From the World Wide Web to the Road
by Jasmine-Renee M. Orr
You and your spouse have finally managed to arrange vacation days at the same time. You're both looking forward to a week of relaxation, sightseeing, and visiting the places on the brochures you have kept in your drawer for the past two years. You will finally be able to go tell your coworkers about your vacation, instead of listening endlessly to them rattle on about theirs, flashing dozens of pictures of the same…monotonous…sunset. You can’t wait until the day comes. Revenge will be yours.
You call the airport. It’s busy.
You call the train station. It’s busy.
You call a travel agent. He’s on vacation.
You eventually decide to drive. You get lost on the way, arriving past hotel check-in time to lose your room to a sweet elderly couple with at least 37 bags each. When you go and try to look for a vacancy in another hotel, you see they're all booked up with the motorcycle rally in town.
You end up spending half your traveler’s checks buying a tent and other camping supplies, and camping out, miserable in the incessant chilly rain.
The main attraction you wanted to see is closed for restoration. Your second choice is closed due to the weather.
After two dismal nights of bugs and burnt food, you give up and return home, discouraged, vowing to spend next year’s vacation painting the garage.
Your employer sends you on a business trip to meet with some very important clients. He has provided you with a car, a travel plan, and money for expenses. Unfortunately, he has also provided you with a map that doesn’t cover detours in the country, traveler’s checks in the wrong name and a car with a gas leak.
You get lost, break down, arrive hours late, and are stuck charging everything to a personal credit card with only $34.87 left on it.
When you arrive home, you realize you left the traveler’s checks back at the hotel.
Do either of these stories sound familiar? With only a few minutes of effort, you could have made the best of your days in the rain, gotten insurance for the car, and double-checked the roads for accessibility. All is not lost, however. You can prevent these kinds of travel disasters from ever happening again, with just a little Internet research.
Start by simply looking up the place you want to go, searching by city, state, country, specific sights or even Around the Country Tours. You've heard a lot of nice things about Branson, Missouri, for example, but if you really don’t care for country music, it wouldn't be the best choice for your enjoyment. On the other hand, if you love art, the Art Institute of Chicago would be ideal for you. Use the Web to research potential destinations in advance. Maybe a vacation spot has great scenery, but no attractions that appeal to you, or maybe your chosen hotel is too far away from the nearest shopping center. A little extra research can never hurt when planning something. Never let anyone else plan something for you without making sure you're in on the plans, even if you're going on a business trip. Your boss is your boss, but you still should know what's going on in order to make the trip a success.
Once you're certain of where you want go, you'll need directions. MapQuest and Maps.com each offer a free, handy service where you can get step-by-step directions from your driveway to your destination, simply by entering the addresses. Printing out your personal map instead of stopping at every other gas station to ask for directions and purchase a generic map will save you money and time.
Never time things too close together. If you're running a little late, don't let that cause you to lose your hotel reservation. Plan things so you'll always be a little earlier then you need to be. If you must be at a meeting in the afternoon, aim to get into town early morning, or possibly even the night before, to allow for detours and unexpected delays.
Most airlines and trains offer online ticket sales. Travelocity and Excite Travel find you the best fares around. Some require you to become a member first, and you’ll have to remember a user name and password, but generally it's worth it for the service. Another advantage of purchasing tickets online is that it gives you time to browse your choices. Nobody likes to be rushed into decisions, and in the comfort of your own home, you can take all the time you need to make all your important choices without an impatient employee rushing you.
Yahoo! Travel gives you more of a "full service" offer, providing links and search engines to make reservations for airline travel, hotel accommodations, cruises, and vacation packages. It spotlights the best fares, helps you plan your vacation, and lets you pick vacation packages by browsing lifestyles, destinations, and activities. Another site to look at is The Travel Helper, which offers information on tourist attractions, rental cars, travel agents, cruises and much more.
Many Web sites about specific locations host chat rooms and message boards for people who are planning on traveling to a specific destination. You can ask questions, get tips and advice, and sometimes talk to people who live in that city. This can be helpful if you have more specific concerns, such as what the locals thought of the different area attractions—good deals or not? Fun? Run down? (This would also be a good place to ask if the city is planning on having a motorcycle rally anytime soon!) Traveling with children makes for an entirely different type of trip. When visiting area-specific sites, ask about family rates, and whether attractions are child-friendly.
Checking national weather at sites such as the Weather Channel is another good idea—you will want to make sure that line of thunderstorms or that heat spell doesn't hit just when you're in the middle of your backpacking trek. Traveling to places on the coast when a hurricane is in the area is not a good choice, to say the least. Check the weather situation first is always a good move. Also make sure to schedule your activities to match the weather. The long walk downtown to see the beautiful sight would be best to do on that cool breezy morning, while the visit to the water park to appease the kids is best for that blazing afternoon. Just be sure to check the attraction’s business hours first so you can schedule the fun after they open and before they close!
Plenty can go wrong when traveling but things like lost luggage, cranky kids, bad service and motion sickness are not the end of the world, no matter how bothersome they can seem to be. One day you will look back at most problems, and tell your grandchildren all about the time the airline lost your bags and you had to wear the same socks for a week—even if you can’t imagine it at the time. For extra help in coping with travel challenges, visit Dr. James Feldman’s site, Doctor Travel, for advice on how to handle stress (from jet lag to road rage), or buy his book to keep the answers on hand at all times.
The Internet offers extensive packing lists, including equipment, money, documents and clothing. Look to The Universal Packing List for tips on good packing, high-quality backpack brands, and comments from frequent travelers. Even better yet, it offers a list of things to take care of before you leave. This is helpful in those last minutes before you leave the house and lock the doors. This site is the one that could prevent your missing a flight because you had to return home to make sure the stove was off.
Web sites such as Magun's Compass posts stories of people who have had wonderful and unique vacationing experiences. This is a great place to go for inspiration if you're trying to find a new way to spend your vacation days, especially in a place more interesting and a little less traveled than the normal vacation spots.
With the help of step-by-step maps, prepaid tickets and some precautionary weather research, you can keep travel mishaps to a minimum, and maximize your fun and relaxation. There's still the chance that something will spring up at you unexpectedly, but armed with your research, you should be able to handle potential problems like a travel professional.
Jasmine-Renee Orr is a freelance writer based in Indiana.