SeatGuru.com: They do what airlines won’t – describe your seat. They do this for more than 60 airlines, pointing out how close the nearest restroom is to your seat as well as the power outlets. Why should you always avoid the 19th row, seats A/B and J/K on United’s 767 international flights? This site offers several reasons why you would want to be seated elsewhere.
Hipmunk.com: A surprising number of travelers are unaware of this off-the-charts-popular new site. Rather than just do flight searches, Hipmunk has an ‘Agony Scale’ pointing out a flight schedule’s short-comings. There is also an ‘Ecstasy Scale’ that incorporates information from TripAdvisor to create a sense of how reviewers really feel about a hotel’s amenities. Gen Xers love the site’s color-coded ‘Heat Maps’ that include neighborhoods with great dining, shopping and even local ‘vice.’ There are links to major hotel sites including Orbitz and Hotels.com but also Airbnb and Getaroom.com.
Plnnr.com: This site creates customized travel itineraries for popular cities in the U.S. and Europe. After the user enters specific interests, the site kicks out a fully formed suggested itinerary including the number of hours at each attraction, travel times by taxi, bus or on foot and rather sophisticated subcategory requests like local gardens, architecture or breweries. The user can keep rejecting itineraries fine tuning the options until a seemingly perfect itinerary presents itself. There is no fear of wasting a travel agent’s time or hurting his or her feelings.
CouchSurfing.com: Well over a million worldwide members of this online travel community trade insider information and recommendations. They also offer sleeping arrangements to one another, as members host one another in their homes and apartments. This is the ultimate use of social media to bring the people of the world together with local residents leading the way. This is a transformational site and an alternative to the notion of hotels. This is how travel by social media could look in the next decade.
Contexttravel.com: This unique company, founded by Churchill & Turen friend Paul Bennett, organizes top-quality walking tours in majorworldwide cities led by scholars and university lecturers. Context has programs in Beijing, Paris, New York, and Istanbul. New programs explore the culinary arts. Context’s web site is a fascinating glimpse into what is possible day-tripping with a scholar.
FoXnoMad.com: Anil Polat’s parents were journalists. Polat is also a journalist, but he is associated with a new generation of tech-savvy backpackers who travel the world. This is the perfect site for travelers seeking insight into how to best use modern technology in off-the-beaten-path destinations.
WanderingEarl.com: This might be my favorite rainy weather travel getaway. Back in 1999, Derek Earl Baron left home for a three-month trip to Asia that has yet to end. He’ll go practically anywhere, and his openness toward his surroundings and practical advice make him a valued traveling companion. He explains, quite clearly, how you can just drop everything and travel the world — for years at a time.
AutoSlash.com: Clients of the self-drive variety love being driven to this site. You pick your car company, reserve your car, and when the rate drops, the site locks in the lower rate on your behalf. It even works if you just put in your confirmation when you have booked a car rental directly.
TripIt.com:. TripIt takes all of the confirmations for every component of a trip and creates a single, comprehensive document accessible via laptop, smartphone or tablet. You forward your information to these folks and they take your flight numbers and include gate numbers, seat selection advice and links to online check-in. You get weather reports and driving directions and your flight status is regularly updated. Of course that’s one way to describe the site. Another is to simply say it is a great consolidation site for those who wish to book a trip on their own.
AwardWallet.com: This is the best of the sites for keeping tabs on several frequent flyer accounts. One click accesses all of your accounts where you can view current balances.
Momondo.com: This consumer search engine is operated by a young staff of dedicated research and blogger types in Copenhagen. Momondo might be the best of the travel site aggregators, searching more than 700 websites to come up with the best fare results. Momondo is free to users but does not directly sell tickets. It just takes the consumer by the hand, shows them the best prices and links them to the seller.
FlyerTalk.com: Required reading for anyone who even dabbles in travel. This is the dig-deep site for some of the most frequent flyers. This is where you go to get the latest on the most recent mileage reward strategies and the best travel credit card rewards. The forums are like having a really neat seatmate on the nonstop flight to Singapore.
Room77.com: A really worthwhile site as it refines hotel searches to include guest feedback, official hotel data and virtual room views using Google Earth technologies. Floor plans are also shown, and there are built-in concierge services for those who book upper-end properties. Search criteria can be manipulated to include valued insight such as distance from elevators and window views. This takes “no surprises” up a notch, along with some compelling pricing offers.
AirBnB.com: This clearinghouse for people who rent out their own villas, condos, apartments and homes worldwide is rather hot at the moment. The business model is unique. User reviews build trust, and there are no charges until a property is booked. AirBnB is another trend-setting outgrowth of the social media movement in travel.
Everything-Everywhere.com: The real-time journal of Gary Arndt, a former Midwestern business executive who sold his home in 2007, put all of his possessions in storage and began traveling. He hasn’t stopped moving and has now visited 116 countries on seven continents. He’s bungee-jumped in New Zealand, swum with great white sharks in South Africa and taken in 150 World Heritage sites. His addictive blogs and photos have won enough awards to earn sponsorships by tourism authorities in many of the places he visits. He has no plans to stop seeing the planet. Joining him can open your eyes to places well off the traditional tourist map. Best of all is his apparent lack of an ideological agenda.
Oyster.com: This is a hotel review site that is generating mountains of buzz and more than 250,000 visitors per month. Unlike user review sites such as TripAdvisor, where half the users might love a hotel while the other 50% hate it, Oyster uses its own reviewers, who visit properties in more than 200 destinations worldwide. But the real reason for its increasing influence is its policy of taking comprehensive in-room and total facilities photos, which it contrasts with cropped and altered official hotel website and brochure photos. Oyster.com, which names names and documents its reviews with photographic evidence, is a Travel Channel affiliate.
Wegolo.com: This is an airfare pricing site catering to the more than 70 budget airlines currently serving Europe.
UnusualHotelsoftheWorld.com: A fun collection of really intriguing off-center hotel properties worldwide. The heart of this site, in addition to its wonderful photographs of ice hotels, undiscovered castles and prison conversions, is its rating system. Each property is graded on its “wow factor.”
FlightAware.com: This extremely useful site offers flight tracking and much more. Its best feature is the ability to see where a flight originates. When you know where a flight is coming from, you can predict delays with greater accuracy.
GreatCircleMapper.com: Definitely not for everyone, this site displays maps charting the “great circle path” between points, i.e. the shortest path on a sphere’s surface between two points. Just type in your airport codes and you can see the number of segments involved and the likely miles you will earn. A unique perspective of one’s time in the air.
i-escape.com: One of the most beautiful sites on our list, it features amazing photos of boutique hotels worldwide. The reviews appear to be honest with up- and downside information. Rates are listed along with substantial content about each property and its surrounds. This is where savvy Euros go for summer bargains at high-midrange to luxury properties generally off the tourist radar.
GloboMaestro.com: Not a heavily populated site yet, but we love the concept. The “maestros” are top-end concierges who offer hidden looks into high society in their home cities. Fun and hip, and the photos are stunning.
HotelChatter.com: Frequent travelers might love this gossipy collection of insider hotel industry news. Be prepared to view attacks on some of the larger chains and overkill on the subject of new openings. Still, you’ll feel like a hotel management insider.
Travellerspoint.com: This members-only site is perfect for do-it-yourselfers on a budget. The users are extremely helpful and they are happy to review itineraries planned on the site. This is a one-stop travel shop that begins with itinerary planning and includes reasonably priced accommodations and transportation involving products many travel consultants won’t or can’t represent.
Chowhound.com: An indispensable site for true foodies who want to experience some unique dining venues. While not a ‘travel site’ per se, the domestic and international restaurant boards are filled with noteworthy, generally well-written, reviews of restaurants, specific dishes and travel insights. You will also find boards on such arcane subjects as “Trader Joe’s discontinued items July-December.”