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Travel Expert: Top Five Independent Traveller Websites

The top five websites that make researching travel easy.

Whatever your budget, wherever you may be going, when you choose to travel independently there are some things that need to be researched. Having a rough plan can help to ensure any trip stays on budget (and that you have that budget available in the first place), stays roughly on time and that you get what you want from the experience. Below is a compiled list of my top websites to use for these purposes.

1. The man in seat sixty-one (www.seat61.com)

A fantastic website, started as a hobby by a former British National Rail employee, this website gives in-depth information about travelling by railways all across the globe. More and more this website is becoming an essential of independent backpackers, especially as it has become popular to avoid plane travel in favour of more environmentally friendly options. It also provides information on travelling by ferry and booking hotels too. The site is comprehensive, honest, easy to read and kept very up to date. I would highly recommend this site.

2. CouchSurfing (www.couchsurfing.com)

CouchSurfing primarily acts as a social networking site where you can link with people across the globe to find a couch to sleep on, meet up with someone for a coffee or to offer your own couch for other backpackers to sleep on. This can be a great way to save money on accommodation and to meet people with local knowledge. CouchSurfing also has discussion forums for each city in the world. If you have a burning question about somewhere you are going, post it up in one of the forums and tap in to the local expertise.

3. Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa)

Similar to the CouchSurfing forums, Thorn Tree allows you to post up questions about travelling or to search previous discussions to find the answer to your question. This can be particularly useful for finding out fellow travellers real experiences with visas, local accommodation, costs of transportation and trip highlights. People often post website addresses where you can find out specific information on different locations too.

4. Wikitravel (www.wikitravel.com)

Wikitravel currently has 24,491 destination guides which are updated by travellers from around the globe. This can be a great place to research where you might want to visit as well as a it’s valuable indepth information once you have decided where to go. As with wikipedia all of the information is uploaded by users and as such there may be some errors and some information might be out of date. However, overall I have found it to be very up to date in the locations I have been travelling.

5. Hostel booking websites (www.hostelbookers.com / www.hostelworld.com)

I’m cheating a little here and grouping two websites together. Both Hostel Bookers and Hostel World list available hostels around the world and allow you to book ahead, paying only a small deposit. These websites are great as they allow you to book ahead and avoid walking around with your pack for hours in the search of the cheapest or best value hostel. Also, after you stay somewhere you will be emailed and asked to rate the place you have stayed. This means you can see honest reviews before you book. Further, the hostels are aware that you will be reviewing them after your stay and as such are aware that they will be held accountable to the service they give you.

Fiona Davidson works as a Natural Disaster Response Officer for humanitarian agencies. She left her most recent employer, the British Red Cross in October last year and set off on a round the world backpacking trip. So far, she has travelled to the Middle-East, along the Trans-Mongolian Railway and in to Asia. She also works as a freelance travel consultant, helping others to design and realise their dream trips.

About Fiona Davidson

Fiona Davidson
Fiona Davidson is a Natural Disaster Response Officer for humanitarian agencies, with a post-graduate (MSc) qualification in post-conflict reconstruction. She is currently Senior Manager for CORD and has worked for the British Red Cross. She has travelled to the Middle-East, along the Trans-Mongolian Railway and in to Asia.

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  1. Fiona Davidson

    Great recommendation Mari – thanks for writing. I’ll make sure I keep it in mind in my future travels.

    Phil – thanks for your comment. I think it’s positive that the hostel owner could ask why you only gave one mark out of four. This gives you an opportunity to tell them your feedback clearly and then (fingers crossed) will inspire the hostel to improve the service they provide.

  2. The only probalem with the reviews on Hostelbookers etc is that once, when I stayed in Portugal, I made Facebook friends with a guy from the hostel, who complained that I only gave them a mark of four.

  3. Thorn Tree is a great resource! Other members are super helpful, and I love getting insight into what other travelers are doing via the Thorn Tree polls. For a more personal connection when it comes to tips about places where I’m traveling, I use the Tripping website (www.tripping.com). It has great search features that make it easy for travelers to connect with locals all over the world – for travel tips, meetups (like for coffee), and home stays.

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