With the internet, the world is literally at your fingertips. Investigating, booking, and enjoying all aspects of the travel experience from the essential to the esoteric can be accomplished online.
Booking sites for flights change rapidly. Individual sites do not necessarily have information about all airlines and with Google’s planned purchase of ITA software, more changes are in the future. No one site offers all flight options. When booking a flight, I usually go to a booking comparison site such as www.tripadvisor.com/Flights, www.kayak.com, www.mobissimo.com/search_airfare.php, www.farecompare.com, or www.fly.com for a general idea of which airline is offering the best price and schedule. I then go to the airline’s website and can usually find a ticket for the same price as offered on the comparison site. If you have the time, check back often. Recently, I was watching for a flight to Salt Lake City. For about 3 weeks, the best fare was $550. Then, one day I checked and it had dropped to $197. Sites such as www.farecompare.com or www.airfarewatchdog.com will monitor a particular route and send you an email when there is a drop in price.
There are many sites that provide information about an airline or your flight.
www.airlinequality.com reviews and rates airlines worldwide. To assist in choosing a seat, go to www.seatguru.com or seatexpert.com. Enter your airline and flight number to see the pros and cons of all of the seats. www.luggagelimits.com provides information on baggage allowance for specificflights.
Once I book a flight, hotel, car or other reservations, I forward them to www.tripit.com which consolidates the information into a master itinerary. I can check it online any time at their website and they also send it to my smartphone’s calendar application so I can view it anytime. Tripit also makes it easy to share trip information with family or fellow travelers.
Keeping track of frequent flier miles or hotel points can be cumbersome. awardwallet.com does that for you, as well as notifying you when they are due to expire.
For planning roadtrips in the US, I like www.mapquest.com.
For Europe, www.viamichelin.com/tpl/hme/MaHomePage.htm is comprehensive. Currency conversion is made easy at www.xe.com while www.oanda.com provides a printable wallet size conversion chart. For major US cities, www.hopstop.com provides information about getting from one location to another via foot, public transportation, or taxi, including rates.
To get “the scoop” on a hotel, location, or to have questions answered, I rely on www.tripadvisor.com. A comprehensive site, users provide reviews of hotels, restaurants, and activities. Often these are accompanied by user submitted photos. Of course, I take the reviews “with a grain of salt”, but they can be helpful in researching a place. Every location has a forum to which readers post questions and either locals or people who have visited there respond. I’ve received a lot of useful information via the forums. For cruises, consult www.cruisecritic.com or www.cruisemates.com; the latter offers reviews by both travel writers aswell as consumers. Both also have forums, although I have found them more difficult to navigate (no pun intended!) than those on tripadvisor.
Want to know about special events that may be happening in a location you are going to visit? Try www.whatsonwhen.com/sisp/index.htm, a searchable worldwide events guide.
Most major museums and events offer tickets online. Pre booking busy places like the Uffizi in Florence or Alhambra in Granada can avoid a lot of time wasted standing in line and disappointment should tickets be sold out when you visit.
When researching a location, www.google.com is your best friend for finding out local attractions, events, even discount tickets. When we planned a trip to San Diego, I Googled “San Diego”and “events”. This took me to the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. Through that site, I was able to book tickets for a holiday bowl game and reserve bleacher seats for a holiday bowl parade. It also provided a link for 2 for 1 tickets for harbor cruises and whale watching.
All states and most countries have official travel sites that supply a wealth of information. The official travel site for the United States is www.discoveramerica.com/ca/ and www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel_Tourism/State_Tourism.shtml is the portal for all 50 tourism sites.
If a trip isn’t in your plans for this year, but you enjoy seeing other places or visiting museums, there are lots of options for virtual travelers. At www.virtourist.com you can take a photo tour of hundreds of world locales. www.virtualfreesites.com/museums.htmlprovides virtual tours to more than 300 museums and exhibits worldwide ; some of them are quite obscure. The Google Art Project www.googleartproject.com, is an ambitious site that provides virtual 3D tours of leading international museums, as well as close ups of individual pieces. It is an incredible site, well worth taking some time to explore.
Individual museums also offer panoramic tours of their facilities. Can’t get to Washington? Check out www.mnh.si.edu/panoramas/# for a room by room tour of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. Rome not in your travel plans? Make a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel at www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html…and enjoy the accompanying chanting. Tour all of St. Peter’s Basilica at www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/vr_tour/index-en.html. Most tourist destinations now have webcams where you can see real time views. Panoramic Earth, www.panoramicearth.com/world, is a series of 360 degree panoramas from all over the world.
No matter what your travel need, there is probably a website to meet that need.
And, if there is a website, there must be an App for it….but that is for a future column!
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.