The travel market is, undoubtedly, wildly saturated; modern booking sites serve us everything from package holidays to Corfu with ya nan to mind-boggling flight routes that guarantee the lowest fare. With monolith sites like Booking.com, Airbnb and Skyscanner, travel booking has never been more accessible – but with convenience comes apathy, and it’s easy to get stuck in a repetitive cycle of booking and planning via mega-platforms -or as I like to call it – the Amazon paradigm! But fear not, I’m going to unearth my favourite lesser-known travel resources to aid your organisational needs. Yes, you’re welcome.

Anyone that knows me personally knows I love absolutely nothing more than researching things to death – especially travel. And if you’re ever so lucky as to come on a trip with me, it’s safe to say you’d be in extremely meticulous, fussy and potentially neurotic hands. Hands that have a checklist for their checklists and that have scoured every nook and cranny of the interwebs in search of nuggets of research gold!

Here are just a few of my lesser-known offerings:

 

Do you like trains? Because this guy does. Mark Smith, fellow Brit and self-proclaimed trainspotter has made trains his life. From humble beginnings working for British Rail to eventually running Seat 61 full time. This has to be hands down the best resource online for train travel around the world. While the UK and EU are the main points of focus, Mark has additionally travelled all over the world personally documenting all kinds of train travel – from carriage photos to booking links. This man has indeed done the world a service!

What I particularly like about The Man in Seat 61 is that the site itself has always kept the same aesthetic. No bells and whistles here, folks. Just straight up data and advice from a seasoned traveller. Mark’s love of the railway is apparent, and it’s refreshing to see that kind of dedication in such a fast-food world as this, where it would be really easy to skulk off on the next Easyjet flight. What’s more, Mark’s accounts are so detailed they are often a way better resource than the actual train companies websites! I have referred to Seat 61 for booking trains in Europe, Thailand, Canada and most recently South Africa. If there’s a train line – this guy has been on it! Train times, prices and links to various booking options are just one of the reasons The Man in Seat 61, despite its slightly retro setup, has held steady even in the current competitive climate.

But, Mark, why seat 61?

“Zaharoff, the notorious arms dealer, would always book compartment seven on the Orient Express to or from Istanbul.  On Eurostar, I would always request seat 61 (in first-class cars 7, 8, 11 or 12 in a classic Eurostar or in cars 3 or 14 in the new e320) as it lines up with the window, one of a cosy pair of seats facing each other across a table complete with table lamp, like an old Pullman car.  It became a tradition, and I’ve left London in seat 61 en route to destinations such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Albania, Tunisia (via Lille & Marseille), Marrakech (via Paris, Madrid & Algeciras), Istanbul (via Vienna, Budapest & Transylvania), Ukraine & the Crimea, Aleppo, Damascus, Petra & Aqaba, and even Moscow, Vladivostok, Tokyo & Nagasaki via the Trans-Siberian Railway.”

And there was me thinking it was just his lucky number…

 

I would imagine there’s probably a bunch of similar competitors now, but Rome2Rio won my heart as one of the first map-routing sites. But not like Google Maps. Rome2Rio allows users to see all possible transport options from one place to another (and this can be on other sides of the world if desired) and the timescale, price and booking options that go along with it. Naturally, it’s not an exact science, and it pays to double-check options against the official websites of various transport options. I have found it excellent for figuring out public transport in countries that don’t have obvious timetables and such. Often it’ll come up with an option I hadn’t even been aware of. It also gives relative (or exact if you enter dates) charges which are handy for deciding what is best for you. You can now click through to book on many of the booking sites too, which is super helpful. But even if you merely use it for an overview Rome2Rio has plenty to offer.

 

I’m not sure if Atlas Obscura ever decided to be a travel site, or it more so just evolved naturally. Starting primarily as a listing of weird and wacky places around the globe, Atlas Obscura now has to be one of the best resources for dark tourism and even hosts its own organised tours to quirky sites around the world. Using their handy search function, you can check out interesting locations nearby to home, or away. I started using this as a fun way to find things to do while abroad that wouldn’t likely be listed on any conventional itinerary. While some listings are not able to be visited in real life, there are plenty that are, and Atlas Obscura tells readers how they can visit. As some of the sites are unmanned buildings etc, it’s not quite a Trip Advisor review, but a great way to find unique experiences for out of the ordinary itineraries.

If you’re into dilapidated buildings, war crime museums, or a tree that is for no particular reason dedicated to Micheal Jackson – this is your thing. Two of the best places I’ve visited from finding on Atlas Obscura are the Bangkok Medical Museum, which is quite a jaunting experience, for those who can stomach it. I wrote a little something about it on my personal blog a while back. The second being a disused power station in Budapest which is now used mostly as film set location. Featuring an art-deco interior it was an amazingly beautiful building only accessible a few times a year – so you have to be on the ball! I wrote about my adventure here. Recently they have introduced a “Gastronomy Obscura” which is listing of weird and wonderful local delicacies and quirky restaurants to try, which is a welcome bonus! Pickle ice cream? Don’t mind if I do!

 

I have a penchant for cutesy websites that make you want to use them sheerly for their visual appearance, and Canopy and Stars is undoubtedly one of these. Think bunting, think Shepard’s huts, think scenic wood-fired hot tubs – this site is a visual realisation of “glamping” – which is what it features exclusively, fully enough. Arguably the Airbnb of the glamping world, although currently only featuring properties in Europe predominately, Canopy and Stars have a plethora of amazing options for those wanting to venture out into the wild (but, not too wild, of course.) Luxury teepees, log cabins, miniature castles, and of course the occasional yurt are all up for grabs here listed by a variety of small businesses. There is an emphasis on supporting local, independent business, which is great. With high standards, all the properties show beautiful images of extremely well-thought glamping options, plus a very detailed search function which lays hold to perhaps the most significant volume of this kind of accommodation (other than Airbnb.) A great option if holidaying in the UK, as there are some real gems to unearth.

Prices vary, but seem to start from around £50+ per night, and almost always with a two-night minimum stay. Canopy and Stars also offer gift vouchers which can be configured a few ways – even split between several people – great for the honeymoon fund! I think what makes Canvas and Stars really stand out from similar booking sites is their super amazing search function with oodles of inspiration searches, subsections and listings for dog owners, those with little ones, or even those looking to avoid tall human contact altogether! They also have a strong ethos around environmental tourism – 24% of the company is owned by a charitable cause they set up themselves called Sawday Trust. They also have a scheme by which they plant a tree for every booking via TreeSisters. So the only thing you have to feel guilty about is how much wine you had in the hot tub!

 

As the story goes, England loves nothing more than a spot of tea. A spot of afternoon tea – that is; a delicious spread of sweet cakes and teeny finger sandwiches served on fancy platters and paired with an array of brews. With so many afternoon teas on offer in London, it’s hard to know what to go for. Will it be super fancy (and equally expensive) tea at The Ritz? Or a humble cream tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury? Whisked around the city on a custom double-decker bus with Brigit’s Bakery? Or modern glamour at Oxo Tower with their Not Afternoon Tea. Well, your tea prayers have been answered, because afternoontea.co.uk has just the ticket for any occasion! Essentially a search platform for booking this most British of past times, like a Skyscanner for tea parties.

Great features of Afternoon Tea include a wide variety of search parameters meaning you can literally search for all afternoon teas in Blackpool on a Monday under £35.00 – or anything else wildly specific. It features venues from all over the UK + Ireland, not just London. And the main reason I use it, and why you definitely should too, they have some amazing deals on offer pretty much all the time. Naturally, they change week by week as most are for a limited time only, but I have generally found there are always at least a few solid options to be had at any time for offers like bottomless prosecco, free glass of champagne, 2 for 1, 25% off and more! Being that afternoon tea is one of the most ridiculously overpriced meals one can enjoy, you may as well get your monies worth with epic deals that are exclusive to the site.