Websites that are changing travel

WeHostels is a phone app that allows you to make contact with other travellers before you get there.
WeHostels is a phone app that allows you to make contact with other travellers before you get there.

The internet has changed the way we travel. Obviously. When was the last time you went to the post office overseas?

So I'm not going to talk about the earth-shifting changes that everyone knows about: things like email, and smartphones with GPS, and online booking agents, and peer reviews, and Instagram.

What I'm interested in is the websites that are changing the style in which people travel, creating opportunities that would never be possible without the worldwide web. Some bring people together; others facilitate completely new ways of staying in and seeing a city.

(Oh, and while it's too self-congratulatory to add it to the list, the website you're currently browsing is also pretty awesome. Ahem.)

Let's start with the classic: Couchsurfing. It's been around for a number of years now, has more members than you've had hot dinners, and is responsible for hundreds of thousands of friendships and probably a fair few marriages around the world.

You know what it's about. Offer up your couch to travelling strangers, and then stay on others' couches when you hit the road. Free accommodation, a new way to look at a city, interaction with locals, and new friends. If you're even the slightest bit adventurous it's a no-brainer.

There are other sites, however, that are changing the way you can stay in a city. It's no longer just a case of hotel or hostel.

My current favourite is AirBnB, which is a little like couch-surfing, only you have to pay for the pleasure of a local's house. The site offers everything from shared rooms to whole mansions (or, memorably, an entire city) that travellers can rent from one night to a whole year if they can talk the owner into it.

But wait, there's more. Trusted Housesitters links up trustworthy travellers and those hoping to have their abode and usually dog or cat looked after while they travel. Match up the dates and you've got yourself a free house and a new best friend (or a boring cat).

OneFineStay is basically a mixture of the previous two. Once again it's people leaving town and looking for someone to stay in their house, only you have to pay for it. That mightn't sound ideal, but wait until you browse through the properties and check out the prices. Beats the pants off any hotel.

OK, so that's the accommodation. But what if you don't want to stay at someone's house? What if you just want to meet people and have some fun?

WeHostels is a phone app that lets you book hostels online (not exactly revolutionary), and then allows you to see who else is going to be staying there and make contact with them (now we're getting somewhere). As long as you don't mind the idea of complete strangers knowing where you're going to be staying and when, it's a great way of making friends when you're travelling solo.

Of a similar vein but without the requirement to crash in the same dorm room as your new pal is the recently launched Party With A Local app, which sets out to connect people keen to hang out together in a certain location. It won't reveal exactly where you are – just the general area, and then it will suggest other users, hopefully locals, who are out and about.

So then you arrange a meeting point, and you've got yourself a friend.

Away from social media, there are two more websites I want to mention that won't just change the way you stay or the people you meet, but how you spend your time overseas.

Ever had someone tell you they're "woofing"? It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). The idea being that when you travel, you stay for free on an organic farm and do some work in return for board. It might not be everyone's idea of a good time but it's certainly a change from museums and momuments.

Lastly, there's Find A Crew, which is sort of like Couchsurfing, I guess, except you don't stay on a couch – you stay on a boat. On Find A Crew you can hook up with boat owners in need of a hand and spend your time sailing the seven seas (or just a small harbour) while helping out on deck.

There's a guy currently circumnavigating the world, for free, by using Find A Crew. Sounds better than a dorm room to me.

This story Websites that are changing travel first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.