Web tools for travelers

As a traveler, a tech person, and occasional internet addict, I’ve been slowly scouring the web over the past few years for the most useful sites and computer tools I can find to help the independent globetrotter while on the road in distant countries. These tools range from travel forums, to wiki guides, to finding free worldwide accomodation, to getting there cheaply.

Now, there are two things that all travelers that have been outside the first world already know and that anyone planning to travel must seriously take into consideration regarding web usage on the road: 1) internet access can be range from dificult to impossible to find and 2) when you do find it, quality of service is relatively (i.e., deadly) slow compared to the high speed broadband we enjoy back home in the first world. On the other hand, its quite common that certain sites are already so popular that their service is slow just from sheer daily usage and the hosting providers’ server conditions and network connections. All of this leads us to ultimately lower our standards and expectations for web services such as the following, but hey, if you’ve got a few hours to kill why not waste them online waiting for pages to load, right?

The independent traveler community
“the gringo trail is far and wide” there’s thousands of people walking the globe right now, befriend someone in cyberspace and ask them for advice, help, or a homestay.

  • Thorntree.lonelyplanet.com - the original travelers bulletin board, with a dedicated forum representing every corner of the planet (notoriously slow, even in first world)
  • BootsnAll.com – trip planning advice, regional “insiders” advice, popular travel forums, and ability to publish your own free travelogue.

The global free accommodation networks
Find a free couch to sleep on anywhere in the world.

The “get there cheap” sites
The following sites are quite popular with any traveler (be it budget or business) because they make searching for airfare so easy by aggregating their results from hundreds of other airfare sites as well as many proprietary airlines, effectively giving you a concise listing of the best deals from across the web with one flight search.

Read and research before you go

  • How to See the World: Art of Travel – website written in a book format with 20-some chapters of useful recommendations and life-hacks for travelers; how to turn your dream of travel into a real possibility. all the nitty gritty details of travel: safety, packing, what to take, how to pack, what to do while away, how to take care of business before you leave town. This is a must read for first time travelers.
  • Transitions Abroad website great resource for more information on how and what to do while abroad (e.g. travel, volunteer, work, study, live). Global database of work and volunteer opportunities in nearly any corner of the planet. Great TESL / TEFL resource. Interesting info on responsible travel.
  • Download and read a copy of the (free) Responsible Travelers Handbook (2006 Edition found here and here)
  • OneBag.com – extensive travel-light site from an inspirational go-light guru
  • WikiHow Travel Tips – fun and interesting how-tos written by the people who have learned from their mistakes on the road.
  • Traveling with an iPod - interesting article from National Geographic.
  • Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel – the motivational and inspirational guide to round the world travel

Destination guides

  • LonelyPlanet.com – a great guidebook publisher with basic country information on their website, also host the Thorn Tree travel forums mentioned above.
  • WikiTravel – the original travel wiki
  • World66 – another popular destination guide written and edited by the world

Staying in touch with homebase

  • Meebo.com – chat client supports AIM/ICQ, Yahoo, MSN, Gmail, Jabber all from one webpage, based on nifty Web2.0 AJAX technology. This is a great tool to use from internet cafés around the world that may or may not have your favorite chat client downloaded and installed.

Continued motivation while on the road

  • Pick up the Vagabonding book mentioned above and find inspirational excerpts you like, then using the FutureMe website, send yourself future emails to receive the clippings while you are on the road.
  • Become a member of 43 Places and its sister site 43 Things where you can build your list of things you want to do and places you want to visit before you die. This site also allows you to send yourself future emails asking about the progress of the things you want to get done.

Other pertinent travel links sites

I’ve covered quite a range of things here but I’m sure there’s still yet more to find on the web. These are the links that I most frequently use while traveling. Other sites that i left off the list are my online email, search, calendar, and feed-reader sites that keep me organized and interested (i.e. distracted from real life) when I enter an internet café. If you’ve got an interesting or useful travel tool or site that I’ve overlooked, please let me know about it.

[edited by James, 7-Jun-2006 to add links to Responsible Travel Handbook and TransitionsAbroad.com in the “read and research before you go” section.]

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