Everyone has different travel needs, but you can get enough
information online to make the best choices for your personal
circumstances. Some people want to be pampered to the
limit, while others are happy to simply have a clean room
and fresh towels. So whatever your tastes, use what the
Internet has to offer to plan the best possible trip.
Research It First
Here are some valuable sites to visit before making
any decisions regarding your itinerary. They provide
links to other sites that arrange reservations.
This site is aptly named, because its mission is to
offer opinions and reviews of hotels, attractions, restaurants,
and activities. It also provides links to other sites
where you can get additional reviews, such as Frommer’s,
Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and newspapers and magazines
from around the country. If you have questions or comments
about a city, hotel, or attraction, there are forums
for just about everything. The search engine criteria
are broad. You can type in a city, a hotel, or a restaurant
name, or you can try an attraction name or a combination
of city and name (which will get you better results).
TripAdvisor links to deals and packages as well. For
example, if you’re visiting New York and would
like to put together a theater package, click on the
http://www.nyctheaterpackages.com link in the Featured
Lonely Planet (http://www.lonelyplanet.com)
One of the best travel sites on the Web, this site is
loaded with information about destinations, including
travel FAQs, events, money, attractions, activities,
history, culture, getting around, health and safety
advisories, articles, blogs, and forums. The Theme Guides
give ideas about where to go and what to do for a particular
interest. Perhaps you’re into deserts or historical
places (or spooky places float your boat). You can click
on “Fatal Attractions” and read about Torajan
Funerals in Indonesia or the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
In May 2004, Lonely Planet launched it own TV program
on the Travel Channel.
This Web version of the long-standing travel guides
offers details of destinations and hotels, restaurants,
attractions, nightlife, and shopping. It also has health
and safety information, downloadable maps, and message
Like Frommer’s, Fodor’s offers destination
and hotel descriptions as well as restaurant reviews,
itinerary ideas, maps, and special features (e.g., “speaking
like a local”).
Then Book It
The travel sites listed below allow you to book flights,
hotels, cars, cruises, activities, and vacation packages.
(You will get basically the same rates/fares at all
of them, but it’s still a good idea to compare.)
In my opinion, Expedia has the best search engine with
the most advanced options. For example, you can search
for flights by airline, class, or nonstop flights only.
You can sort by price, shortest flights, departure times,
or arrival times. In most cases, you will be able to
choose your seats on the plane and, if available, the
types of meals you would like (although many airlines
are now offering purchased meals only). The hotel pages
have interactive maps, photos, and virtual tours of
the property and rooms; easy-to-understand rate and
availability charts; nearby points of interest and their
distances from the property; directions and cost from
airport; and “getting around” information.
Read ratings and reviews from other users, too. By registering
with Expedia, your travel information is saved for future
bookings. The sidebars have travel alerts, airport information,
a flight tracker, currency converters, and weather and
passport information. The “Activities” tab
allows you to conveniently make reservations and order
tickets for activities. You won’t have to stand
in line to purchase tickets or be turned away because
the activity group is full; you just print out the tickets
and take them with you. (This is particularly useful
if you are going to a foreign country where few people
speak your language.)
CheapTickets has a club called CheapTickets Gold. Joining
this club is a good deal if you travel often. You get
5 percent cash back; special pricing; airline certificates;
partner offers on spas, golf trips, and airport parking;
and 24/7 help by phone for domestic travel. Other helpful
features on the site include driving directions, street
maps, international calling codes, travel tips, a flight
tracker, weather, and airport delays.
The best part about this site is the destination guides,
which include articles, photo and video galleries, maps,
weather reports, a currency converter, passports and
visa information, travel advice, and traveler reviews.
Automobile Club of America (http://www.aaa.com)
Aside from providing the old trustworthy TripTiks, maps,
and tour books, you can also book air, hotel, cruise,
car, and tour reservations and take advantage of AAA’s
exclusive tours. You can set up a personal profile to
keep preferences for airlines, car rentals, lodging,
and cruises. The vacation planning form lets you fill
in the details of your ideal trip; AAA will then contact
you with the best deal. Make use of the online maps
and directions. (Of course, you have to be a member.)
Priceline lets you set your own price for hotels and
flights. However, you must enter your credit card information.
Once you submit your request, Priceline looks for providers
that will accept your offer. If that happens (and that’s
a big if), Priceline immediately purchases it. You are
not given the chance to sort through options and make
your own decision about which hotel/airline you prefer.
But if you are not finicky, this might work for you.
Despite its name, this site books flights, cars, and
cruises as well as hotels. It has tabs that take you
right to pages of certain interests, such as Bed &
Breakfasts, Gambling, Golf & Tee Times, Road Trips,
Shopping Cities, Ski Resorts, and Spas. If road trips
tickle your fancy, this site has a road trip planner.
You can plan by drive time, distance from your ZIP code,
or which compass direction you want to travel in. It
even has a road trip newsletter.
InfoHub Specialty Travel Guide (http://www.infohub.com)
InfoHub is a specialty travel site. It offers off-the-beaten-path
packages for those looking to move away from the typical
tourist vacation. For example, go on castle, culinary,
and cycling tours; gay, biblical, and wildlife and eco
tours; artists’ workshops tours; and much more.
There are things to do that you may never have thought
about, such as the WWII Russian battlefield tour, or
you’ll find some trips that did occur to you,
like “Following the ‘DaVinci Code’
Trail.” Or perhaps you’d prefer something
more uplifting, such as the Scottish Golf and Malt Whiskey
Tour, which invites you to golf and visit whiskey distilleries
around Scotland. You can choose your package by activity/interest
or country/city. Get feedback from other customers and
join the forums to discuss experiences and options with
Luxury Link (http://www.luxurylink.com)
This site is for travelers for whom money is not the
bottom line—i.e., the vacation packages are more
on the sophisticated and luxurious side. They include
tours, cruises, specialty travel, hotels, resorts, inns,
lodges, yacht charters, villas, and spas. There are
different ways to search, including a tour calendar.
I have to say, I fell in love with some of their unbelievable
packages. How does a luxury villa for two on St. Lucia
sound to you? This vacation includes accommodation for
7 nights, full breakfast and dinner for two each day,
tours of an open volcano and the botanical gardens,
a 1-hour massage per person, daily transfers to town
and beach, complimentary use of snorkeling equipment,
and a cocktail upon arrival. All of this costs $3,900
for 2 people, including transfers to and from airport,
taxes, and service charges. This is not to say that
the packages are all unaffordable for the average person,
because Luxury Link also allows you to bid on packages.
For example, at the time of this writing, there was
a Jamaican package available in Ocho Rios—5 nights
in a luxury oceanfront suite; breakfast, lunch, and
dinner for two each day; daily afternoon English tea
on the terrace; transfers to the golf course; unlimited
greens fees; and full use of non-motorized water sport
facilities and equipment. The current highest bid was
$1,400 for two people, including taxes, service charges,
and gratuities. The auctions are weekly. You might even
be able to win a free trip, including flights and accommodations,
by entering the sweepstakes.
Other sites you can try are Paymetravel.com (http://www.paymetravel.com),
and Bestfares.com (http://www.bestfares.com). The important
thing is to utilize the Internet and research all your
Roberta Roberti is a food expert and freelance