3 Lesser-Known Travel Websites Worth Knowing
As the competition heats up between travel sites, everyone's coming out with new booking, reviews, and rewards tools to win your trust—and transaction. But which ones make your life easier? We name a few that solve common travel problems in a way other, better-marketed websites don't.
The Fix: Incorporate real-world ratings. A year ago, TripAdvisor launched an invitation-only sale site, SniqueAway, that only promotes hotels with a minimum four-out-of-five-star TripAdvisor user rating. Each week, three new hotels are typically offered at discounts of up to 65 percent. A recent example: The Restoration on King, a luxury hotel in Charleston, S.C., had rooms at $189 a night, up to 43 percent off regular rates.
The Problem: You trust your friends' opinions on restaurants, hotels, shops, and more. So what are their favorites and how can you find them easily?
The Fix: Enable like-minded linking.
One-year-old Hotpot, by Google, is a mapping tool that combines the best of Yelp, Facebook, and Foursquare. Rate the places you've recently visited on a scale of one to five, and then invite your friends to do the same. When you next trawl Google, the site uses your network as a filter, retrieving related results from the Web and putting the most relevant recommendations first.
GETTING TRUSTWORTHY TRAVEL ADVICE
The Problem: Reviews are only as useful as the users who generate them. And who knows who they are?
The Fix: Amp up reviewer transparency.
The dozen-year-old travel community IgoUgo isn't new—and its 1 million user reviews don't come close to TripAdvisor's 35 million—but a new interface emphasizes trustworthiness. Reviews are written only by IgoUgo members (with clickable profiles) or come from larger online travel agents such as sister site Travelocity, which allows posts only by hotel guests, not anonymous commenters.
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5 Eco-friendly Packing Tips
According to the International Trade Administration, roughly 60.3 million Americans traveled abroad last year—and if their packing strategies are anything like mine, almost an entire box of Ziploc bags went into the making of each of their carry-on items. “Green” packing might sound like an oxymoron, but it can be, at least partially, achieved through subtle adjustments to packaging materials and supplies for the road. Here are five tips on what to bring and how to pack for your next eco-friendly trip: 1. Invest in reusable snack bags. Air travel is hard. Air travel without snacks is cruel and unusual punishment. Sites like ReUseIt.com have environmentally friendly snack containers that can be reused to prevent Ziploc overload. Their sandwich bags are lightweight, moisture resistant and easy to clean. If your destination hotel has a nearby grocer, you might save on eating-out costs by packing sandwiches for a picnic at a local park. The Flip & Tumble bags provide an alternative to plastic produce bags for bulkier items, and they’re perfect for stashing odds and ends in the hotel room. 2. Use a clear Tupperware container for toiletries. (Reader Tip) Travelers often pack toiletries in disposable bags to protect the clothes from accidents, but a clear Tupperware container works even better in preventing spills. Keep in mind that this tip might not work if your toiletries are in a carry-on bag, especially if the container isn’t entirely clear, because TSA agents must be able to easily identify the contents. However, the container can also prove useful for knickknack storage at the hotel. If you’ve emptied out your toiletry containers by the end of the trip, you can then pad the Tupperware with a washcloth and turn it into a safeguard for breakable souvenirs on the long trek back home. 3. Opt for re-chargeable batteries. Travel alarm clocks, cameras, flashlights, and toys all need batteries. Re-chargeable batteries may require a charger—but that takes up about the same amount of space as a pack of extra disposable batteries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends checking Call2Recycle for information on how to recycle rechargeable batteries as well as tips on maximizing battery life. 4. Reduce plastic waste by treating your own water. Depending on your destination, tap water may or may not result in a hospital run, so it’s unadvisable to write off bottled water altogether. The SteriPEN, Micropur tablets, the Outback Water-Bottle Filter, and other purifiers offer alternatives that at least reduce (if not eliminate) the need for plastic bottles. An extensive list including the pros and cons of each method can be found on Matador. 5. Wrap the gifts after landing. It’ll save trees. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas if airport security checkpoints weren’t covered in shredded candy striped paper. Remember that TSA may unwrap and search any package before you board the plane (yes, even Christmas gifts), so this year, save the boxes and bows for after your arrival. This list is hardly complete, but it’s a starting point. Tell us your best eco-packing trips in the comments! —Chabli Bravo MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Be a Packing Genius: Step-by-Step Photos ?src=blgrc">Carbon Offsets: Worth it? How to Make a First-class Sandwich for a Flight
A Surprising Trend in Affordable Luggage
Luggage makers always strive to respond to the growing demand from travelers for lighter and tougher suitcases. Their latest solution is baggage made of an ultra-lightweight yet highly durable material: polycarbonate resin. The big surprise is that hard-sided cases have suddenly become popular again, now that they're as light as soft-sided bags. A 22-inch carry-on made of polycarbonate weighs a mere 4-and-a-half pounds, the same as a traditional soft-sided piece made of nylon, and much lighter than traditional ABS hard-sided material. How light is four-and-a-half ounces? That’s light enough to hold a bag with your forefinger, when the bag is empty. Yet the plastic is still tough enough to avoid getting dented. The glossy material isn’t new: Polycarbonate has successfully been used in motorcycle helmets, bulletproof glass and riot-police shields for a couple of decades now. In 2000, German luggage maker Rimowa introduced the material into luggage. Ironically, travelers were unnerved by how lightweight the luggage felt, worrying that it would prove to be flimsy, and the product didn’t catch on right away. Yet sales of polycarbonate luggage recently began to take off in a big way, according to the Travel Goods Association. These suitcases are replacing old-fashioned cases at higher prices. Even Zero Halliburton, a luggage maker that’s famous for selling aluminum cases, says it is experiencing its strongest sales for its line of polycarbonate suitcases, such as the 19-inch Z-TEX (about $325). Here are a few reasons to explain the current sales boom: Enough manufacturers have designs made of polycarbonate resin now that competition is bringing prices down from $800 a decade ago to as low as $140 now. Additionally, airlines have ramped up their fees for oversize and overweight luggage, so fitting everything into a single compact bag has become increasingly crucial. Changing fashion is another factor. The polycarbonate material is eye-catching, because it can easily be dyed in brilliant colors, such as shiny tomato red, cobalt blue, and gleaming silver. Travelers seem to have become more willing to explore bold colors in their baggage. Black, which was the near uniform color choice of a decade ago, is today mixed with a wider array of hues and patterns, probably for the practical reason of speeding up identification of a bag in a pile at an airport carousel. Budget Travel found a few types of the new luggage that are stylish, lightweight, sturdy and affordable: Samsonite, the world’s largest branded luggage maker, showcases the Gravtec line of polycarbonate suitcases, imprinted with a raised-edge pattern. A 24-inch size model runs was recently for sale at $180 from ebags.com. Britain’s Antler brand creates the Liquis 4 Wheeled Super Lightweight 22-inch carry-on, with a shiny and grooved polycarbonate outer shell in blue, red, or silver, with four multi-directional wheels at its base, recently from $299 at ebags. Rimowa developed the technology to make polycarbonate luggage and today makes some of the chicest models, such as its Salsa 22-inch Globetrotter ($450 recently at Zappos). A zipper joins the two luggage halves in an improbable design, with four multi-directional wheels at the base. All this news reminds me of the movie "The Graduate." Today, adults might tell kids that the future will be in polycarbonates. SEE MORE ON BUDGET TRAVEL RIGHT NOW 4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage Worst Luggage Incidents of All Time Should Airlines Have to Allow One Free Checked Bag By Law?
Travel Product Concepts We're Rooting For
In the past year, teams of students, engineers, product designers, computer programmers, and entrepreneurs have been developing prototypes of inventions designed to help travelers take control of their trips. Recognizing a need to update travel gear, innovators have been applying fresh thinking to the design of common items. We here at Budget Travel wish hotels, airlines, and the rest of the travel industry do more experimenting along these lines to improve the travel experience, such as airplane wheelchairs, GPS-powered eyewear, and smarter power adapters. Here are a few examples of promising travel products that recently caught our eyes. Note that these are prototypes and are not yet available for sale. The Skycare Chair This prototype wheelchair is designed by Brian Liang for the specific constraints of airplane passengers. By placing the wheels under the chair, it enables the seat to navigate narrow aircraft aisles. A lever-based system enables a person with limited use of his or her legs to get in and out, plus propel down an aisle. The chair collapses for compact storage. Computerized Eyewear There's a rumor that Google is testing "Google Glasses," eyewear that can overlay on the surface of one lens relevant information about what you're seeing, such as GPS-based walking directions, according to the blog <strong>UPDATE Feb 21.:</strong> <a href=">Big Think. A spokesperson for the company had no comment on its product testing. But whether Google is trialing computerized eyewear or not, it's only a matter of time before some major company finds away to mass produce such high-tech glasses cheaply. UPDATE Feb 21.: The New York Times confirms talk of Google selling these glasses by year-end. Portable Power Socket Anh Nguyen has prototyped a universal power adapter that cleverly adjusts to geographic and domestic locations. Travelers can carry it with them and fit the metal prongs into any region’s cables, with an automatic voltage adapter built-in. Unlike existing "universal adapters," this one would be cute and come with a built-in extension cord, for easy use in hotel rooms. Hey, manufacturers! Stop being complacent. It's time to pay attention to a new generation of designers and prototype mavens. What products do you wish inventors would improve? Feel free to share your insights in the Comments. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL RIGHT NOW :-) Is This the RV of the Future? New Shoelaces Ready for Airport Security 5 Ways to Keep Your Cords Tidy and Organized
MySeatFinder Fetches You a Better Seat Automatically
Reserving a seat assignment on for a flight will never rate as one of life's most memorable moments. But with MySeatFinder, it's no longer one of the most boring. This polished site asks for your confirmation number for a flight on one of the major domestic airlines—namely, American, Delta, Southwest, United, or US Airways. Then it monitors any seat changes on your flight prior to departure. If it finds a seat that more closely matches your preferences (such as window or aisle), it promises to book it for you on your behalf. As frequent fliers know, seat availability changes up until the last-minute of the typical flight. Your first four round-trips seat assignments via MySeatFinder are free. Use the service more than that and you'll have to cough up a $29 fee each year. Whether the service is worth using depends on how much you dread being assigned the middle seat—or how much you covet an exit row, with its roomy legroom. If you've used MySeatFinder, or the similar service ExpertFlyer that we've mentioned before, please share your experience by posting a comment. Thanks! SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Airlines Suspected of Fibbing About Seat Availability for Families (18 comments) Would You Fly More Frequently If Airplane Seats Were More Comfortable? (50+ comments) 4 Tools for Finding the Perfect Airplane Seat