This week, as the weak winter sun did its best to warm my home state of Idaho, my husband and I began looking for a place to go with our kids (ages 9 and 11) and my parents over spring break.
The kids want the beach and snorkeling. My husband and I, fancying ourselves to be veteran travelers, will not set foot in a resort. My parents, having suffered adventure travel at our hands before, prefer an experience that is authentic but not life-threatening.
With all this in mind, I turned to 80 Degrees, a new online travel planner from the guidebook publisher Fodor's.
80 Degrees uses a quiz to help figure out what destination will deliver the trip you are looking for. The interactive tool asks you whether you want to go off the beaten path, stay safely in a resort, or venture somewhere in between. The quiz also helps define the attractions you seek, such as beaches, casinos, or child-friendly activities. Plug in the type of travelers, be it a romantic couple or a large group, and how much money is expected to be spent on lodging. After a few more questions about where and what, the site delivers a list of appealing options.
Right now, 80 Degrees is only set up to find winter escapes where the temperature hovers around a perfect 80 degrees. The company plans to roll out a European vacation version early this year, and some options for skiers after that, with a different name to reflect cooler climates.
Meanwhile, 80 Degrees directs its users to a host of sunny getaways in Belize, Mexico, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Florida and the Caribbean.
Like all worthwhile travel Web sites, 80 Degrees makes excellent reading on its own, even if a two-week stay in Virgin Gorda is nothing but a pipe dream. The destination ideas come with an online travel guide, and those mini-guidebooks include forums with a wealth of thoughtful reviews that drill down to the minutiae that can make or break a lodging experience at a particular hotel or resort — from helpful drivers to horror stories about bugs in the oven. About 700 writers work for Fodor's, a venerable travel publisher that covers 500 destinations around the world. The guide's hotel and restaurant listings are independent of advertising sales, according to Fodor's staff.
The publisher's main Web site is a good place for travelers to learn more about areas they already know they want to visit. 80 Degrees helps the undecided figure out where that is.
"A lot of sites, if you know where to go, they'll tell you different things to do in a particular location," said Tim Jarrell, Fodor's publisher. "We're trying to inspire you. We've done our job if we give you a destination that perhaps you had not considered before you took the quiz."