It’s difficult — and probably futile — to determine which, among all human activities, has been most altered by the Internet, but I’d venture to say travel is in the top five. If you relish the opportunities the Internet offers us to research, plan, and book travel, coordinate logistics for bespoke voyages to parts known and unknown, read on.
Where to go
If you’re planning a trip, you probably already know where you want to go. But for those times when you’re feeling indecisive — or spontaneous — Flykt (flykt.com, web) lets you input your location and the amount you want to spend, and a choose from a set of “themes” (such as beach, shopping, history and culture, nature). A zippy search engine offers up a series of destinations to suit your tastes and budget, along with hotel and flight itineraries. Tripzard (tripzard.com, web) does more or less the same, but creates users’ travel profiles on the basis of multiple-choice questions about things like climate preferences and tolerance for factors like crime.
How to get there
Flight booking is probably the most crowded field in the travel business. But while it’s easier than ever to book a flight online, air travel is arguably the most mercurial aspect of the travel game, with prices, availability, and route configurations changing according to the time you book.
The mobile app Hopper (hopper.com, iPhone and Android) will show you the cheapest dates to travel your route of choice, along with predictions about price trends. Practically all flight booking engines allow you to sort flight selections by price, flight duration, departure time, etc., but Hipmunk (hipmunk.com, web, mobile) also allows you to sort by “agony” — a combination of price, flight duration, and number of stopovers. Another service with a smart categorisation scheme is TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com/CheapFlightsHome, web, mobile), which, though better known for its reviews, is gaining ground in the flight and hotel booking business.
Rome to Rio (rome2rio.com, web) is based on the principle that flying isn’t the only way to travel. A search for a flight from Trinidad to Marseille, France (one of my actual travel routes), offered up a door-to-door itinerary that included a bus to the airport in Port of Spain and flights to various French cities that have train connections to Marseille, and another random search included a car ferry. Cleverlayover (cleverlayover.com, web) shows you money-saving itineraries that involve aircraft and airline changes, and is a useful way to find routes involving stops along the way.
Where to stay
Booking accommodation is another area where users are spoilt for choice online, especially since the arrival of the peer-to-peer service Airbnb (airbnb.com, web, mobile), which allows individuals to rent out their private apartments, houses, and extra bedrooms. Online vacation rentals are nothing new, and companies like HomeAway (homeaway.com, web), owner of VRBO (vrbo.com, web), VacationRentals, Travelmob, and others are older, but Airbnb caught the sharing-economy wave at just the right time, making the private rental process not only simple, but also cool, popular, and international. Comparison shop through Meshtrip (meshtrip.com, web) and Tripping (tripping.com, web), which aggregate listings from several of Airbnb’s competitors, including TripAdvisor’s FlipKey (flipkey.com, web).
Which doesn’t mean that hotels have gone out of style. Many flight booking sites offer hotels as well, but Booking.com (booking.com, web, mobile) remains my go-to on the sheer basis of the number of properties it lists, its global scope, and ease of use. I rarely book a hotel, however, without first checking reviews of the property on TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com). If luxurious boutique hotels are your thing, check out iescape (i-escape.com, web) and Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com, web). And if you happen be stranded in a major metropolitan city without a booking, the newish Hotel Tonight (hoteltonight.com, web) works with local hotels to post last-minute room rates for properties with vacancies.
Where to store all that travel info
It’s always wise to travel with paper printouts of your travel reservations and other information, but it’s also useful to have your travel information close at hand. TripIt (tripit.com, web, mobile) will ingest your flight information, hotel reservations, car rentals, etc., and organise them into a convenient timeline, as well as send you check-in and flight delay alerts and a host of other bells and whistles. There’s a free version, but for frequent travellers the pro version (US$50 per year) is well worth it.
Travel plans are easily foiled by bad weather. While there are myriad ways to check the weather on the web and on smartphones, users who revel in weather-related minutiae should check out the app Dark Sky (darkskyapp.com, iPhone), which offers (literally) up-to-the-minute details and predictions using gorgeous visualisations and simulations.
In cities with good mass transit services, Google Maps (maps.google.com, web, mobile) will often include those in a route search. The famous (or infamous) Uber (uber.com, mobile) won’t get you a taxi in Kingston or Bridgetown, but in locations where regular taxis are costly or hard to find, Uber service can be a boon.
What to do and see
Travel guide publishers, including niche players like Bradt (bradtguides.com, web), are increasingly making their wares available in ebook format, and there are several country and city guides and walking tours available in handy mobile app format. The ubiquitous TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com, web) also lists and reviews attractions and tour companies — and even individual service providers — in its “Things to Do” section.
If you’re travelling to a place where you don’t know the language, and have mobile data service while on the road, Google Translate (translate.google.com, mobile, web) is handy for translating the odd word or phrase from and into most widely spoken languages. If you don’t have data service, there are numerous multi- and single-language phrasebook apps whose contents are available offline.
A packing list app like PackPoint (packpnt.com, mobile) helps take the guesswork out of packing by tailoring packing lists according to your destination and climate zone, and the activities you plan to engage in.
And instead of making your friends and relatives envious by posting photos on Instagram and Facebook, why not let Postagram (sincerely.com/postagram, web) turn those photos into actual postcards and send them to your friends by snail mail?