The 9 Best Travel Tools of 2016
Have you ever seen a list of the “best travel tools” that goes like this:
Ya, those lists suck. They’re designed for the same people who are still fascinated by SMS, and they should really be renamed to Huge Companies Everyone Has Heard Of or Websites Using Obsolete Technology That Somehow Maintain Relevance.
Not this list.
Here, we’re going to show you the best travel tools that you should be using but probably aren’t. I’ll be surprised if you’ve used even 5 of these 9 sites, and completely shocked if you’ve so much as heard of 7 out of the 9. Ya, we dug deep to find you the absolute best.
But this list isn’t for everyone. If you thought the list I mentioned above started off pretty well, then close this page right now. But if you opened Snapchat in the past hour, know how many Instagram followers you’ve got, and think life without Amazon Prime sounds like hell on Earth, then this list is for you.
If you’re still with us, we’ve split the travel experience into 3 distinct phases – Planning Your Trip, Preparing To Leave, and While You’re Gone – with 3 recommended travel tools, sites or apps in each phase. Ready for a whirlwind of knowledge? Let’s get started.
Step 1: Start Thinking Outside the Box
There are three things every traveler wants to plan before taking off on their trip: accommodations, activities, and flights. But as you’ll see in Step 3, there’s a very logical reason why we’re going to push accommodations planning until later (hint: it involves saving a lot of money), which means optimizing your flights and activities are the core of what we’re focused on in this first planning phase. And for your activities, assuming you’re a youthful, curious traveler who prefers to get a peek into a city’s true core rather than ticking sights off of a generic tourist guide designed for the affluent 50+ crowd, there’s one place you should look to.
Before you skip over this section (or worse, close the tab) because you’re sick of hearing destination-specific recommendations, give this one a chance. Cereal is a bi-annual travel + style magazine, and they certainly live up to both of those category’s exacting standards. Their city guides are written specifically for the educated, modern young traveler and are heavily curated to ensure what you’re reading is the absolute best a city has to offer. Cereal recommends just 10 places to visit in each city, which range from coffee shops to bookstores to lesser-known landmarks and museums to boutique hotels. Each guide is beautifully photographed, too, and subtly serves up the finer points of each city in ways that go totally unrecognized in other travel guides.
Cereal only has city guides for about 20 cities right now, but they add new cities quite regularly, and the ones they do have are spectacular. Leave the tourist trap-infested Lonely Planet and Frommer’s guides at home; thanks to their combination of stunning photography and thoughtfully-curated suggestions, Cereal absolutely blows them away. When you’ve worked your way through all their guides (trust me, it’ll happen), you’ll probably also like Monocle and even more city guides from 12hrs.
Now that you’re inspired to go, you need to book your flights. But if you’re like most people, your hands are a bit tied. Either you can a) book your flights right now, knowing that you may not be getting the best deal possible, or you can b) wait and pour hours of time into research, still unsure of whether the price will drop or skyrocket before you hit Buy. It’s a gamble, and even those times when you do save a bit of cash, the stress and time invested usually make the savings a wash. It sounds like you need Yore Oyster.
Yore Oyster is a personalized flight hacking service that uses highly advanced techniques and specialized industry knowledge to slash the price of your flight by up to 50% compared to other sites like Kayak and Skyscanner. Yes, seriously. Their 2015 Year in Review shows that they saved travelers a pretty penny in 2015: $23,000, to be exact.
And Yore Oyster is also How I Travel’s parent company, which means we share the same mission: to make travel better by curating and concisely sharing the world’s best travel information. And that’s exactly what Yore Oyster is doing with blog posts like How to Fly from Asia to North America (and vice versa) for $75 – making it exceptionally easy for everyone to travel.
Our clients love that they save both hours of research/planning time and hundreds of dollars off the cost of their flights – for them Yore Oyster is a no-brainer! As a result, we mostly work with repeat clients now (they keep us busy), but we’re always open to new clients too.
Now that you’ve saved hundreds of dollars on your flights, you’ve got another dilemma facing you: what do you do while you’re on the plane? You could watch one of last year’s B-rated movies, sure, but soaking up three consecutive Ben Stiller flicks doesn’t sound like your idea of a productive (or enjoyable) 8 hours. There must be a better way.
Pocket, the offline reader for all sorts of web content, is your new best friend. Pocket makes it dead simple to save content from your favourite sources – Facebook, Twitter, The New Yorker, Medium, and anywhere else that you discover content – to all of your devices for you to read offline at any time. It has a built-in text-to-speech reader which, although the voice is still a bit robot-like, can be read in different accents (I like English – United Kingdom) and at different speeds, which range from extremely slow to I-have-no-idea-what-you-just-said sort of fast.
But our favourite Pocket feature is the Chrome extension, which allows you to instantly save content directly from any Chrome tab on your laptop. I always find myself coming across interesting articles I’d like to read, so I just click the little Pocket button in Chrome and Voila, it’s waiting for me on my phone. Pocket is my secret weapon for combating intercontinental flights; I seriously can’t imagine flying without it.
Why Tripit isn’t one of our top 9 travel tools
If you Google something like “best travel planning apps”, Tripit, the master itinerary creator, is going to be near the top of just about every list. So while I was doing research for this post, I downloaded and started using Tripit for a trip to Bangkok. And here’s what I discovered.
Google Now does everything that Tripit does, just much, much better.
Yep, that’s right, Google Now kicks Tripit’s ass. Why? Well, if you go to Tripit.com, you’ll see a graphic that looks like this:
I admit, being able to build an offline-accessible itinerary of flights, hotels, and other reservations just by forwarding a couple of emails is pretty cool functionality.
But it’s redundant when Google already does it for you.
And Google Now takes things a step further. As part of its intuitive card system, Google delivers pertinent weather information, common phrases translated into the local language, up-to-date currency conversions, local events, news and recommendations, and more all without you lifting a finger. As always, Google’s got you covered.
So while Tripit is nice for iPhone users, Android users should steer clear altogether and just use Google’s built-in functionality instead. It’s cleaner, it’s simpler, and it’s got the excellent UI you’ve come to expect from Google.
Now that you’ve got a bunch of activity recommendations from the pros, you’ve saved a boatload of money on your flights, and you’ve got enough reading material to keep yourself distracted for hours, it’s time to break through the next big obstacle: pre-trip anxiety.
Step 2: Stop Letting Your Life Hold You Back
Most of us are in the same situation before we go on a trip, regardless of the trip’s length: we have a job, an apartment, and a growing set of responsibilities that come along with them. And while we’re not going to get into career advice in this post, we can help you wade through your apartment woes. Here’s how.
This is the one travel tool that I expect everyone reading this has heard of, and for good reason: Airbnb is the best accommodations platform in the world today. But while most of us have had exposure to Airbnb as a traveler, surprisingly few of us have made use of the profitable half of Airbnb: hosting.
And there’s a simple reason why: hosting seems difficult. But it’s really, really not; you can actually complete 90% of the hosting setup in the next 15-20 minutes, I promise. Here’s how.
- Log in to your Airbnb account, or if you’re late to the game, sign up here (and get a little bonus courtesy of us 🙂 ). Click Host on the main menu, Add New Listing, and then enter your home type, how many people it can accommodate, and your city to get a monthly earnings estimate right away. I’m pretty excited that my 6-person igloo in Bangkok is going to pull in nearly $3,000/month.
- Continue through the rest of the signup process, which is really just a few more easy-to-answer questions about your place. How many bathrooms? Does it have wifi? How’s the jacuzzi? Pretty basic stuff.
- Here’s the critical part: once you fill in this basic info and decide how much you want to charge per night (Airbnb helps you decide your optimal price), your work is done. Instead of doing the real heavy lifting of taking and editing tons of photos, you’re going to use Airbnb’s free professional photography service to make your place look dazzling. A photographer will come to your apartment, usually within 7 days of when you make the request, and take a bunch of beautiful photos to make your place look super cool. As soon as the photos are ready, BAM, your Airbnb listing is ready to go live. It’s that easy.
Now your monthly rent, which was burning a hole in your pocket 30 minutes ago, is ready to start making you money. Why haven’t you been doing this all along?
But wait – how are guests going to get in and out of your apartment if you’re off traveling the world? No problem: enter TaskRabbit.
Just like their website says, TaskRabbit “Connects you to safe and reliable help in your neighborhood.” Imagine it as a magical place where you can get someone to do just about anything – for a price, of course. Luckily for you, the prices are usually very reasonable, since you’re dealing with a “regular person” that has a particular set of skills, not a company charging a huge markup for the same service.
In the four years since that post was published, many, many Airbnb hosts have turned to TaskRabbiters to handle all of the hands-on pieces of their rental: the key exchange, cleaning between guests, re-stocking essentials, and more. This Airbnb-Taskrabbit one-two punch is the beginning of your wanderlust freedom!
And yes, we know that a plethora of services like Guesty, Pillow, Homejoy, Proprly, Porter, Beyond Stays and more have popped up to handle some or all of these concerns, but so far none of them have emerged as a clear market winner. Until that happens, we recommend that you develop a custom routine with a Taskrabbiter of your own choosing, with the bonus being that you only pay for the activities you actually want done.
But still, odds are you’ve got some valuable stuff in your apartment that you’d rather not leave lying around while it’s being rented out on Airbnb. Even though Airbnb offer renter’s insurance, your computers, cameras, expensive clothing and jewelry are all too important to you to just leave them out in the open when you’re away. So what are you going to do with them?
Introducing MakeSpace, your “closet in the cloud”. Imagine putting all of your valuables – clothes, electronics, under-your-mattress wads of cash – into storage just by packing them into a couple of bins (sent to you for free) and having a delivery guy pick them up (also free). No horrible trips to the “storage unit”, no belongings scattered at friends’ places, no expensive taxi rides across town. That’s what MakeSpace is all about, and it’s available for just $6.25/month per bin.
What fits in one of these bins, you ask? 30 shirts and 10 sweaters! That’s a lot of stuff for $6/month. And when you return from your trip? Just shoot them a message and they’ll deliver your things to you for $20 flat. No hassle, no worries, just exceptionally easy storage.
And here’s a sweet deal: if you sign up using a friend’s link like this one (we’re friends, right?), you’ll get $75 of free MakeSpace credit. That’s a full year of MakeSpace! Once you’ve signed up, be sure to schedule an appointment so you get your things into storage before it’s time for you to jet off.
Thanks to this trifecta – Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and MakeSpace – your apartment anxiety is all gone. Not only will you not be aimlessly putting money toward unused rent while you’re away, you’re actually going to make money, while living a pretty surreal James Bond lifestyle in the process. What’s that, you say? Ah yes, shaken, not stirred.
Step 3: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
When you’re on the road, your time is limited, and the last thing you want is to be stuck inside your hotel room researching for your entire trip. With that in mind, it’s important that you have tools that you know are going to perform for you every single time. Reliability is key when you’re out of your comfort zone.
And of course, the first thing you’re going to want when you arrive in a new city is a strong wifi connection. But if there’s no Starbucks or McDonald’s around, where do you turn for wifi?
Instabridge is the world’s largest wifi-sharing app. Locals and travelers alike add the login credentials for wifi networks, both open and password-protected networks, for others to use freely, which means you can now connect to millions – yes, millions! – of open and protected networks all around the world.
You’ll be amazed at how many available networks there are in even the most remote regions of the world, though I’ve still been saved by Instabridge more times in Tokyo than I care to admit. As someone who’s been one of Instabridge’s top 100 wifi sharers globally for more than a year now (yes, I am as excited as I sound), I can attest to how addictive adding these networks can get, which is good news for you: the more networks people add, the more accessible wifi becomes for you everywhere. You’ll never max out your data plan again.
Okay, so now that you’ve got wifi, you’ve been able to make it from the airport into the city centre. But still, we’ve ignored something huge stemming all the way back to Step 1: Where are you going to sleep tonight? It’s finally time to address accommodations, and luckily for you, there is a right solution.
Hotel Tonight is relatively new in the world of accommodations, but they’re making a big, big splash. They’re doing what many have tried and failed to achieve – filling would-be-empty hotel rooms at make-travelers-happy prices – and you’re going to love them for it. You can only book a room up to 7 days in advance, which keeps your plans spontaneous and helps you capitalize on deep discounts when hotels are looking to fill their last few rooms.
Here are the very first two hotels on their system that I looked at, both for tonight.
The first one is the Lexington “Autograph Collection” in Manhattan. On Hotel Tonight, the total price is $123 ($104 plus $19 in taxes/fees). On Kayak, which acts as an aggregator for the most popular hotels websites like Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire.com, the lowest price available on any of those sites was $209. That’s over a 40% discount on Hotel Tonight.
Now let’s look at London. If you feel like ballin’ out with something luxurious, you’re going to pay $241 including taxes/fees for the Westbury Mayfair on Hotel Tonight. That’s not cheap, but compare it to Kayak’s $349 and it looks like a steal! 30% off is nothing to sneeze at.
But if you’re reading this and thinking “That doesn’t matter – none of these hotels are within my price range anyway!” you’re certainly not alone. And luckily, not everywhere in the world is as expensive as downtown Manhattan or Central London! Using Hotel Tonight, you can find plenty of great hotels in the $20-50 range in hundreds of cities around the world, and using my code JBISHOP138 when you download the app, you’ll get $25 in free hotel credit, which is enough for a free night’s stay in a cool European city like Prague or even on The Strip in Las Vegas.
There is a catch, though: Hotel Tonight isn’t everywhere yet. They have spectacular coverage in the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe, but some parts of the world remain completely untouched. The most obvious of those regions? Asia. Not to worry, though, since there’s a very similar app that only operates in Asia, Australia and New Zealand (for now) called HotelQuickly, and with the two of these apps combined, you’re golden.
Take everything we just said about Hotel Tonight and apply it to HotelQuickly: heavily-discounted hotels, appropriate for a very wide range of budgets, a one-week booking window, and all of it backed by attentive customer support. Their prices beat the “best available” prices you find on places like Kayak and Hotels.com every single day, so as long as you’re fine with booking your accommodations within 7 days, you’re going to get the best prices. HotelQuickly even gave us a special promo code, YOREOYSTER, which is good for $15 off your first hotel booking. That $15 is enough for a free night’s stay in most major Asian cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bali, and there are still great deals to be had in more expensive cities like Tokyo and Singapore.
So wherever you are in the world, you’ve now got your accommodations covered (if these don’t work for you, stick with Airbnb). But now that your group has some shared expenses, how do you keep track of them without the process becoming a total drag?
Settle Up is a super-simple bill-splitting app that allows you to manage and share expenses with ease. Based on the information you input, the app tells you who should pay for the next meal, the total your group has spent, and who owes who how much in what currency at any given time. And as any piece of technology dealing with expenses should be, it’s extremely intuitive.
[UPDATE April 2017: If saving money on foreign currency transactions is important to you, you must check out N26, the online bank that saved me over $1,000 in my first 8 months using them.]
But if you’re familiar with the expense management apps for groups out there, one question is definitely on the tip of your tongue: why Settle Up instead of Splitwise?
Yes, Splitwise is a good travel tool, but there’s one very crucial component of Splitwise that made it impossible for us to recommend here: when using Splitwise, everyone you want to split expenses with needs to download the app. In other words, if every single person in your travel crew doesn’t have a Splitwise account, the app is useless. As we see it, that’s ludicrous.
In contrast, Settle Up works just as well on a single person’s phone as it does when connected to multiple phones. So if your group prefers to have one person keep track of all the expenses, you can, or if you’d rather all of you chip in, you can do that too.
The one area where Splitwise beats Settle Up is that Splitwise is free on both iOS and Android, whereas Settle Up is free on Android but costs $2 on iOS. But here’s some free math to get you started: have your travel mate with the Android (there’s always at least one) play the role of accountant for your trip. Problem solved 🙂
Okay, so now you’ve got 9 new travel tools to try out for your next trip. Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed?
If so, you’re not alone. Traveling can be stressful, and sometimes you need that extra boost to get you out the door.
And that’s why we started our wanderlust publication, How I Travel. How I Travel is a collection of meaningful conversations with the world’s most interesting travelers – everyone ranging from startup founders to professional Instagrammers to muay thai fighters – to discover what makes them go. What’s your favourite place? doesn’t cut it here; we dig into the whys, the hows, and the underlying motivations that make our travelers think and act the way that they do.
And quite frankly, they bare it all for us. They share stories of their fears as a first-time traveler, the personal challenges they’ve overcome as a result of travel, their goals and dreams for the future, and a lot more. Their stories are inspiring, and their travel musings sit nothing short of insightful.
So if you’re feeling more prepared with these 9 travel tools at your disposal and now the only thing holding you back is that extra little kick out the door, come check out How I Travel. We’ve witnessed a lot of people making the leap to a life that’s more fulfilling, more exciting, and chock-full of world travel, and we’d love to see you out on the open road one day soon, too.
Oh, and if you plan on using one or more of these tools on your next trip, your friends probably would too! Why don’t you share it on Facebook? 🙂