Preview your next trip with a virtual tour

By Valerie Rains
January 12, 2022

Surprises are great—sometimes. But when it comes to booking the best room in a hotel or making a beeline for a beloved landmark, taking a virtual-tour test-run can be a savvy traveler’s best strategy. Here are three new ways to get a sneak peek of your next trip.

For hotel rooms

Using Google Earth images, detailed floor plans, and insider tips from the hotels’ own front-desk staffs, room 77 pinpoints the nicest rooms in thousands of three- to five-star properties across 30-plus cities in North America, Europe, and Asia. Travelers can search for connecting rooms, distance from elevators, a great view, and upper or lower floors, then scan the rooms the site deems a match. Talking your way into getting the precise room you want, however, is up to you., free.

For museums

Many top museums have created apps that display highlights from their collections. But for one-stop browsing, tap into the Web-based Google Art Project, a compendium of virtual, self-guided walks through 17 museums, including New York’s MoMA, London’s National Gallery, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, and more. Travelers can digitally navigate through each institution and get super-zoomed-in views of featured artworks—without elbowing anyone aside., free.

For walking tours

Nothing’s going to replace a passing whiff of a corner patisserie or the goosebumps you get when you approach Sacré Coeur. But the interactive maps and over 4,000 images packed into Fotopedia’s Paris app will have you feeling like you’re strolling along the Seine in no time. Not much of a Francophile? Fotopedia also makes a National Park app and hosts a growing collection of over 750,000 user-submitted images of destinations worldwide, searchable by place names, themes, and key words., free.


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Travel Tips

How do other countries stack up to the U.S. in airport security?

As you may have heard, last week the U.S. Transportation Security Administration fired 28 of its agents—and suspended 15 others—for failing to properly screen bags being put onto planes at Honolulu International Airport. According to an article by CNN Travel, "The firing is believed to be one of, if not the biggest, such action in the agency's history, with officials previously stating that it underscores they will not tolerate employees who compromise security." This got me thinking: The United States is known for having such strict policies when it comes to airport screenings (well, besides this obvious exception mentioned above), but what about other countries? Is everyone being as careful as we are? One of our editors recently spent the weekend in Mexico City. She just happened to be flying back into the United States, incidentally on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, and was surprised to find that no one at the Mexican airport even asked her to remove her shoes during a routine screening. What gives? On the other hand, Israel has airport security methods that are more aggressive than ours. Not only do they practice intense psychological video surveillance—the idea being to identify the behavior associated with a potential threat before it has a chance to be carried out—but they employ technology that allows them to better screen passengers without having to use the full body scanners we love to hate. You can even keep your shoes on thanks to a device called Magshoe that screens for explosives in a few seconds. Clearly, security procedures vary depending on where in the world you are. What's the most surprising method of security you've encountered in your travels? Tell us below. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 6 Places Germs Breed in a Plane More Airports Consider Ditching TSA Surprising Items That Set Off Airport Security

Travel Tips

Hotel Alarm Clocks: A Waste of Time?

Hotel alarm clocks are surprisingly tough to use—especially when you're jet lagged. You can't be sure a clock will sound off at the correct time if you're not familiar with how to set it. Who wants to spend five minutes fumbling around with a strange gizmo when you're exhausted after a red-eye? Many hotel clocks require you to hold one button while pressing another. You won't find that "user experience" anymore on most of the clocks sold for Target and other home supply stores. But hotels continue to use clocks with this non-intuitive design, perhaps because they're cheap to make. Add buttons for a clock radio, and things can get complicated fast. And where are the volume controls? The last time a hotel chain unveiled a fresh model of alarm clock was in 2005, when Hilton rolled out a radio-controlled clock that always sets itself. On the bright side, this clock only asks you to set your wake-up time. But on the downside, many travelers complain that this model clock is often broken, and the only way to fix one is to call down to the front desk for a replacement, according to designer Don Norman. The best workaround is, of course, to pack your own alarm clock. Then be sure to unplug the hotel's alarm clock, eliminating the chance that an alarm set by a previous guest and never erased will accidentally wake you up. So: What are the BYOC (bring your own clock) options, including apps for smartphones? Any simple, small clock will do the trick, and you can set the clock by checking the local time at But L.L. Bean has gotten rave reviews (meaning: 560 customers out of 716 would recommend) for its LED Nightfinder Alarm, introduced in 2009. It has a few perks: It has only a couple of buttons. It's lightweight and only is about the size of a pack of cards. It uses LED lighting, for longer battery life. The case flips back and doubles as a handy stand, with a nonslip surface. (recently $23, tip: If your alarm clock is battery powered, you can prevent the battery from running dry during non-use by simply taking the battery out, placing a Band-Aid down the length of each so its two terminals are covered, and replacing it in the clock. When you're ready to use the clock, peel off the Band-Aids to expose the terminals. Smart phone owners may want to try one of the alarm clock apps that has received more than a thousand 5-star reviews from Android users and was picked as an Apple App Store favorite: Alarm Clock The sound goes off even when the screen is locked or if your device is in silent mode. (free, Android and iPhone/iPad). SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Which Travel Rewards Program Has the Most Valuable Points? Southwest Waters Down Its Rapid Rewards Program Expedia Reveals Rewards Program Details

Travel Tips

Gowalla's New Focus as a Travel Guide

The best known location-based service may be Foursquare, a mobile app that broadcasts your whereabouts and makes "mayors" out of frequent visitors to cafés and other spots. But rival tool Gowalla is more useful for the average traveler—especially in light of its full redesign in late September. Now aiming to be "a social atlas to the world," the free Gowalla website and apps for Android iPhone/iPad now include guides to 60 major cities, parks, and regions across the globe. The guides are based on the recommendations of users, "check-in" popularity, and input from guest experts. Click on the London guide, for instance, and you'll see photos of the destinations most recommended by Gowalla users and contributors, plus helpful lists such as Top Ten Things To Do for Under £10 (with touring the British Museum coming in number one on that list). You can also create little "stories" to share publicly, based on what you did at particular places. Tag photos of other users (with the permission of your friends or family members), and let the world know of the good time you had at a particular attraction. You don't have to share information publicly to benefit from the guides, though. You don't even have to sign up for the site to see them. Take a look online at risk-free. The hurdle with Gowalla faces is the same one any social-networking site must leap: It's only as helpful as the number of users who have uploaded news and opinions about a location. Copenhagen, for instance, is a destination that woefully lacks help travel tips in Gowalla. On the bright side, the tool is based on opinions from real people, whose past reviews and travels can be independently verified by their geo-location data. So you're less likely to see bogus anonymous reviews as you see on sometimes see on other mass-opinion websites, such as TripAdvisor. Now if Google bought Gowalla to complement its recent purchase of restaurant survey database Zagat, the tool could become really powerful. (Psst! Sergey! Listen up!) What are your favorite social networking tools for travel? Sound off in the comments. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Most Useful Travel Websites The Ultimate Guide to Travel Apps Airport Survival Guide—We Want Your Tips!

Travel Tips

Bing Makes Navigating Airports a Breeze

Paris. Shanghai. LAX? Airports may not usually be listed among the world’s most exotic locales, but they can still be destinations in themselves. Unfortunately, they can also be confusing and time-consuming: searching out a café for a quick coffee before a flight or finding the correct baggage claim upon touchdown can make one’s airport experience more stressful than it needs to be. With the new, free Airport Maps tool for its Bing search engine, Microsoft plans to change that. Users can now scour online maps for 42 airports in the United States, plotting out snack stops, ATM locations, terminals and restrooms. The tool offers more than just static maps. Bing users can benefit from several useful features:Seamless integration into Bing Maps. Just search for the name of an airport—or its city or code—and then zoom and drag to your heart’s content. Clickable destinations. Want to check out a menu before you decide on your lunch? Just find a restaurant within the airport, click its color-coded location, and Bing will serve up additional information—including company websites, if available. Mobile functionality. Bing allows you to send airport information to your mobile phone, so you’ll stay informed even away from your desktop. Microsoft might be the latest company to release an airport travel tool, but related applications for smart phones have been gaining steam for some time. Mobile travelers can check out the following tools for a smoother experience at the airport: FLYsmart. Served up for free by Clear Channel and Geodelic Systems, FLYsmart offers airport maps and directories just like Bing, but it also provides convenient real-time flight information. Instead of rushing out to the terminal to check your flight’s status, sit back in an airport bar and enjoy a drink, knowing that up-to-the-minute information is right in your pocket. FlightView. Planespotters will love FlightView, which provides nationwide flight tracking and weather delay maps. And that’s just the free version; the $3.99 FlightView Elite app also offers arrival and departure boards and weather conditions at airports across the country. B4YOUBOARD. A free app from Airside Mobile and travel-food experts HMSHost, B4YOUBOARD allows hungry travelers to order food delivered straight to their departure gate. Currently the program is limited to selected terminals at the Minneapolis–St. Paul and JFK airports. Apps and online tools can be helpful, but nothing beats experience. What are some of your strategies for making airports more navigable, interesting, or even—yes—fun? — Ryan Murphy MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Most Useful Travel Websites The Ultimate Guide to Travel Apps Airport Survival Guide—We Want Your Tips!