Travel planning becomes its own adventure on these Web sites. Sites hed: dek:
Saving money on booking a trip has never been easier, thanks to the plethora of sites now tracking air and hotel fares. If you’re looking for comprehensive trip planning, though, try some sites that specialize in that niche (or is it itch?).
If you have no vacation ideas already, or if you have a whole family to consider, VacationCoach might be a good first stop. For $25 a year, VacationCoach promises to recommend the trips that most closely match your desires and budget. There’s no advertising on the site, your private information stays that way, and you may cancel at any time for a refund. Try the “express request” and “someplace similar” features for free, quick-hit information. Raves and peeves: I submitted a question about whale-watching in the Pacific Northwest, and received a reply that same day with very detailed information and a long list of related sites. On the downside, some of VacationCoach’s place descriptions are far too cute, and its customization features are rather limited. Considering the sheer quantity of travel sites, you might want to save your money. Other good starting sites are About.com and TripSpot.
If you’re dreaming of an international trip, visit AirTreks, where you can easily plan multiple-city, multiple-country jaunts. AirTreks will return three results to you immediately, organized by cost, fewest stops, and best value. Enter exact travel dates and more trip details (side jaunts, desired activities, etc.) by filling in the custom itinerary Web form; someone will respond within two business days. AirTreks also has an 800 number for hashing out details in real time. Customers rave about this site’s cheap packages and extremely helpful (human) trip planners.
If road trips are your thing, start at the ultimate site, Road Trip USA. Every link I clicked offered up the romantic promise of the highway, such as information about historic and scenic routes (Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, and many more), and historical and cultural attractions, from the Famous Houdini Museum to the home of Jack Kerouac himself.
Once you can tear yourself away, click over to the Rand McNally Road Trip Guide. In addition to boasting comprehensive road maps, Rand McNally has profiled all 50 states as well as some cities and national parks. Register to plot and save your road trips on the site. The guide gives you lists of things to see and do and places to stay along the way, as well as weather and road construction updates. One annoyance: The trip planner is slow, and it would be nice if it could offer suggested attractions while you’re building your route (it waits until you’ve chosen all your destinations). The other puzzling thing is that this heavyweight of map sites offers no routing tips! Presumably the trip planning software Rand McNally sells on its site is more powerful.
Last but certainly not least, you must visit Roadside America, your online guide to offbeat attractions, before going anywhere. The Electric Map will take you to weird attractions by state (see the insane mummy collection in Philippi, W.Va.), while the Vortex groups attractions by category, such as “Meat and Nuts.” Roadside America also incorporates tips from its many traveling fans to keep its recommendations current (Boron, Calif., toilet-seat artist John Kostopoulus, for example, died recently–check out Roadside America’s touching memorial).