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Hit The Web, Then Hit The Road

I probably don't need to tell you that the Web is a great place to make travel arrangements. Services like Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com allow you to compare prices from most major airlines, rental car companies and hotels. Also, most airlines, hotel chains and rental car companies have their own Web sites that sometimes have even lower fares.

About the only thing new on the major travel site front is that Orbitz -- the first travel Web site to charge for tickets -- has just raised its price from $5 to $6. It's also made the site a bit easier to use. One thing I like about Orbitz is its "include nearby airports" feature. If you're willing to drive, you can sometimes save hundreds of dollars by selecting a nearby alternate airport such as Providence, R.I., instead of Boston, Baltimore instead of Washington Reagan or Oakland instead of San Francisco. For example, I searched for a round trip from Los Angeles to Washington and it came up with a $219 fare (on American) from Santa Ana to Baltimore. Driving an hour to each airport saved more than $300. Also check out itasoftware.com. You can log in as a guest and let the site search for best prices. ITA Software doesn't sell tickets, but they will help you find good fares.

All the major travel sites sell cruises, but check out vacationstogo.com for last minute deals. Another source for good information and deals is Smarterliving.com, which offers specials for seniors, families and students.

There are many more travel-related tasks that you can accomplish online besides booking flights, cars, rooms and cruises.

I was reminded of this when my wife and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Alaska. Once we made our basic travel arrangements, the next task was to plan what we would actually do during our seven days in the 49th state.
I began by using the Google search engine to search for Alaska travel. That returned a number of useful Web sites including TravelAlaska.com, Alaskan.com and AlaskaOne.com, all of which had great information about the various attractions of that vast state. Of course, you may not be going to Alaska but the same principal applies regardless of where you're going. Google can help you find information on any city, state or country. Try "Travel Paris," "Travel New York" or even "Travel Kenosha" and you're bound to find plenty.

Just about every town has a newspaper and most papers have Web sites. I always read local papers when I travel, but I also like to scan them before I get to an area to find out what's happening and what locals are talking about. Like all good newspapers, the Anchorage Daily News has plenty of useful information for locals and visitors alike about fishing, cycling, eating, entertainment, shopping and lots of other activities.

You can find international directories of newspapers at www.guardian.co.uk/worldnewsguide and www.abyznewslinks.com. Check these sites even if you're traveling to a non-English speaking area. A number of cities around the world have online newspapers in English.

Frommers is a leading publisher of travel books but its Web site also has a fair amount of free information for many areas. Also be sure to check CitySearch.com for information about a large number of cities, including places you might not expect to find such as Dodge City, Kansas.

Zagat Survey, which publishes the popular restaurant guide, has both a free and fee-based Web site. The free site lets you browse by cuisine and neighborhood. The paid site ($14.95 a year, $2.50 a month or $1.50 for a one-day pass) features ratings and reviews, news about new restaurants along with some additional content.

Another useful tool is Festivals.com, which lists fairs and festivals from around the world. Unfortunately, I won't be in Nome, Alaska, on Sept. 1. If so, I'd be sure to attend the bathtub race that takes place in that northern city.

If you're driving, it's a good idea to get a printed map. But, in a pinch, you can probably find a map online to get an overview of the area. My wife and I were originally planning to drive to Nome but, before we got around to getting a printed Alaska road map, we searched for ''Alaska Road Map'' on Google, which caused us to change our plans. It turns out that no roads lead to Nome.

Another very useful driving tool is an online map and direction finder such as Yahoo Maps (maps.yahoo.com), which, at the very least can give you the driving distance between cities. Don't worry about entering a street address. You can just enter a city and state name in Yahoo Maps, select "get map," and then select "driving directions from this location." I probably will use a printed map when I'm ready to find my way from Anchorage to Seward but, thanks to Yahoo Maps, I know it's only a 127-mile drive.

I also know that the highs will be in the low 60s in Seward during our visit thanks to Weather.com. I always check this or one of the other weather sites before I travel. Whether by Internet, newspaper, TV or radio, weather reporting is an inexact science but at least I now have an approximate idea of what I'm getting into.

Speaking of weather, thanks to the U.S. Navy I also know that Alaska really is the land of the midnight sun. The Navy Data Services site (aa.usno.navy.mil/data) has lots of useful information for locations around the world (and beyond). In Fairbanks, the sun will rise at 4:33 a.m. and set at 11:19 p.m. but, according to the Navy, "Civil twilight" (when it actually gets dark) won't occur until 1:31 a.m.

P.S. If you bring a laptop, you may be surprised at how easy it might be to get Internet access. As I write I'm at a small "bed and breakfast" about 60 miles outside of Anchorage and, wouldn't you know, they have a DSL line.



A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."

By Larry Magid

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