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We’ve given a lot of travel advice to our friends and family. Much of the advice centers on not trying to do too much. A tour that offers 10 cities in 10 days isn’t better than a tour that offers just five. With travel time, inevitable delays, and checking in and out of hotels, the slower you go, the more you’ll see.
Driving vs. taking buses/trains: Driving is isolating, usually boring, and can be nerve racking. But sometimes it’s the only way to get to where you want to go, and makes sense. We usually tell people to consider buses and trains whenever possible.
Group tours vs. private tours vs. going it alone: It dependes on where you are, if you speak the language, and how adventurous you are. We have done all three in India. But in Mexico, we always travel independently (we speak Spanish, and the infrastructure is well established). We traveled independently in Russia and the rest of Europe, and throughout Turkey and Egypt. Generally, we try to travel independently unless the infrastructure prohibits it.
Best travel guide books? There is no one “best” guide series. Frommer guides usually have the best listing of sites and attractions. DK Eyewitness books are good at providing an overview of cities, but unhelpful for regions or entire countries. Although Lonely Planet used to be our go-to guidebook, it’s now our least favorite; they seem to have lost their way (as noted in Thomas Kohnstamm’s exposé, Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?). Moon guides can be ok, but they’re never been our primary guidebooks. Our advice is to get a few from the library before you buy one. And better yet, if you have a tablet, get the ebook instead. Just be sure to have a paper map; using the maps in ebooks is painful.
Best website for airfares? You don’t need to visit 20+ websites. Check Kayak, Momondo, and Google Flights. click here for links. However, if you suspect that there’s a low cost unlisted airline, visit the departures/arrivals boards of the airports. You may find a local small carrier that has more flights at better prices.
Best hotel website? We use booking.com, airbnb, hotels.com, and Agoda. BUT booking.come (and the others) have changed their lowest price guarantee. Very often, a hotel’s direct booking price will be much less than the booking.com price. Before you book a room, check the hotel’s direct-book price.