If you’re anything like me -- someone who spends 95% of their days sitting in front of a computer -- the idea of planning a vacation can be daunting. The unfamiliar ideas of “relaxing” and “going outside to do something fun” are stressful enough, not to mention, you know, actually figuring out where to go. But fear not, my fellow keyboard lurkers! We can plan our days off in the bright sunshine without ever leaving the cold, blue glow of our monitors.
Step one, of course, is figuring out where in the world you want to go. Orbitz and Expedia tend to list some good deals on vacations packages, so if saving some money is high on your list of vacation priorities then those may be some good places to start. However, listings are limited by their partnerships, so the number of options aren’t going to be extremely varied. However, if you’ve got some ideas about the kind of vacation you’re looking for, then using a site like TripBase or TripAdvisor can help whittle the choices down.
TripBase has a few more knobs and whistles than TripAdvisor, and will give you sliders to fine-tune your vacation goals and budget restrictions. You can even see which place is ideal by season, and when to avoid the tourist crowds. TripAdvisor’s “inspiration” page isn’t as customizable as TripBase, but it does seem to have a lot more in the way of destination choice. You begin your search by picking a vacation theme, like “romance” or “history and culture.” Then decide which area of the world you’d like to visit and start browsing. They have a huge database of over 400,000 locations, along with hotel data and information on attractions.
Now that the holiday spot has been chosen, it’s time to decide what it is you want to do there (if sleeping and laying by the beach are your only aspirations, skip this step). LonelyPlanet , Frommer ’s and Fodor ’s are all great standbys for info on the web (or book form) but Offbeat Guides will actually put together a personalized travel guide for the location you’re visiting. The information is always current, and tailored specifically to the dates you’ll be traveling. But the data comes at a price: $24.95 for a full color printed guide and $9.99 for the PDF. Still, it might not be a bad deal, especially when compared to the generalized and impersonal travel guides you can pick up at the travel store.
Keeping track of your itinerary is the next challenge, and TripIt is my gold standard. I ponied up the $69 for the Pro version (which helps you keep track of your frequent flier and hotel points, plus flight alternatives if something goes awry) but the regular version is perfect for simple monitoring your flights, hotels, car rentals and anything else related to your journey. You can even share trips with friends to coordinate your plans, although sometimes it’s nice to get away from everyone altogether (and mark your trips as “private”).
No one wants seem like a tourist (unless you’re French , in which case apparently you just don’t care), so make sure you check in with the locals for the inside info on your destination. Localyte is a startup that aims to connect travelers with native residents, with the goal of answering questions and finding cool stuff to do that might have otherwise flown under the radar. And while you may not think of Yelp as being a travel site, it’s a great way to find honest reviews of hotels and restaurants from all over the U.S. (and increasingly in international locations like Canada and the U.K .).
See? Planning fun doesn’t have to be too painful. Just remember to send me a postcard when you get there. You know what those are -- it’s kind of like email, except you put a stamp on it and give it to the postal service