Useful travel apps and websites

Most mammalwatchers travel extensively to find animals. Yet few trip reports talk much about how they got to their destination, and hardly any give advice on travel and booking tips. Given that this is a fundamental element of mammalwatching – at least for those venturing beyond their backyard – I thought I’d start a page where we can discuss travel apps and websites and provide hints and tips about what we do to make our travel lives easier. While many of the better-known travel apps are fairly US centric, many are increasingly expanding their offerings abroad making them more useful to people living in other parts of the world. I should add that in the US there is also a whole, complex system of redeeming credit card points for flights (which Jon Hall is a master of, naturally), but I’ll ignore that here as it is only pertinent to the US and there are other sites which explain how it works in detail. I’ll assume that most people are familiar with AirB&B, Uber and some of the other large travel sites, but feel free to add information about those if you have useful tips on them.

Google Flights

When looking for flights my first port of call is invariably the Google Flights website. They offer a comprehensive search tool, and invariably dig up the cheapest flight options. You can’t actually book through Google Flights – the site takes you either to the airline website or an aggregator site where you can then purchase your ticket. And speaking of which, I generally avoid travel aggregator sites like Expedia and when booking flights. If something goes wrong, it’s far easier to fix things directly with the airline than having to go through a third party. Others may have had better luck with aggregators and I do sometimes use them for booking hotels.


This is an extremely useful app which I use extensively. What it does is collate all of the information related to a trip (flights, vehicle rental, hotels etc) and puts into one easy-to-see format structured by timeline. It in effect replaces the clunky excel sheets that I used to create for my trips. You first need to download the app onto your smartphone (it does work on a computer as well but I seldom use it that way). The app is free, though they do also provide a ‘pro’ version for about $50. The main advantage I can see with the pro version is that it gives you rapid notice if your plane is delayed or cancelled – typically well before it’s announced at the gate or online – allowing you to get onto the customer service line to change your flight before everyone else does. No doubt useful if you’re a road warrior, but perhaps overkill for most of us. When you download the app it asks if you want the app to search through your emails to look for any travel-related documents, or whether you want to submit the information yourself. Unless you’re happy with an app scanning through all your emails, I would choose the latter option. When you book a flight, hotel etc, you forward your confirmation email to and it compiles a new trip profile based on the dates you’ve sent it. You can then see at a glance the dates of your trip, and all of the details such as where you’ll be staying, flight times and carrier, car rental company, costs etc. For flights it shows you the departure time, flight duration, layover time, miles flown, map of the airport etc all in one place. You can also add notes and documents for each entry. If you need to change something, say you’ve decided to cancel your hotel and stay at a different one, just delete the old hotel entry and add the new one. It’s all very simple. Another really useful feature of the app is that it allows you to share your trip details with others, such as family members. They need to download the app as well, but once you’ve shared it with them they can then see your whole itinerary at a glance.


This is a car rental website that Jon Hall put me onto and which has probably saved me several thousand dollars over the years. The website takes advantage of the fact that car rental bookings can be cancelled up to 24 hours before pickup to find you better prices. When you open the website you put in the location you want to pick up and return the vehicle, the type of vehicle you’re looking for, and your email. It also asks you what memberships and credit cards you have in case there are any deals linked to those companies – which I believe is only pertinent for US based users. Once you’ve put in your details the site will send you an email with the best options offered by Priceline. I’ve found the prices they offer to be cheaper than what’s on offer through a usual aggregator site or through the car companies themselves. However, that’s not the best feature of this site. Once you’ve booked your car (obviously you select the option to pay when you pick the vehicle up), you then go back to Autoslash and click on ‘track a rental’. You’re then asked for the name of the rental company you booked with, the booking confirmation number and the price you paid. Autoslash then searches for any better deal that comes up and emails you when it finds one. You then make the new booking and cancel the old one, after which you enter the new booking details into Autoslash so it can continue to find you better rates. I don’t know what sort of black magic it uses, but I’ve had a Hertz rental price drop by $900 using this feature, and the price invariably drops by at least $50-100. Autoslash has apparently recently added an app with a hotel option but you have to pay for it and I haven’t tried it.


This app helps you track a particular plane or flight so you know what the flight status is. It gives you useful details like where your plane is flying in from and any delays there might be. It doesn’t do much that a dedicated airline app (like Delta, KLM etc) won’t also do, but it works for many different airlines and provides you with all the information in one place. Plus I’ve found that it sometimes provides a bit more detail than your regular airline app on why a plane is delayed.

Google Translate

Most people are probably familiar with this app, but just to point out that you can download a language on your phone in advance of a trip, which allows you to use the app even if your phone is offline.

Post author

Charles Foley


  • Karina and Andrey

    Well, first in the list should be here! ;)) But seriously we can add – ,, tracks4africa, inaturalist and yes! tripadvisor (searched within Google not within the site itself on the subject – a place or a mammal). Apart of the places or accessing routes descriptions these can provide you with an information of recent or rare sightings of animals from random visitors.

  • Jon Hall

    This is great Charles. I totally agree with your advice.

    A few extra things to add.

    1. Many people don’t realize that you can use the google translate app to translate text: you can point your camera at a sign or a menu and the English appears floating on the phone screen. It’s like something out of Harry Potter and great if you are for example – totally hypothetical example of course – having to decipher a menu with your panic stricken daughter in Japan who is terrified in case she accidentally buys a meat pie from the bakery.

    2. Uber is now very widespread: I have used it in Mexico, Ivory Coast, South Africa, and many other places. I have found it to be reliable (except in the UK to be honest!) and it also means you don’t have to get into confused conversations with the driver about where you are going and what it will cost. Yes this is part of the adventure I know, but not the fun part when you just got off a 14 hour flight. It also gives you a feel for what the ‘real’ price of a trip should be even if you take a taxi. In SE Asia the equivalent is called Grab – you can get on the bike of a scooter in Bangkok or hire a car and driver for a day in Jakarta with it. Really useful.

    3. Using frequent flyer miles to book flights is often a huge advantage, especially if you want to book a one way flight which can be more expensive than a return using money sometimes, and they are also much more flexible when it comes to cancellation and changes. As Charles said there are massive opportunities to earn points via credit card sign ups in the USA in particular and I seldom pay for a flight ticket these days. If anyone wants some advice I am happy to talk about this and try to persuade you to sign up for a card or two using my referral links!

  • Jon Hall

    And another thing. In google maps you can download maps of where you are going and then use them offline to navigate around. They don’t work for public transport and won’t give you traffic information of course but they will show you the route on foot or by car.

  • charleswhood

    Just to confirm the note above about “expedia” type sites, I stopped using them the time I got stranded in the Maldives with a flight cancellation and at the airline desk, they wouldn’t rebook me — said in essence, “If you like Expedia so much, call them and have them get you off this island.” Quite stroppy about it. So book directly with a carrier that is part of a network alliance, so if they don’t have a flight, a partner carrier might. I also do hoard miles points, as Jon suggests (and hotel points too, though they are less useful, though members sometimes can get late checkout and other courtesies). One final note. There is a UK travel agent who is a birder and understands “our” travel needs, and I recommend him completely. Because he books for tour companies, he has the “big picture” of which flights go where and on what pattern of being reliable / unreliable. His name is Sacha and he works for a UK company called Travel Counsellors. He can find amazing deals sometimes, so that I am flying business for the price of premium economy — easier during pandemic than now! — and the very first time I booked through him, he saved my bacon (as my father would say). I was going UK to Moscow to Mongolia via Aeroflot, only thanks to the incompetence of Aeroflot, they missed the connection in Moscow. My Mongolia flight left without me. Aeroflot told me it would be two days to get on another flight to Mongolia. Yet I was meeting a tour and going straight to the field. Two days was not an option. I called Sacha in Norfolk and he got me on a non-Aeroflot flight that left within two hours, no change fee. (Now of course my bags did not make that connection, but then coming home, Aeroflot all the way, they still didn’t make it back to UK.) He can be reached at and I normally wouldn’t say this, but he has my full and complete endorsement. / Charles Hood, California

  • JanEbr

    When it comes to buying tickets, there are – besides the airlines themselves – two major types of vendors, which I would for simplicity call “sellers” and “resellers”. I am not sure where Expedia falls, as I have never used it, but in general the “resellers” should be avoided like the plague, even if they look slightly cheaper. The prime example is the (actually Czech) company Kiwi, which “offers” some incredible prices, but I have heard too many stories of people getting nowhere or stuck. Typically the red flag is when they sell you the ticket with “self-transfer of luggage” or some similar nonsense – this means they are just reselling you individual legs one by one and if any flight is delayed, you miss the “connection” at your own fault and the airlines do not care. The second group is companies that actually have access to Amadeus and TravelPort and those actually issue your tickets, your contract is with them, the tickets are for the entire journey, and the airlines always honor that. There are many such companies, I am almost exclusively using StudentAgency, which is Czech, but their wordlwide offer is staggeringly good. In particular for South America (where I spend the most time abroad), it is always never possible to significantly beat their prices. This having said, it’s always worth it to check SkyScanner just to see if you can’t build a cheaper ticket yourself from airline offers (but avoid the reseller links in the results – they also STILL offer Kiwi…)

    I am really surprised about the mention of miles and credit cards. I would say I fly …. a bit more than the average person? (i think there some former glaciers with my name and angry words on them) and I had almost never had any gain from this. I think this is really a US thing – there are a lot of lowcost airlines in Europe where this does not exist at all and the rest of my miles is scattered across 3 different alliances, expire left and right and the “flights for miles” exclude taxes and I can often find a lowcost version cheaper than the taxes …

    The AutoSlash site sounds interesting, but I guess it’s mostly applicable in the US? In most other parts of the world the rental market doesn’t seem to work like that – the prices are either fixed, or simply go up as the cheapest cars get booked out … So I just use, which, compared to booking directly with the agencies, often has the advantage of having better terms, because they force every provider to adhere to their unified terms. They also provide reasonable support if the vendor chooses to not be reasonable. Similarly for hotels, I really like – I know that there is a lot of “wisdom” going around about how it’s soooo much better to book directly with hotels, but this is really only true for hotels that are way out of my budget. For cheap hotels, the deals are pretty hard to beat – unless you are in an area where it’s not popular: this was the case of Poland like 7 years ago, where almost nobody was on and local webpages gave you much better rates; this is now over though.

    Some things to add:
    – – a Czech app (in English) that allows you to download free maps of anywhere in the world and use them offline. They have their own brilliant data in the Czech Republic, which is not that exciting probably – the rest of the world is based on OSM, but nobody has a better OSM interface than this, trust me, I tried many. For road navigation, Google Maps are better, but for hiking, OSM data beats GM with eyes closed.
    – – another Czech project (in English), but this one is now globally indispensable. Where also you can see the ALL the world weather radar data in one place? I used to keep track of dozens of local pages, no more!

    A relatively large difference in costs can occur if your destination has a different currency than your account. I used to have a “normal” card on a CZK denominated account and I quickly noticed the hugely unfavorable exchange rates, losing me up to 10% of all expenses. Then I found out that my bank offers a “traveler’s card” where the rate is comparable to what can be reach when exchanging cash, for no extra cost – they just hide it very well, so only clients who are angry enough to consider leaving the bank because of the bad rates find it. There are 3rd party alternatives to that, such as Revolut. Note that there are some countries, where bringing cash is FAR better, because there is a black market with money (such as Argentina).


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