The future of budget travel: Q&A with Benji Lanyado

Many budget travel topics are old hat. Everyone interested in traveling on a budget knows, for example, about the money-saving potential of hostels, supermarket dining, train passes, and low-cost airlines.

We can come up with tips, talk about new stylish hostels, pass on information about fare sales, and strategize about how best to exploit a particular train pass, but the truth is that there is little among these subjects that is genuinely new.

But what about newer developments in personal technologies? How will they change the way we travel on a budget?

For some time now, freelance journalist Benji Lanyado has been pursuing these questions, mostly in articles for the Guardian. Lanyado has been writing for the Guardian since his last year at university, when the newspaper asked him to be their Budget Travel columnist. Among the most suggestive of his pieces for the Guardian are his TwiTrips articles, through which Lanyado submits Twitter to the on-the-ground challenges of traveling. Most exciting about this series is the ease with which its principles can be adapted for use by readers.

Lanyado also engages larger questions about the future of travel. See this recent article pondering the future of guidebooks for one example.

Q: How did the TwiTrips come about? Have they changed the way you travel in general? That is, when you’re on different sorts of assignments or traveling for pleasure, do you instinctively turn to Twitter for information? On balance, how would you rate these TwiTrips against more conventional travel adventures in terms of obtaining local information and getting a sense of the destination?

A: At the beginning of last year, Twitter was approaching its “moment” in the UK. Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry were scheduled to talk about it on the former’s Friday night chat show. I’d been thinking about using it for some kind of live travel piece for a while, and had experimented with it while in Berlin to find some suggestions for what to do in between researching for assignments. I was walking down Oranienstrasse and asked my Twitter followers if they had any tips. Within a few minutes someone had guided me into a fantastic little cafe 100 yards away.

I ran the idea past the Guardian Travel editor, Andy Pietrasik, who was very keen for me to try a live Twitter Trip. We ran the first TwiTrip in February, to Paris, streaming it live on the Guardian website a few days after the Fry/Ross interview had aired, and the response was incredible. Over a period of 36 hours I received hundreds of tips, and various news outlets and TV programmes ran stories on it. Since then we’ve done TwiTrips to a dozen destinations across the UK. The last one was Liverpool this November.

I certainly now instinctively turn to Twitter for travel advice when I’m on the road. Compared to traditional media (guidebooks, etc.) I find that the information you can glean from Twitter is more specific, more current, and more personal. It’s an incredible real-time link to the local public. That said, I don’t think it’s the only way to travel. Whatever works for you is great. And few things beat stopping a local, in the real world, and asking him or her what you should do.

I also have a considerable head-start on Twitter newbies, as I’m lucky to have over 5000 followers to help me on my way. As a journalist, I can amplify things to a bigger audience during the TwiTrips. But I still don’t think you need lots of followers to get travel benefits from Twitter. Every major city across the world has scores of people tweeting about what to do when you’re in town, and up-to-the-minute info on events.

The beauty of Twitter is that you can find time-specific ideas (i.e. there’s a great band playing at this great bar TONIGHT) and be connected to the lifeblood of any destination.Q: A few months on from your article on Foursquare in the Guardian, what are your thoughts about the potential of Foursquare as a travel technology? Is it useful essentially as a crowdsourcing device, or are you discovering other uses?

A: Foursquare, primarily, is a lot of fun to use at home. Knowing where your friends have been and where they are is a very nice new frontier for social media. But on the road, the “tips” function really comes into its own. The idea of location-specific recommendations hovering in the air around you is one of the most important new standards in travel technology in years, and it is one of the strongest arguments for apps over traditional guidebooks. When you can have access to information about places within 100 feet of where you are standing, the notion of flicking through 500 pages to find a vaguely suitable tip written a year ago seems a little ridiculous. Foursquare aren’t the first to harness the power of location, but their implementation with the game element is a very neat way to do it.

Q: One pitfall in relying on user-generated content is that it is often difficult to evaluate anonymous evaluators. (Do they share your values, your interests, your standards?) Do you see Twitter as providing a way around this problem? That is, by choosing your followers are you essentially curating information in advance? Or, alternately do you not see this user-generated content pitfall as a problem?

A: Increasingly, I find UGC a little too noisy. Tripadvisor is a good example of this. The service has gone so far beyond a critical mass that there’s now JUST TOO MUCH INFORMATION on it. And yes, you’re right, it’s very difficult to ascertain the validity of UGC, as you usually have no idea whether or not the person reviewing is anything like you or shares your tastes. I don’t really see Twitter as a form of UGC, as there is a lot more face involved. You can usually read about the people who are Tweeting at you, see the type of people they follow, read their tweets etc. You get to know certain people who share your tastes.

Q: Where, if anywhere, do you see social media failing against more traditional media in generating especially useful information for budget travelers?

A: The main problem is the noise. While guidebooks are inherently limited, they are also beautifully confined. For a lot of people, a couple of hundred pages of information is more than enough. The Internet, meanwhile, is seemingly infinite. It’s difficult to know how far you should research into the provincial nooks of the web before you’ve gone too far and have too much information. There is also an issue over trust capital. Guidebooks might be old-fashioned but they are also a relatively safe bet, as they come with a reputation to uphold. That said, I think you are more likely to get crappy advice from a guidebook than from an individual through social media, as there is a lot less accountability with guidebooks.

Q: Do you have you eye on any newish apps or sites for their potential as budget travel tools?

A: I really like the look of the new batch of Time Out city guides, especially considering that they are built to be used offline, using only a GPS signal rather than relying on data roaming. Much cheaper that way. Yelp, Urbanspoon, and some of the augmented reality apps (Wikitude, Layar, etc.) are pretty fun too, although the power of AR is yet to be fully utilised. I’m very excited about developments in 4G (superfast mobile internet) and the apps that will be built around it, but this is a little way off yet.

Visit Lanyado’s blog for musings on technology, soccer, travel, and other topics as well as links to published articles.

Check out Gadling’s budget travel section for more budget travel tips, strategies, and information.

[Image: Elliott Smith |]

Hotels, restaurants and consumers: what to look for on review websites

Have you ever gotten mad after a hotel stay and, in the heat of the moment, dashed off a nasty review on TripAdvisor or Yelp? I was talking to some friends about this recently, and it seems the natural human reaction is to give feedback after a negative experience and to stay relatively silent when all has gone well.

Almost all of us have been there.

After all, there’s nothing quite like the feeling that your hard-earned cash has been sunk into an unsatisfying experience to get the blood boiling. When you get bad service or have a room that just doesn’t measure up – especially if you’ve spent hundreds (or even thousands) of bucks on your hotel stay, meal or flight – you need an outlet for your disappointment or anger. You may feel like you’re doing a service to the next traveler who’s thinking about following in your footsteps.
Well, it’s this situation that’s hit the news recently, with hotels and restaurants planning to sue TripAdvisor over the reviews left by its users. In Detroit, according to Slate, 24grille, a Detroit restaurant, tried to go after TripAdvisor over one anonymous comment, before giving up:

The suit went nowhere, as 24grille’s lawyers realized that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 gives sites like TripAdvisor immunity from being held liable for user comments, and they dropped the claim. (TripAdvisor, which screens reviews and reserves the right to remove any it deems dubious, did eventually delete the comment in question.)

At stake for all sectors of the hospitality industry is reputation, which comprises a large part of their brands. And, let’s be realistic: brand is what makes the sale in this industry. So, it pays to protect it at all costs … but in the right way.

The Slate article ponders the effectiveness of litigation, with the author “convinced these lawsuits are a terrible idea,” because it won’t provide sufficient brand or financial performance protection. Rather, the smarter move is to look for patterns to see if there are any ongoing or systemic problems that need to be addressed.

This makes perfect sense.

When I read a review – on Yelp, TripAdvisor or even from a professional critic – I take the extremes with a grain of salt. Further, I take the time to look at all the available feedback. One bad experience can be caused by anything from a bad day for the service provider (yes, entire companies can have bad days) to unrealistic expectations on the part of the reviewer. I’ve talked to a number of hospitality consumers who approach reviews with the same care and skepticism.

This thinking would work for hotels and restaurants, as well. Slate continues:

When we scan reviews online, we aren’t looking for gothchas-outlandish, one-off tales of awful experiences. Instead, we look for patterns. We make judgments based on the themes that emerge from many reviews, not from the crazy charges that appear in one or two. As such, there’s an obvious way for businesses to improve their online standings. Rather than trying to suppress a few negative reviews, they ought to work like mad to offer the kind of service that inspires a whole bunch of positive reviews.

When there is something worth noting, hotels and restaurants would be wise to pay attention. TripAdvisor, Yelp and other user-contributed review sites represent another channel by which guests can provide feedback, and ignoring them is tantamount to turning your back while a customer – disgruntled or not – is speaking.

The goal, therefore, is to sift through the anger and find the information that really matters – for management and guests. Look for trends, and use that to make a decision.

[photo by espensorvik via Flickr]

Online travel research made simple on

With so many travel review sites available, it’s often overwhelming to sort through published material about a property or destination. We’ve recently discovered, launched out of beta earlier this week. The site promises to provide travel recommendations targeted to budget, date and interest in as few as five clicks.

“On average, travelers spend 7 weeks visiting 25 sites* before they know exactly what they want, yet there’s no easy way for them to get inspired online,” said Evan Schneyer, CEO and co-founder. “Travel itself is such an inspiration, and we believe the fun should start from the very moment you decide to go.”

Wanderfly’s interface begins just how a person would when planning a trip: how much can I spend, when can I go, and what do I like to do? The site offers themes, from food and culture to eco-friendly and nightlife.

Wanderfly searches over 20+ sites, including Expedia, Foursquare, Yelp and Lonely Planet, to recommend a destination, flight, hotel and activities. Travelers may customize these options and book, or flip to the next suggested trip. They may also connect through Facebook to locate friends in any of the destinations.

One of our favorite features of the site is that specifiying a destination isn’t required – one can search within a specific region and use the type of trip they’d like to take to narrow down a location. The site is relatively easy to use, and the functionality of searching through trusted brands like Lonely Planet makes us feel more comfortable with the booking process.

The site has launched with information abou1,200 global destinations and taps into social networking through Facebook to further increase usablity. The site is currently at work on an iPad app and plans to soon offer concierge packages, restaurant reservations, travel products and event tickets. In addition, Wanderfly plans to add more user-generated content, group-planning tools and a widget for outside travel parties to integrate into their sites. travel-planning site launches in beta

A new travel-planning website and booking engine is launching this month in beta, and I was excited to give it a test run, having first heard about the site this spring at a EuroCheapo travel happy hour. is a “personalized recommendation engine” that takes your interests, budget, and even social network connections to give you inspiration and help you plan your next vacation. Flights and hotels are pulled from Expedia, with restaurant recommendations, activities, and sightseeing descriptions culled from Lonely Planet, FourSquare, NileGuide, and Yelp.

Let’s say you have a week to travel in early September for Labor Day. Budget is under $1,000 per person for flights and hotels, and you’re interested in culture, beaches, and food. Plug all those into the search engine and you’ll get a series of destinations to review, refine, share, and book. While the site still has a few bugs (budget busters would sneak through the filters, the help feature is not fully enabled), the interface is slick and user-friendly, the features are thoughtful, and the content is reliable.

What’s cool about the site:

  • Since I’m currently based in Turkey, I loved that your point of origin could be pretty much anywhere in the world so I could run searches from New York and Istanbul to get a wide variety of places convenient for different parts of the world.
  • A wide (1,200 and growing) network of destinations gave me some ideas I’d never considered or even heard of (Kalingrad, Russia; Azemmour, Morocco; Krabi, Thailand), as well as some more tried-and-true vacation spots(Sunny Isles Beach, Florida; Mykonos, Greece; Split, Croatia).
  • Weather and news tabs give you an idea of the current climate (could be too hot on that Egyptian beach) and happenings, though you might come up with nothing for more obscure destinations. I also love that many of the news feeds are through Twitter accounts like @visitbritain, giving up-to-the-minute quickie items.

What will be cool about the site:

  • Ability to share trip ideas and plans with friends via email or Facebook is great for planning a trip with multiple people or getting feedback on a destination. Currently, Facebook Connect will tell you who you know in a given place, but I’d probably remember if I had a friend in Lutsk, Ukraine.
  • Festivals and special events come up via Eventful, but on the beta site event dates will pop up well after your search range so don’t plan around that blues festival just yet. There are also plans to add destination reviews, currency converters, and travel tips.
  • After all the searching, sorting, and sharing, you can actually book through the site, though only if you have a US credit card. The booking interface is also easy to use and gives options for frequent flier numbers, seat and meal preferences, and room types.

All in all, Wanderfly is a nifty new tool for dreaming and planning your next trip. If they could find a way to integrate time-sensitive deals, local blogs, and multiple-destination trips, this could be the only travel site you need.

Top free Android travel apps

Several days ago, the Apple iPad got some attention from us with an overview of its best travel apps – and today we take a look at the best in free travel apps for the Android platform. Launched in September 2008, Android has seen an astounding growth, and has made its way onto phones from almost every major manufacturer and almost every mobile operator.

Recently, Gadling showed why we think Android is the future of smartphones, and the best pick for travelers. So, if you have an Android powered device, check out these free apps that can make traveling easier.

A gallery with barcode download links to all these apps can be found at the bottom of this article – just download the Android Barcode Scanner and point your phone at the special QR code, and it’ll take you to directly to the Market download link.


Kayak is a real personal favorite of mine – mainly because it does so much in a single app. Within Kayak for Android, you get access to flights, hotels, car rentals, flight status, airline information, flight price trends and more – all in a free app. Think of Kayak as your Swiss Army travel tool set.

The app even offers integration with, offering instant access to saved trips.

Transport Maps

Transport maps is one of the least good looking apps in this lineup – but it does one thing really well – provide worldwide maps of public transit systems. The app covers 100’s of bus, train, tram and light rail networks, and maps can be downloaded before your trip and saved locally on your device, reducing data costs.

Sadly, it lacks route planning, so you’ll need to know how to read a map and determine where you are when you use the app.


We mentioned this brand new app yesterday – and it really does deserve a spot in this list. StayHIP is the first mobile app designed specifically for hotel reservations at boutique properties. Forget finding the same old chain hotels – let StayHIP find you a chic, intimate or hip hotel and get away from the ordinary.

Google Goggles

Google Goggles has quickly become my absolute favorite app to play with on my phone. Think of Goggles as Google search, using your camera. Point your phone at a product, and Google Goggles will search for it, and provide product links.

Do the same with foreign languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish), and it’ll provide an instant translation – all without having to touch your keyboard. This is obvious fantastic for quick translations of signs or anything else you encounter on the road.

Taxi Magic

Need a cab? Let Taxi Magic pull up your location, along with a list of all available cab companies in your area. Some companies even support instant reservations through the app – others just offer a phone link. The app has helped me over and over again when I find myself in need of a cab because I’m too drunk to stumble back to my hotel.


Yelp is the grandaddy of travel friendly apps. Use Yelp to find food, drinks, stores and more – and get feedback on the location from fellow Yelp users.

No longer will you have to suffer through a horrible dinner – simply avoid anything with poor ratings, and stick to the top rated locations. Best of all, Yelp offers instant access to things like the address, prices and opening hours, which lets you stay clear of flash heavy restaurant sites.

XE Currency conversion is one of the best currency calculators on the web – and their Android mobile app makes access to live currency rates even easier. Simply refresh the current rates, and calculate whether that fantastic pair of jeans or new iPod really is much cheaper than it is back home.

Google Maps with navigation

Android phones running Android versions 1.6 and newer get access to Google maps with navigation. The application is powerful enough to be a full replacement for your GPS unit – but it will require access to a data connection to receive its maps – it can’t store maps locally.

Still, free is always a good thing, and best of all – Google maps with navigation lets you get directions specifically for driving, walking, public transit or cycling.

Hotels Near Me

StayHIP a little too hip for you? Hotels Near Me offers a more generic search system of hotels in your area. Simply enter your location, or let it detect where you are using GPS – and it’ll provide a list of all hotels in your vicinity.

Sort by star rating, price, distance and more – and read a description of hotel amenities, guest reviews and room prices. Then, complete the entire booking process right inside the app.


Where is the kind of app that can make you feel less like a stranger – no matter where you are. Let Where pick up your location, and it’ll offer the weather, news, local coupons, events, gas prices and more. Inside the app, you even get quick access to the Yellow Pages, for those rare emergencies where you really need a locksmith, doctor or worse…