Where once travelers looked to the web simply for last-minute airfares or cut-rate hotel rooms, today the online possibilities are dizzying: you can access your itinerary on pretty much any device, from your laptop and BlackBerry to your iPad and television; immediately tap into the local scene via location-based technology; or instantly share images and videos with 100 of your closest friends on social-networking sites.
During the past year, we’ve scoured travel websites looking for the best of the bunch, from tried-and-true classics to brand-new standouts that are revolutionizing the way we plan and take our trips.
The major booking engines — Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity — all debuted smart new services in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition in 2010. Expedia’s Unpublished Rates feature, for example, offers discounts of up to 55 percent on more than 25,000 hotels. Orbitz’s new hotel search now incorporates everything from street-view images to amenity filters. And Travelocity now offers users “top secret” listings for rooms that are up to 45 percent off rates, revealing the hotel name upon booking.
And, after more than two decades of DIY online booking, we finally have some serious quality filters: membership-only sites and personalized trip planning are making sure your vacation doesn’t turn into some kind of web-special nightmare. Vacationist.com, a free invitation-only site by Travel + Leisure and LuxuryLink, offers members up to 60 percent off top hotels around the world. You can get travel perks with Founderscard.com for $495, and expert travel advice from Indagare.com starts at $275.
A new crop of websites and mobile-based services offers coupons and daily deals at restaurants, bars and spas in cities across the country. Scoutmob.com posts a new bargain each day; Wahanda.com features great spa promotions in cities throughout the U.S., and New York City–based Yipit.com aggregates listings from deal sites in one daily e-mail.
Ever ahead of the digital curve, Google continues to offer great ways to help you travel. Google Translate can decode a menu, phrase or travel site within seconds, and the new Google Voice gives you a free voice-over-Internet phone number that can receive forwarded calls. You can even make international calls from your smartphone at rock-bottom rates.
Some of the best digital travel innovations aren’t even websites. Today, it’s even possible to create your own Wi-Fi hot spot — no matter where you are — using small devices that connect to mobile networks, such as Clearwire’s superfast 4G iSpot and Mobile’s prepaid MiFi 2200. As an alternative to exorbitant roaming rates, new affordable rental services like MiFi Mobile Hotspot give you unlimited personal Wi-Fi around the world for $17.95 a day.
No matter where you go these days, the web can go with you and make travel easier, more affordable, and definitely more fun.