Thursday, 21 April 2011

Travel Planning on the Internet

An idiosyncratic list of available web sites to give the flavour of what is out there. Just left click on a link to open the site in another tab.


Content:
  •  The Big Picture
  •  Thinking Ahead
  •  Safe & healthy destination or airline?
  •  You want a tour?
  •  Cheap Air travel?
  •  Rail travel everywhere and much more?
  •  You'd rather travel on water?
  •  You need a car?
  •  Route planning and maps
  •  Parking
  •  Accommodation?
  •  Money
  •  Another Essential - Travel Insurance
  •  Eating out
  •  A Different Kind of Necessity - Toilets
  •  Baggage and package
  •  Simple Security
  •  Create Your Own Itinerary
  •  Got everything?
  •  NZ Superannuitant Going Overseas?
  •  Special dishes
  •  Duty Free
  •  You want to communicate?
  •  Travel Guides
  •  Travel Resources on the Internet
 
The Big Picture: Where do you want to go?  When do you want to go?  How do you want to go - in a tour or independently, by air, land or sea?  Where do you want to stay - a camping ground, a doss house, a youth hostel, an hotel, B & B, motel, apartment or a swap home?  What are your priorities - people, places, arts or activities?  Some aids to the big picture include - World Atlas: Google Earth: World weather: Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory: Consumer NZ: CIA World Fact Book: TripAdvisor and some of the guide books listed towards the end of these comments. 

Thinking Ahead: Never forget that some things just cannot be done at the last moment, e.g., passports, visas, the US Visa Waiver consent and immunisations. And if you want the travel of your choice with the greatest savings some forward planning is essential, whether it be for air, rail or accommodation bookings or to gain access to some things you might really want to see or hear. Its not much good booking to stay in a place on the day your destination of choice is closed or of arriving without an essential permit or visa.  If you know the kind of holiday you want you will often get better deals by signing up for newsletters, and this can be the case for all sorts of things be they tours, flights, accommodation, rail or even parking at the airport.  Here is but one example, a SNCF rail offer.


Safe & healthy destination or airline? safetravel.govt.nz: US International Travel Information: Travel health: Air Safety: Safest 60 Airlines 2014.

You want a tour? Try Affordable Tours for a simple overview of the major tour companies or look at one of these sites f
or Seniors and others: Elderhostel: Calder & Lawson: VUW Study Tours.

Cheap Air travel? 

There are some general tips:
  • Be flexible with your proposed schedule.
  • Book well in advance.
  • Time your travel, e.g., avoid holiday periods.
  • Try opting for returning from a different city from that you arrived at.
  • Flights involving a stop over are often cheaper than non-stop.
  • Remember that there are better times of the year, as there are high, low and shoulder seasons for fares, and better days of the week, usually mid-week, for cheaper travel and that red eye, usually but not always early morning, flights are often cheaper than others.
You probably know the airlines push out early bird or companion travel lures in the last and first quarters of the year.  The travel agents usually have a better handle on the long haul routes than we can get ourselves and if you are looking for the best long distance deals it almost certainly pays to use an agent if you can find one that does not charge fees.  Often the best deals involve multiple carriers and the avoidance of departures from airports with high taxes, such as Heathrow.  It can be difficult to handle all this for yourself while the agents have it at their finger tips on purpose made software.  However, don't be dissuaded by that comment from looking for yourself.  Even if you end up using an agent it is best to work out what you want to do and get an idea of what is offering for yourself.  For example, the sites of the individual air lines nearly always list their promotions and specials.  

For more tips and information on cheap flying look at Buzzle and a PC World article, US oriented, which says that Twitter best source of up-to-date information these days.

If your travel is local or to a Pacific destination it is often much easier to do it for yourself on-line.  To quickly get an idea of the cheapest fares between two places, either return or one-way, simply type into your preferred search engine "cheap flights from [A] to [B]" and then start choosing from the sites that are listed.  They will almost certainly include some of the sites listed below.

Hipmunk and SkyScanner are very useful sites for checking flights and prices both domestically and world wide.  So is Sky-tours, which I recently used to get the cheapest direct flight from Munich to Stockholm.  Have a look at Jetabroad, Sydney based, which will quote you a price in NZ$ for your intended travel in whatever class you choose.  There is also Rome2Rio, based in Melbourne, that helps you plan from anywhere to anywhere.    

For cheap Air NZ flights go to Air NZ Grab a Seat, where its specials are shown.  For a comparison of cheapest NZ fares for some air lines go to the Flight Centre or Webjet.co.nz.  However, beware of booking on those sites as there are fees involved, although sometimes they might still save you real money.  [There are similar sites for other countries such as the Australian Webjet site and the more general Jetweb site.]  FineTravel is another New Zealand site listing deals to overseas destinations.  You can of course also deal direct with people through agencies like NZ TravelBrokers.

For flight information generally, if SkyScannerHipmunk, or one of the other sites already mentioned hasn't supplied the answer, you could look at one or more of a number of sites depending on your curiosity and patience levels.  There is Zuji, a division of Travelocity, which covers flights from New Zealand and Australia in particular.  Zuji's home site gives links to its other sites world wide.  There are no fees involved with Zuji.  There are global search engines for flights and much else such as FareCompare, WhichAirline, ebookers, Priceline, gocompare and Expedia, which is a NZ site,  DoHop, Yahoo, Kayak, Mobissimo and Yapta, although it is very US oriented.

If you are booking the travel for yourself it makes sense to sort out what looks good and then go direct to the site(s) of the airline(s) involved.  

When buying air travel be aware of all the wrinkles introduced of recent years, not only with taxes and departure fees by governments and airport companies but also charges for luggage, food, the use of credit cards for payment and the like by the airlines.

For more general sites about the world's airlines there are SoMuchEasier [with links to most airlines] and Airlines on the Web

Go to WebFlyer for all about frequent flyer programmes.  There are some real gains possible through their use if you're using long haul flights.  

Skytrax enables you to find out how other travellers have found individual airlines and airports. World Airport Awards gives a different assessment.


And if you want to know about the art of sleeping in airports, as opposed to hotels at airports, and which airports are best to sleep in there is sleeping in the airport.

If you are concerned about jet lag there are all sorts of suggestions such as flying at night and from east to west: see Wikipedia, Avoid Jet Lag and Hit the Ground Running.

The best plane seat?  Wikihow, SeatExpert, SeatGuru, BestFlatSeats and Air Lines on the Web all give assistance on this. Whether you are travelling economy or better there are very real differences depending on the particular type of plane and the airline.  If you are travelling for any distance and are long in the leg or have other seating needs it does pay to check out what you are letting yourself into before you commit to a booking.  To get the seat you want you may well have to pay a premium and you might have to go through an agent as you might have to commit to your travel before you can get a seat on-line.  However, I know from personal experience the extra trouble involved can be well worthwhile.


Rail travel everywhere and much more?  You don't really have to look beyond TheManInSeat61 for information about trains and ferries world wide.  Is there a more comprehensive site anywhere? Go there for links to rail sites everywhere including German Railways, which
TheManInSeat61 says is the best site for planning European travel, and even sites relating to New Zealand, Rail Plus and Rail NZ.  Should you wish to test The Man in Seat 61 or dig deeper you can go to Railways of the World and choose a country.  At least for much of Europe, including the UK, and the USA it is pretty easy to book tickets and often seats on-line, even if you might have to pick them up in the country you are travelling in.  Often bookings don't open until about 90 days prior to the travel date, although Eurostar is 120 days and some are less than 90 days.  For undergrounds or urban rail try  everything you need to know about the world's undergrounds including maps or just maps or urban rail generally.  Most major cities have their own transport specific sites, e.g., London, Paris. And Google Maps provides transit information for most cities.

You'd rather travel on water?  For cruises try looking at VacationsToGo, www.seascanner.com, iCruise, TravelPage.com, Small Ship Cruises or Cruise CriticFor canal boating try Locaboat France and Europe or French WaterwaysYacht Charters - Europe is self-explanatory.

You need a car? NZ, Australia, USA, UK? Car rentals are compared by VroomVroomVroom [also Canada and Fiji] and Oodles, but there are often cheaper local companies than those compared both here and overseas.  You do need to make sure the pick up and drop off sites are convenient to you, that you are properly insured and that the company is reliable.   Europe?  Look at Rick Steves' Driving in Europe, and consider CitroenDriveEurope, Peugeot Eurolease or Renault Eurodrive if you want a car for any length of time.  Worldwide?  Rentalcars.com is similar to VroomVroomVroom and Oodles but offers much wider coverage. CarJet, which appears to be a Spanish company, has links to
rental cars in innumerable countries.  Priceline's car hire page might be helpful for North America.

Route planning and maps:  General: Google Maps, with an excellent guide to their general use at Make Use Of on being your own travel guide, WikimapiaNew Zealand: AA NZ, NZ Topo On Line, supplied by LINZAustralia: RAAFurther afield: UK's closed site, Transport Direct, has useful links to UK services and there are numerous other sites such as BingMaps, Via Michelin
, an excellent route planner, Nokia Maps, Mappy and MapQuest. Incidentally if you have a smart 'phone you should be able to download Google or Nokia Maps or your maps of choice, perhaps, for example, those sold by Lonely Planet, on to it, so that your map is in your pocket.

Parking?  If you're in a strange city this can be a hassle.  There are specialist sites such as Parkopedia that cover most places.  [The link is to Wellington but that's easily changed.]  There are also country specific sites such as Car Park Maps and NCP for the UK.  In the UK and elsewhere it is common for cities to have similar maps.

Accommodation?

General: If it is just for a night or two then an hotel, a B & B, a motel or the like is probably easiest and best, but if it is for about a week or more then an apartment might be best, while if its a lengthy stay then a swap house arrangement or a long term let might be best.  The shorter the period the more you need to be close to what you want to see and do.  Google Maps can be a great aid to this.


What’s it like? TripAdvisor, which has links to booking agencies.

Last minute cheapos? Wotif: NeedItNow: Rates To Go: Last Minute Au: Late Rooms

Worldwide: In most countries the information office of the city or town of your choice will have a guide to local accommodation, e.g., to take two French examples, Parisinfo.com or Colmar. Then there are often national accommodation guides, such as some of the ones referred to below under individual countries. There are also international sites such as Booking.com, HotelBook.com, Room 77 Hotel Search, Hotels Combined, BookIt.com, Hotel Club, World Hotels, Michelin Guide, Hotels Worldwide, Trivago and Accor Group, all for hotels in particular, B and Bs,
and More B and Bs, all for B & Bs in particular, and AirBnB, HomeAway, HomeLink, HomeExchange, HolSwap, InterVac, Vacation Rentals by Owner, Roomorama, FlipKey, Owners Direct, Bookabach - Australia, NZ and Pacific Islands - and Green Theme, all for home exchanges or lets.  Even TradeMe offers a search and book engine in TravelBugSome of these you can join as a member and get savings and specials as a result. There are no apartment sites listed but if you're staying for more than a few nights it always pays to check out whether you can get an apartment. For example in Paris there are a number of agencies specialising in apartments. Just Google your destination for apartments and see what sites and addresses most appeal.

NZ? AATravel: Jasons: Qualmark: B and Bs: Friars GuidesHoliday Houses.

Australia?
AAA Tourism Australia: RAA: Jasons: Travelmate: The Australian Bed and Breakfast Book.

 
UK? AA: Information Britain: Charming Small Hotels: B and Bs

France? France.com: Logis: Gites: Bonadresse: Alistair Sawdray - with links to his sites for other European destinations. 


USA? Travel Hero: B and Bs

How far is it from your accommodation to your destination?  Various city transport systems will tell you how far it is from where you are to where you want to go and how long it will take, e.g., in Paris, Los Angeles or Philadelphia. You can also find out via Google Earth or Maps and other mapping tools.

What will it cost? Always check on the web through different sites and with any travel agent you might be using. There is no rule as to what the cheapest and best alternative for you might be - sometimes its from the "home" site, sometimes it is through an agent, sometimes it is for a package, sometimes it is well in advance and sometimes last minute. However, you can almost always be sure it will be cheaper through the internet than over the counter. For example did you know you can get parking at Wellington Airport cheaper on-line than at the airport and cheaper still if its a month or more ahead? And if you are booking direct or by telephone it doesn't hurt to mention what you can get it for on-line as sometimes the price will be met or you will have it confirmed that its cheaper to book on-line. 


Passports, Visas and Immunisations - I have already mentioned passports, visas, the US Visa Waiver consent and immunisations.  You cannot go anywhere without a passport so make sure you have one in advance of your travel that does not expire until at least six months after the end of your travel or you can have problems.  Visas cannot be obtained at the drop of a hat as often they have to come from abroad.  Photographs complying with the requirements of the country to be visited might have to be obtained as your passport photograph might not comply.  If its the USA that you are going to or passing through you will want to take advantage of the USA's Visa Waiver Programme and get prior consent through ESTA. Make sure you have any necessary immunisations for the areas you are travelling to or through and that your anti-tetanus protection is up to date. 



Passport Tip - Your passport probably contains a page on which “Emergency Contact” can be entered. It is inside the back cover in the case of a New Zealand passport.  Completing this section along with your email and a telephone number at which you can be texted might save you a lot of grief if you mislay your passport at any time.  Having a slip of paper with your contact details for your next stop in the passport could also help.  While an emergency contact name and phone number is helpful, anyone finding a passport might be reluctant to call the number (especially if its an international number) and the process of tracking you will take longer.


Money - You can't go without it. Sometimes there are wrinkles as to the cheapest and best ways of getting it. Cash, credit cards, debit cards, travel debit cards in the currency of your destination, travellers' cheques and US$, all have their place depending where you are going. Make sure you protect yourself as far as you can with how you carry it and keep details of your cards, cheques or whatever and who to ring in case of loss or theft.  Make sure also that both your bank and credit card company know when and where you are going so that there is less chance of money problems when you are abroad.

ATMs Worldwide: Visa: Mastercard

Currency exchange rate guides: NZ & Universal

Another Essential - Travel Insurance: Look at linking it to a high level credit card if you possibly can as that is often the cheapest way. Mind you not all banks are created equal and you might have to shop around and make sure you read the fine print.  Usually you have to pay 50% of the main travel cost with the card.  Otherwise its a case of trying to compare apples with apples. If you're a member of Consumer or have access to its magazine look at its web site or magazine as it has very good articles on all aspects of travel insurance generally with very useful comparisons. Don't forget that age and health considerations can affect things mightily so do your home work.  And don't forget that North America is the most expensive place for medical help, which makes it all the more essential you have appropriate insurance if you are going there. 

Eating out: Michelin Guide: Zagat: Gault Millau guides to major European countries.

A Different Kind of Necessity: Find a toilet worldwide at SitOrSquat, although unfortunately you now have to agree to sign up to Facebook to use this good site, The Bathroom Diaries or Toilets of the World.  


Baggage and package: Think light. As has been said elsewhere, not entirely in jest, take half what you think you will need and twice the money. If you can get everything into a carry on bag it will save you both money and time.  For bags look at the Travel Insider site, dealing with carry on and checked luggage and how to pack,
which has links to very good check lists.  It has an US slant but you can't have everything. Does your baggage comply with airline requirements? NZ: International overview. If you're going to the USA make sure any lock complies with US security requirements.

Simple Security: Don't forget to make copies of all essential documents such as passports, visas, travel insurance policy, driver's licence and credit cards, any medication or eye lenses prescriptions and copies of essential telephone numbers in case you need to use your travel insurance or cancel credit cards or contact your Government's Embassy or High Commission office or your family or bank. And while you are at it why not scan copies of essential documents and essential information on to a document on your computer and not only put it on a thumb or flash drive, preferably in an encrypted form, but e-mail it to yourself, your travelling companion (if any) and a member or members of your family so that wherever you are and whatever happens you can access what is necessary.  Particularly if you are going off the beaten track think of registering your travel movements with Safe Travel NZ.  Make sure you always have on your person a note of essential details relating to you in case of an accident or disabling illness.  And if you're travelling with electronic devices think of their security, e.g.,

before departure, fully back up all devices you plan to take with you, encrypt essential information on them and protect your mobile phone with a pass code.

Create Your Own Itinerary: Use TripIt or Duffel on the web or an Excel worksheet or try Microsoft Office Travel Templates.

Got everything? Valid passport and visa(s), up to date health immunizations, tickets and booking vouchers, travel insurance, money, best ATMs for your bank, mobile global roaming, bags [with name and telephone numbers inside and out] and packing lists, travel itinerary, medications, power adapters and chargers, emergency contacts list and copy essential documents. Are your essential documents, money, medications [not exceeding permitted quantities], keys, phone charger on you or in your carry on luggage? Does your carry on luggage comply with security rules? Forgotten anything essential? SafeTravel NZ has a quick checklist and tips. GrownUps NZ has a fuller
Travel Checklist and Travel Tips page.  Or for an Australian approach go here. Advised your bank/credit card provider of your movements? Does your insurer require to be advised? Your house security? Stopped your paper and your mail? What else can you think of? Pets? Power switches? Watering systems? Key to your house?  
Away for more than three months? Look at suspending your vehicle registration but first make sure your insurance isn't affected if you do so.

NZ Superannuitant Going Overseas?

If you receive New Zealand Superannuation and travel overseas, you are meant to let Senior Services at Work and Income (part of the Ministry of Social Development or MSD) know of your travel plans. You can either telephone 0800 552 002 or email your travel plans to Seniors@msd.govt.nz.

If you're going to be away for less than 26 weeks no issues are likely to arise if you do not do that.  However, if you plan to be away for more than 26 weeks or it is possible you might be for reasons outside your control, you not only must notify Senior Services so that it can advise you of your options but it is in your own interest to do so.  If you don't contact Senior Services before you leave you could end up losing your NZ Super. MSD is notified by the New Zealand Customs Service if someone receiving NZ Super leaves the country so your travel is known to the MSD.

Special dishes Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough: Barnes Foundation Philadelpia: Hermitage Museum: La Roseraie du Val de Marne: Museums of Paris: Australian Botanic Gardens: Atlas Obscura

Duty Free: For additional concessions think of joining the Frequent Buyer Club of Duty Free Stores NZ. And it may be you can get duty free goods from your favourite store once you have your flight booked. Its worth enquiring.

You want to communicate?  By e-mail?  Why not carry a smart phone.  Or if you want to lug something heavier a
tablet or netbook is lighter than a notebook.  Or use an internet cafe, but beware security issuesBy telephone or text? Using your mobile and global roaming is affordable for texting but can be expensive for telephoning or hefty data usage.  Always use a prepaid, pay-as-you-go, SIM card when travelling so that you do not run up huge unexpected bills.  If you're going to be anywhere for a period consider buying a local SIM card or a cheap local phone with a pay-as-you-go scheme to avoid the hassle of changing the SIM card in your phone.  You may have an old phone you can take with you for a local SIM as well as your home phone.  Pay as you go sim has information about pay as you go mobile phone plans from all over the world.

Languages and sign language: Basic terms in all the main languages. Gestures to avoid 1 and 2. International Etiquette Guide and much more.

Travel Guides: Eyewitness [Site just being changed but this link should lead you to replacement.]: Lonely Planet: Rough Guide: Frommers: Fodors: Time Out.

Travel Resources on the Internet:

Savvy Senior Travellers:  Travel Yahoo: Wikitravel: SmarterTravel.com: Round the World Travel Guide [Site not accessible when last checked.]: Travel Document Systems: About.com: Library Lounge PBWiki.  If you haven't found the answer anywhere else and a Google search hasn't helped have a look at Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum.


[Updated 6 March 2015 - all links active.]

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