There is so much travel information on the internet that it can be overwhelming. For my annual review of websites, I am going to highlight those I find most helpful when planning a trip.
First and foremost is Google. If I want general or specific information about a place, I Google it. Want to know the best time to visit? Google it by entering the location and “best time to visit.” By putting the name of a city and “weather” in the search field, the results reveal the present temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity and forecast for the next week.
Want to know the distance between here and Orlando or between any other two locations? Type in “Marco Island to Orlando,” and the results indicate that it should take 3 hours and 37 minutes but in current traffic it would be 3 hours and 55 minutes. Clicking on the map displayed then provides step-by-step directions by auto, public transportation or walking (68 hours walking in case you wondered!).
When planning side trips from places where we will be staying, I often Google the name of the town and “images.” The resulting photos help us decide whether we really want to visit there or not.
Wondering about currency conversion? Type in “dollar to” the currency about which you are curious and an interactive chart appears. You can toggle between the value of one (or any amount) dollar to the other currency and conversely as well as see a graph of a five-year history of the exchange rate.
When we travel domestically, we usually just bring carry-ons. This necessitates a visit to a local drugstore at our destination to buy large size liquids and gels such as toothpaste. Before our trip, I Google “drugstores near” the address of our hotel or apartment, and the results yield an interactive map of those stores. It saves time when we get there.
Once, we had a quick overnight in a location on the way to our final destination. Yes, I know the hotel concierge could have given us names of restaurants, but I am a vegetarian and like to check out menus ahead of time. Googling “restaurants near” and the address of the hotel provided an interactivepage not only listing the restaurants but also with links for reviews and menus.
Sometimes when I Google something specific about a location, the search suggests a webpage in another language. A nice feature of Google is that there is a link “Translate this page” which does just that. When trying to build my vocabulary in another language, I often consult Google Translate at translate.google.com. Type in a word or phrase in English, and translate it into any one of more than 80 languages and vice versa.
I’ve read that some people prefer Bing as a search engine over Google, but I don’t know any of them. I’ve tried to use it a few times, but am a creature of habit and always revert back to Google.
There are privacy issues with Google (and Bing as well). Google does track your searches and uses the information, among other ways, to target online ads. There are some protections available. If you have a Google account, sign in and turn on all the privacy settings. To find out how to do this, Google “privacy settings Google.” There are browser extensions that can be installed such as Ghostery and AdBlock that help to stop tracking. Remember, even if you don’t Google, if you use YouTube or Picasa, Google gathers the same information.
Although Googling provides good information about the distances and routes between two locations, rome2rio.com gives even more specific information. Type in two locations and the results show a map as well as how long and how much it will cost by public transportation or by auto. Clicking on the information provides even more detail and, for public transportation, a link to the the online schedule.
I use online transportation schedules a lot when we travel. Going to the website of the company that operates the trains or buses, I can put in my location and my destination, the time I wish to travel, and a detailed schedule is generated. Often, there is also an option to purchase a ticket. The sites usually have an English option.
For afew weeks before a trip, we like to read the local newspaper to find out what is happening there. Just Google the destination and “newspaper” and usually an English version of local papers will appear in the search results. I also like to consult local webcams; it helps give me an idea about the weather and what clothes I might want to pack. Google “webcam” and the location to find one.
I use Google to find events that may be scheduled during our visit to a destination. If interested, I then purchase tickets before they are sold out. I also have purchased tickets online for popular attractions to avoid standing in long lines.
Seat guru is a site I consult before booking an airline seat. Entering the airline, flight number and date of departure for a flight brings up a detailed seating chart with advice and cautions about specific seats. I hate seats that don’t recline, especially if the person in front of me reclines. Seat Guru identifies those seats.
Although Googling does provide information about currency exchange, mental math has never been my favorite activity and I prefer printing a small cheat sheet before visiting another country. At oanda.com/currency/travel-exchange-rates, one such cheat sheet can be generated and printed. It’s particularly helpful at ATMS when I have to quickly determination the equivalency of another denomination in dollars.
Trip Advisor has become invaluable in planning trips. I know there has been criticism of some of its reviews as perhaps not authentic, but a careful reading of the reviews can yield good information. Beyond the reviews, however, I use the forums a lot. By either reading questions others have asked or posting my own question, I have learned much. I like that you can email someone who has posted a reply if you have further questions. The email addresses are not public; Trip Advisor acts as an intermediary for the messages. I have emailed others and other travelers have emailed me with questions. The responses have always been helpful.
I’ve written before about online guides. One site I like that I haven’t yet noted is mydestination.com. Other sites previously mentioned that I continue to like are inyourpocket. com and tripomatic.com.
There is a world of information out there. Just Google it.