Here's my collection of the best travel websites and travel resources for all stages of dreaming, planning, booking and remembering your trip based on decades of professional travel.
To upgrade your travel skills, download our free guide 101 Travel Tips for Grown Ups here.
The Best Travel Resources for Booking and Planning Your Trip
As a regular contributor to The Independent's 50 Best Travel Websites feature, I know my way around travel websites. As a frequent traveller myself, I practically live on the things.
From dreaming about a trip, planning a trip, writing up a trip and reviewing trips for work, these are the travel resources, online booking sites, search engines and route planners I use to help me get the job done. Booking travel has never been easier - even if it doesn't feel like it at times.
So here's my list of the best travel websites for 2021.
If you book or buy through the links on this page, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. However, we only ever recommend things we believe in and use ourselves. We also don't earn a commission from all of these travel websites. Alas ;-)
The Best Travel Websites for Keeping Track
At the time of writing (the 2020 pandemic) the clear winner is Wanderlog. This easy to use software works on your desktop and mobile and makes adding ideas, restaurants and flight details to a single itinerary easier than I've seen before.
And for those of you who have fallen in love with checking out travel websites, take a look at TravelSites.com, the most thorough collection of online travel resources I've seen.
And one last note. Are you American and wondering why I'm not talking about vacation packages? I am, we just call them holidays in the UK. And car rentals are hire cars. And travel guides are, well, travel guides. I guess some things stay the same after all ;-)
The Best Hotel Booking Sites for Special Occasions
Beautiful, stylish and with up to 40% off for members, the chic and sleek Design Hotels website is a firm favourite of mine. Membership is free, quick and easy on the eye.
Best Loved Hotels
Best Loved Hotels gathers together properties from the UK and Ireland that show a real passion for what they do. From countryside manors to city break boltholes, I've stayed in several of their properties and have loved each one.
Mr & Mrs Smith
You may be forgiven for thinking this gorgeous collection was all about romance, but beyond finding great places for anniversaries and honeymoons, Mr & Mrs Smith cover great child friendly places too. Not just a website for inspiration, you can book directly on the site.
Small Luxury Hotels
The name says it all. Small Luxury Hotels collect together independently minded hotels on their website and promise - and deliver - an authentic travel experience.
Leading Hotels of the World
Another website that wears its heart on its sleeve, Leading Hotels of the World gather together more than 375 luxury properties (including resorts) around the world.
This luxury travel membership site builds on 20 years of experience to help you book luxury hotels all around the world. Members can also access extra perks, such as flexible check-in and check-out, spa treatments and transfers.
With a great eye for design, MyBoutiqueHotel.com sources, as the name suggests, boutique hotels from around the world available for direct booking. Properties are combined into an easy on the eye collection, with curated lists for main cities plus the ability to create your own shortlists as you narrow down your choice. Membership is free and the themed lists save hours of research. You’ll find budget and luxury boutique hotel choices and can drill down to those suitable for work, for the kids, for romantic getaways and more.
The Best Hotel Booking Sites for Deals and Specifics
These are the best travel websites for booking flight and hotel packages together or for searching for accommodation when you have very specific needs. These online travel agencies let you trawl through thousands of places to stay in the blink of an eye. Plus, several offer exceptional hotel deals.
Describing itself as a search engine for accommodation, CozyCozy.com is an exciting newcomer on the hotel booking block. It rounds up offers from hotels, rentals, hostels, treehouses and boats into one easy to use platform. You'll find the giants, like Booking.com and AirBnB and VRBO, as well as smaller accommodation solutions too. By searching with Cozycozy.com, you can save yourself a lot of time. They won't cover everything. But they come pretty close.
A few more things to note. They guarantee that the price you see is the price you pay. They have a range of filters that go further than the rest (think searching for a hairdryer or washing machine.) And, my favourite. They have an "unusual" tab that opens up possibilities you may never have known existed. Yurt for one anyone?
I've grown old with Lastminute.com, originally because I fell in love with the name. But over the years, I still find them useful for last minute city break or resort based holidays (vacation packages if you're from the US.) They're an online travel agency with easy to navigate interface and lots of hotel and flight packages. Another good thing is that there are usually different Lastminute.com special discounts and deals available.
Expedia is SO big and all-encompassing that it's sometimes easy to get lost within the website. But that's also its strength for when your travel plans don't fit into the travel sites I've mentioned above.
The great green travel website can really give you an inside look at a hotel. Yes, some of the reviews are fake but even the bad reviews can be helpful. One person's "bad review" because there was no nightlife is another's blissful discovery if they want a quiet, relaxing stay.
Plus, you get the benefit of booking through a trusted source with backup. AND the TripAdvisor community is really helpful if you have specific niggly questions about a destination.
Booking.com offers more search filters for hotels than anything else I've come across. When the specifics really matter (rather than the sense of atmosphere or design) then I turn to Booking.com It's a powerful hotel search engine, with guest houses and self-catering options as well.
Finding Great Flight Deals
There is, quite simply, an art to finding a good flight. Not just in terms of cost but also in terms of comfort and connection. It really is a useful life skill to be able to skip the travel agent and find what you want yourself. With that in mind, check out our guide to the best flight booking hacks for savvy travellers here.
Then, get acquainted with the following flight search engines.
Skyscanner is the travel agent boyfriend or girlfriend with special deals you never had. Skyscanner listens, remembers your birthday, cleans your windscreen and empties the bin even when it isn't its turn.
Well, OK, it doesn't do any of that but it DOES make it very, very easy to look for flights. Instead of forcing you to enter the same details in, or tie you to a date, Skyscanner uses filters and choices that simplify the flight-finding process. You can also search by price and switch currencies between dollars, euros, sterling and more.
If you have any flexibility in your planning, Skyscanner can let you search through the whole month for the best fare, slide filters for time of day, number of connections, just about anything. The only weak spot is searching for flights with infants, where the system is a little glitchy. Other than that, it's one of the best airfare sites.
Don't be put off by the watery name. Kayak is a meta search engine that crawls the web for flights and lets you sift through the results with ease.
Road Trip Travel Resources: The Best Travel Websites for Driving Holidays
AA Route Planner
This is another travel website that I love for its simplicity. Want to know how to get from A to B? Enter it in the AA Route Planner. It shows you a map and clear journey times in a split second. You can just leave it at that or add in stop off points and adjust for traffic and so on. The only problem is that it only covers driving in Europe.
MAPQUEST ROUTE PLANNER
MapQuest offers fantastic coverage of the United States and is free and easy to use to help plot our road trips.
Google Maps, on the other hand, cover the world. But it's slightly more fiddly to use. It's a lifesaver while actually on the road but it's also useful in planning. You can save destinations, plot itineraries and tweak public maps for your own trips.
Car Rental Travel Resources
I've driven cars all around the world and used all kinds of car rental companies and rental cars. Sometimes needs must but these days, wherever possible, I book through a reputable, international company.
Hertz is one of my favourites. It's so widespread and well-organised. Plus, as an inside tip, if you sign up to their Gold members programme (for free) you can quickly get lots of benefits. This year, they announced some end to their US operations but will still be working across Europe.
- Don't forget to download your free copy of our car rental checklist here.
The Best Travel Resources for Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Clearly, you should consult your own doctor before you travel. But, the CDC Travel Website is the one my medical friends recommend. So, don't rely on it entirely. You do need an appointment with a real person. But it's helpful to get an idea of what vaccinations and medication you are likely to need for certain countries before you decide to book. This applies all the more if your situation has changed due to a recent illness or pregnancy.
The Best Travel Websites for Money
MONEY SAVING EXPERT
Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert website firmly focuses its attention on a UK audience. It provides regularly updated and researched guides on essentials from currency exchange to travel insurance and finding cheap flights.
They also crunch the numbers with credit cards, publishing spreadsheets and tables to help you navigate the world of credit card rewards and the best way to save money.
Train Travel Resources
DB Rail Planner for Train Travel in Europe
I love the DB site. It covers almost all of Europe and has an English version that is so easy to use.
National Rail Journey Planner
National Rail itself may be long gone but as a travel website, the National Rail Journey Planner is the best I've found to negotiate the different rail networks of the UK.
Eurail (Formerly InterRail)
Forget the sweaty backpacker image. The Eurail network includes First Class rail travel through glossy transport hubs. You can buy a range of rail passes or simply use their maps, itineraries and suggestions to help you plan your rail trip through Europe.
This remains the fastest way to reach the city centre of London from London's Heathrow Airport, as well as Paddington Station, the gateway to the west, southwest and Wales. Using the Heathrow Express website in advance, you can book tickets for as little as £5.50. Plus, children 15 and under travel for free.
The Best Travel Websites for Honeymoons and Anniversaries
While you can build your own honeymoon through the travel resources above, niche travel website 101 Honeymoons takes the hard work out of the equation for you. It filters honeymoons by month, interest and family situation, with trusted input from some of the top travel writers in the trade.
My Favourite Cruise Travel Resources
Everyone has different tastes. I prefer smaller cruises with plenty of cultural and adventurous options and excursions.
The Best Tour Companies
It took me years to believe it but sometimes joining a tour, just for half a day, is a great way of connecting with locals and learning new skills. These days, it's easier than ever to find just the tour you need. You can search for recommendations on travel blogs (ahem) or head straight to the big search sites. I've tested both of these across the world and would highly recommend them:
The Best UK Travel Websites
Self Catered Cottages
For ease of use, the app that comes with Sykes Cottages makes it easy to plan a trip away in snippets of down time in a busy life. Quality Cottages sweeps some gorgeous luxury cottages into view in Wales.
With a mix of glamping and alternative places to sleep, Canopy and Stars fills in the gaps.
How to Find Great Food in the UK
To add a sense of luxe to your self-catered holiday, order in a gourmet meal from One Fine Dine. This private jet catering company now packages up incredible meals with full instructions on how to finish them off and plate them up. Adds a lovely sense of occasion to a self-catered trip away.
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