Tag Archives: free

Free! Travel Information Delivered To Your Door!

The internet is an incredible free source of destination information, but it can’t quite match the thrill of receiving a whole envelope full of free glossy brochures of beautiful people streched out before vistas of azure oceans. Here are two great sources of free travel information delivered to your door; one defintely useful, the perhaps somewhat other less so.

Travel BrochuresLet’s start with the best. Tourism authorities are a fantastic and often-overlooked source of travel information – particularly for decent free maps and basic info with lots of glossy pictures. ANTOR’s* represents 48 official tourism authorities (including the Australian State authorities) and the destination info page provides (along side some basic travel info) the URL, email address and contact details for all of them. If you’re interested in any major destination for Australian travellers it will be listed. Simply email the relevant authority with your address, rough dates of travel and as far as possible the specific regions or cities you’re interested in and wait for the postie everyday for a week or so! No substitute for a good guidebook or your own research but generally there will be at least a couple of genuinely useful items in the material sent.

TravelBrochures.com.au and TravelBrochures.SMH.com.au are another clearing house for free travel information, although arguably of a must less useful nature. These sites allow to order free tour company brochures, some of which are available in digital (tree-saving) format. All the majors are available as well as a few smaller operators – useful if you wish to compare tours from a number of companies or can’t get to a travel agent. Of course some major operators now send out (often unintenionally comical) DVDs as as a bonus! Be warned, however, apart from ending up on a tour (which may or may not be a bad thing in itself…), you are likely to end up on a mailing list of the tour companies from which it may be difficult to extract yourself!

*(Association of National Tourist Office Representatives in Australasia)

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[Image by Classroom III]


How to Learn A Language (Or Several) FREE!

In a previous post I evaluated some of the leading commercial solutions for learning a foreign language. In this post I’ll suggest some of the best free websites for learning a few basic phrases or to get you on your way towards fluency. After all, why pay for something you can get for free?

Basic Travel Phrases

Lingvosoft Online

LingvoSoft Online Phrasebooks is an excellent service that teaches phrases in around 40 languages. With 3000 phrases in 15 categories for each these languages this site can teach you all the basic phrases you’ll need and many more. What’s even better is that each phrase is presented in flash card format with audio in what sounds, to my ear, like native speakers. Several languages (for instance Arabic and Farsi) are additionally offered in a Romanized format which can make identifying the sounds easier. Great for quickly learning a bunch of useful phrases before you leave.


Let’s say that 40 languages aren’t enough for you; maybe you’re off to Senegal and want to get up to speed in Wolof or want to learn some basic phrases in Cornish or Asturian (yes, I did spell that correctly). TravelLang offers phrases in no less than 80 languages so this is the site. Not as pretty or clean as LingvoSoft’s offering, nor are there as many phrases for each language. It does, however, offer audio for each phrase (although the recordings sound more amateur) and is more than enough to learn a few basics in the many languages offered.

World Nomads, principally a company peddling travel insurance aimed at backpackers and gap year travellers, promotes itself in a few innovative ways, one of which is to offer a series of podcasts teaching key phrases in a number of languages. As well as the ‘classics’ like French and Spanish a good range of Asian languages are available. Only one podcast of around fifteen minutes duration is offered for each language. However, they are offered in a convenient mp3 format and scripts are provided. ‘Good morning’, ‘how much’, ‘help!’, numbers from one to ten and ‘beer’ are incorporated into a narrative which highlights some useful cultural tips. Unfortunately the vocal acting is somewhat… limited and the stories a bit naff. I would prefer more opportunities to repeat the phrases after the native speaker, but if you are after something to listen to on the way to work or while working out these will do the job.

Free Language Learning Sites

If you want to learn more than just to parrot the most useful phrases there are some really great sites for more serious study. Before you go out and spend a packet on a bunch of audio CDs, or even language classes, check out some of these sites. Many integrate social networking aspects and take advantage of Skype to match you with native speakers of the language you want to learn who are interested in learning languages you speak – the ultimate quid pro quo!


FSI Language Courses may not look much (it doesn’t even have a logo!) but it contains a wealth of content. The site contains digitised versions of courses developed by the Foreign Service Institute of the American government and which are now public domain. Contains material for an impressive range of languages, including many that are more obscure. The most popular languages generally offer audio in mp3, but for some languages only the text in pdf format is available. Some of the material and methods may be showing their age a little (with a strong emphasis on rote learning) but this is an excellent resource. New material is constantly being added and I cannot praise this project or those who develop and maintain it too highly.

Live MochaLivemocha provides excellent free language lessons in Spanish, Mandarin, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese and Russian. The lessons themselves are the equal of any product – free or commercial – with learning, reading, listening and ‘magnet’ components. The magnet section is particularly useful: the user places the component words in order to recreate phrases. The social practice and feedback system is also innovative: giving users the opportunity to complete set exercises which are then rated and commented upon by native speakers. Biggest, and perhaps only, drawback at the moment is the fact that the selection of languages is (comparatively) limited. Get in quick – it appears set become a charge for use service when it moves out of beta into full release.

BabbelBabbel is a site I have only begun to explore. Offering lessons in four languages – Italian, German, French and Spanish – this site has some nice features. Phrases are associated with user-submitted images (which in my experience are excellent in terms of both quality and expressing the phrase being taught). The site allows the user to choose which ‘package’ (e.g. topic) of vocabulary to learn, creating a very user-centric and customised experience. Learning tasks include associating the spoken phrase with the appropriate image and typing the first letter of the phrase associated with the image. Even more impressively the vocabulary, once chosen and learnt, is added to the users’ ‘My Vocabulary’ package and revision is automatically recommended after a set period. Once again, a social aspect of the site encourages interaction with native speakers.

LinQLinQ operates on the basis of matching public domain literary works with public domain audio recordings of those works and free online translation services. Selecting a text provides the user not only with the text in the target language but also with an accompanying reading. Clicking a word or phrase in the text allows the user to receive a translation, which is then added to the user’s vocabulary library for future revision via the site’s flashcard function. It’s a very good idea for intermediate or advanced speakers but at the moment it seems a little clunky in its execution. The social aspect to the site (which requires payment) allows users to submit written material for correction and to participate in speaking ‘events’ with native speaking tutors.

BBC Languages

The BBC’s website allows you learn a good deal of French, Spanish, Italian and German, and a smattering of Mandarin, Greek, Portuguese, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh at the British tax payer’s expense. The ‘Steps’ programs are quite good introductions to the basics of the big four European languages, with a relentless focus on dialogue useful for a short trip away.

MangoLanguages, which I covered in my previous post, also has a great deal of free material available.

A Great Free ToolMnemosyne

Mnemosyne is one of many flashcard software programs I have tried and in my opinion it is by far the best and simplest to use. It is free, open source and a great tool for memorising individual words or whole phrases. There is support for all sorts of scripts, images and audio. The algorithm is very effective at ensuring graduated review.

Frankly I’m blown away by the free sites for learning languages, which are frequently as good as, and occasionally light years beyond, the commercial alternatives.

I’d love to know about any great free language learning resources I haven’t covered here or if you have a comment about any of the sites and tools mentioned in this article.

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Loose Change – A round-up of recent travel tips from around the web (12th of April)

Chinese Medicine

The Best Travel Tips of the Week

How to handle medical emergencies while travelling (via Bravenewtraveler.com)

Know some basic phrases (‘hospital’, ‘pain’, ’emergency’) in the local language; know your insurance situation (Australian travellers should check whether a reciprocal agreement exists with the countries in which you will be travelling which may entitle you to subsidised medical treatment) and, finally, be patient.


Indonesian ChildrenVagablogging and The Guardian provide reminders of the joys of spontaneous travel. Travelnotebook’s ‘How to Photograph Children During Your Travels‘ is much more interesting (and less creepy) than its title suggests.

Bravenewtraveler has some pretty good tips in 5 ways to protect your essential travel documents; a good follow-up to ‘5 Tips Every Traveler Should Know About Internet Security‘.

The LA Times chips in with 14 ways to save money on your travels, although unfortunately none are earth-shattering.

Worldhum rounds up some resources about travelling with children, while Frommers has some suggestions for keeping your family safe while travelling.

Two questions every traveller has asked – how the hell do I cross this road and is it possible not to look like a tourist?

10 Nastiest Travel Diseases because malaria isn’t the ONLY disease you need to be wary of when travelling (via Vagabondish).


How to cope with flying if you hate flying or overcome a fear of it.

Making the most of your stopover – how to get the most out of less than twenty-four hours in a major city.

Recovering airport lost property – MSNBC’s guide.


‘There are some things in life you should never see, and seeing your bags being unloaded by baggage handlers is one of them’ – James Clark’s reviews his flight from Singapore to Melbourne on Tiger and his experiences in Melbourne’s Tiger Airways terminal.

EuropeBrixton Market

The Independent rounds up the 50 best free activities in London, some great (and less-familiar) suggestions to make the most of your time in an expensive city.

Viator presents a through review of transport options from all of the airports servicing London, including (of course) Heathrow.

Budget-conscious tourists heading to Germany should check out Culture on the Cheap’s latest ‘Ask a local’ which has tips provided by ‘Mike from Munich‘, including free thrills and ‘What do you do with €5.00 for dinner? ‘.

The Telegraph tracks down finds 10 places to stay for less than £120 a night in Rome, while its competitor The Times provides selection of treks in Europe.

The Age gives some common sense advice on plane vs train travel in Europe.

Concierge.com has a feature on budget Europe.

has a guide to Barcelona or consider one of Madrid’s less well-known galleries –Museo Sorolla.

RentaTent – camp your way through in Europe.

Vietnam food


Budgetglobetrotting asks are Thailand’s islands are still the best in the region? The New York Times provides some tips on activities in Chiang Mai.

Hints for cheap lunches in Vietnam – even if the photos don’t look the most attractive.

A great list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts in Cambodia‘ by a Fillipina living in Cambodia – ‘DON’T expect nice clean public toilets to be readily available anywhere’.

United States

The LA Times has some local knowledge on transport options to and from LAX and Long Beach airports.

Intelligent Travel suggests some ‘distinctive’ American destinations or just do Vegas on the cheap with Viator.

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