If you're a student or just under 26, you can get some good deals (including Gap Year round-the-world tickets) via STA Travel, 36 George Street, tel 0871 702 9839.
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This page mainly focuses on air travel, because at the time of writing (2011), this remains the cheapest way of achieving long distance travel goals. Airlines have been having a tough time of it recently, and people are finally beginning to question the environmental impact of their air miles, so it's not clear how much longer this will remain the case (and if you're organised, can book well in advance and have the time, you can find good coach and rail deals to continental Europe even now) - but for now, here's our advice, in no particular order.
One introduction to the world of shopping for cheap flights is opodo.co.uk, which is the result of nine or so major airlines clubbing together in an attempt to undercut not only the competition, but also their own individual prices. Such is life post Sept 11. Worth double checking with some of the below on European flights, as Opodo have no truck with discount firms who won't pay them commissions and hence may miss bargains. If the web is down, or you simply crave the sound of a human voice, they also have a 24 hour helpline: 0870 241 7051.
Next is the innovative procedure adopted by Priceline (priceline.co.uk), who invite you to choose your destination and dates of travel and then make a bid of how much you're prepared to pay. They then shop around the airlines on your behalf and if your bid is accepted, lo and behold, cheap flights are yours! Naturally, it isn't quite that simple. Airport taxes and Priceline's fee (£5) will be added to your bid. In addition, you are not allowed to specify flight times or preferred airlines (they only deal with "World Class, full-service" airlines). Children's tickets are not available and frequent-flyer miles cannot be used. Furthermore your bid, once made, cannot be retracted - they have your credit card number and will use it! The only other major stumbling-block is the measure they have taken to prevent you, for example, starting at a fiver and inching your way upwards until accepted. To avoid this you are required to change a detail, such as a date, when returning with an improved bid. Having said all this, it remains possible to find yourself a genuine bargain by this route. You are advised that homework is the key. Compare published and discount prices (perhaps using the Fare Compare system at expedia.co.uk) for the route in question, then make a bid of just over half the lowest pre-tax fare and hope for the best.
Another aggregator website that searches hundreds of flight providers for cheap flights is netflights.com, who primarily offer long- to medium-haul flights and in general seem to offer very good deals.
There remain, of course, the popular individual firms offering discount travel. Iinternet-based, 'no frills' (bring a packed lunch) airlines such as Ryanair (ryanair.com), EasyJet (easyjet.com) and Go (go-fly.com) often have very low prices over particular time periods (book as far in advance as you can for the cheapest deals). Another is lastminute.com, which, as the name suggests, promises discounts for those able to travel at short notice (and which is now a subsidiary of Priceline, the bidding site).
skyscanner.net and travelsupermarket.com are two new price comparison sites, dealing with Europe only. The former is insanely useful, offering you the option of searching by departure/destination cities or countries rather than forcing you to name your airports at the outset, and giving you the chance to chance your dates and times of travel as easily as if you were booking a train online. The results show the options in different flight classes from the different airlines available, including taxes.
For research purposes consider Kelkoo (kelkoo.com), who will search through a number of travel firms on your behalf. Other useful stops are discount travel agents such as cheapflights.co.uk, trailfinders.com and ebookers.com. Additional companies such as the Cooperative's travelcare.co.uk work by watching the tour operators to see when charter bargains become available.
As if that weren't enough, you might also wish to consider travel auction sites such as Thomas Cook's Airtours lateescapes.com, which sell tickets to the highest bidder.
If after all this you prefer to try the train after all, why not check out the amazingly comprehensive guide to European rail travel at seat61.com. In addition, you can research & buy interrail tickets at www.raileurope.co.uk. There is a special section of info for students too.
Right - so now you're there. But how do you get around? If you want to hire a car, you could consider the merits of holidayautos.co.uk (part of lastminute.com), through whom you can reserve your wheels to await you anywhere on the globe. A similar service comes from Rhino car hire, winner of 'Best Car Hire Website' at the 2010 Travolution Awards. (They've some interesting travel articles on their blog too, including one on their support of the International Rhino Foundation.) Next: where to sleep. Take a look at www.laterooms.com, which often has bargain last-minute hotel deals in the UK and abroad.
Despite its length, this list makes no claim to be exhaustive. If you find another way to escape, please send us a postcard from your exotic destination bearing your comments and suggestions. We wish you a safe journey!