Travel Gear: Before You Travel

REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.)

As one of America's largest retail outdoor supply chains REI can fulfill almost any travel gear need.  I have purchased the majority of my travel gear at their Minneapolis, MN location.  They usually have good deals as well as the highest quality gear.  Some of which are even made by the company itself. In my pack I carry an REI tent and sleeping bag and both are excellent.  As a cooperative they also have a membership program that gives members 10% back on the previous years purchases.  A lifetime membership only costs $20.

Cabela's

Even though Cabela's is geared more towards outdoor sportsmen such as hunters and fishermen it is still a great place to get quality gear for your trip.  Since most of the clothing they carry is made for outdoor use they are a go to shop if you like to travel into extreme climates.  They also carry a lot of small gadgets that might come in handy on the road.

Mountain Hardwear

Owned by Colombia and based in California, MH is a retailer for primarily outdoor clothing and equipment.  Their equipment is known to be of high quality.  

World Nomads Travel Insurance

Before going on any extended trip overseas travel insurance is a MUST.  Even though the likelihood of actually needing to make a claim is low it is something I highly recommend.  World Nomads is a quick and easy way to find a policy that fits your trip duration, countries, and budget.  Find a policy that covers emergency evacuation and accidental death and dismemberment.  I know that sounds a bit grim, but if you ever need to be medically evacuated you will thank me for possibly saving you thousands.

Guide Books

Rick Steves

If you are looking for a quality guide book look no further. Rick Steves and company have a passion for traveling that translates over into their guidebooks.  They have tons of location options, even extended city guides that will fill an entire book.  Rick Steves also design and sell travel equipment from backpacks to packing cubes.  Some of the best guidebooks about Europe come from their 'Europe through the back door' series. 

Lonely Planet

Having sold 120 millions books since its founding in 1972, Lonely Planet has become the largest travel guide book publisher in the world.  Between their book and their website you can find a wealth of information about almost any location.  Many places that have been mentioned in LP's guides have become top tourist destinations. Some people even advise to avoid hostels that are mentioned in the guides because they are usually at capacity, hard to get into, or more expensive based on the demand.  Much of the information in the Lonely Planet guides is very helpful with getting around or picking sites to see.  If you need to learn phrases in another language for your trip phrase books are also available through LP.

Rough Guides

Rough guides, especially now, tend to have more historical information than other guidebook series'.  This is a big plus among RG fans.  

*No matter what guidebook you choose don't always obey it to the letter.  You'll never have a genuine experience if you are always following the words of someone else. *

Transportation

Kayak

As the largest fare comparing site in the world it's no secret that Kayak is a great way to get a cheap flight  Over the years the majority of my flights have been booked through them.  There are a lot of ways help you narrow down the right flight.  I find Kayak to be a steady go to when I am planning a trip. I usually check on flight out of one city to many destinations to see what travel path with be the cheapest.

Skyscanner

This is my alternative to Kayak when looking for flights.  Sometimes Skyscanner can actually find me a better rate than anyone else.  Skycanner features a great search engine that allows you to pick the city you want to fly out of and then choose "anywhere".  This will bring up a list of the cheapest flights from that airport to whatever is the cheapest at that time.   I have used this feature to help me decide which city I should go to next.  

Rail Europe

Unlike the United States, Europe has an extensive rail system that makes travel a lot simpler.  With Rail Europe you can choose from different passes based on the countries you plan to visit and the amount of time you will be traveling.  In general getting a rail pass will save you a lot of money if you plan to be on the move.

Rome 2 Rio

Need to find the cheapest way to get somewhere? Rome 2 Rio is the place to find it.  Just input your departure city and destination and R2R gives you bus routes, flights, rideshare rates, and ferry costs.  It will also give you the estimated price for everything and the time it takes to get there.  It will even include the metro from the center of the city to the airports to give you the most accurate rates.

Carpooling App

Driving from city to city alone? Are you trying to get from city to city, but don't have a car? Just want to save money?  With Carpooling you can address all three.  If you are driving alone from city to city and have some extra room you can charge a small fee to others who would like to make the journey with you.  This choice can save or make you money while also keeping carbon emissions down and meeting new people. After all, you will be sharing a car with them for a while.
 
BlaBlaCar

The more international version of Carpooling, BlaBlaCar is a very popular option.  Much like its counterparts BlaBlaCar lets you choose the cities you are trying to go between and find people willing to help you get there for a small fee.  If you are backpacking Europe this is a great option.  You will meet many interesting natives while avoiding soul sucking airports. 

Hipmunk

A great search engine for flights and hotels. When looking for a flight you are able to filter your results by the agony of the trip. This takes into account the price while also taking into account the duration of the journey to find a sweet spot that wont break the bank and leave you with long layovers in airports.

Momondo

Much like Kayak and Skyscanner above, Momondo aggregates results from many other websites.  Sometimes, I am able to find flights cheaper here than through more well know websites.   They also break down results into cheapest, quickest, and best to fit any travel style. 

Uber

Lyft

Accommodation

Hostelworld

Currently, Hostelworld is my go to website for accommodations while on the road.  I have always found a good hostel at a decent price, even if I book only a few days before I arrive.  They give you comprehensive information on each hostel and customer reviews, which helps to make a good decision.  I always get go with the Standard Flexible Booking option for only a few dollars more per reservation.  This gives you the opportunity to cancel your booking and transfer your deposit to another booking.

Hostelbookers

At times I have found prices to be a few dollars cheaper per night for the exact same booking.  So always make sure to check multiple booking sites before you make a final choice. 


Couchsurfing

Some people might be skeptical of Couchsurfing because it involves staying with someone you have not met before.  I was one of those people at first.  After hearing from people who have done it all over the world I decided to sign up and give it a try.  To my surprise it is a very well regulated community with ratings and reviews of hosts.  Whats more, their policy states that if your are found to have asked for money, goods, or services in return for hosting you can be banned from participating in the community. If you are traveling on a very tight budget Couchsurfing is like staying for free with friends (yes, you will make a lot of friends) around the world. 


Airbnb

Going on an extended trip to a specific location? Want to live like a local? Airbnb could be the option for you.  They connect you with locals who want to rent out rooms of their homes or apartments.  This communtiy is active in 190+ countries around the world. You can use filters to find entire places or rooms for rent.  


Meshtrip

One of the most straight forward accommodation finders out there.  Type where you are going, when, and how many guests and go!  The site instantly compiles results from a ton of booking websites with accommodations in the area. ALL IN ONE PLACE!  Forget opening too many tabs in your browser while searching every booking site.  Also, gone are the days of switching from list to map view. They are both side by side to make it easy to quickly compare location and price.  Compare Airbnb, booking.com, 9flats, and more at a glance.  


Hostelz.com

Looking to compare your favorite hostel booking sites? Gone are the days of opening multiple browser tabs and inputing the same information multiple times.  Hostelz combines the search results and reviews of all the hostel booking sites (Hostelworld, Hostel Bookers, Gomio, & Hostelsclub) into one.  The layout is intuitive and the sidebar will give you information on the destination you have chosen, as well as nearby ones.  This site is quickly becoming a go to for hostel information. 

Travel Credit Cards

Capital One Venture
Fee: $0 first year/ $59 after that

This is the first real travel rewards card I applied for.  You can ear up to 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months.  They also offer some pretty good benefits including $0 fraud liability, no foreign transaction fees, and Travel Accident Insurance among others.  Instead of using your miles to pay for travel directly you pay for your fare in full, then you use your miles to erase purchases from your bill. This is a great card if you don't have loyalty to any airline programs.

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Fee: $0 first year/ $95 after that

The Sapphire card is the most recent addition to my travel tool kit. It too has a bonus of 40,000 points, but the little higher spending threshold of $4,000 in the first 3 months.  You can also receive 5,000 more points for putting an authorized user on the account. 2X points on travel and dinning categories.  No foreign transaction fees. The big draw with this card is the 1:1 points transfer to certain partner companies*.  The good thing is that the major airline partners are also part of different airline alliances.  This makes it easy to use your Chase Ultimate Reward points on a lot of airlines.  Like many other travel card it also includes auto rental insurance, $0 fraud liability, lost luggage reimbursement, and travel accident insurance, but you will also save 20% on all travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 

* British Airways Executive Club | Korea Air SkyPass | Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer | Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards | United MilesPlus | Virgin Atlantic Flying Club | Amtrak Guest Rewards | Hyatt Gold Pass | IHG Rewards Club | Marriott Rewards | The Ritz-Carlton Rewards

Barclaycard Arrival Plus
Fee: $0 first year/ $89 after that

As I currently live in Iowa I am not eligible to receive the Barclaycard Arival Plus, but it is a great option if you are eligible.  It has the same 40,000 point bonus as the two above with many of the same benefits as well.  The thing that makes this card stand out is that you use your points after you book using the card.  This may sound similar to the Venture card, and it is, but you also receive an extra 10% point redemption bonus when you redeem them.  Overall if you use your card more for day to day purchases over travel you will get more points then with the Sapphire Preferred. 

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
Fee: $0 first year/ $65 after that

Know for having one of the most valuable points systems in travel the SPG is a great choice for getting free hotel stays and flights. You get 10,000 bonus starpoints with your first purchase using the card. After that you can get 15,000 more when you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months.  You can transfer points to 30 airline partners. Also when you transfer to airlines you get 5,000 bonus points for every 20,000 transfered.  That is a 25% point bonus when transferring to airlines. When you redeem your points for hotel stays you receive the 5th night free.

Language Learning

Rosetta Stone

By far and away the most name recognizable language learning software, at least in North America.  Their software is offered in a monthly subscription form or by a one time purchase that included a limited  time to their online resources.  Although Rosetta Stone uses immersion by presenting content in the target language only it is not meant to make you completely fluent in the language.  It will give you a decent base onto which you can use other supplementary resources to build your skills.  It does have all the major components for language learning reading, writing, and speaking.  If you have their online version you will have the ability to schedule sessions with native speakers and play games in the target language.  It is however one of the more expensive language software packages.  RS also has a mobile companion app for iOS and Android

Duolingo

Gaining steam as the most popular web based language course, Duolingo offers a free learning alternative.  They offer less languages than Rosetta Stone and others, but they do offer some unique ones like Esperanto, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and even Klingon (5% done).  The course uses a translation method giving you sentences in both your native language and your target language.  You are able to hover over unfamiliar words and phrases to get insight into what it means and how it is used.  As you work your way through the program you are asked to strengthen particular skills to continue.  Sometimes the sentences are odd, but that makes it different then the ridged phrase based programs helping you to understand how the language structure works. Learning with Duolingo is like playing a fun trivia game. Also available in and iOS and Android app.

Babbel

Babbel is a very well put together online program.  It costs about $13 USD per month or you can go for longer periods with a combined per month cost that is lower.  The course is very structured with lessons containing very specific information with cultural insights.  As you progress you can review old words and phrases.  Compared to the other options listed this is the most like a traditional language class.  I find this program a very user friendly and once you see results you will be hooked. 

WeSpeke

If you like to learn a language while speaking to a native this is the site for you.  WeSpeke lets you connect to native speakers with a chat window and video chat.  Once you create an account WeSpeke will ask you about your interests in order to help you find matches to have conversations with.  Like any social network you can add people as friends or "Say Hello" and start a conversation with a stranger.  Under each person's profile picture is shown how much of each language they know. For instance under mine there would be a high level of English, but my Spanish and German would be on the low end.  In my opinion using WeSpeke will give you the best real world vocabulary without actually living in the country. You will learn words, slang, and saying that are not standard fare in most language programs.  

iTalki

iTalki is the place where you can connect to more formal language teachers.  You can buy credits through the site to pay for sessions with the teacher of your choice.  In my opinion it is a more teacher oriented version of WeSpeke.  If you are someone who can teach a language you might be able to make some extra cash on the side.  Each hour long session can cost between $10 - $20.  This is a pretty manageable price for personal language instruction. 

YoYo Chinese

Learn Chinese through entertaining online video lessons taught by Yangyang Chen.  The program also features guided audio practice, lecture notes, and authentic Chinese dialog.

Miscellaneous

The Points Guy

Get the most out of you credit cards. Start by checking out TPG to get all the information you need to pick the right card for you.  

Vagabonish

Need some travel inspiration? Vagabonish has plenty of it, along with great travel articles and photo galleries.  

Oxford Seminars

Get certified to teach English overseas.  Oxford seminars offers a 100 hour TESOL course that gives you the training you need to teach English in classrooms all over the world.  They also offer placement help once the course is completed.  If you want to make money while you are on the road teaching English is a great way to do it.

Hitchwiki

Hitchhiking isn't dead.  In many places around the world hitchhiking is a widely used method of getting around.  Hitchwiki breaks down the best places to get a ride around the world.  It also give you information about each country and tips about the best way to travel.

CDC (Center for Disease Control)

Even if you are not from the United States the CDC.gov website has a lot of great information for travelers. You can select the destination you are headed to and see if there are any health related issues in the area.  

Skift

A great site for travel industry news. Everything from destination to travel company news is covered here. 

Sleeping in Airports

Ever looked up a flight only to see that it has a layover or leaves/ arrives at an insane hour.  These are usually the cheapest tickets, which makes them great for budget travelers.  The problems comes when you are trying to find a place to stay to accommodate those strange hours.  Sleeping in Airports is a website dedicated to giving you information about places to get some shut eye while on layover or waiting to catch a flight. This is one of the most complete resources on airport facilities that I have encountered. They also give information on nearby accommodations. It may sound crazy to new comers, but sleeping in an airport is more common then you think.  

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