Travel planning can seem a bit overwhelming — especially when you're visiting a new city and know nothing about the area. However, it's much easier for do-it-yourselfers to find both the fun activities and the deals by harnessing the power of the internet. Let's take a step-by-step look at everything that has to happen for you to plan a safe, successful, and technologically-advanced trip.
The days of pulling out a road atlas to figure out where you want to go are over! Now you can plan your route with just the click of a mouse — and the nice thing about the internet is that it allows you to move beyond the typical tourist attractions. I've got nothing against theme parks and beach resorts, but it's also nice to escape the crowds. The web can point you toward some amazing places that most of the rest of the world ignores — cool little towns that have managed to keep out the chain stores and corporate corruption, beautiful natural areas where you won't see another two-legged soul for miles, artist colonies filled with funky galleries and hip cafes — I just love it! Frommer's, Lonely Planet, and Fodors all offer free websites based on their popular travel guides. Search for trip suggestions by location or type of activity, read other users' reviews of local hotels and restaurants, and find those sightseeing destinations that best suit your family's tastes. You might also check out a few of the more popular travel “portals” — such as Johnny Jet and Find Travel To — filled with links to a variety of travel-related websites.
If you are planning on hitting the open road (literally), the next step is to decide on a route. The good news is that you've got lots of options, depending on your travel needs. Members of AAA can use the company website to create TripTiks® (that show the best route and possible road construction issues), view online TourBooks®, and have maps to be delivered directly to their door. Online services like Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, and MapQuest will help you arrange your road trip so you never miss a rest stop or fast food joint along the way. And websites like Free Trip also offer online travel planners that create a detailed itinerary — complete with lodging and restaurant suggestions, local attractions, and even travel advisories.
I personally believe that traveling the country via interstates should be considered a cardinal sin — get off the main thoroughfare and see some of the real America! You can search for National Scenic Byways along your route — take the road less traveled and you are guaranteed a more interesting and aesthetically pleasing driving experience. Roadside America and Road Trip America are wonderful resources if you like those odd, unusual, and off-the-beaten-path attractions (I'm talking about things like the world's smallest post office or a giant sculpture of a pink elephant with glasses). And if you are concerned about the current cost of fuel, check out Gas Buddy — a service which allows you to find the lowest prices in your area, no matter where you are traveling in the U.S.
I love my country, but there is nothing (and I mean nothing!) like overseas travel. Immersing yourself fully in a completely foreign culture, eating foods you would never have a chance to try in this country, shopping in open-air markets, learning the customs and the language — meeting amazing people, visiting exotic cities, having once-in-a-lifetime experiences — I could go on all day! Some folks are a bit apprehensive when you suggest that they pull out the old passport. But heading overseas is no more dangerous or challenging than driving across town — as long as you do your research in advance.
Take a minute to find out what to expect (and what will be expected of you) while you are abroad. The U.S. Department Of State website posts warnings, entry requirements, and customs regulations for all parts of the world. You may also download a passport application and requirements at the same time. But be sure to apply for your passport early — it takes 6 weeks to process unless you pay for expedited service. You should also take a minute to get your medical records are in order for your trip. The Centers For Disease Control website includes information about required immunizations, outbreaks, and health concerns around the world. Finally, determine what currency you will need and how much using XE.Com's real-time currency rates and a free currency converter.
These days, great bargains are available for the asking on the internet — you just have to know where to look. You can go to individuals websites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz to search for the best rates on hotel rooms, airfare, rental cars, cruises, vacation packages — or you can visit Kayak to compare results from numerous travel searches side-by-side. However, be ready to purchase before you start checking fares. Some websites only honor the offered rate for a limited time (usually 30-60 minutes) — and then require you to wait at least 24 hours before re-submitting your request if you miss that window.
Hotwire has some of the best prices on the web, but they require a bit of flexibility on your part. You can't choose the time of day that you fly (only the date) — and you aren't told the airline until you purchase the ticket. If you're willing to travel any time between 5 AM and 10 PM and are not monogamous to one carrier, you can save a lot of money using Hotwire. But if you need to arrive at a specific time or absolutely have to fly Delta, try another travel site.
Beware of sites like Priceline.com that require you to “name your own price” for a hotel room or airline ticket. You can waste a lot of time trying to find an acceptable “bid” — and you will often discover lower rates at other sites. You can get better deals at websites like TravelZoo, 4 Vacations, and Value Voyager — which advertise special travel packages that don't require any bidding.
Many people simply don't want to spend time searching the web for travel deals — they would rather let a professional do the work for them. But how do you find an agent you can trust? The American Society Of Travel Agents boasts a strict professional code of ethics, and their “find an agent” feature will help you locate a travel professional in your area. Another wonderful resource is The Association Of Special Fares Agents — offering discount fares and consolidator rates that are lower than are normally available. Finally, The Travel Institute (formerly known as the Institute Of Certified Travel Agents) is a nonprofit organization that publishes an online directory of certified travel professionals.
Have you ever arrived at your destination, only to find that the place which sounded so great in the travel brochure is a complete dump? How can you accurately judge the quality of your accommodations before you arrive? It's hard to know if a hotel suffers from mildew or cockroaches or noisy neighbors without a first-hand visit! Sites Trav Buddy and Trip Advisor offer unbiased reviews of hotels, package tours, and transportation companies around the world — as well as photos of the rooms, the grounds, and the common areas. With travel planning, seeing truly is believing!
As a last precautionary step, be sure to double check all of your reservations, hotel accommodations, and other travel arrangements before you head out for your trip. Seat Guru will help you choose the best seat on any plane. Log in to your airline's website and check in online befofre you leave for the airport — the ability to print out your a boarding pass from your home computer is a huge timesaver! You can also check Flight Arrivals.Com to see if your plane is running early, late, or on time. Happy travels!
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
If you would like to reprint this page, please contact me