7 Travel Resources for Food Lovers

Top sites and memberships that all traveling gastronomes should take advantage of

You can get great deals on flights on Orbitz, book hotels on the cheap at Travelocity or Hotels.com, and find deep car-rental discounts on Expedia, but what about all the other intricacies of travel? What about making sure your time on holiday is really special, well-planned, and that you’re getting the most for your money? Booking a hotel room for less is nice, but it’s even better when it comes with an automatic upgrade and a host of insightful tips on what to do and eat nearby.

There are a number of sites that have popped up in recent years that offer much more in the way of booking travel than just “one-seat-left-at-this-price!”-style deals. Sites like Indagare, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Jetsetter show in-the-know travelers the newest and best hotels and destination guides, alongside genuinely helpful tips and information on things like tipping practices, dialing codes, and important airport information. Beyond that, they give your trip instant style with expert restaurant reviews, insider tips on what to order where, suggestions for local gourmet activities, and they’re a prime source for tough-to-get reservations. Here are seven resources that take vacations to the next level.

Quintessentially

Quintessentially is the grandfather of private travel membership sites, having launched in 2000 with a then-unprecedented level of service, advice, and help with various reservations. Beyond their main travel site, which provides unique travel packages and 24-hour help while you’re on the road, they also have Quintessentially Wine and an Insider section for recommendations. The main benefit to travelers, of course, is the perks (like lower rates and impromptu upgrades) gleaned from relationships that Quintessentially has around the world.

Tip: Make no mistake. With an annual “dedicated membership” fee of $5,500, Quintessentially is for luxury travelers only, so don’t expect Orbitz-style deals as much as high-end perks and discounted rates. But they are experts, and even just a quick peek at their Insider guide will return results like a story about historic castles to stay in, news about some of the world’s coolest new eateries, and tips on where to get fun and seasonal treats.

Indagare

One of the ways that Indagare inspires wanderlust in all of us is with their truly in-depth guides that read almost more like conversations with a friend than stock, guidebook musings. Their most basic membership ($275/year) includes booking services, custom itineraries, bimonthly travel guides, and access to an enormous wealth of suggestions, tips, and stories. Once you start drilling down into a destination guide, you’ll see that their recommendations are broken up into very practical categories. Their “Where to Eat” section, for example, lets you browse through categories like Big Night Out, Local Cuisine, Hot Spots, Neighborhood Places, and Quick Break. They also have rich editorial that focuses on what local flavors to try where. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Mulling it Over)

Tip: The site lets you scroll through a handful of pages before prompting you to log in or join, so take a look at their guide to a city you’re familiar with. You’ll find listings you love right next to great-sounding finds you didn’t know existed. They know where the coolest yoga classes are in LA, they've found the best rooftops in New York for summertime cocktails, and they recommend fantastic weekend activities complete with delicious snacks.

 

Jetsetter

As the travel leg of Gilt Groupe, the flash sale experts, Jetsetter is as stylish as it is useful. Finding deals as good as theirs (nights from $220 at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York and from $206 at Hotel Montalembert in Paris) is a great way to kick off a holiday. But where they excel, and differentiate from other flash sale travel sites, is with their trip-planning services that include custom itineraries and in-house booking help. So instead of just finding a great hotel and calling it a day, they use their expertise (they also have Gilt City and Gilt Taste to draw from) to provide the full spectrum of where to go, what to eat, what to see, and when to do it all. They’ll also book private homestays for members, that range from wallet-friendly choices (villas for less than $100/person, anyone?) to high-end homes with amazing views.

Tip: It’s free to become a member, so start by logging in and checking out hotels that pique your interest. Then scroll down to read their “what to know” tips about the hotel and its surroundings.  

Kayak

Even traveling gastronomes need the overarching help of a site like Kayak to get their travels off the ground. It’s user-friendly and regularly churns out better deals than its flight-and-hotel-search counterparts. And beyond that, they have straightforward city guides to a heap of their most popular destinations. Their guides include smart tips for first-time travelers, a list of cheap flight deals to that destination, a list of 10 highly recommended eateries (that run the gamut from budget to luxury), a list of attractions, and access to the best local deals in that city. While they’re not going to book restaurant reservations for you, their simple guides help you hit the ground running as soon as you arrive.

Tip: Check out their daily deals, where you’ll often find hotels offering packages that include food and drink or savings on flights.

Trufflepig

Trufflepig is probably the most food oriented custom trip planner around (with perhaps the exception of Purple Truffle, which is exclusive to France and Italy). They plan custom trips that are unique and reliant on a member’s tastes, whether you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, cooking lessons, or a lazy beach trip. The goal at Trufflepig is to dig just a bit deeper than the rest of the travel-resource pack to find the cream of the crop for their clients — whether that’s helping you decide what to order at the best hole-in-the-wall or giving tips for finding great, wallet-friendly travel deals on your own.

Tip: Read through their online travel magazine, The Sounder, to get an idea of the cool activities and locales they’ll include in custom itineraries. Also, they’re a small group and don’t plan trips where they haven’t been, so while their list is long, it’s not unlimited. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/UmbriaLovers)

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

True boutique hotel experts, Mr. and Mrs. Smith cherry-pick each hotel they feature to be sure they’re only recommending and getting the best rates for the cream of the crop. On top of that, they grant access to perks and upgrades that are exclusive to Smith members, like a private tour of the hotel’s kitchen, a complimentary bottle of prosecco, or an indulgent spa treatment. From a tiny boutique hotel in Romania to seaside villas in Thailand, their range is exhaustive and their commentary is juicy and detailed. They’ve also got an Eating & Drinking section in every destination guide, where they recommend restaurants, cafés, and bars around the world with little notes on why they chose them.

Tip: Before becoming a member, look through their generous guides and tips for really useful information like tipping practices, the best books to read before your trip, a hotel’s ideal dress code, and local foods to try. You’ll feel like an expert when you reel off the knowledge and it’ll make you want those extra perks.

Wallpaper* City Guides

For architecture buffs, design hunters, and food lovers, Wallpaper* City Guides are the classic choice, whether you prefer the feel of an actual book in your hand or want to download the city guide app. Only 10 cities are available as apps at the moment (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Paris, Rome, and Tokyo), but they’ve published more than 80 guides to cities around the world in their signature small, bright, and colorful book format. Inside, they offer tips on how to navigate a city (what each neighborhood is like), what local foods to try and where, what the must-sees are if you only have 48 hours there, and the top spots for a quick getaway from the city, should you need one. Their suggestions are consistently spot on and are often gleaned from in-the-know locals.

Tip: Unfortunately, they don’t put much in the way of suggestions or favorite places on their web site, so you’ll have to browse the books in-store before you purchase. They come with a handful of blank pages at the back for you to take notes on what you liked and what you wish you’d skipped. (Photo courtesy of Jane Bruce)

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