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The Traveler's Web
An Extreme Searcher Guide to Travel Resources on the Internet
By Randolph Hock
Information Today, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Randolph Hock
All rights reserved.
What's Out There? The Real World and the Cyber World
Whether you're headed to Beijing on business, Cancun on a cruise, or Hawaii to learn the hula, using the Internet can probably make your trip less expensive, more productive, and more fun. The trick is knowing where and how to look, and sometimes, just what to look for. Millions of people have taken advantage of airfare savings they have found by shopping around on travel sites. Fewer, however, have used the Internet to research their destinations, find out what other people are saying about those destinations, plan the details of their routes, check the weather, learn the few words necessary to be "polite" in a foreign country, and generally take advantage of the wealth of travel resources that are available online.
Voyaging around the world and voyaging through the Internet have a lot in common. Both activities are often motivated by curiosity, the urge to explore, the need to relax, a desire to learn, and even profit. On top of that, the techniques, tricks, and general approaches that make these two activities fruitful and fun are actually very similar in several ways. Thus, the marriage between travel and the Internet is a natural one.
This book will explore this marriage by pointing to and describing the Internet resources that are the most useful to travelers. It will also emphasize certain techniques and approaches that work well whether you are at the keyboard or on the road. You will find the following themes reflected throughout the book:
Click everywhere, go everywhere. Explore around one more corner and try out one more link. Roam!
So many destinations, so little time.
Don't take just one person's word as to what is good for you.
All things in moderation — including moderation itself. There are times to be extreme: Extremism in the pursuit of travel is not a vice. (Extra points for those of you who "get" that one.)
The Web sites covered reflect the breadth of travel-related topics and resources, and I try to demonstrate how to use these types of resources most effectively. Not every possible travel topic and certainly not all of the tens of thousands of travel sites out there will be included. However, for specific topics that are not covered, such as diving safaris, make use of the travel resource guides covered toward the end of this chapter and occasionally throughout the rest of the book. They should help you to easily find additional relevant sites. When somewhat specific topics are addressed, only carefully selected sites are included. The goal is to identify some of the best and most reliable sites, sites that are representative examples in various areas, and sites that provide a particularly useful and/or unique service.
A word about the organization of the book: Throughout, you will find some sites mentioned more than once. Many sites, such as Travelocity, serve many functions, providing online reservation services for flights, cars, cruises, etc., while also offering country and city guides, travel tips, and more. Such sites will be mentioned in more than one chapter, with emphasis on the part of the site that is most relevant to the chapter topic. This should make easy for you to keep track of all major sources for each topic without having to jump back and forth between chapters.
Just What Does the Internet Offer the Traveler?
The Internet offers the traveler much more than just a place to make reservations. Each chapter in this book focuses on particular applications that travelers may use to their advantage. Following is a brief overview of the various applications and resources you will encounter on the Web and in this book.
Travel Guides Online (Chapter 2)
If you are going to spend more than a day in any city or more than a few days in any country, break down and buy a good travel guide — the book kind. These are a traveler's "dream machine," more portable than a computer, and many will fit in your pocket. Even if your travel guide isn't pocketsize, keep it on your nightstand and spend a few minutes with it each night before you doze off. However, no matter how long you plan on staying at any destination, you should take advantage of the free guides that are available on the Internet for virtually any country, for almost any city, and for thousands of specific museums, monuments, and other attractions.
Many of the well-known printed guides, such as the Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door and Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel series, have companion Web sites that provide a surprising amount of information for free. These sites, which provide good overviews and basic details, are a good starting point for planning your adventures. Travel guides are covered in detail in Chapter 2.
Reservation Sites: Flights and More (Chapter 3)
The best-known category of travel sites is reservation sites, where you can go to find rates and schedules and to book reservations. They include online travel agency sites, such as Travelocity, Expedia, and others, as well as sites from airlines, hotel chains, and car rental chains. Although for decades, real live travel agents in general did a great job making travel arrangements, the Internet has drastically changed the picture. Online reservation sites make it easy for an individual to explore an amazingly broad range of options in terms of where and when to go and how much to pay. These sites, which also make it easy to quickly purchase tickets, will be discussed in detail in Chapter 3, with the emphasis there on airline reservations.
Train, Car, and Ferry Travel (Chapter 4)
Most travel agency sites, such as Travelocity, will be more than happy to help you find many modes of transportation in addition to flights. However, when you are driving or traveling by train or ferry, you may need some more specialized information and attention. If you plan on driving, there are numerous sites, such as the various map sites (MapQuest, Yahoo! Local, and Maporama, for example), that will provide you with itineraries, directions, travel times, and other information. If you are taking a train or ferry, you will need timetables, information on accommodations, and other details that can often be found more easily on the Web than anywhere else. How to find this information will be covered in Chapter 4.
Cruises: Ships, Barges, and Boats (Chapter 5)
If you haven't noticed, cruises are "hot" (or "cool," or de rigueur, if you please) these days. But take it from someone who was a skeptic: If you haven't been on a cruise yet, chances are extremely good that by the time you return home from your first one, you will be planning another. As with almost any hot topic, there are lots of hot Web sites for cruises. Again, the general online travel agency sites will be helpful, but Chapter 5 will provide considerable detail on using those sites specifically for cruises and also will cover a number of other sites and resources available for planning (and taking) a cruise. "Cruises," of course, can mean a lot more than a vacation aboard a gigantic (but wonderful) 1,000-foot-long floating resort. It can also mean a cruise down the Danube, a week on a barge in France, or a trip aboard a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi.
Finding a Bed and a Meal (Chapter 6)
Travel tastes and pocketbooks lend to a wide range of options for lodging and dining. Here again, the Web offers a lot of resources that are apparent and a lot more that are less apparent but that can help you find just what you are looking for at just the right price. From campsites to hostels to luxury hotels, the Internet can provide not just reservation services, but also background information that will ensure your choice is the best one. For accommodations, you can check out photos of a hotel and find out what previous guests have to say about their stay before you make reservations. For restaurants, you can often read reviews, view the menu ahead of time, and make lunch or dinner reservations online. Lodging and dining options and how to find them are covered in Chapter 6.
Adventure, Outdoor, and Educational Travel (Chapter 7)
You have to define for yourself what qualifies as "adventure travel" since, for many of us, travel of any kind is an adventure. However, if you are looking for those trips that are more extreme in exhilaration, education, exertion, exhaustion, or elevation, Chapter 7 will give you a leg up. The Web not only has information on tours, locations, and activities, but it can help you get ready for just about anything, from how to psychologically prepare to "get in the zone" to how to survive a shark attack.
Sites for Special Groups and Special Needs (Chapter 8)
There are many Web sites and parts of Web sites devoted to the special conditions, preferences, and needs of certain travelers. Families, seniors, gay and lesbian, handicapped, and business travelers can all find Web sites that address their special requirements and offer guides to establishments and activities that are particularly "friendly" to their unique needs and desires. Chapter 8 will lead you to Web sites that cater to special groups.
Exploring Countries and Cultures Online (Chapter 9)
The Internet can really shine in helping you prepare for a trip when you go beyond the kinds of information found on travel-specific sites. You can quickly get detailed information (or less detail, if that's what you want) on cities, states, countries, and regions. You can find out about cultures, traditions, etiquette, religions, politics, economics, the arts, history, cuisines, and much more. Language resources on the Web may even provide the language basics you need to be polite and to be understood when you have simple questions and needs. The Internet also provides ways for you to easily find and read newspapers from thousands of cities around the world, and receive e-mail alerts for events, topics, and locations of specific interest to you. We will take a look at these kinds of resources in Chapter 9.
Bits and Pieces and Practicalities (Chapter 10)
In addition to the types of travel information already discussed, there are lots of bits and pieces of nitty-gritty information on the Internet that can make your trip easier, more fun, more fulfilling, and safer. These practicalities include such things as passport and visa information; currencies; weather reports; health alerts; country, city, road, airport, and subway maps; and flight tracking. The Web also provides information on communicating effectively and economically while traveling — for example, the locations of cybercafes, and instructions for finding phone numbers in various countries. Almost everyone needs to do some shopping while traveling, and the Web can prepare you for that, too: You'll find information about local shops and products, and related details, such as weights and measures, including clothing sizes.
You will find links to sites listed in The Traveler's Web on The Extreme Searcher's Web Page (www.extremesearcher.com/travel). This resource is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to serve as a gateway to sites offering a wide range of travel services and information. As a starting point for most travel topics, this collection of links should serve you well. The sites I've included are among the most useful, reliable, and popular; some are representative of a certain type of site, while others provide something unique.
There may be times, though, when you want to explore Internet travel resources even more exhaustively and in those situations a travel "resource guide" may be the best place to start. In a manner not unlike this book and its companion Web page, such sites are designed as gateways, providing access to hundreds or even thousands of other significant travel-related sites. As you explore a resource guide to determine if it's right for you, look for categories that meet your specific needs and interests (diving safaris, for instance). The resource guides that follow are among the most popular, having distinguished themselves on the strength of their collections, perspectives, and value-added information.
The AardvarkTravel.net site is large, offering links to more than 20,000 sites. Technically, it is both a travel search engine and a directory; that is, you can use the search box to search for terms or browse Aardvark's directory categories. The directory has 14 main subject headings: one for each continent, Air & Sea Travel, Overland Travel, Specialty Travel, Travel Merchandise, Travel Companions, Travel Resources & Advice, and Tourism (Figure 1.1). The continent categories are further divided by country, making this an excellent choice for identifying selected resources for a given country; U.S. states and Canadian provinces have subcategories for major cities. The section of links for identifying potential travel companions is a somewhat unique feature. In addition, AardvarkTravel.net has a travel forum with more than 30 topic areas (see Chapter 2 for a full discussion of forums).
Yahoo! Travel Directory
Yahoo!'s directory of travel sites, a part of Yahoo!'s general Web directory, is gigantic, containing listings for more than 125,000 sites, with cross-links to thousands of other sites found in various Yahoo! Directory sections. The Travel category itself includes more than 86,000 sites listed by region (subdivided by region, country, and U.S. states). There are links to 32,000 Destination Guides and more than 45 other categories, including Air Travel and Travel Agents, as well as specialized categories such as Hitchhiking and Vegetarian. The specialized categories, subcategories, and country sections are what make Yahoo! particularly useful for many travelers.
Open Directory — Travel
The Web's other large general directory is Open Directory, which offers a significant travel collection within its Recreation category. The Specialty Travel subcategory is especially strong, with categories not found in Yahoo!, including Nudism, Volunteering, and Battlefields.
Librarians' Internet Index — Travel
Another general yet more selective Web directory is Librarians' Internet Index (LII). Under the Recreation — Travel category are several thousand sites in specific travel-related categories (Camping, Cruising, Cybercafes, etc.) and additional cross-linked sites in categories such as Museums and Transportation (Figure 1.2). In contrast to many other directories, this site contains excellent annotations for each site, adding greatly to its value for browsing.
Forbes.com Best of the Web — Travel
On an ongoing basis, Forbes magazine provides reviews of sites that it considers to be the Best of the Web. The Travel portion of its selection is divided into 27 categories, each typically listing from seven to 15 choices. In addition to expected categories such as Cruises and Family Vacations, Forbes.com provides some fairly unique or specific categories, such as Expatriate Resources, Scuba Diving, and Wireless Travel. For each site, a one-paragraph review and a description sum up what Forbes considers the site's best and worst aspects.
In contrast to other resource guides listed here, Travelazer is not a browsable directory but a travel-specific search engine with a database containing millions of pages. Unlike the general Web search engines (discussed later in this chapter), Travelazer indexes only those pages that have a definite "travel" context. Searching is very simple: If you enter multiple terms, you will receive only those pages that contain all the terms (e.g., Chicago museums). Note that there is no automatic "stemming" (a feature available in some search sites that automatically finds variant word endings).
Rick Steves' Europe — Favorite Links
This is the smallest collection of links of any resource guide listed here, but the small size is more than balanced by the fact that the links were chosen by one of the world's best and most famous travel writers, Rick Steves. While these 300+ links emphasize European travel, a number of more general sites on travel tips and planning are also included.
PlanetRider — The Best Travel Sites
PlanetRider is an outstanding collection of travel sites. It is a very large, well-organized collection, with a quarter of a million sites arranged in these categories: Destinations, Activities, Landscapes (outdoor and adventure travel), Maps on the Web, Helpful Resources, 10-Minute Vacations, and Weather. A pull-down Site Shortcuts menu takes you to collections of sites for Skiing Worldwide, Bargain Travel, Road and Travel Maps, and Air Reservations. The site is both searchable and browsable. Another major benefit is that all site listings are rated and include brief reviews. Each site is rated on two criteria: quality of information and ease of navigation.
Excerpted from The Traveler's Web by Randolph Hock. Copyright © 2007 Randolph Hock. Excerpted by permission of Information Today, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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