by Jan Zauha
Whether you are headed for a vacation in Glacier or a conference in Warrnambool this summer,
start by taking a virtual trip. You can learn a great deal and even save some money by
exploring travel options first on the Web. Calling a travel agent may still be the quickest,
easiest way to make arrangements if you don't care about the particulars or are short of time.
But if you like to experiment with different scenarios and want to invent the perfect trip
to suit your needs, Web travel sites give you that power. They also provide essential
information that can make your stay more comfortable and productive.
Begin by investigating some travel centers. Thanks to hot competition for Internet traffic,
most of the high-profile Web portals are offering everything from social contacts to shoeshines
these days, and travel services have become a standard feature. Such sites deliver a range of
service options, including air tickets, car rentals, lodging, and local information, all
from one convenient interface. To find out which center best meets your needs try several,
such as Netscape Travel http://home.netscape.com/travel/,
Yahoo!'s Travel Agent http://travel.yahoo.com/,
Snap's Travel Planner http://home.snap.com/,
and Infoseek's GO Travel http://infoseek.go.com/Center/Travel.
Set aside some time to search-think of it as the beginning of your trip. As with most services on
the Web, using travel centers or other booking agencies requires some start-up effort. Registration
(although usually free) is often required, and experimentation is the only route to personal
satisfaction. You may often find confusing overlap in the travel services, the result of
complex Web alliances that defy human understanding. You will also discover that some travel
centers are better for large city arrangements, while others excel in access to more obscure
places-like Montana. Some sites emphasize domestic travel; others specialize in international
information. Don't hesitate to comparison shop-it takes more time, but you'll find that not all
airfares are equal, not all sites offer the same deals. One way to use your search time well is
to run several browser sessions simultaneously, each exploring a different travel center's offerings.
Travel centers are very useful for making reservations, but they also link you to valuable
local sites for more in-depth information about your destination. Through them you can find
dynamic details such as currency conversion, weather, news, events and local time. Checking
the World Clock http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/ before you go to Australia can help you plan for jet-lag recovery.
Using Online Newspapers http://www.ipl.org/reading/news/ to
access the Warrnambool Standard (Victoria, Australia) will alert you to important local perspectives.
Once your search takes you beyond the parameters of the travel centers, however, you may find
that some ambitious sites have been left to languish, delivering last year's calendar of events
or outdated prices. Sometimes the most you may glean is contact information. Even so, the world
of travel information is vastly expanded, thanks to the Web.
If you would like help finding information on the Web or elsewhere, call or stop in at the
Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to
the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JanZauha is a reference librarian and the Electronic Information Coordinator for the MSU Libraries.