On this page I have brought together many of the resources that I regularly use when planning my own trips, and can therefore personally recommend.
Many of the links and boxes on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking through one of these links I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This is how I fund Self Arranged Journeys, and if you do wish to visit any of these sites, your support would be very much appreciated.
For researching and booking hotels, I usually go straight to booking.com. They have a massive range of properties, prices are extremely competitive, and the site gives detailed information about the choice of rooms available so you can easily select the room and deal that best meets your requirements.
For many properties you don’t need to pay a deposit at the time of booking – you just pay when you leave the hotel – and you can often cancel free of charge, sometimes right up to the day before you are due to arrive. The deposit and cancellation policies are clearly displayed for each individual property, (and indeed for each room offer), so it is easy to select the deal suits you best.
And in many years of booking rooms on their site, I have never arrived at a hotel where I was not expected.
Of course, it is always good to read a number of reviews before choosing your hotel. Sometimes the reason someone has rated a hotel highly may be the very reason that you would choose somewhere else! (Examples may be a particularly lively bar, proximity to night clubs or a lot of facilities for children).
For comparing reviews you can’t beat Tripadvisor – not just for hotels, but also for restaurants, attractions, excursions, etc.
To search for flights I use both Momondo and Skyscanner. Both sites are excellent for searching for the best available flights to and from almost anywhere. They also make it easy to browse for available flights from your local airports if you do not have a particular destination in mind, and are just looking for ideas.
If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation. To check whether you are eligible, try Flightright.
If you wish to take a taxi to or from the airport, and book it online in advance, Taxi2Airport is a great service.
The service covers airports worldwide, and also many ports.
You just key in the airport, where you want to go (or come from), the date and time, and the number of passengers and cases. You will then see the options and prices available. You can pay online, using a card or Paypal.
If you are going for a long holiday, it may be as cost effective as paying for airport parking, and certainly more convenient!
Many of our European holidays have included train journeys. For most short trips it is fine to just buy your ticket at the station before you travel. But some journeys can be long and cross borders, and sometimes it is necessary to connect with other forms of transport. For these journeys I like to research timetables online, and if possible buy the tickets online before travelling.
If your are in the UK or Europe, Voyages-sncf have a wonderful site which makes it very easy to research routes and timetables. You just put in your starting point and destination, and the dates you want to travel. You can then see the routes and times available, and select the type of ticket you want if you wish to buy online.
If you are coming from the US or Canada, Rail Europe makes it very easy to research routes and timetables. Again you just put in your starting point and destination, and the dates you want to travel. You can then research available routes, check timetables, and select the type of ticket you want if you wish to buy online.
If you intend to do a lot of travelling by rail, a rail pass may be cost-effective. There are several types of passes available, for a range of time periods, and to cover single or multiple European countries. Interrail specialize in rail passes throughout Europe, and even offer a global pass that allows you to travel in 30 different countries!
In particular if you are going to spend time in Switzerland the Swiss Travel Passes are brilliant. They may seem expensive when you buy them, but they include not only trains, but also buses and boats, and often allow you a discount on cable cars. They can even be used on many of the special routes like the Glacier Express, though sometimes you do need to make reservations for these (always check the for the latest restrictions). The passes can save you not only a substantial amount of money, but also a great deal of time and stress! These can be purchased at any of the above websites.
If you are just looking for UK rail tickets, Raileasy have a really simple site to find the best tickets and purchase online. The site also has lots of useful information about train travel in the UK.
Direct Ferries have a great site. You key in your starting point, destination and when you want to travel, and you will see the options available, timetables and prices. The site covers over 2500 routes and over 200 ferry companies from more than 700 ports worldwide.
The site also offers combined rail and ferry tickets and mini-cruises.
Even if you don’t want to buy your ticket online the site is great for checking routes and timetables.
I frequently use Holiday Autos. They check lots of local car hire suppliers, and come up with the best prices. Booking is very straightforward, and you get clear instructions about how to collect your car on arrival at your destination.
Skyscanner are also great for searching for the best car hire prices (not just flights). They compare many of the larger suppliers, and it is worth checking both sites to find the best deal.
A good choice for airport parking is Holiday Extras. On their site you put in the airport and dates you will be away and they give you a choice of car parks (including the official airport parks), and a range of prices depending on whether you want to include insurance. The prices are much cheaper than if you pay at the airport without prior booking.
Their site is also good for researching airport hotels, airport lounges and travel insurance.
MAPS AND TRAVEL BOOKS
Stanfords have a vast collection of maps, travel books, walking guides and other outdoor and leisure guides. Detailed local maps, in particular, are often difficult to obtain until you arrive at your destination, but are often really useful for planning walks and excursions in advance. The Stanfords site makes it easy to browse by country, destination or activity, and I recommend it highly.
The Lonely Planet series are always useful as general guides, and well illustrated.
For the guide books and maps we recommend for particular destinations please see the relevant pages on the website.
For a great range of premium brand luggage at very competitive prices see Luggage Superstore.
Their site is easy to use, and the cabin luggage section clearly shows which items meet the size requirements of the various budget airlines.
EXCURSIONS AND GUIDED TOURS
If you are going to be in a town or city for a few days, and fancy a day trip or tour while you are there, Viator.com is great. Just key in where you will be based, and the dates, and you will get a list of the local tours available. This can be anything from coach tours, boat trips, guided walks, etc., and the tours can be in groups or private. If anything appeals you can pay online and your tour will be arranged.
However you change your currency, don’t leave it until you are at the airport – if you do you will get the worst rate!
Travelex have over 50 currencies which can be ordered online, and offer great rates. You can click and collect from your airport or from over 100 stores, or there is free home delivery if you spend over £500.
UK travellers can use the box below to check the latest rates and be taken to their site.
The card can be topped up when needeed, and used to make payments and withdraw cash at ATMs.
It is very important that you have adequate travel insurance. If you are taken ill or hurt whilst abroad you will need to be able to cover medical fees.
An easy site to use is Columbus Direct for (UK-based travellers). They have a wide range of options, including single-trip and multi-trip policies, group cover and specialist cover for backpacking and winter sports. It is easy to get a quote on their site – just fill in the required details. See their site for full details of what is covered.
If you need cover for someone with a medical condition, try Just Travel Cover, which is a travel insurance comparison site. They have no age limit, and will insure people with preexisting medical conditions.
FANCY SELLING YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOS?
If you have taken loads of photos during your travels, have you considered submitting some of them to a microstock agency? It is completely free to register, and if your photos are accepted, you will earn a small payment each time someone downloads one.
Of course agencies are looking for high quality photos of interesting subjects, not just typical family snaps. Each agency has its own requirements regarding minimum file size and technical quality. You will need to submit model release forms if your photos include recognisable people or properties, but these are clearly explained on the agency sites.
Whichever agency you try you will need to submit a few sample photos which will be assessed before being either accepted or rejected. I submit photos to several agencies, and quite a high proportion of the photos I submit (including many of the photos on this site) are accepted. You won’t make a fortune, but a bit of extra money is always useful, and it is actually really satisfying when someone does download one of your photos.
FANCY STARTING YOUR OWN WEBSITE?
If you would like to start your own travel blog, or any other type of website, I recommend Bluehost. The price for a basic hosting service is very reasonable, and importantly includes WordPress software to create your website. You can start off with a very basic service to keep costs down, and then upgrade at any time.
I will be honest and say that creating a website for the first time is a very steep learning curve (I am still getting there). But Bluehost and WordPress have numerous resources to help you, including a lot of video tutorials. You can contact Bluehost support via the online Chat service if you need assistance.
I WOULDN’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…
My Kindle Fire. It’s my favourite travel companion by far (apart from Matt of course). Not only is it a good e-reader, it is also a perfectly acceptable tablet. As long as you have access to wi-fi you can instantly download any book in the Kindle eBooks catalogue (great if you finish your novel sooner than you expected, or want a local travel guide), as well as movies, music and games. And of course you have full access to the Internet – great for checking out timetables, hotels, or anything else where you need a larger screen than your phone.
Kindle Fire tablets come with a choice of 7″, 8″ or 10″ screens. There is a choice of colours, and storage ranges from 8 GB to 64 GB. Personally I like the 8″ screen for the best compromise between usability and portability. They are just incredibly good value.
I would also highly recommend the custom-made cover – it is extremely thin, classy, and acts as a portrait or landscape stand.
PREFER TO USE A TRAVEL COMPANY?
Please see our page of Recommended Travel Companies for some suggestions of companies who arrange the types of holiday we love.