My Favorite Travel Companies

By Nomadic Matt | Published February 19th, 2009

I think of many of my posts while in the shower. This one just came to me ten minutes ago while I was getting fresh and clean. Rather than sit on it, I’d thought I’d post it now before I forgot all the witty things I was going to say. Everyone has their own favorite travel companies- companies we always use, products we never travel without. Here are my favorites:

Travel Insurance
For travel insurance, I always use World Nomads. That’s not just because I have a banner for them, but because I like their services (which is why I have their banner up). I do all the ordering online- it’s simple, easy, and everything gets mailed to my house. No fuss, no muss. But I also like how they deal with travelers. They make a big effort to connect with the online travel community, are always running contests and freebies, and even have a cool blog. Their online guy, Chris Noble, is very cool, too.

Guidebooks
I’m a pretty lazy guy and so once I start using a brand, I rarely change, which is why I tend to use Lonely Planet guides for most of my travels. However, I rarely use guidebooks these days. After 2 years on the road, I can get by without them. I had one last summer for Europe and opened it twice. However, when I do use them, I use LP or Rough Guides. I tend to use LP for Europe and Asia, and Rough Guides for everywhere else. I don’t know why. I just find it works out well that way.

Travel Discount Cards
Whenever I need a discount card, I head to STA Travel, even though I am not a student. They have all the cards there, even ones for people who aren’t students. If you find yourself in Bangkok, you can buy fake ones, but for the $15 dollars it costs to get a VIP, ISIC, IYIC, or whatever funky card I need, I’ll get the real one. They have saved me bundles.

Travel Credit Card

I used to have a Citi Premier Pass card. They recently changed their rules, requiring you to spend an equal amount of money in order to get your miles, making the card utterly useless. With the redemption rules changed on my Premier Pass card, I switched to Citi AAdvantage card. Now I earn miles for American but it also gets me into the Oneworld system, which has my favorite airline- JAL.  But I hate AA. In fact, I’d rather fly Air Canada than AA, and I’d rather walk than fly Air Canada, which doesn’t say much for American. But, this card is the only way to get cheap JAL flights. Sacrifices had to be made.

Online Travel Bulletin Board
Boots N’All. While I love Lonely Planet, their Thorn Tree forum sucks. It’s filled with many useless and asinine posts. Riveting posts like “Can I use an ATM card overseas?” or “Where can I get money?”, or my favorite, “Hey, I landed in country X! I’m so excited!” After scrolling through pages of these, I get frustrated and log off. Boots N’ All doesn’t see as much traffic, but the questions are good and relevant, the answers are useful, the people are nicer, and it’s a bit better organized. If you want a board forum for long term travelers, use Boots.

Tour Company
Without a doubt, the best tour company in the world is Gap Adventures. They were my first tour company, and you never forget your first. But more than that, they offer great tours. I’ve never heard anyone say bad things about them. They are very, very committed to sustainable tourism, supporting local communities, and helping the environment. They offer a lot of flexibility and free time in their tours, so you don’t feel like herded cattle. In fact, so much free time, I ended up getting lost in a jungle when I took them. Interesting story really. No matter where I’d go, they are the only tour company I’d use. They should be the only one you use too.

Backpacks
My REI Mars backpack has been going strong for over two years now. It looks and works as good as the day I bought it. With products that good, I wouldn’t consider buying from anywhere else. The staff at the store is very helpful, and they know a lot about the products they sell- a rarity these days. I am downsizing when I start my next trip this summer, and you can bet money, I’ll be buying REI.

Note: If you want to help support this site and keep it going, using the companies above through the links above when you book your trip, does just that! Please consider it!

comments 26 Comments

From MN

For travel credit cards, it might be better to have a card with no foreign transaction fee like the Schwab 2% cash back card.

We find that using Capital One when we travel works best, as you get points (to be used on any airline) and the added bonus is that you are not penalized for using your credit card oversees, where the other companies will start charging fees as soon as you make a purchase.

Also, note that most airline partners may not allow you to get points if you are on a deep discounted ticket or specific flights. Example: Cathay Pacific – using inexpensive flights won’t necessarily give you points on AA.

I was going to say the same thing as MN – you need to get a credit card that doesn’t start charging interest the minute you make an international purchase. We switched to Capital One when we moved to China it’s saved us a lot in fees and it still collects points that you can use for flights…

Sorry about the almost identical double posting from Tina and myself – she’s at home and I just got into work and read your blog. Scary that we both felt the need to post our little bit of knowledge so quickly….

NomadicMatt

@everyone re: credit cards: I actually do have the Capital One card too. There is no foreign transaction fee but I’m annoyed I need to call every 30 days to let them know I am overseas. I always try to use the card and get denied.

Moreover, you are not eligible for elite status using that card. I want a card now where I can work towards elite status and free upgrades. For that I need an airline card. Moreover, if you look at the point conversion for Capital One, on some rewards it is lower than 1%

Gotta say – great list – I love World Nomads and LP too!! I found a cool new discount card for those going to volunteer abroad you might want to give a try for us ‘old folks’ over the STA 22yo limit – volunteercard.com.

Love the list – keep ‘em coming and congrats on 100,000!

Matt – I’ll give you that as some of the annoyances of the Capitol One card, we’ve got it set up now so that we call them every month when we pay them and every once in a while they still manage to shut that card down. We’ve had to collect call them from Hong Kong and Tokyo to make purchases.

And you’re right the points aren’t really that much compared to some other cards. But there is no annual fee, and as Tina mentioned we’ve had problems getting miles through both oneworld and star alliance if it’s a partner airline and a discounted flight.

For people that are looking for rewards and taking shorter holidays out of the States a Citi AA card or similar makes sense, but at some point (I’d guess about two months overseas) the costs incurred will outweigh the mileage benefits. We still do use our Citi card for internet purchases that are charged from the states because, as you mentioned, the rewards are better…

I came to yours since you have a link to mine at your travel-links page.

What a great, readable, informative an interesting blog you have. I love travelling too, but most of all I post about Norway; our culture, traditions and habits. From you’re about page, I can tell you’ve been to Europe but not Norway? I want you to know you’re welcome over, any time and I’ll gladly guide you around :-)

im not really a fan of World Nomads – they dont insure your luggage as far as i know.

ally

Good old REI, always last the distance… A friend of mine bought cheap and got stuck trying to fix the strap whilst trying to run and catch a bus in Namibia that if she missed would be another 48 hours to wait for the next one… Not something I worry about!

I’ll second HostelBookers, too. Last time I searched on HostelWorld, they kept throwing me 3* hotels that were like £50 a night…. why? why? I’m looking for a hostel, guys, that’s what the name suggests…! HostelBookers much more backpacker-friendly :)

It is always interesting to see what other long term travelers like.

Our open ended world travel is as a family and our travel has so far been in 4 different continents than where you are, so our needs are some what different.

We are into our 3rd year and have not used any of the things that you do. Funny.

I would have to agree on bootsnall though as I have been a regular there for many years, especially active in the “traveling with kids” and “round the world” forums. I am pleased to be doing some writing for them now.

I only have time for travel forums that are useful and VERY easy to use. Not sure why they would make them hard, but I give up if they are.

We have some guide books with us, but we tend to use the internet more or locals. I find my readers often also turn me onto some of the best places and hidden opportunities. We prefer the more authentic and special places and have a knack at finding them far from the maddening crowds.

Fun photo!

I use the aadvantage card for the same reason:oneworld.
I’m a big fan of Cathay Pacific. The miles add up and there are many bonus offers that earn you miles without spending “extra” money.

Monna

For non-backpacking travel in Europe, I’d add Rick Steves guides and Context Travel at http://www.contexttravel.com

The backpack that fits the person is the most important.

Good to have a credit card, but if your bank offers free ATM global transaction fees, like my bank does, don’t use a credit card. Have one as a back up only and online transactions.

A guide book is helpful, although not essential.

For get the rest and save your money, except for the student card.

Insurance is a waste of money. I have never read a single traveler blogger that has ever needed to use insurance.

Totally avoid tour companies, unless you’re on a holiday and you need the help for navigation next to a long term traveler.

Cheers for BootsNAll – I agree. For Australia, World Expeditions (thougha fraction pricey) are excellent as well and sound like they have much the same ethic as GAP. For backpacks, I’m a fan of Macpac which is a Kiwi brand – truly excellent gear. And for guidebooks I am also LP and Rough Guides, though for North America, Moon guides have been pretty useful too on a couple of trips. LP has reduced slightly in quality in the last two years. Interesting to hear views of others.

Another great guidebook (well, it is sort of a guidebook) are the “culture shock” series of books. They are primarily geared towards people moving overseas full time but they offer outstand first hand information about a country and its people written by long term expats. They also have allot of the “hard truths” and non-politically correct stuff that is important to know but isn’t always included in the other guidebooks.

In my opinion the bets advice comes from long term expats that have lived in a country for years. I have always felt that you learn more about a country talking to a street noodle vendor or a taxi driver then you ever will visiting a museum

Kay

Hi! I love your site.
As far as the discount cards go, I don’t fit into any of the catagories. I JUST turned 26 :( and I’m not a student, and I’m not a full time teacher :( Is there no hope for me?!

Matt,

I think you’re cool too ! (In a rumbly blokey huggy type of way). BootsnAll & Gap are great companies, in fact all the ones you’ve mentioned are excellent.

Carpool guy – we do cover for baggage on most policies, levels depend on country of residence ( and I’ll send you a funky luggage tag as well if you want !)

Well done mate, keep up the great work !

Ry

Hey Matt,

Good post. I just picked up a MARS bag for my upcoming RTW trip in June 2010. Great looking bag, and only $129 on REI Outlet. Sweet deal!

Great stuff here! Thanks for this! Love this website.

You know, this is like the eleventy-billionth time I’ve seen Gap Adventures recommended by you. Which makes me think – maybe next time I go on a supported tour, I’ll give them a try.

I’ve only used REI Adventure up till now, and always had excellent vacations through them. But I’m definitely willing to give Gap a try.

Cheers!
Andy

NomadicMatt

I love REI gear but their tours are really expensive. I don’t think their tours offer a lot of good value.

Mike Rodriguez

HI Matt,
You have some great info and I would like your advise. I started a new business venture that involves travelers. Can we please correspond via email. I would like to know what you think about what Im doing. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Mike Rodriguez

Fantastic Travel Information and very helpful article.

Melissa

Hello! I know you recommend Lonely Planet when it comes to guide books, however I have noticed they offer week long tours on their site.
I am backpacking for the 1st time this summer starting in Russia and ending in Ireland. Lonely Planet has some tours I am interested in, however I have never heard any feedback on their tours.
Have you ever gone in tours through them? What are your thoughts?

NomadicMatt

LP doesn’t run tours. They are just selling someone else’s tours.

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