Traveling Internet Style

Posted by Kim Lau on Monday, December 17th, 2007. Filed under: eHub Features

Travel is a necessary fact of life. We travel to visit far-away families and friends, or we travel for business. Most people, if you ask them, will say “We love to travel”, but if you press further, they will admit that it’s not exactly the act of traveling they love, but the end result – being away from home or escaping the stresses of their personal or professional lives. The romance of travel is often obscured by the stresses of hunting down the cheapest airfares, researching hotels, and looking for the best experiences while avoiding the tourist traps.

The web does offer many solutions, but it does take a little bit of research in order to make the sites work for you. I’ve broken this article down into a few parts: (1) booking – finding the best/cheapest airfares (2) lodging – finding the best hotels, inns or residences for your travel purposes and (3) experiences – establishing and preserving your itineraries and memories.

(1) Booking – You will probably spend the most time on this part of your travel arrangements. Of course if you are a seasoned traveler, you will know the usuals tricks – travel in the off-season, plan far ahead and use your frequent flyer miles. The following sites will make your research much easier. One caveat – don’t use these all at once, or you could become overwhelmed by the amount of information. I’d advise only using two or three of these sites in conjunction with each other.

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Yapta claims to save you money by tracking information about when flight prices drop. For example, if you book a ticket a month from now, the flight may fluctuate. If it drops, you may be entitled to rebook the same flight at a lower price, thereby saving you money in the process. Re-booking policies differ per airline – either travel vouchers or cash, but Yapta has a handy guide to the airlines they track in their Help section. You can manually enter the flights you want to track, or install a browser add-on for Internet Explorer or Firefox.

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Farecast helps you with booking fares in a unique way. Instead of just finding flight and hotel fares for you, Farecast will make recommendations on whether it was a good buy or not, based on the airline or hotel’s rate history. It’s very easy to use, and you can also set up fare updates and alerts via email or through your RSS reader. For a small fee, you can protect your desired rate for up to a week, and redeem the difference if you find a lower rate. Although this sounds like a sweet deal, I’d recommend this only for travel geeks only. Most of us probably wouldn’t remember this stuff day-to-day unless we are super-organized.

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Vayama is currently in beta. At first glance, it appears to be another standard booking site that scrapes the web for deals. It does that, and a lot more. Vayama’s focus is on international travel, and on that front they’ve got it covered. In addition to helping you book flights, a lot of research is already done for you

– ever want to go to Hong Kong but don’t know what you’d like to see? Vayama will tell you the history of Hong Kong, its key attractions, how to get from the airport to the city, and much more. You can also read other people’s experiences with the area on their travel blogs on Travelpod.

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Triporama is a free online trip planner that is easy to use, intuitive, and convenient for those of us who always need reminding about certain tasks. Although Triporama does assist with travel deals, its strength lies in its group trip planner – you can invite people to plan a trip with you from assigning tasks to booking tickets.

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TripIt is in beta. TripIt is your own personal travel assistant. With TripIt, you can leave the guidebooks at home – forward your confirmations to your account and receive a stripped down itinerary; add restaurant suggestions and activities to your TripClipper, and add a map to create a clearer picture of your location. TripIt is also a social network, so you can organize trips with friends, and get travel advice and opinions.

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Dopplr’s heart is its social network – in order for it to work for you, you need to use it with your friends – to find out who’s coming into town for the weekend, to make plans to visit your friends, to get advice about a place you’re going to that your friends have visited before or lived in, and to share your itineraries and tips with your social network.

(2) Lodging – After you’ve booked your flight, where are you going to stay? Having to pay for hotels can be one of the most expensive aspects of your travel. Are you sure you can open the minibar without accidentally incurring massive fees? Sure, the hotel has a spa, but is it outrageously costly, or will it be a good deal, even with tipping?

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Couchsurfing is a non-profit organization run mostly on the donations of its members. Its stated mission is to “internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding”. If you want to spend a few days in another country, but don’t know anybody in the area, you can log on and post your request on the site. You may get multiple offers; you decide who you want to stay with, and you get to know your host for the duration of the stay, who may choose to show you their nation’s life beyond the regular tourist traps. For sites like these, there is always a question of safety – Couchsurfing has an optional verification process that members can sign up for. There are also different privacy settings that you can adjust to your comfort.

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GlobalFreeloaders is another site which depends on the kindness of strangers. Members sign up to host or to search for someone to host them. It is expected that the favor will be reciprocated at some point, so if you don’t want to host anyone, it’s better not to sign up. As always, privacy is definitely a concern, and users are advised to use caution when contacting other travelers. Members are also expected to list their preferences or how much they can offer – do they want to show people around, or cook for people? Can they only offer a place to crash and not much else? All these are issues to consider before signing up. Otherwise, Couchsurfing and GlobalFreeloaders offers a great way to save money on travel.

What if you don’t want to crash with a stranger?  There are resources out there to help you pick out your accommodations, whether it be a hotel or inn, for a fair price.

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Check out Paguna. Paguna allows you, through the convenience of an Ajax interface, to research and compare hotels for your destination and book the room without creating any new pages. It’s very easy to use and navigate.

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Search VibeAgent, a Yelp-like social review site where you can post reviews of hotels you’ve stayed in or visited and read about other traveler’s experiences. You can start a group and compare travel experiences. Find a hotel to suit your style, whether it’s low-budget fare or a boutique experience you’re looking for. And then book your room!

(3) Experiences – Researching and documenting your adventures in travel can be a fun pastime and/or timewaster. Travel creates memories that last a lifetime – what are the best methods to preserve those memories? And what are the best ways to share them?

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MatadorTravel is still in beta. This site is all about traveling for the betterment of the world. You can sign up and blog and upload photos as you would any other social network site, but what other social network site will also allow you to collaborate and work with local organizations, respond to ads for paid travel writing gigs, and participate in and read about sustainability and other worthy goals as part of the travel experience? It’s a very easy-to-use site, a great tool for meeting other people, and for accomplishing good things in the world.

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Geobeats is also in beta. Citing increased interest in video as a source of travel information, Geobeatsdelivers little clips of video about the destinations you’d like to go, providing details that can’t be obtained from browsing a guidebook. Learn about capsule hotels in Tokyo or find out about vegetarian restaurants in Paris .

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Chokti is in beta. It is a free site in which users can upload and consume videos and podcasts about the places they’ve been to or are wishing to visit. For the traveler researching his destination, the media uploaded by other members give a personal glimpse into the local life. For the traveler who’s just returned from his trip, uploading video or audio helps him to relive the experience and share it with friends, family, and strangers alike.

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43Places is an offshoot of 43Things and is a site that’s devoted to lists – lists of where users want to go or have been, of questions they have about particular places, of photos of their travels, and of places they think are worth visiting. The site is easy to use and relies on tagging to track the whims of their users.

Travel is full of surprises, and is all about new experiences, new adventures, and new friends. The Internet is full of great tools to help you manage and navigate what can seem a daunting project. And travel, judging from the sites I’ve listed above, engenders generosity, friendship, and creativity. It’s a beautiful thing.

Comment(s)

  1. David on December 17, 2007 at 10:06 AM:
    Nice post.  I also found a new site called I’m in! recently (http://www.imin.com) as some friends were creating a trip and invited me… It’s interesting b/c it gives you trip ideas that you can download and turn into your own trip itinerary that let the group have at it…
  2. Sophia on December 17, 2007 at 09:42 PM:
    How about http://www.travelbookmarking.com ( I think it’s pretty new ) I love this site for really original travel content that I usually don’t get to see cos the search engines don’t always pick them up. Some real gems to be found. Nice to have a social bookmarking tool for travel, too, so you donm’t have to cut through all the rubbish out there. Happy Xmas and Travels to all,
    Sx
  3. Peter on December 19, 2007 at 03:10 AM:
    A friend of mine have done a new little app for travel organization called Tesidi (http://www.tesidi.com). It’s focus in remember your reservations, travels hours and easy of use.

    Happy xmas.

  4. Micha on December 19, 2007 at 05:07 AM:
    A nice search engine which compares prices of hotels is http://www.hrs.de (change language in the upper right corner). But read for yourselves.
  5. Charlie Anzman on December 23, 2007 at 06:46 PM:
    Great piece.  There were a few here that definately haven’t yet made headlines and we found interesting.  With Kayak buying Sidestep, it’ll be interesting how all of this washes out (or not) in 2008

    Happy Holidays to all from Northeast Pennsylvania!

  6. Rennie on January 09, 2008 at 10:35 PM:
    This site (zoomandgo.com) has lots and lots of pretty decent independent travel videos; a bit hard to find at times, but worth the view.
  7. Jeffy on September 09, 2008 at 09:43 PM:
    I always use Agoda. I found that their rates beat the others most of the times and also have a reward point like credit card. They only offer hotel booking though.