ResearchWire - Travel Resources on the Web

Diana Botluk is a reference librarian at the Judge Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is the author of the The Legal List: Research on the Internet.  She teaches legal research at CAPCON, Catholic University Law School, and the University of Maryland.  Take a class with Diana!  Here's how...

So you need to make travel plans? Whether for business or pleasure, the Internet can be your very best resource for all your travel related needs. You can often plan and book every part of your trip online with easy web based travel centers.

The first item I ever bought using the Internet was an airline ticket using SABRE thorough Prodigy about a dozen years ago. Being able to view the airline schedules and fares on my own and browse them at my leisure was about as liberating as getting my driver's license. A lot has changed in online travel planning since then, but the feeling of freedom you get from being able to do it yourself remains the same.

Travel Centers on the Web

Think of these as your online travel agencies. These sites offer the ability to search and book flight, hotel and rental car reservations, as well as vacation packages and special deals. Many of them have e-mail update services where great travel bargains will be announced to you via a message in your e-mail box. Additionally, you can often find lots of tourism information about your destination on these sites. In order to use one of these services you must usually register with the particular site, which is free. To make an online reservation you will be asked to supply credit card information.

Using the internet for travel reservations is easy. You use a form to enter your travel information, and these services search through hundreds of airlines, thousands of hotels, dozens of car rental companies, and a handful of other travel related services like cruises and railway lines. You have the freedom to explore the various fares and times available to ensure that you are getting the best deal for your particular itinerary.

Once you've made your reservations, your itinerary is stored on a special page online, accessible only by you. You can review it any time, and make changes if you wish. A copy of your itinerary is also sent to your e-mail address. If you ever experience difficulty using these systems, or have questions you can't seem to find the answers to on the web, most of these online travel agents have 800 numbers and real live travel agents backing them up and ready to assist you at any time. Additionally, if you'r still concerned about putting your credit card number on the Internet, you can always call it in to the 800 number.

Most web portals, like Yahoo and Excite, have a travel channel that allows you to access one of the travel centers above. For example, the travel portion of Yahoo is called Yahoo Travel (http://travel.yahoo.com), but is accessing the same databases as Travelocity, while America Online and Excite (http://www.excite.com/travel) put you into Preview Travel. The interface looks a little different, but the end information will be the same.

Additionally, you can find sites online that will deal only with one or two components of your travel needs, for example, only hotel reservations, or only airline tickets. These services will still make a comparison between several companies, but will not allow you to plan your entire trip.

Destinations

Okay, you've booked the flight and reserved the hotel. Now, what are you going to do once you get there? Of course, the Internet can help in this category, too. Listed below are some guides to travel destinations around the world. It helps to be aware, however, that often the best destination guides are smaller web sites that are designed and published locally. I often use Yahoo to find these, by clicking through the menus in the Regional category (http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional). Another good place to start to look for some of these is the travel section of Refdesk.com (http://www.refdesk.com/travusa1.html).

Also, don't discount fellow travelers as a resource for a wealth of information about destinations. Any place on the web where you can find community message boards, you can find categories of messages about tourism in a wide variety of places. If you've got a question about a particular place, just post it, and you'll get dozens of answers. Of course, they'll all be opinions, but sometimes these opinions can help enormously when planning your trip. You can find message boards to communicate with fellow travelers at any major portal site (Yahoo, Exicte, Lycos, AOL, etc.) For broader destination information, check the Web travel centers above, or try some of the sites in the box on the right.

Finally, remember that all the major airlines, hotel chains, and car rental companies have their own web sites where you can book travel reservations online. While these are not efficient for comparison purposes, they are extremely useful for more specific information, for example, determining the type of cars in a certain rental class, or getting a more complete description, often with photos, of a certain hotel property.

Do you have a favorite travel site? Please share it with me at botluk@law.edu.

Bon voyage!

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Footnotes

  1. Travelocity users can download free special software to make the reservations interface even quicker and easier to use. Check out Air Travel Manager. <back to text>

  2. You name the price and see if you can get the deal. This site is good for airfares and hotel rooms, as well as new cars and mortgages! <back to text>