What to Do When You Get There
Once you've chosen a destination, these sites can help you make rewarding use of your time.
Visually compelling PlanetEye creates color-coded, geo-tagged Microsoft Virtual Earth maps that you can use to identify, for example, restaurants and attractions within walking distance of a particular hotel. You can create virtual folders (called "travel packs") to file photo-illustrated restaurant reviews and travel tips aggregated from many sources.
At Trazzler, travelers identify the destination or interests they want to research (if you provide only the latter, Trazzler will help you choose a destination), and then they flip through a "trip stack" of bite-size, photo-illustrated hotel, dining, and activity suggestions with links to Web sites that provide more detail. Compile a wish list, and the site aggregates data from your searches into a preference pie chart. Trazzler uses both professional writers and user reviews to create its pithy content.
The Human Touch
No matter how sophisticated its algorithms are, a machine just can't make some travel decisions. In the case of multiple-destination trips or flights to remote locations, for example, online booking isn't always a snap--and it may not even be possible. Compete 4 Your Seat takes over where Kayak and the others leave off, by calling upon a network of travel agents to bid on your tough-to-schedule flight plans.
Similarly, Zicasso promises "handcrafted" itineraries for multiple-destination trips. You describe your needs, and within two or three days you receive trip plans--including pricing--from up to three prescreened agents. You can refine a plan as needed, and then choose the one you like best and pay the agent directly.
Tripology is another service that caters to travelers with specialized interests, ranging from nature vacations to language schools to spiritual journeys. Users enter their criteria and are matched with three niche specialists: From there, the traveler decides whom to contact and negotiates fees and services with that specialist.
Getting Help Getting Organized
These Web sites act as virtual personal assistants to organize your essential travel information better than you could do it on your own.
TripIt does require a small initial time commitment, but it returns impressive rewards. After you register, simply forward your flight, hotel, and other confirmations to TripIt, and the site will organize them into a master itinerary that you can customize with maps, weather information, photos, and walking or driving directions. Tripit's Itinerator will even perform automated tasks such as checking your flight status, selecting your seat, and generating a personalized travel guide that you can have piped to your online calendar or your iPhone.
Nile Guide, another one-stop organizational travel shop, uses Google Maps technology and content from local experts to make personalized travel recommendations; then it integrates your selections into your calendar. Nile Guide can create customized, downloadable guidebooks, too. An iPhone version is due out later this year.