/ 3 July 2007

Key to great vacation is in (online) planning

Seasoned travellers know that the key to a great vacation is great preparation. The means taking care of many details beforehand: where to go, what to pack, where to stay and how to afford it all.

Thankfully, the internet makes the chore of vacation planning easier than ever before. Never has there been so much information available so readily. As with so many things related to the internet, the challenge is not finding enough information but drilling down to the most pertinent. Here are some sites to get you going.

Where to go

Figuring out where to go on your vacation can involve many factors, but it never hurts to have as much information on hand as you can get. That’s where generalist travel sites such as Lonely Planet come in. Lonely Planet lets you start big — with a clickable map of the world — but once you drill down to a destination of interest, there’s plenty of information that lets you know whether a place is right for you.

No matter where in the world you’d like to visit, you’ll find information about culture, money, transportation, accommodation and leisure activities. A more personal view comes from the site’s members themselves. A ”stories by region” section features articles and tales from travellers who have been there before you. With titles such as ”Europe in 8-9 days”, ”Honeymoons — Paris,” and ”Uncorking Moldova”, these pieces can give up-close and personal accounts of the ins and outs of various destinations.

IgoUgo bills itself as a site where you can get ”honest advice to get you going”.

To that end, it offers a clean interface that allows you to drill down to a destination of interest. Once there, you’ll find the type of reviews and articles that many internet users find the most valuable: those written by other users of the site who have visited various places and provide personal impressions, tips and warnings.

One person’s take on Zermatt, Switzerland, for instance, includes this evaluation: ”Although the views from Zermatt are remarkable, I prefer Crans across the Rhone Valley and a few miles downstream, as a place to stay. The views from Crans are as good, if not better, and prices are lower.”

Another great way to find personal impressions of and tips for places you intend to visit is to use Google’s Groups feature, which gives you quick access to the many travel newsgroups on Usenet — and many opinions about particular locations. Go to Google, type a phrase such as ”where to stay in [your destination],” and click Groups to see what others have done and said about places before you.

What to do

As important as where to go is what to do once you arrive. Your itinerary, in fact, can be the most crucial part of your entire vacation, determining the ultimate success of a getaway. How much time should you allot to the major attractions of a destination? What are must-see highlights and which attractions can you forego?

Those in charge of planning an itinerary will be glad to know that popular guidebook maker Fodor’s has taken to the web in a big way. The results are impressive — and free. Once you know where you’re going, Fodor’s can help you know what to do after you’ve arrived.

Among the most impressive features of the site are the sample itineraries for major travel destinations. For many cities, there’s a ”best in three to five days” itinerary that details the events and sites you should take in on each day to be sure that you get a good overview of the city.

The three-to-five-day itinerary for Washington, DC, for instance, has you checking out museums and monuments on days one and two, exploring the political landmarks and gardens on day three, heading to the zoo on day four, and sampling cultural hot spots on day five.

Whether you’re spending a little time or a lot of time at a particular place, these itineraries are useful if you want to know at a glance which attractions are not to be missed.

Yahoo! Travel has an extensive destination guide section There you’ll find not only a listing of all of the search guides by category, but you can also use the handy search field to drill down to locations quickly — including small towns.

For the most personal advice, though, go to Google Groups and conduct a search for discussions that have taken place about your vacation destination. You can often piece together an excellent itinerary based on what others have said about hotels, sites, weather, and customs.

And if you get yourself a free account with Google, you can join in on the conversations you find or ask questions yourself about particular locations. That way, you can leverage the power of the internet in helping you to carve out what might become the best-planned vacation of your life. — Sapa-dpa