SPEAKING OF TRAVEL
Last year, I wrote a column about the world being at your fingertips through the use of the internet and identified a number of useful websites. In this column, I’ll continue that discussion with more sites. I will not repeat any of the previous ones mentioned; you can access last year’s article at http://coastalbreezenews.com/index.php/2011/06/02/the-world-at-your-fingertips.
The online options for planning a trip seem to be endless. I usually start out by Googling a location and selecting a link that looks promising. From there, I find other links; I save them all in a folder on my computer and before I know it I have a vast number of resources from which to choose.
Most major guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, Fodors, and Frommers have information about major destinations available free on line. The New York Times travel section at http://nytimes.com/page/travel provides much information such as where to stay and eat, when to go, what to do, and maps. They make specific suggestions for each category, but what I particularly like is that readers can then submit their own suggestions; I find those most useful.
If you are into social media, gtrot.com is a site to help you find information about a destination based on recommendations from Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter friends. Afar.com is a similar networking site that provides personalized recommendations as is gogobot.com. Alas, I am not into social media and I still like Tripadvisor best.
The US government’s travel website http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel.shtml offers a wealth of information on such topics as air travel including real time airport status, road and rail travel, safety, current exchange rates, and historic places.
Interactive sites that help you plan tours for specific cities are fairly new and becoming popular. At stay.com, you can create a personal travel guide which can then be printed or downloaded to your smart phone or tablet. A custom itinerary according to factors such as intensity and level of luxury can be designed for 18 select cities at plnnr.com. The itinerary takes into account and lists such things as opening times and travel time between sites. You can edit the itinerary, deleting some items and changing time frames and the site will make alternate recommendations. This is a fairly new site and hopefully additional cities will be added in the future.
Planning for a family or group where everyone wants input? Try travelstormer.com. All of the planning partners can post suggestions and brainstorm itineraries, as well as voting to help with the final decisions. The site even lets you track expenses.
There are booking sites galore and a review of them goes beyond the scope of this small column. A relatively new site, Hipmunk, though, has been getting a lot of positive reviews. Among other things, it shows you hotel locations compared to the more active parts of a city including restaurants and entertainment. Flight options are sorted by what they refer to as “agony”, taking into account aspects such as duration, number of stops, and, of course, price. The hotel booking site, room77.com provides floor plans, insider tips and a virtual view out the window of rooms. Preferences such as WIFI, airport shuttle, view can filter out hotels. Add on fees are clearly stated. Room77 is a new site; there is room for improvement and if you want a specific room, you have to book by contacting the hotel directly. A site that adds something new to the booking game is Tingo. If you book a hotel through Tingo and the price drops, the site will automatically rebook you at the lower rate. Other sites that offer money back have the condition that an identical booking must be made by someone else in order for you to qualify for the rebate; Tingo has no such condition. Tingo is a new site, active only since March, so consumers haven’t had much of an opportunity to provide reviews of its effectiveness.
Websites providing information about airports abound. Flightaware.com provides live flight tracking. For flight status and airport delays, consult flightstats.com where you can also sign up for for email or phone alerts, as well as check parking rates and availability and wait time at security checkpoints. Ifly.com provides information about airport services including parking and hotel listings. Airporterminalmaps.com does just that…provide maps of airport terminals while http://tinyurl.com/7l2wsb7 is limited to maps for airlines in the OneWorld partnership. Luggagelimits.com provides detailed flight specific baggage information while tsastatus.net lists the latest information about TSA including the type of scanner used at various airports. At tsa.gov there is a list of specific liquid, aerosol, and gel items that cannot go in carryon just in case you were considering bringing the cranberry sauce for next Thanksgiving dinner.
For roadtrips, http://www.geobytes.com/citydistance.htm provides road distances and directions for driving between locations. At myscenic drive.com, enter a zip code to find out nearby picturesque drives including mileage, viewpoints, services. Not sure whether to fly or drive? You can determine which is the thriftier option at http://www.befrugal.com/tools/fly-or-drive-calculator/.
Speaking of distances between cities, Geobytes’ city distance tool calculates the air travel distance between cities. For finding flights in Europe, try Momondo.com.
All kinds of useful information throughout the world such as time zones, current times, weather, sun/moon rise, dialing codes, distance calculators is available at timeanddate.com.
At zocdoc.com, you can search for doctors by specialty and dentists who are in your insurance network as well as viewing their qualifications.
Packwhiz.com has customized and customizable packing lists, while printableluggagetags.com offers a variety of brightly colored luggage tags than can be printed. Try the palm tree tag so that you can always be reminded of Marco!
People often wonder what the best credit card is for their specific needs. Credit cards, based on individual parameters, can be compared at nerdwallet.com or creditcardtuneup.com.
Want some fun in sharing your trip after your return? Try animaps.com where you can create an interactive map of your trip illustrated by your own photos, videos, and text. As a lark, I always like to take one “tacky tourist” photo when I’m on a trip. You know, something like showing a traveling companion holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Now these can be shared at tackytouristphotos.com.
Not able to travel right now? In my previous column, I shared a number of sites for armchair travelers where you can take virtual tours of cities, museums, even the Sistine Chapel. Add to that list tourwrist.com which offers 360 degree tours from around the world including such locales as the floor of the Grand Canyon, an Arctic sunrise, or the Matterhorn. The site needs some work; searching for a particular location is difficult. I particularly liked the tour of Brugges, Belgium in winter. A beautiful city of canals and medieval architecture, I’ve been there twice, but always in warm weather. Since I have no intention of traveling anyplace when it is cold, I was vicariously able to enjoy the twinkling lights of the city reflected in the snow and the white capped red and yellow buildings.
Yes, the world is indeed at your fingertips through the internet!
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.