10 lesser-known travel websites

June 18, 2009

Steering clear of the TripAdvisors, Expedias and WAYNs of this world, I’ve made a list of ten great, but lesser-known travel websites.  Not that I don’t get out much during my lunchbreak…

(This is not an exercise to plug our own clients this time – although many of them have stellar sites – that’s for another day)

1. Raveable – The travel equivalent of a ubiquitous web trend: a website which aggregates aggregators.  Raveable takes reviews from TripAdvisor, MyTravelGuide and individual bloggers, correlates them all, and calculates an overall ranking for the hotel or destination in question.  In other words, rankings on Raveable are about as trustworthy as they come. Jeremy Head has also just blogged about Nextstop, another ‘review’-type website relying on User-Generated Content (and raised an interesting issue about copyright).  Nextstop is in its infancy, so lots of searches will be fruitless, but it’s a very well laid-out and functional website, and cleverly attuned to Facebook.

2. Schmap – Maps are arguably the the fastest-developing area of travel websites (Guardian.co.uk/travel uses them brilliantly in its Interactive section) and Schmap is right at the forefront of this.  It’s a little cumbersome, but that’s forgivable when you see the depth of its offerings: a unique digital paella of maps, photos and place reviews covering a fast-increasing range of destinations (currently 200). These guides can, of course, be downloaded to iPhones and Nokia handsets, for use while travelling.  Similar cartographical cleverness is on display at Holiday Maps, which lets you create a personalised Google Map featuring places and locations you intend to visit.

3. Seatguru – This one’s been around a while, but it’s still strangely under-used despite TripAdvisor ownership.  Seatguru carries plans of the aircraft of most major airlines and ranks the seats, so you can ensure you’re booking a decent spot on the plane.  Seatplans.com performs the same service and boasts some extra airlines (e.g. Air Namibia) but Seatguru triumphs with its extra detail: outlining each aircraft’s ‘poor seats’, ‘power points’ and much more. A hotel-room version of this service is performed to some success by Tripkick.com.

4. FlightStats – Is your plane likely to leave on time?  Will the loved-one you’ve so badly missed be arriving when promised?  FlightStats is a good place to garner preliminary information – per airport it offers an average delay, and has live departure boards.  Not all airports yet feature (London City doesn’t, for example), but there’s a wealth of good information, and you could well save yourself a few hours slumped in a terminal lounge.

5. PetrolPrices.com – Anyone who’s spent five minutes or more with a regular driver will have detected a deranged obsession with petrol prices; namely with tracking down the cheapest possible unleaded or diesel in town. PetrolPrices is their online heaven: join (for free) and you can tap in your postcode, or that of your destination, and find the where kerosene’s locally available for the fewest pennies per gallon.  The best-priced breakdown cover and parking is also covered (for car rental, try VroomVroomVroom). This site is something of a secret, but possibly not for long: type ‘Petrol’ into a search engine and it’ll come out top of the pops every time. 

6. TravelEtiquette.co.uk – Remember that HSBC advert where the man leaves chrysanthemums outside his Italian love interest’s door, only in Italy chrysanthemums are associated with death, so everyone thinks she’s dead, so everyone buys more chrysanthemums to put outside the door, except she isn’t dead…?  We’ve all been there, haven’t we?  Banking with HSBC is one solution to such perils, but TravelEtiquette is another.  If you’re unsure about putting elbows on a table, draining a bowl of eels or making ambiguous finger gestures, this online resource should put you right.

7.  Fotolia.co.uk – Holidays needn’t solely fill up the ‘outgoing’ column of your bank statement, you know.  If you’re an avid, and reasonably decent, snapper, try selling your photographs post-trip to Fotolia, an online agency.  It’s better than just banging them on Facebook or boring the grandkids, isn’t it?  Other such agencies include 123RF and Picture Nation.  If you’re still keener to make money from your getaway, start writing reviews for QYPE, for which you earn points – 1,000 of which qualify you for a bag of treats.

8. Extravigator – “Oh please darling, I’ve simply had enough of all these ‘websites for the people’.  They’re all so dreadfully common. Can’t we take Marmaduke, Montgomery, Tuppy, Duppy and Dippy orf somewhere without having to consult the hoi polloi?” “Why yes, dear dandelion – those in high society like us can use Extravigator, an internet travel site for the posh.  It’s full of ruddy marvellous information, such as a list of the hotels with the best toiletries, and a round-up of Manhattan spas. Mountjoy-Fanshawe told me about it during our Park Lane pub crawl last week.”

9. The Jaded Traveller – As a travel PR, I probably should deny all knowledge of this site.  But it does make me titter, casting a cynical eye over the travel media world as it does.  The clichés section scores an especially direct hit – how many of us, journalists, tourist boards and PRs alike, have labelled a market ‘vibrant or bustling’, or described a remote property as an ‘oasis of calm’?  Nearly all, I’d think.  If you don’t mind having a giggle at your own expense, The Jaded Traveller’s well worth a quick browse.

10. Bing – The latest, and easily best, search engine offering so far from Microsoft, Bing is after a slice of Google’s pie.  That’s all very well, you say, and thanks for letting me know, but why the hell have you included it on a list of travel sites?  Well, say I, Bing qualifies for the simple reason that, every day, its gorgeous UK homepage has a gorgeous picture of a gorgeous location (often an oasis of calm or a vibrant, bustling market).  The same is true of the American version but with two crucial differences: one, the US page has a different daily picture, and two, it tells you the location of the image, with thumbnails adding extra info.  Here in the UK, our Bing site’s still in Beta (i.e. launch) mode, so there are no such explanations.  Meaning you probably won’t know where on Earth the gorgeous place is.  Meaning it’s bloody frustrating.  But still gorgeous…  Richard Mellor