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Friday, February 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


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10 travel Web sites that are worth a click

The Washington Post

Every year, as more travelers use the Internet to plan and pay for their vacations, more players are trying to get a piece of the action.

In 2005, more than 64 million Americans bought or reserved an airline ticket, hotel room, rental car or package tour online — up nearly 20 million from 2004, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. And with each leisure traveler spending an average of $1,288 online, real money is changing hands. We took a look at several dozen sites that have come online during the past year. Most weren't worth more than a cursory glance, but several broke new ground, or fit a niche or at least accomplished what they set out to do. Here are 10 sites worth checking out.

WHO IT'S FOR: Travelers who prefer independent hotels to chains.

PROS: Owned by Pegasus Solutions, the company that started online hotel booking 12 years ago, this is a well-financed site with a database of 5,000 independently owned hotels. Can book on the site. Allows varied search parameters, including type of location (city center, rural, mountain, lakeside or airport) and hotel rating.

CONS: Search criteria need work. For example, ask for any hotel in Italy that offers skiing, and choices include 12 hotels (none is located in the skier-friendly Italian Alps). Then ask for a five-star in Italy that offers skiing and, instead of the number being winnowed, 45 hotels pop up.

WHO IT'S FOR: Trying to find the official tourism sites for an area you want to visit? This site links you to visitors bureaus across the globe.

PROS: You can search by continent, country or state. Most comprehensive for destinations in North America. California alone offers links to more than 70 individual convention and visitors bureaus across the state. Also offers hotel and vacation bookings.

CONS: Results are not displayed alphabetically. Map search contains fewer results than word search. Many foreign countries aren't included.


WHO IT'S FOR: Armchair travelers who enjoy hearing about what it's like to live in out-of-the-way places.

PROS: A small, eccentric site that features audio interviews with locals living in six places across the globe, with plans to add three or four more places this month. You can listen to Alwin from Paramaribo, Suriname, talk about the melting pot of ethnic groups who live in that port city, or Amy from Shiraishi Island, Japan, discuss the traditional lives of the tiny fishing island. Also includes info on books, movies, crafts, etc., that relate to each place.

CONS: The audios can get ponderous in an NPR kind of way. If you're tired, you may find yourself nodding off. Needs to expand the number of places covered.

WHO IT'S FOR: Anyone looking for a bargain place to stay in high-priced Hawaii.

PROS: Run by Global Adventure Travel, the site lists about 1,300 lodging options throughout the Hawaiian Islands for $99 or less per night. Taxes and extra fees are clearly stated. Room set-up, amenities and location are described. Also includes such details as whether smoking is allowed and what languages are spoken.

CONS: Very few properties include pictures. Works best when few parameters are entered during search process. Too many stipulations result in limited choices.

WHO IT'S FOR: If you don't know the Jets from the Nets, this site is not for you. Geared to those who plan their vacations around playoff schedules. The name says it all.

PROS: Great resource for sports schedules, from the Olympic Games to baseball spring training. Offers sports tickets ($2,565 for a Super Bowl ticket a couple of days before game time), hotel and flight booking, and sports-oriented vacation packages.

CONS: Travel-planning aspect of the site just links you to other places, namely

WHO IT'S FOR: Those who travel fairly frequently and are airfare-involved. Best for the guy who likes to brag about how little he paid for the flight.

PROS: This is basically a one-man show. George Hobica, a travel writer who does a weekly column for Copley News Service, is the wizard behind the curtain, and he knows his stuff. Offers a daily low airfare report from individual cities, which you can receive by e-mail. Humans make sure that the deals being touted by the airlines actually exist. Good links to airline sites.

CONS: Ads are interspersed with content, which can get messy.

WHO'S IT FOR: Don't know which hotels are close to where you're going? This site will find them.

PROS: Plug in an address and the site spits out a list of the closest hotels, including the distance from your targeted address. Listing is accompanied by a map or satellite image that pinpoints your desired destination, then shows where each hotel is in proximity to it. You can even ask for a hybrid display that shows a satellite image overlaid with a map.

CONS: The site is in the testing stage, so there are frequent bugs. Sometimes addresses come up wrong, especially if they are incomplete. Does not include all nearby hotels. Be patient while it's searching: Map of country displays before it finds your specific destination. Initial display shows one-mile radius of address; click on three-mile or five-mile radius to get more results.

WHO'S IT FOR: Travelers who want to post online scrapbooks of their travel adventures, and those who want to look at them. Also for travelers looking for hotel ratings.

PROS: Lots of reviews of individual chain hotels, especially handy for driving vacations. You can keep your blog entries private or share them with the world. Upload your photos and plot your travels on a personal travel map.

CONS: Part of the hotel review database is purchased from a research outfit, so the reviews sound stilted, with frequent similar phrases, such as "this place made me feel entertained."

WHO IT'S FOR: Visually oriented individuals who want the inside scoop on offbeat and interesting neighborhoods and topics.

PROS: Professional videos that, as of last week, profiled places in four foreign countries, 15 states and Washington, D.C. The site plans to add 20 to 50 additional films to its Web site each week. Films are short (two to five minutes), but they get inside the heart of each place. Videos can be downloaded to iPods and other mobile devices. Also includes links to various tourist sites.

CONS: More color than facts. Don't click on the site unless you have time to kill: It's addictive.

WHO'S IT FOR: Visitors who want to experience New York City from an insider's perspective.

PROS: Chock full of info, this sophisticated travel blog is run by freelance writer Amy Langfield. It's peppered with New York-related news stories and offers links to just about every New York-involved Web site. Best are Langfield's "Newyorkology Basics" on subways, fun places to drink, etc.

CONS: Not enough original material. Separating links from articles is confusing. The "ology" theme is carried a bit far — "Etceterology"?

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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