LOS ANGELES—For most of us, summer means vacations and travel. Given the current health scares and the rising cost of travel, this may also mean staying closer to home and trying to find the best value for your vacation dollar. One of the best, and easiest, ways to research a trip is via the Internet. You can save money, get rebates, find great spots to visit and even book travel online at a discount.
The best way to find information on attractions in another state is via its official tourism website. A comprehensive list of sites, ranging from states to foreign countries, is maintained by 123World (123world.com/tourism/). An unofficial list of all the state tourism sites is offered at july15.com/julia/statetravel.htm. Both are up-to-date. State sites highlight state parks, and an excellent guide to national parks is found at nps.gov/parks.html. The reservation center is especially helpful as most national parks are heavily pre-booked.
For a special visit to another nation without leaving the U.S., you might like to view the Navajo Nation's page (americanwest.com/pages/navajo2.htm), and perhaps plan a trip to Canyon De Chelly (pronounced De Shay) or beautiful Monument Valley.
If your idea of "roughing it" is a hotel without room service, you might be interested in the many discounts offered to those who visit Las Vegas in the summertime. A package with airfare and hotels is often less expensive than just the usual room cost. Sites like Expedia (expedia.com/daily/home/) and Orbitz (orbitz.com/) regularly feature deep discounts as does Travelocity (travelocity.com/)—be sure to check their "last minute deals" section.
There are so many discount hotel sites that you may start to wonder if anyone ever pays full price. Some I've used and found valuable are: Hotels.com (hotels.com/), HotelDiscounts.com (hoteldiscounts.com/), AllCheapHotels (allcheaphotels.com), All-Hotels.com (all-hotels.com), Hotel-Directory.com (hotel-directory.com/), and Motels.com (motels.com.) Many of the larger chains have their own web-sites, several offering "clubs," similar to airlines, where frequent stays can bring extra goodies.
The time spent in checking several sites will pay off in hotel values as each site has different offers. For instance, the same hotel in Vegas for the same weekend was offered at rates ranging from $69 a night to $169 a night for the same basic room with the same number of beds. This huge price difference could mean the difference between a four-day stay and a two-week stay. Also, several sites don't tell you the specific hotel until after you've booked, and tack on a booking fee. However, you may find a good deal even then so keep an open mind.
In an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" move, the latest entry into the discounted hotel field is travelweb.com/, a joint venture between Hilton Hotels, Marriott International, Starwood Hotels, Intercontinental Hotels Group and Hyatt. Although I've yet to use the site, the prices offered were in line with most others, and the quality and amenities of the participating hotels are well known.
Ebates (ebates.com/) offers a 2 percent cash rebate on all bookings made through Hotwire (hotwire.com/index.jsp), which could add up to a nice amount over a long vacation if you book all your travel through their online service.
If you're traveling by car, the American Automobile Association's page (aaa.com/) is full of helpful ideas as well as road condition alerts. Tourbooks and maps are available to members, and of course their card brings discounts almost everywhere. You can plan your itinerary online, print out your route maps, and even find suggestions for day trips. Membership is not required for these services although one is good to have if you're stranded in a strange town.
You can share travel photographs with family and friends by downloading your digital images to your personal web page or any of several commercial sites. Club Photo (clubphoto.com/) and Kodak's Picture Center Online (photonet.com/) are both excellent services, and the price is right (free)!
Oh, and remember to buy your postcard stamps online (shop.usps.com/cgibin/vsbv/postal_store_non_ssl/home.jsp) to save hunting for a post office at your destination.
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