Posted on Friday, December 11th, 2009 by Annat Katz
Every year the winter holidays are a hustling and bustling travel season, with millions of Americans across the continent moving to and fro to make it to the festive dinner table. If reaching your holiday destination requires air travel and/or car rental this season, you are in for quite a challenge. Why? because finding a worry-free travel arrangement that is also on budget may easily turn into a ‘worry-full’ mission, especially during theses hectic holiday weeks.
To help you out in your travel arrangements this season -and in the future- here are 10 tools on the Web you could and should make use of, all free of charge, accessible and extremely rewarding:
1. Choosing your Destination
Tripwolf. This is one of those sites where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Why is it so special? Because Tripwolf “combines travel tips from professional travel writers with a vast collection of travel information, experiences and reviews from a worldwide community of thousands of travelers like you.” You get the best of both worlds: feedback from professional savvy travelers, and the picks of recent tourists worldwide. To see the Tripwolf service in action, check out their take on Barcelona.
2. Cost Estimations and Booking
CheapOair. Pure and simple. CheapOair offers an abundance of hot deals on any given day of the year, and you can plan your entire vacation, business trip or weekend getaway from A to Z using CheapOair’s friendly and easy-to-use website. In every step along the way, you’ll know exactly what your entire travel plan will cost. Another cool thing about CheapOair is their Lowest Airfare and Hotel Rate Guarantee (for reservations booked on their website), so you can rest assured you’re paying the absolute lowest price for the flight or hotel at the moment you make the reservation.
3. Itineraries Go Mobile
TripIt. Have all your itineraries and travel information on the go on your iPhone or Blackberry by simply sending your travel confirmations, itineraries, hotel reservations and more to TripIt’s given email address (once is all it takes). And don’t worry; it doesn’t matter if your vacation consists of different booking sources. Once you’ve forwarded your travel info to TripIt, it creates a master itinerary right on your iPhone for easy access and information retrieval. This way you’re always in the know and can really enjoy your vacation or make the most out of that business trip. What happens if your flight schedule has suddenly changed due to bad weather? TripIt automatically receives real-time updates and alerts to keep you informed of the latest flight information (Pro service).
4. Flight Delay Notification
FlightCaster. Flight times are always prone to change, and delays are not caused only due to bad weather. If you wish to stay on top of your flight’s actual departure time, you could visit (and re-visit) your airline’s website or call that 1-800 number. However, FlightCaster offers an even better service, sending delay alerts up to 6 hours before the airlines do so. Moreover, there is a FlightCaster iPhone/Blackberry application available ($7.99 on the App Store) which will, no doubt, come in handy when you don’t have computer access.
5. Accommodation for the Frugal
CouchSurfing. If you’re traveling on a budget, you might want to consider an unconventional lodging option that will save you plenty of cash and warm up your heart. “Participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time” is the motto of this international NPO. Their goal is to foster close and friendly connections between travelers and the local communities of traveled destinations. How do they do it? As the name suggests, good-willed people the world over offer their couch to travelers interested in a temporary place to stay. Being kind both to your wallet and soul, CouchSurfing is perfect for the more open-minded and probably baby-free travelers who are looking for a unique lodging arrangement.
6. Get Specific, Solid Tips from Locals
Spotted By Locals. This wonderful website posts a series of city blogs for travelers who are looking to experience cities ‘the local way.’ Their team of “Spotters” is made up of enthusiastic urban dwellers who are not only city savvies but also gifted writers who create content out of passion for their metropolis. This up close and personal way of getting information about things to do in a given location is a refreshing take on city guides. The added bonus is that you receive solid and updated information on your desired vacation city rather than having to rely on printed material that might be irrelevant. It’s important to note that Spotted By Locals currently only offers blogs about major European cities.
7. Hey, I’m in Town! (and So are You)
Dopplr. This terrific travel aid is an online service that is ideal for business travelers and other frequent flyers. Dopplr allows you to share your next travel plans with friends and colleagues, privately. The amazing feature of the Dopplr service is that it points out instances where your stay at a given location overlaps with the visit of one or more of your friends. Although this will work only if all your pals and colleagues join the service, it’s free and definitely worth signing up to. Plus, as with almost any other Web feature these days, Dopplr offers its iPhone application version – for free via the App Store.
8. Feeds from Your Captain to Your Friends
Lufthansa MySkyStatus. If status updates is something you wish you could have created while on board an aircraft, you should know that now you can. Lufthansa’s MySkyStatus automatically posts your flight’s updates to your Facebook or Twitter account. Regardless of your airline carrier, this travel gem by Lufthansa allows the people you care about to know your departure and arrival times and locations, the plane’s geographic positioning in the air, etc. Forget about the “Captain speaking” announcements; now your friends and family will be in the know while you’re still up in the air.
9. Travel Planning, the Visual Way
Duffel. One resource that will help you organize your trip is duffel, “a trip planning dashboard that organizes and helps you visualize your travel research.” Although their DIY travel planning tool is something worth trying out, duffel’s ready-made visual trip plans (under ‘explore popular cities’) are a valuable resource you should consult prior to visiting a new destination for the first time. The best way to start exploring duffel would be by checking out some of their suggestions for high profile cities such as Rome, Paris and Tokyo.
10. Small and Supreme
All My Faves. This search/discovery website is a visual, logo-based homepage which facilitates navigation through the Web by keeping it simple: in each category or ‘faveline’ you’ll see the top 10 websites of that category. All My Faves also offers a designated Travel page where you can find numerous resources for all your travel needs. Recently, All My Faves launched a new personalization tool, the Mini Faves, where users can create their very own homepage and add over 25 of their favorite URLs and bookmarks to their customized page. To show you what the Mini Faves looks like, here’s the page All My Faves created for CheapOair, which displays the Company’s best links and deals.