New Delhi: Before scooting off to your travel agent, give the Internet a chance to help you plan your trip. The net is a remarkable resource for travellers, with tools to do everything from booking tickets to planning walking tours to saving money on guide fees and museum audio tours. Here’s how you can click your way to a great bargain holiday:
How to fly
There are varieties of ticket deals out there but finding the cheapest one can be confusing. Which is why you should begin planning your trip at a reliable plain vanilla travel search engine such as the clean, efficient and Indian www.ixigo.com, or the more international www.kayak.com. The idea is not to actually book tickets but to find out the flights and fares available in your time-band of choice. Deals and discounts can come later. So at the time of writing this piece, iXiGO tells us that Delhi-London returns via Dubai on Emirates are going at around Rs22,700.
Sight and sound: Enjoy London’s National Gallery with an audio tour. Petey Yorick
The next step is to see if you can save even more on a ticket booking website. Travelocity India, we notice, currently has an Rs2,000 discount on London tickets. So pop over there and indeed, the same Emirates tickets are available slightly cheaper at Rs21,320.
Two pieces of advice before you book your tickets though: First, always double check on the airline’s website to confirm flight timings and fares. In fact, booking directly on the airline website has the added benefit of letting you choose seats with legroom and the seafood dinner. Second, always be clear about the sort of discount or deal the booking website is giving you. There are straight discounts, cash-backs credited to your card account later and discount vouchers for future bookings. Read the fine print.
Yours truly secured a return ticket for two on the Delhi-London sector on Emirates (via Dubai) for a thrifty Rs46,000. Just eating all the in-flight meals, throwing back a few beers and watching every movie on their entertainment system is worth the investment.
What to do
Guidebooks are expensive and when you are on short holidays they don’t really help you prioritize.
Instead, tap into the publicly voted list of “Things To Do” on Tripadvisor.com. Popular cities such as London are well served by thousands of attractions and hundreds of ratings. And there are surprises. What can possibly rank higher on the list of London to-dos than the National Gallery and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre?
The Fat Tire Bike Tour of London is what. A quick browsing of the Fat Tire website and a brief, friendly email exchange later, you’re all set to see a big chunk of London on cycle with a qualified guide. All you need to do is assemble outside the Queensway tube station any day at 11am and you’re all set to go. Bicycles come as part of the £16 (Rs1,160) per head fee.
But if you would rather just walk around seeing things then don’t wait to reach your destination before you plan. Google audio tours for your city of choice and you might find gems such as Robert Wright’s lovingly created and maintained www.londonwalks.org.
Wright has uploaded 55 walking tours, most around an hour long, of London all recorded in mp3 format. The leisurely tours of popular and obscure neighbourhoods are intimately narrated, easy to follow along and completely free. We were pleasantly surprised to note that Wright had an hour-long podcast on the Islington area where we intend to shack up with a relative.
Soundwalks.com has a great collection for New York available at a price, including an award-winning tour of Ground Zero. For off-beat oral descriptions of works in the Museum of Modern Art, check Mod.blogs.com. The Guardian newspaper also has an eclectic mix of guides at guardian.co.uk/travel/audio, including recordings for Dubrovnik and Reykjavik.
Other great places to look for audio tours include the Podcast directory on iTunes, the www.about.com collection of online guides and various national and regional tourist association websites.
Besides helping you navigate cities, audio recordings can also bring monuments and museums alive cheaply. The National Gallery in London is a must visit, but to really enjoy and understand the paintings on the walls, why not download the National Gallery’s Be Inspired audio tour from the gallery’s website or iTunes? The guide not only walks you through some two dozen of the Gallery’s masterpieces—yes Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is in there, too—but also has quotes and commentary by artists, painters and cartoonists. Considering that the audio guide, if purchased at the Gallery, will push you back by around £4 a person, this free download is pure saving.
There are tonnes of free and paid for audio guides out there on the Web. Search patiently. Our London collection currently includes free downloads from the Tate Modern, Sir John Soanes’ Museum, Visit Britain, Guardian and the Mayor of London’s website. Everything for free.
Online mapping services such as Google Maps and Schmap.com helps create great maps and itineraries. In this case the free online navigation services might even be more useful than the old-fashioned printed ones.
Use Google Maps’ walking directions option to get detailed instructions on reaching from point to point. Schmap also has a downloadable application for your computer that lets you create and printout maps to your heart’s content. And yes, it’s all free.
And what better way to break bonds with a guidebook than with a few Wikitravel.org printouts. Wikitravel is another free, detailed list of everything to see and do in hundreds of places all over the globe. While it will never replace the opinionated nature of a good guidebook Wikitravel is perfect for short trips when you want to focus on all the important things.
Where to stay
Friends and relatives are the best option, of course. Otherwise use a combination of Wikitravel entries and Tripadvisor to choose places to stay in. If you are really on a budget, use a hospitality exchange service such as Couchsurfing.com. The site has a comprehensive network of free hospitality options all over the world and at the time of writing this piece, there are at least 30,000 couches available in the UK alone.
* Decide where you want to go
* Look for flights, schedules and approximate fares on a search engine
* Book tickets with the best possible discount deals
* Use Couchsurfing, Tripadvisor and Wikitravel to narrow down accommodation options. Look out for youth hostels and vacant university rooms
* Go to Wikitravel and browse through the city entry. Make a note of all the important things you want to see. Check Tripadvisor for the most highly rated attractions
* Get an online map and mark out everything you want to do on it. Use this to divide your trip into a few daily itineraries
* Plan your walking trips using Google Maps
* Search and download audio tours for each itinerary and audio guides for each museum, gallery or monument. Tailor your daily itineraries to match the audio guides you get