The Travel Site Less Visited
The idea of traveling, whether for business or pleasure, is both exciting and vexing. Unfortunately, few of us have the time or money to permit us to hit the road not caring where we stay or how we get there. That’s why we believe there isn’t an aspect of travel that can’t be improved by careful Internet research, from the planning stages on.
We all know the heavily advertised travel websites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity (we can even hum their jingles). Of course, we love those sites and use them, too. But the great poet Robert Frost wrote of the “road less traveled.” We prefer to explore the site less visited. We hope you enjoy these unusual websites, and that you find them useful and fun too.
For starters, we love Trip Advisor, which offers all the tools you need to plan your trip. But what makes this site golden are the reviews from actual travelers. We wouldn’t think of planning our next vacation without it. While people’s opinions can and do differ on a given hotel or restaurant, we prefer to know as much as possible before we book. If we’re looking for a quiet hotel for a romantic weekend with our spouse, reading several reviews that mention “child friendly” or “big water slide” could save us from disaster. You can sort hotel searches by popularity, price, class, alphabetically, or top value. Be sure to check the date of the review before making a final decision. Hotels that were reviewed negatively can get a new manager or remodel and make a turnaround, and vice-versa. Besides Trip Advisor, you might also sample the reviews over at Yelp, which was founded to help people find reviews of local businesses.
We also love Kayak, which lets us search many airlines at once. A particularly useful feature is the ability to “favorite” promising flights as you scroll through the pages of potential flights. You can look through several pages of search results marking favorites. When one tires of that (which for us is when the prices start getting way too high), you can go to your favorites and pick the winner.
We all know that all airline seats are not created equal. Some of us like window seats and some of us like the aisle. (We’re not sure anyone likes the middle.) But SeatGuru gives us the lowdown on what seats have “hidden” positive and negative features, like a cool breeze from the air conditioning system or a block against reclining due to the exit row behind. We always have this site standing at the ready when we reserve our tickets online and bring it up when it is “select a seat” time.
Bing Travel (formerly Farecast, but acquired by Microsoft in 2008) is the first airfare prediction website. According to Bing Travel, it utilizes over a billion airfares on a daily basis to predict with 75 percent accuracy whether fares are rising or dropping and if you should buy now or wait. We searched for flights to San Diego from our home town. The search results produced a typical list of flights, sorted with low price first, but the kicker was the 7-day Price Predictor for the search, which indicated that we should buy now, since predicted fares were rising or steady. There was also a confidence rating of 94% that the prediction was accurate based on their track record. There’s also a hotel Rate Indicator, which labels hotel finds by “Deal,” Average” and “Not a Deal.” We think it’s human nature to want to buy something that has a green “deal” flag on it. At least, it made us feel better about what one has to pay for a hotel in Washington, D.C.
Another option for finding the best deal: sign up for price drop alerts on hotels and flights at Yapta. Or, visit Travel Zoo, which publishes deals on hotels, airfare, rental cars, and more. Travel Zoo aims to be your one destination for deals, and vows to make shopping for bargains even easier if you sign up for their email deal alert, the Travelzoo Top 20®
Bring all your travel research together with Trip It, which promises to turn the chaos of planning travel on the Internet into an orderly process. Sign up for free and you can build an itinerary, organize your trip, and then Trip It will help monitor it and inform you of any changes.
Here’s a site that we hope we never use: Sleeping in Airports. Sadly, it seems an inevitable fact of air travel these days that we may end up draping ourselves pretzel-like around one of those ubiquitous gray airport chairs with a coat over our head trying miserably to catch a few Zs. This site shares travelers’ advice and reviews of airports around the world, in terms of comfort for spending more than a short layover. Regretably, we note that only two of the top ten “best” airports are even on our continent.
You know the saying: “when you’ve got to go...” What if you don’t know where to go? You need the Bathroom Diaries. Yes, the Bathroom Diaries lists and rates the facilities in more than 100 countries, including some really remote ones. So if you’re in Antartica and pondering that second beer, go ahead.
Raise your hand if this ever happens to you: you take a wonderful trip and buy picture postcards to mail to your awestruck friends and family. Perhaps you even buy postcard rate stamps. But, somehow, you end up at home with a suitcase full of dirty clothes and unmailed postcards. Enter Hazel Mail. Just upload your digital photos to Hazel, add the personal message and recipient’s address, and Hazel will turn your photos into postcards and mail them for you. Each card costs approximately $1.50 apiece, although you can register and purchase “HazelBucks” to save money. Now there’s even an IPhone app for Hazel, which should make it even easier to use while traveling.
What about the nitty gritty of getting from point A to point B in a city? Hop Stop is a city transit guide for a number of major U.S. cities. If you are planning a trip to NYC, for example, and want to use public transit, go to Hop Stop, plug in your starting address and destination. Hop Stop will give you detailed step by step directions for which subway line to take, where to enter and exit, distances and travel time. Similar to Hop Stop is Metro, but Metro bills itself as the ultimate free guide on PDA (Palm, PocketPC, iPhone, BlackBerry, Smartphone...) to public transport systems worldwide (400 cities covered now).
Want to plan a group vacation with your family or friends? Triporama gives you the tools to create a group home page, send invitations, share information with everyone, map your itinerary, and more. Membership is free, and the signup is simple. One of us has a big birthday coming up, and the travel deals for girlfriends caught our eye. But Courtney told Jim to get his own friends.
Have you ever heard of the BootsnAll Travel Network? Sometimes “independent traveler” is a euphemism for “backpacker.” BootsnAll started with backpackers in mind, and grew into something for every kind of traveler. One can spend quite a bit of time there, sorting through mountains of good information. There are the usual travel website offerings, such as flight booking, hotel reservations, and travel insurance, but this is a much more collaborative website, with message boards, blogs, photo sharing, and articles authored by members of the BootsnAll network. Even if you aren’t going anywhere right now, the articles are fun reads. The message board is organized by topic, such as “destination forums,” “travel resources,” “ways to go,” and more. Destination forums are broken down by geographic regions. Travel Resources covers a real hodgepodge of food, health, photography, gear, finding buddies on the road, and even funding your travel habit. In order to participate, you must register, but searching and viewing are open to anyone. “Insiders” is a cool feature of BootsnAll. Members can post specific questions about a place and receive an answer from the people who are recognized as experts by BootsnAll. Although this is similar to a message board, you can ask a much more specific question about a place and get an expert answer.
Real Travel and Travellers Connected are cut from similar cloth as BootsnAll but may not be as content rich. However, Real Travel makes our list because of the incredible list of hotels and the vacation idea feature. Click on the hotel index, and you are taken to an alphabetical list of hotel names. Click on the hotel you want and get an information page for the hotel. As for the vacation idea feature, just click on a category, like “architecture” or “food & wine,” and you get a list of top cities for that category.
Travellers Connected seems to have more of an emphasis on student travel, but we think overworked lawyers could use a “gap year” themselves. One suggestion for what to do with your gap year: relive some of the great journeys of history and literature. Wanderlust maps out the travel routes of Lewis and Clark, Charles Lindbergh, and Phileas Fogg ( Around the World in 80 Days), among others.
With all these great websites at your disposal, we have just one question: are you packing yet?
Jim Calloway is the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. He served as chair of the ABA TECHSHOW 2005. Calloway publishes the weblog, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips, at http://jimcalloway.typepad.com, and was coauthor of the book, Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour. He serves on the GPSolo Division Technology Board. Courtney Kennaday is the director of the Practice Management Assistance Program of the South Carolina Bar, where she advises bar members on practice management and law office technology. She also publishes the weblog, SC Small Firm.com, at http://www.scsmallfirm.com.
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