  A wealth of gorgeous photos, a review written by one of a panel of Mr&Mrs Smiths, tips on the best room to opt for, what to pack and essential pre-holiday reading - Mr&Mrs Smith look after your every need.  Become a member and you also get special offers & bonuses like a free massage or a bottle of champagne on arrival.
  • Tablet Hotels - Another top pick for finding great little boutique boltholes.  Tablet Hotels operates a system whereby hotels only stay on the site if they maintain a rating of 18 or higher out of twenty as rated by guests who have booked through the site and actually stayed at the hotel (no dangers of crafty hotel managers writing their own reviews here).  Become a member and you get a raft of amazing perks included a complimentary room upgrade at participating hotels.  I've also found some incredible bargain room rates by booking through Tablet - your new travel best pals.  
  • Sawdays - primarily covering the UK and Europe, Sawdays features a host of elegant, stylish and comfortable places to stay.  The site focuses on beautiful architecture, heritage buildings and places that offer wonderful hospitality and delicious food.  Sawdays also like a little bit of fun and have plenty of quirky options too from lighthouses to wooden yurts to windmills. 
  • i-escape - a reliable, information rich site for finding great boutique hotels.  i-escape's promise to you is that if they wouldn't want to stay there, they wouldn't recommend it.  The team send its own photographer and reviewer to each hotel featured and provide a wealth of photos and information on each hotel.  A real gold mine for stumbling upon little gems.
  • Unusual Hotels of the World - want to sleep in a former factory?  How about in a cave?  Underwater? Unusual Hotels of the World caters to your every weird whim.  Offering everything from a Trojan Horse Suite in Belgium to a Moschino themed hotel in Milan, there truly is something for everyone.
  • Trip Advisor - For traveller reviews of everything from hotels to restaurants to museums, Trip Advisor's your new best friend.  I always check this site before booking a hotel and have rarely found the been theres advice to be wrong.  Now and then I wonder at the authenticity of the reviews but its often easy to spot the hotel manufactured, bogus entries - all the reviews are along a very similar theme and all come from members who've only ever written one review.   

When You Get There
Take the hassle out of choosing where to eat, what to see, where to shop and who'll be serving you your next cocktail by checking out the following guidebook resources.  Digital guides for the high tech, space cadet kids and traditional guide books for the more retro travel experience...

Online Guides
Old School Guides (as in made from *gasp* paper)

Other Useful Travel Stuff
Travel tools to make your holiday hassle free:
  • xe - A currency convertor to ensure that there are no currency conversion hiccups.  Use Xe (and their helpful iPhone app) to make sure that the souvenirs you snap up in the local market don't actually cost more than a month's rent. 
  • Travel Warnings - Use the interactive map on this site before you book to check whether there are any travel warnings in force at your chosen destination. 
  • Project Visa - Helpfully catalogues visa requirements on a country by country basis.  Never get deported again.
  • Net Doctor Travel Vaccinations Guide - Check this location by location vaccinations guide as soon as you book to find out how many injections you'll be needing before you travel.
  • Responsible Travel Weather Guide - Avoid typhoon season by taking a peek at this easy-to-use guide to the best time to visit any holiday spot.
  • Seat Guru - Invaluable guide for picking the best seat on the plane when you do your online check-in.
  • Postcard on the Run - Always forget to send your granny a postcard until you get to the airport by which time you have the choice of two uninspiring scenes from the seventies?  Use Postcard on the Run (and the fab iPhone app) to transform your digital/ phone snaps into real life, snail mail postcards.


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