When traveling internationally, whether staying connected with a laptop, tablet, hotel computer or internet café, knowing a few go-to websites loaded with useful information can ease the stress of travel. Using unfamiliar search engines or having browsers pull up foreign search results because of automatic location-finding can make routine tasks a time-consuming chore.
Several free websites have proven their utility after several months of testing on an extended journey lasting several months, when my husband and I traveled independently through Southeast Asia and Australia. These are not necessarily the top travel sites for organizing a trip in the early stages; rather, these are the best sites to utilize while on the trip. That being said, a couple of travel planning sites, such as Trip Advisor and Agoda, are included as they provide good information for not only lodging, but restaurants and attractions.
Best free travel sites (in alphabetical order):
An Asia-based hotel booking site acquired by Priceline in 2007, Agoda is an excellent choice when booking lodging in Asia and beyond. It has a convenient map feature that provides a quick overview of hotels and prices in a given area, and contains traveler reviews, which can only be submitted by those who have completed a stay booked through Agoda.
It took a bit of hunting to find a comprehensive site that works everywhere, but CNN Weather does a very good job, clearly displaying weather information, forecasts and active satellite views for cities and towns around the world. Searches can be done by region or country and up to five locations can be saved for future reference.
Another weather site that offers international forecasts is Weather Underground, and more detailed sites can be found regionally, including WeatherZone.com, an Australia-based weather service providing detailed weather forecasts for the Pacific region.
Having contacts available in the cloud is a lifesaver when unexpected events happen. Offered as part of Google’s email service, G-mail, or a stand-alone service, Google Contacts is a full service address book. It is a good idea to spend a little time before the trip making sure that phone numbers and email addresses are up to date, whether using Google Contacts or another of the many providers, including Yahoo and Hotmail.
Whether needing to translate information from a foreign website or newspaper, or wanting to know how to order wine, Google Translate offers a simple tool that will translate words, phrases or even websites. Audio pronunciation is provided. Yahoo’s site offers an analogous service but it is interesting to compare website translations as they are not exactly the same.
Every country has its own access code, while prefixes and numbering formats sometimes differ between landlines and mobile phones. This can create a confusing string of numbers to dial. HowToCallAbroad.com clearly displays codes and prefixes based on the country where the call is being placed, the country being called and the actual telephone number. I have found it to be quick and easy to use.
There are other services that offer free calling between computers, or low cost calls from computer to land or mobile number, but Skype rules at internet cafes, where almost universally, Skype software is already downloaded. Most internet cafes also come equipped with cameras, headsets and microphones, though the environment can be noisy with everyone Skyping at once. I was able to call home, from Australia to San Francisco, and talk for 40 minutes for about $1.
Google Voice was recently launched internationally, offering a similar application and can be integrated with smartphones.
This easy-to-use file storage and sharing site can be extremely advantageous while traveling, as important documents and photos can be stored in the cloud, accessible from any computer. SugarSync offers 5 GB of free storage, enough to store travel-related documents, important papers and some photos. In case of loss of a laptop or tablet, knowing that key documents are safe and accessible offers peace of mind to the sojourner. My laptop refused to boot up and spent several weeks in a repair facility in Perth, but I was relaxed, knowing that my important photos were securely stored on SugarSync.I found SugarSync to be very easy to set up and can quickly identify folders to synchronize between my laptop, desktop and the cloud.
Drop Box offers comparable services, but only offers 2 GB of free storage.
A time zone converter and much more, the best part of TimeandDate.com might be the Personal World Clock, where registered users can set up to 25 locations to get relevant time zones at a glance. Or it could be the Meeting Planner that displays times for two or more locations in hourly or other increments—very helpful when coordinating calls between different countries. The site has been up since 1998 and the developer hasn’t wasted any time—every way that time zones can be presented has been thought of, as well as other features, such as a dialing code calculator, customizable calendar, worldwide weather forecasts, date calculators, travel time calculator and mobile phone applications. I have used the Personal World Clock to set up 15 locations around the world, and found the Meeting Planner very helpful when coordinating calls back home.
Trip Advisor, the well-known travel advice site, has the benefit of 65 million visitors a month from around the world offering their opinions. This gives the site an international reach that means that just about every hotel has been reviewed by someone and the ease of checking rates from several sources is a helpful planning tool. In addition to reviews, Travel Guides offer information on what to see and do. I found that we cross-referenced frequently between Trip Advisor and Agoda traveler reviews, so it’s helpful to use both sites.
This is a well-designed, straightforward site for currency conversion and many other foreign exchange tools. One aspect that makes XE easy to use is that so many different terms can be entered as a starting point, including the country, currency abbreviation, and name of the currency. Mobile phone and tablet apps are available.
Yahoo offers a basic currency converter without all the bells and whistles of XE, but does offer a handy printable pocket guide between common denominations of two currencies at a time. We use XE for recurring conversion needs and made a card like the pocket guide with several denominations.
There has been a profusion of websites for travelers but these ten sites, along with a few sites offering comparable services, have been handpicked to make lengthy journeys easier.