Resources for sustainable, affordable travel
Welcome to the Minimalist Journeys Travel Resources page, a curated list of the tools and websites we recommend so that you too can experience more by living with less. This list is designed to make your trip planning a breeze, and your travels more affordable and sustainable.
As we all know, travelling sustainably means different things to different people. Supporting small businesses and local communities that host travellers is one of the easiest ways to travel responsibly.
We use the travel resources on this list regularly. We have tried and tested many options, but only those resources that have cut the mustard are listed here. These are our preferences, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Though, we do add and change this list as we find better resources that help us all. As such, we always look for organisations that are aligned with our values. So if you represent a company interested in working with us please get in touch.
Online Travel Agencies
- Expedia Group, Inc, a publicly-traded US company that includes brands like CarRentals, CheapTickets, Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Orbitz, Travelocity, Trivago and VRBO. They publicly state that as a group, they support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. To date, the Group’s corporate social responsibility efforts are aligned with 8 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and there is room for improvement, as CSRHub’s rating of 32/100 attests.
- Bookings Holdings is also a publicly traded US company comprising brands like Agoda, Booking.com, Kayak and Priceline. Their latest Corporate Responsibilities Report is easy to find.
If you are booking travel components online and not directly with the supplier, there is a good chance you will be using one of these two companies.
We hardly ever use just one website for all our travel needs but when we do, our go-to website is Expedia. We’ve only had excellent experiences with them so far. Expedia has a sufficiently large selection of airline(seat)s, hotels etc. It is easy to make and manage bookings via the website and/or app. Prices are similar as you’ll find elsewhere (sometimes cheaper), and you can save an extra 10% or more with Expedia Rewards member prices.
In Europe, we prefer overland transport between cities and even between countries. The best bus company, by far, across the continent is FlixBus. Every bus we have used was clean and modern, with quality seats and good free Wi-Fi.
Since its inception in 2013, FlixBus has become Europe’s largest intercity bus network. It also has an easy to use online booking system, including a simple but effective smartphone app that displays your reservation details and makes boarding the bus super-easy. Other features include GPS live tracking and an automated delay-management system which sends a text message if your bus is delayed.
We use Google Flights to check out air fares across whole months. Furthermore, Google Flights allows you to keep your destination open – great if you want to fly into a specific region but don’t really care where you start exploring that region.
Google Flights, for example, helped us tremendously when figuring out the cheapest way from Ecuador into the Caribbean (where you’ve got 30 or so island nations to choose from) and then again from the Caribbean into Central America.
RentalCars.com is our go-to rental car aggregator. The website searches across all the big brands (Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty), but we’ve also found some really good deals with local car rental companies through them – most recently in Slovenia.
Be aware that aggregators are just big search engines. You don’t rent a car with them. All they do is connect you with the car rental company, enabling you to rent a car at an often significantly discounted price.
We use Rome2Rio to check what transport options exist between A and B, how long they take and how much they might cost.
While you can book straight through Rome2Rio, the website also provides links to transport providers to enable you to check (and book) with the transport provider directly (which is our preference).
Skiplagged should have been named SkipALeg as it was developed to find lower airfares using an insider strategy: Let’s say a non-stop fare from Auckland to Los Angeles might be $800 one-way, but a fare on the same airline from Auckland to Dallas with a stop in Los Angeles might be $600. Buying the flight to Dallas and leaving the plane in Los Angeles would save you $200, just by skipping the final leg.
Several airlines dislike this strategy and have been suing Skiplagged. As an average consumer, we love the idea of cheaper airfares by having the rules exploited in our favor. Of course, skipping the final leg only works if you travel with carry-on luggage only.
When we can’t walk or use public transport we often opt for Uber over a taxi. Why?
- Uber is usually cheaper than taxis, and the vehicles are generally cleaner.
- We know what the estimated fare is before we catch a ride.
- We know who the driver is and can contact them if something is accidentally left behind in the vehicle.
- Payment is easier and safer as our payment information is stored safely and our credit card is charged directly.
Our first choice when it comes to accommodation is to not pay for it at all. House sitting is the ideal bartering method for us: we love animals and get to look after someone else’s pet/s while they enjoy a well-deserved holiday or focus on their business trip, knowing their furry family and home are well looked after. A win/win for both sides.
There are tons of websites out there that help you find house sitting gigs. So far, we’ve only used three of them:
Aussie House Sitters
As both Kiwi and Aussie House Sitters are based on the same platform, we already knew our way around, which made the set-up process a breeze. The search functionality works the same way as Kiwi House Sitter’s. Another advantage is the ability to link to your Kiwi House Sitter reviews (and vice versa) if you use both platforms. This helped us secure our first house sit in Australia only a few days after signing up to Aussie House Sitters at the beginning of 2020.
Kiwi House Sitters
Kiwi House Sitters, as the name suggests, connects pet owners and house sitters in New Zealand. Kiwi House Sitters was the first website we signed up to – back in 2017. While we sit for friends and family in New Zealand, all of our other house sits in Aotearoa came about through Kiwi House Sitters.
The website is easy to use, and the filters you can apply to narrow down your search are great. You can even set up email alerts that notify you as soon as a new sit has been posted (great for a competitive market like New Zealand) and link to your reviews on Aussie House Sitters (and vice versa).
Trusted House Sitters
Trusted House Sitters was the second house sitting platform we signed up to. While they also list house sits in New Zealand and Australia, all over the world in fact, we have used them so far only in Europe.
Unfortunately, there is no linkage between Trusted House Sitters and the Kiwi or Aussie House Sitters websites, so you can’t link to your reviews there (and vice versa). Trusted House Sitters however does allow you to create references: we simply asked home owners we sat for if they could copy and paste their reviews into Trusted House Sitters (and most of them were happy to help).
In between house sits, we stay in short-term rental accommodation. This gives us some home comforts like a kitchen to prepare our meals and (ideally) our own bathroom. At the same time, we support locals and their small business, and with the help and knowledge of our hosts, we get to see and learn about the local community in ways we never could if we stayed in an anonymous hotel. Again a win/win.
With our nomadic lifestyle, we source a large percentage of our accommodation through Airbnb, because:
- Short-term rental accommodation is usually more affordable than hotel accommodation.
- You often stay in someone’s home, away from the tourist crowds. You can share stories with your hosts, ask for recommendations and experience local life.
- The app and website are easy to use and allow you to filter by type of accommodation (a private room or the entire place), features (including kitchen and laundry facilities) and budget.
The website has an extensive filter functionality to narrow down your search, including things that are important to us such as a kitchen, laundry facilities and (ideally) our bathroom.
As members of Booking.com’s rewards program Genius, we may get an extra 10% off and receive complimentary perks like early check-ins, late check-outs, a welcome drink or a free airport shuttle.
Why? For every 10 nights you stayed at a Hotels.com accommodation within the year, the website gives you a free night (or at least a chunky credit) based on the average price of those 10 nights. We have used this a few times over the years.
Its website and app are easy to use. Similar to Booking.com, it allows you to filter by budget and feature (for example, kitchen, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast).
While VRBO doesn’t have the same reach as the others in certain parts of the world, we have booked accommodation through this platform. As of April 2019, the VRBO site listed more than two million properties in more than 190 countries across the world that travellers could rent. Points of difference to the other platforms include their Pinterest-like boards called Trip Boards that can be shared with friends and family.
VRBO offer vacation rentals ranging from simple apartments to luxury and unique options (even castles).
Activities and Tours
BiteMojo offers self-guided tours of a different kind: you learn a bit about the city you are visiting and get to taste the local cuisine. The 3-5 hour walking tours (which you do at your own pace) take you not only to noteworthy sights you would otherwise miss but also to small eateries, cafes and pubs off the beaten path, and you get to taste food you’ve likely never tried before. How cool is that?
UPDATE: BiteMojo tours are not selling tours during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- a 44% discount for a caving tour with a family-owned business in Waitomo; and
- great 2-for-1 deals for the Taieri Gorge Railway in Dunedin and the Hot Springs at Lake Tekapo.
GetYourGuide is a Berlin-based online travel agency specializing in tours, excursions and activities around the world.
Small tour operators use the platform to reach a wider audience, much like accommodation platforms (and Viator). Theoretically, you pay no more when booking an activity through their platform: the company guarantees the lowest prices on the market. GetYourGuide also has an excellent smartphone app.
With access to over 300,000 experiences in more than 1500 cities worldwide, we’ve always found something new to discover. And with industry-leading flexibility and last-minute availability, you can even book the same morning.
Budget Your Trip
Budget Your Trip is one of the few websites we’ve been referencing regularly since planning our first three months’ trip in 2012. It has only gotten better and more comprehensive since:
- It lets travelers search for travel costs by city, country and budget type. These estimates are generated from real-world expenses provided by travelers.
- Once registered, travellers can plan their travel budgets. The costs are broken down into expense categories and shown in table and chart format.
- During and after a trip, users can track their expenses to see how much they’re spending and if they’re staying on budget. Graphs and tables break down costs by geographic location, category and day.
OFX is an Australian-based online foreign exchange and payments company with offices around the world. We started using OFX several years ago to transfer money between Australia and New Zealand, after finding that high street banks offered very bad exchange rates at exorbitantly high fees.
We have always been extremely pleased with the quality of service, the speed of transfer, the communication throughout each transfer and most importantly, the exchange rates offered.
OFX offers much better exchange rates than high street banks in 55+ currencies. Forward Contracts and Limit Orders help customers mitigate currency fluctuations. Payments are secure (OFX is regulated by over 50 global regulators).
Their smartphone app provides a currency converter with live exchange rates and enables you to transfer money and track your transfers on the go.
XE Money Transfer
As a viable alternative to OFX, we have been using XE Money Transfer to move funds from New Zealand to Australia and found we get a better exchange rate than from OFX up to a certain amount. The website functionality, speed of transfer and customer service are on par with OFX – so it really comes down to the exchange rate which one we use at any given point in time.
28 Degrees Mastercard
The 28 Degrees Mastercard is one of only two credit cards available in Australia (that we know of) that has:
- No annual fee;
- No currency conversion fees; and
- No international transaction fees
(the other one is the Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard). The downside is that the card does not provide you with any rewards points, so if you think about using it to pay for your weekly groceries at home don’t get this card.
The card is perfect though for people who travel frequently internationally, as those sneaky fees add up to more than what any rewards points are worth – we calculated AUD800 in saved currency conversion and international transaction fees during our 3 month backpacking trip in 2012. If you pay off your credit card every month (as you should), this is a real money saver. The card also offers free Wi-Fi access at more than 1 million Boingo hotspots worldwide.
The 28 Degrees Mastercard was awarded a 2017 CANSTAR five star rating for Outstanding Value for Occasional Travelers. You must be at least 18 years of age and a permanent resident of Australia to apply.
If you want to know how credit cards work and how to select the right one for your needs, check out our post.
We have used several travel insurers over the years – most recently Insurance Geeks Limited, trading as TINZ. The insurance policy is underwritten by Lloyd’s.
Paul had three claims throughout our year in Europe/Middle East (for an allergic reaction that required him to seek emergency treatment, for prescription sunglasses that broke and needed to be replaced, and for a knee injury), and TINZ’s customer service was in all cases excellent.
Smartphone Travel Apps
What did people do before smartphones? Well, we travelled back then already… with thick and heavy guide books, foldable maps and the like.
These days, it’s the great apps that make our travel so much easier. We have mentioned a few already in other sections of our travel resources page. Here are a few more we use regularly and could not imagine to travel without.
It’s kinda boring because everyone knows about Google Maps, but there are good reasons why it should be among your mapping services of choice:
- While not always hundred per cent correct, it is better in providing directions than any car GPS we have used.
- In many places, Google Maps is linked with public transport systems, providing you directions utilizing buses, trains and even ferries.
- Google Maps not only helps you find local businesses and places of interest but also provides a wealth of useful information about these places, such as opening times, contact details and reviews.
- You can download maps for offline use, which is great if you don’t have internet access when you’re out and about.
- While online, you can mark locations and even label them to make it easier to refer back to as needed (even offline).
We frequently embed Google Maps into our posts for easier reference, including
Our second mapping application of choice is MAPS.ME, which provides offline maps using OpenStreetMap data. It often provides more detailed maps than Google Maps, which is especially handy when you’re out hiking. MAPS.ME was invaluable for us in Cuba where Google Maps does not work at all.
Speaking of hiking: another great feature of MAPS.ME is that it shows you both the route from A to B and the elevation profile, so you know in advance how difficult a chosen route will be.
TripAdvisor seems to have been around forever (in relative internet terms anyway). We use it predominantly to
- check out reviews before booking accommodation, restaurants or activities;
- compare prices for accommodation; and/or
- book accommodation via its FlipKey vacation rental site.
We also love the TripAdvisor travel forum, often finding an answer to a travel or destination related question on it.
TripIt has been our itinerary tool of choice for years. As we book components for our trips, we email our booking confirmations to TripIt. It then creates a new itinerary (or adds the component/s to an existing one). In effect, thanks to the app, all our travel plans are in the one place.
Itineraries include important details which are available offline, such as dates and times, flight numbers, booking references, contact details as well as links to mapping services, weather information and more. We can share the information with loved ones so that they know where we are in case of an emergency.
The bonus of having all our past itineraries in the one place is that it’s easy to refer back to if someone asks for a recommendation.
In its basic version, TripIt is free. TripIt Pro offers more functionality for frequent travelers (at a price), including very useful alerts in case of flight delays or cancellations.
Last Updated 23 June 2021