Some of us are always planning our next family vacation, collecting snippets of information and creating a wish list of places to visit someday with the kids. Once you know where you want to go, then the work begins. These Web sites are godsends for researching, organizing, and just plain daydreaming about your next great trip.
Best for: Building your own guidebookMaybe this popular bookmarking site wasn’t designed as a travel tool, but it should be an essential part of your trip-planning process. The concept is indeed yummy: As you surf the Web, you can save and group Web pages with “tags,” or keywords. Tag multiple pages with the same keyword—“GrandCanyon” or “Virginiaroadtrip”—and you can build yourself a customized guidebook. All the elements of your trip—flight and car rental details, hotel reviews, scenic drive routes, a listing of river-rafting outfitters, national park specs, and so on—is now retrievable from one place. Handy and oh-so-dandy.
Best for: Planning any group tripThe name says it all. TripHub is a central place where groups can meet to plan trips together. The wow factor is how easily everyone stays involved in the process. Though designed for family reunions, girlfriend getaways, and large get-togethers, it’s useful for planning any family trip. The site is free, easy to navigate, and wonderfully intuitive—think turbo-charged vacation day planner.
Your “My Trip” home page is mission control for your vacation. From here, you can send invitations (fun if you’re bringing grandparents or family friends), control who can view your trip details, and track RSVPs. You can also set up a shared schedule of events, so there’s no back-and-forthing over when Dad is going to golf or when Mom is booking a spa treatment. There’s a Trip Blog for bouncing ideas off each other, and you can research hotels, shop for flights, share flight plans, design itineraries—and nobody gets left out of the loop. Yeah, we know. We had you at “turbo-charged vacation day planner.”
Best for: Scheduling way aheadThere are certain times when you need to plan a vacation way ahead. Perhaps you’re working around a planned family event, such as a wedding or big anniversary. Or maybe you’ve set your heart on a spectacular destination hotel that’s always booked solid a full year in advance. This site is a U.S. government listing of federal holidays through the year 2010. With a bit of deduction, you can probably figure out when next year’s school holidays are likely to fall.
Best for: Finding local and state tourist infoWelcome to the mother ship of American tourism. Designed as a comprehensive one-stop-shop for foreign tourists coming to the U.S., the site contains over 10,000 links to local, regional, and state tourist organizations, events, hotels, restaurants, and more. Always start with the state tourist office—a gold mine of free travel DVDs, hotel and restaurant listings, maps, and money-saving coupons and deals.
and Best for: Getting free expert adviceThe online versions of well-known guidebook series can help you get to know your destination even before you arrive. Their mini destination guides will tell you the best way to get from the airport to the city, give you a heads up on local customs, suggest top sightseeing, and steer you to tried-and-tested hotels and restaurants. And the best part? It’s free.
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