One of the primary allures of traveling is the ability to get away from real life. The whole idea is to leave your boring job behind, take a break from your repetitive chores, and hit the road to find something new every day. The problem, however, is that we all have friends, family, and bank tellers back at home that want to see us. Staying grounded while you travel will not only help you maintain your real life, but also remind you why traveling is so special. Here are six websites to help you plan your trip, communicate with loved ones, and merge your traveling life with the one you left back at home.
Get the lowdown on the easiest or cheapest ways to travel overland at seat61.com. It offers the most complete listing of train schedules, fares, and advice for destinations around the globe. The website will hold your hand and walk you through the process of making reservations, buying tickets, and boarding your train (and as the experienced traveler knows, these things are not always intuitive). Reviews give you a heads up on what to watch out for, when to splurge on a higher class ticket, and when to sleep with one eye open.
The advice and reviews come complete with photos of the trains and spectacular views of the journeys. It covers locations as diverse as London, Dakar, and Tehran. User generated reviews give you real world advice ranging from “This is not a journey for the faint hearted,” to “Our cabin and berth numbers were written on the tickets, but once the train pulls up at the station, the numbers don’t mean anything as people just grabbed whatever berth they could.” Not all trains are as smooth as those in Europe, and Seat Sixty-One will give you the information you need to know.
Budget Your Trip
Everyone always seems to ask, “How much is my trip going to cost me?” BudgetYourTrip.com aims to answer that question. As well as letting you plan out your own travel budget, you can find out how much other travelers are spending. With the Estimate Travel Costs search form, you can type in a city or country name and get daily average costs broken down by category. The numbers actually come from the budgets of other travelers.
So while not every location is listed yet (but many are), you can sleep well knowing that the data is real and someone else negotiated for a comparable price. If you enter your own budget into the tracking form, you can see your finances arranged by category and location with charts, graphs, and a map. Now you can find out how much you’re spending while on the road, and perhaps save a little so that you have some cash leftover for that kilo of halva in Jerusalem.
Sleeping In Airports
If your round-the-world plane ticket schedules you with a layover in Hong Kong on your way from Paris to Cairo, then you’ll appreciate the reviews on Sleepinginairports.com. The website gives you the ins and outs of almost every airport around the globe. For the first-timers, there’s an “Airport Sleeping 101″ tutorial. The advice ranges from carrying a cheap inflatable pool raft or travel mattress, to the age old tip, “act innocent”.
The website follows up with the warning “Even if you sleep in airports on a regular basis — Do Not Act Like A Professional.” But professional airport sleepers will benefit as much as the newbies from this thorough assessment of airports from the weary traveler’s perspective. If nothing else, the testimonials let you know that you’re not the first to cuddle up with your bag on the floor of a non-air-conditioned airport waiting for that 4:00 am flight.
If you haven’t couchsurfed, you’ve missed a unique backpacking experience. Couchsurfing.org lets you find open minded people at your destination who will let you crash on their spare bed, sofa, air mattress, or tatami. A couchsurfing experience can be more than just a free place to stay: it can open your eyes to the culture of the city by meeting the locals. Whether you end up drinking beers at the pub, eating chicken hearts at a nearby hole in the wall, or even kicked to the street after personality conflicts, CouchSurfing can give you a view of the world outside of the hostel wall.
Who doesn’t miss seeing the overly concerned faces of their parents when they’re off globetrotting? Using free software from Skype.com, anyone can initiate a free call to another skype user, or pay a few pennies to call an actual phone number. Before you leave on your trip, sit down with your parents for a few hours and hook them up with an account at skype.com. They’ll quickly become technology whizzes when it allows them to stay in touch for free with their traveling baby. Get your own account and hop in to the internet cafe on the road. Setting up pre-arranged times to call often works best when dealing with multiple time zones.
Flickr.com is the ultimate resource to show off your travel photos to your friends back home. They make it fast and easy to upload, describe, and tag photos, and then put them into groups or place them on a map. Flaunt your exotic travels to your friends by putting your Flickr feed on your Facebook page. Now, when you upload a picture of yourself posing beside the man with the world’s largest mustache, your friends will see it. (He lives in Jaisalmer, India if you were wondering.) Do you have a travel blog? Add your Flickr feed to your blog and use Flickr as a one stop source for all your photo uploading needs. Minimize your time in an internet cafe by uploading your photos to one quick source, and let the internet distribute your photos for you.