|by Sean O'Neill||Trip Coach, Helpful Websites, Innovations||1|
Imagine if there were a Magic 8-Ball for trip planning. Shake the ball and it suggests a dream trip. The ball takes into account your interests, your budget, and your time constraints when it suggests a vacation spot for you.
Some websites try to be a Magic 8-Ball like that: Travelocity has its Experience Finder and Kayak has its Explore tool. Goby, TravelMuse, and Uptake all generate personalized trip ideas as well. But these sites and tools aren't cutting the mustard for a majority of travelers.
Enter, Wanderfly, by far the slickest attempt yet at being a Magic 8-Ball for trip inspiration. It's not perfect, for sure. But this invitation-only site goes a long way to simplifying the hunt for affordable places that match your style.
Expedia helps to power the site. Once you find a destination and set of attractions you like, book the trip without having to punch in all of your choices all over again—a nice perk.
You don't have to specify a destination to kickstart the site. Simply set your ideal budget range, your home airport, and when you'd approximately like to go, and Wanderfly takes it from there, delivering personalized recommendations. The total trip budget is posted in bold numbers.
Add other search criteria if you like. Only want to see places where your Facebook friends live? No problem. Need hotel or restaurant suggestions? The site pulls in listings info from guidebooks like Lonely Planet, NileGuide, and Yelp.
Save a few trip ideas; e-mail the plans to your friends and family; or pick one itinerary and book it using an Expedia-powered interface that's much easier to use than Expedia itself.
For a sense of what your destination looks like, the site pulls in images from Flickr's creative commons stream dynamically.
Still in beta testing, Wanderfly has a limited selection of destinations right now. It only has about 400 hand-curated destinations in the U.S. and about 800 hand-curated destinations abroad. An army of interns and staffers leverages the ratings of destinations and attractions on user-generated sites like Yelp to drive its recommendations. But more picks are on the way.
Some travelers may find the site is not ready for prime time because you need to apply for an e-mail invitation to try it until it formally launches at the end of August.
Frustratingly, some of its recommended destinations seem random and a bit too surprising for my tastes (Batemans Bay, Australia, anyone?)
Overall verdict, though: Wanderfly seems on track to be a model of how sites can inspire people to travel. If you like trying new sites before other travelers do, sign up on wanderfly.com to be alerted by e-mail when the site is open for use in August.