A wealth of web-based services and mobile apps will let you plan an ideal – yet affordable – holiday from the comfort of your sofa. Here's how.
Image credit: epSos.de
Find the cheapest flights
You’re probably familiar with SkyScanner’s flight search engine, which serves up flights ordered by price, but Google’s new Flights service seems to offer up much the same prices without the clutter, ads and spammy pop-ups. Flights allows you to book tickets straight from the engine, and also makes booking multi-city trips much less hassle.
Rent someone’s house
Who needs pricy hotels or cheap, crowded fleapit hostels populated by braying, oppressively handsome Scandinavian backpackers? A host of services, led by Airbnb, now make it incredibly straightforward to rent a room in someone’s house or apartment – or even the whole place itself. And the prices are generally far less than a comparable hotel, not the mention the fact that, with access to a kitchen, you can cook your own meals if you wish and save even more cash.
Get the cheapest foreign currency
Whatever you do, don’t leave your currency exchange until you get to the airport, where the fees are insanely high. In fact, with a bit of foresight you can grab foreign cash for even less than good high street bureaus de change by buying it online and having it sent to your house. MoneySavingExpert has a regularly-updated search engine for the best rates called TravelMoneyMax – just enter your dates and the type of currency you’re exchanging and it’ll serve you up a list ordered by price.
Image credit: Steve Bowbrick
Avoid roaming charges with offline maps
If you’re travelling to an unfamiliar city, chances are you’ll be pulling out a map every 20 minutes to avoid ending up on “the bad side of town”. You can, of course, opt for the time-honoured method of a paper map – but who wants to look like that much of a tourist? Far better to turn to your smartphone or tablet for cartographical aid, but that’ll racks up some ungodly roaming charges.
TripAdvisor has the answer with its range of city guide apps, which cover 80 locations and is available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and even Symbian phones. Each one includes an offline map with points of interest, as well as self-guided tours created by experts.
Find the best things to do
Another peril of visiting somewhere new is ending up paying big bucks for a subpar meal, ending up in a grubby “sports bar” populated by bellowing troglodytes or wandering aimlessly around an overpriced museum. The wealth of web services and apps recommending the best places means that, thankfully, such a situation is easily avoided.
Having tried out a wide variety of these, we feel the most reliable are Foursquare’s “Explore” page, Yelp and the venerable Zagat (now owned by Google). All feature user reviews and ratings and are available both on the web and as apps. Again, planning ahead or using Wi-Fi when browsing these is best as it’ll dodge those eye-watering roaming charges.