Susan Michelle's Compass
Forget The Guidebook Plan Your Trip Online
By Susan Michelle
Jun 13, 2009 - 4:47:32 PM

UNITED STATES—Are you a traveler who plans everything, or a traveler who just shows up and wanders?  However you travel, gone are the days when you’d just buy a guidebook and refer to pages as you went along.  With information that’s far more current, varied and mobile-friendly, the Internet is the only place you should be looking to plan a trip these days.  But, with so much information online, where do you start? 

It would take days to read through all the travel guide sites, local review sites, forums, blogs and miscellaneous Google results about a destination.  And, how do you keep all the info straight?  Print pages?  Cut and paste into your own document?  Well, if you’re a travel planner, there’s a plethora of new tools out there to make the effort a heck of a lot easier than all that.

LONELYPLANET.COM: Lonely Planet’s stellar online trip planner allows you to look through their vast database of activities, restaurants, hotels and night spots; select the ones that interest you, and then import them into a plan of action.  The final personalized “guide” allows you to add notes, see brief place descriptions, access ultra-detailed maps and then print everything and/or save so you can still access online while you’re traveling.  Lonely Planet also started offering an iPhone City Guide application this summer, with a free San Francisco download for a limited time only.

FREETRIP.COM
: An easy-peasy road trip planner.  Enter your origination and destination, select lodging price category, choose scenic and/or toll roads, and then get instant directions for your entire trip, complete with timing and hotels en route.

YAHOO TRAVEL: Similar to Lonely Planet’s service, Yahoo adds driving directions and user reviews of places, but it’s harder to weed through options, since the places only come up by name, no descriptions without laborious clicking.

NILEGUIDE.COM: Another build-a-trip Web site, where you can choose “to-dos” according to category: “romantic” or “hip” for restaurants; “strenuous,” “off-the-beaten-path,” “kid-friendly,” “historical” or “nature lovers” for activities.  You can click on OpenTable to make a dinner reservation, which is nice, but the overall database of options seems smaller than the other planners here.

OFFBEATGUIDES.COM: This site offers more offbeat options, gives great destination backgrounds and lists tons of events going on during your trip—all culled from WikiTravel, Eventful.com and Zvents.com—but you can’t pick and choose individual places so much.  Instead, they build a guidebook for you, for which you pay either $9.95 for a PDF or $24.95 for your own, snail-mailed hard book.

VIRTUALTOURIST.COM: A travel planner based on user-reviewed locales rather than professionally-written place descriptions.  Your final product is a beautiful PDF that looks like a personalized guidebook, but it lacks any maps whatsoever.  And, there’s a ton of clicking involved to get info and build your trip.

TRIPIT.COM: When you finally have all your plans locked down, enter everything here.  Tripit.com subsequently helps you share your plans via social networking.  Then all your friends and family will be impressed by your travel planning expertise!   


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About the Author: A former Hollywood producer and now second-generation travel professional, Susan Michelle travels the planet as the “face” of the fashion-forward Compass travel lifestyle brand. For more articles, tips, and hot spots from Susan write her directly at susan.michelle@canyon-news.com
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