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Online tools that make travel easier and cheaper

The cost of trans-Atlantic flights may still make you wince, but the truth is that travel has never been cheaper and it is the internet that we have to thank for pushing prices down.

Not long ago, if you wanted to book a flight you would need to visit your local travel agent, who would then contact the airlines and book your flights. Or if you wanted to book a train journey, you would either need to call the rail company or stand for far to long in a queue to buy your ticket at the desk. All of these processes are now handled by digital services, and the fewer people that are involved in the transaction the less it costs.

Streamlining and moving these booking services online pushed costs down, but it is comparison engines that make sure those savings are passed onto consumers through competition. It is now possible to work out the fastest and cheapest travel option – air, rail, or road – with just a few clicks.

Google Maps

Google Maps was not the first mapping website (MultiMap launched in the UK back in 1997), but since its launch in 2005 it quickly became the go-to option for most travellers looking to get around. The fact it was built into the original iPhone and still is built into the Android mobile OS means that when people are out and about, Google Maps is likely their first port of call when looking for directions.

Google Maps started with just directions for driving and walking, but now also includes directions for cycling, public transportation, and even air travel (thanks to Google’s acquisition of ITA to build Google Flights). If you need to find the quickest and easiest way to get from A to B, then in most places in the world Google Maps can help.

However, one thing Google has not built into the service is price comparison – despite listing all the various travel options from train to plane, Google does not let you compare the prices of each of these options. This means that if you want to work out if it is cheaper to travel by train, bus, or car – then you will need to use another service – like those we list below.

SkyScanner

I remember when I first came across SkyScanner back in 2003/4, while searching for flights to somewhere in Europe and it was a revelation. The site was developed in 2001 by three friends in Edinburgh who were frustrated by the process of trying to find flights to go skiing – and they got it right.

The site originally offered few frills and only searched budget airlines, but has since expanded to cover most airlines on the planet and currently gets over 50 million searches on the site per month. The site has become so ingrained in the process of booking flights in the UK, that it was even name-checked in the track ‘Detox’ by UK grime artist and 2016 Mercury Prize winner Skepta.

The Trainline

Rail travel in the UK does not allow for competition on the same routes, much to the chagrin of the general public who still call for re-nationalisation of the industry when they see prices go up every year. However, that does not mean that web services have not made the booking process quicker and simpler – and the one that has led the way for nearly two decades now is Trainline.

thetrainline.com launched all the way back in 1997, when the internet was still somewhat of a niche tool in the UK, certainly a long way from our current smartphone-obsessed lives. Its interface has changed a great deal since then, but the service it offers has remained constant – easy booking of rail tickets that allows you to find the cheapest time to travel. Back in 1997, you had to wait and have your advance tickets posted to you as Fast Ticket machines did not exist yet – but otherwise the process is the same, and the days of queuing at the ticket desk were soon over.

Uber

Taxis have been around forever, but with the help of geolocated and always-connected smartphones, Uber has built a platform that means you can always find a ride. The ability to just click a couple of buttons on your phone and be picked up in more than 500 cities in 66 countries around the world and taken to where you want to go, all without booking, is a huge shift in how we use private cars – and for most of us that is down to Uber.

In just seven years form its founding, Uber has grown into a global brand worth more than $60bn (£48bn), and with its push towards self-driving vehicles it looks like the company is very much prepared for the future.

Motor.co.uk’s Fuel Calculator

While the above services will give you the best prices for flights, trains, and taxis, you need to be able to compare these costs with driving. Once you have two more more of you in a car, the cost of driving often becomes much cheaper than the train in the UK, but it can be tough to estimate how much driving will actually cost in advance. By just typing in the registration number of your car (or selecting the make, model, and year), and choosing the start and end points of your journey, Motors.co.uk’s Fuel Calculator will work out your car’s estimated MPG and combine that with the current cost of petrol to estimate the cost of your trip for you.

Photograph by Unsplash

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