Thursday, June 19, 2014

Planning Holidays Online

Once upon a time holidays were planned after consulting travel guide books, travel articles from the newspaper and travel brochures from the local travel agency and then visiting the Travel Agency to make the booking.  Holidays can still be planned and booked this way but the Internet plays a more prominent role when planning and, increasingly, booking a holiday.

Watching commercial free-to-air television or cable TV, especially during the day, it becomes apparent that the advertisements are primarily for insurance plans of various kinds or for holidays at home or overseas. The travel advertisements may change with companies staging a campaign for several weeks at a time but it becomes obvious that many travel options are available and that viewers can find out more by exploring the website of the travel company and in many cases, book their next holiday online.

The options for travel are numerous. TripAdvisor, Zuji, Webjet, Trivago and Hotels Combined feature frequently in advertisements. CaptainsChoice offers private jet tours and luxury cruises while Contiki Tours aim for the younger market. APT and Scenic Tours are among the companies offering river cruises and tours. Opportunities to explore northern Australia are offered by APT and other travel companies. The various states and territories in Australia have their own tourism websites, such as Do the NT and Queensland Holidays, which are a good starting point for planning Australian holidays.

Travel websites such as TripAdvisor provide information about flights, accommodation and holiday options offered by other travel websites. After comparing what is on offer and reading the range of reviews which are a TripAdvisor feature, you are referred to the travel website offering your chosen option to make an online book if you wish to do so. Travel websites such as Expedia provide information about flights, accommodation and holiday options as well as a booking service. Cruises in general, but particularly river cruises, are popular and can be booked online on the website of the company providing the cruise or on some of the general travel websites.

Many of the websites that specialise in gathering information about flights, such as Webjet, provide the opportunity to bundle with the flight hotels and transport to and from the airport. Travel insurance is available on many booking sights. Maps are used as a planning aid on many of the hotel booking websites as well as on some general travel sights. Websites such as APT provide videos and brochures to provide additional information. Most of the websites invite interested people to sign in so that they can receive newsletters alerting them to products and special offers. Increasingly travel websites have travel apps that can be downloaded.

All in all there is no shortage of information online to assist in planning a holiday. Booking the holiday can be then be done online or the details can be taken to a Travel Agency for the holiday to be booked in a more traditional manner. However the holiday is booked you will receive email communication from tour companies, if a tour has been booked, with additional information or confirming details.

Exploring their own country and the world is a popular pastime of Australians and the Internet provides many options when planning and booking a holiday.

Booking Holidays Online

There are a wide range of websites that allow you to plan and book holidays online. Booking holidays online is relatively easy -
  1. Make your selection, 

  2. Fill in the details on the form provided, including credit card details and 

  3. Confirm the booking
However care does need to be taken when booking holidays online.
  • Check the About Us section of the website for general information about the website and the travel company

  • Check the FAQ section and /or the Help section for guidelines on using the website when planning and booking holidays

  • Read the booking details carefully. The price for a flight might look really good but the departure time may not be suitable or there may be a stop-over making the trip a lot longer than a direct flight

  • When booking flights, check for additional charges - government taxes, meals, baggage or for type of credit card used for payment

  • Baggage arrangements can differ between airlines and at different times of the day.

    • On some flights only Carry On baggage may be allowed

    • Check the limits for Carry On baggage - number of items, weight and size

    • Check the limits for Checked baggage - number of items, weight and size

    • Check arrangements and charges if carrying Oversize items
[The websites of the individual airlines will have a page about Baggage - what can and cannot be  carried]
  • Read the small print. Some travel websites list the fees they charge on the home page of the website. All travel websites will have information about additional booking charges on the booking pages

  • Check the conditions for what happens if you change your plans:

    • There could be no refund available 

    • There could be an additional charge if you change the booking to another date

  • Check the time needed to be at the airport before departure

  • If a city or state has multiple airports check which airport the airline uses

  • When booking a package holiday such as a cruise or a tour check if there will be additional costs - lunches, additional optional tours or events for example

  • If booking accommodation check the Check In and Check Out times and if the accommodation will look after luggage outside these times

  • If prices are quoted in a foreign currency - check the value in Australian dollars
Only click the Confirm Booking button when you are certain that this is the flight or accommodation or holiday package that you really want and that all the details have been checked.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

List of Websites for Planning Holidays Online

Planning and Booking Holidays Online
Websites mentioned in the talk
Travel Guides
Lonely Planet -
Fodor’s Travel -
Travel Companies
Scenic Tours -
Viking River Cruises -
Avalon Waterways -
Cruise Away -
Cruise Critic –
Heritage Tours -
Intrepid Travel -
Adventure Tours -
Official Travel Advice
Smartraveller -
General Search Tools
Trip Advisor -
Expedia -
Searching for Flights
Webjet –
Seatguru –
Searching for Hotels
Hotels combined –
Booking –
Trivago –
Lastminute –
Wotif –
Information about Specific Places
Visit London –
Edinburgh & The Lothians -
Google Maps -
World Weather Online –
Currency Exchange Rates
xe –
Communication with Family and Friends
Blogs – Blogger –
Blogs – WordPress –
Storing photos – Flickr –

Virtual Tours

Many travel sites now include virtual tours and / or videos to provide prospective clients an overview of special features or sights that they might like to visit. There are also websites dedicated to providing virtual tours. Doing a Google search for 'travel virtual tours' provides a number of such sites.

Panoramas DK provides 360 degree views of selected locations throughout the world. USA 360 Virtual Tour provides 360 degree panoramas using Google earth view of selected sites in the United States of America.
Views of the Grand Canyon from different viewing points are included in the selection of panoramas.
Other panoramas include a view from Mount Everest.
The Armchair Travel Company provides virtual tours allowing you to experience heritage listed buildings throughout the world.

Virtual tours therefore provide the opportunity to explore places without having to leave home.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Communicating with family and friends

Communicating with family and friends when you are on holidays is made easy with all the electronic devices available.

Web based Email is a quick way for relaying news and photos of your holiday to individuals or to a group of people if you have pre-set a Group in your email Address book. Email folders can also be used to store emails containing scanned copies of documents such as passport details, prescriptions plus emails from travel companies detailing itinerary etc.

Mobile Phones have become a major form of communication however these devices can be expensive to operate when overseas. How to Beat Mobile Phone Shock When Travelling Overseas provides advice on minimising unexpected expenses. It is probably advisable to check available services and costs with your service provider before you go.

Skype is frequently used for international phone calls and video calls. It is free if both parties are using Skype otherwise some charges apply. FaceTime allows video calls to be made from Apple devices.

Social Media sites such as Facebook are a useful way to keep up with family and friends while away. Posting messages on Facebook from time to time allows family and friends know you have safely arrived at a destination as well as sharing highlights of the trip.

Don't forget that there are still some people who would like to receive a postcard.

Recording your holiday memories

Blogs (web logs) are a good way to record your holidays. Some people make regular blog posts during a trip while others compile blog posts telling of the holiday when they return home.

Blogger and WordPress are two blogging sites. After joining the selected blogging site, click the button to create a new blog. Choose a design theme for the blog (this can be changed later if you change your mind) and start the first post. Blog posts can consist of text, images and links to online sources.
Typing a blog post is similar to typing in a simple word processing program. Icons in the menu bar allow formatting of the text. Most people will keep to this view of the post box however if you want to alter the html for the page just click the html button to view the html for the page.

Once you are comfortable with working with blogs you can explore and experiment with additional features including labels to assist locating posts with similar information, adding a search box for the blog and making a selection of other gadgets offered to extend the blog.

Before publishing the post the Preview button can be used to see how the post looks. When you are satisfied with the post use the Publish button to allow the post to be viewed online.

Blogs are an easy way to tell the story of your holiday. Most of the posts on this blog record family holidays.

Capturing your holiday memories

Digital cameras are used to record special memories of holidays however there are a few precautions that should be taken.

Back up the images and keep the backup file in a separate place. During the past few years we have taken a laptop with us when going on holiday. Each evening I download a copy of the photos taken that day into a folder labelled with the date photos were taken. As an additional precaution I save the folder of images to a USB flash drive.

Keep a record of where photos were taken by making daily notes of places visited and activities either in paper form in a notebook or on a laptop or other device. Make sure that the notes are dated. If using a laptop notes can be saved on to a USB flash drive as a backup.

Most hotels provide wifi (often free) while wifi can often be accessed at various other locations. If good access to wifi is available notes about your trip can be uploaded to Google Docs or similar Cloud document services. Photographs can be uploaded into photo file sharing services such as Flickr.
Flickr allows members 1000GB of space to store images.
One you join Flickr you are allocated a space to upload your images.
This is your Photostream. Add notes and tags to images to assist location of images.

Albums can be created and selected photos moved into an album.
Photos can be shared with friends by sending them the link to an album.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Plan your itinerary using maps

Google Maps is a great way to become familiar with places you wish to visit. The maps can be viewed as a traditional map or viewed in street view (as if you were walking down the street). Google Maps can also be used to obtain the directions from one location to another.

[The screens in Google Maps may vary in  different browsers or different versions of browsers]

Type the address or partial address in Search box at the top left corner of the Google Map screen.
Click on the map to zoom in on a location.
Click on the Earth icon in the bottom left corner of the map for a three dimensional view of the map.
If you have typed in an address click on the Street View image in the top left corner of the screen for the street view of the street. You can also achieve a street view by clicking on the images at the bottom of the page or by moving the person icon on the bottom right of the screen to the area you want to explore.
To return to the traditional map click the map icon in the bottom left of the screen.
Google Maps also provides directions from one location to another. Click the Directions icon in the top left of the search screen then type in the start and finish points of the proposed journey. You can also choose whether the journey is by car, walking or public transport.
As well as showing the route directions for travelling the route are provided.
You can also use the Street View feature to view the place to which you are travelling.

Plan your itinerary using websites

Look for information about the cities and towns you plan to visit. For example if you are visiting London visit the Visit London website - the official guide to London.
The main categories on this website include Discover London, Things To Do, Where To Stay, Traveller Information and Special Offers.
The Traveller Information section includes information about the airports, public transport, the London buses, the Visitor Oyster card - how it works and how to obtain one - and walking in London.

The Discover London section includes a virtual exhibition and a series of video guides as well as highlights of London and information about different sections of London.
Similar websites exist for most major cities. Check also for tourism websites for specific countries.

If you are travelling to England it may be useful to visit the UK National Trust  website and the website of English Heritage if you plan to visit a number of historic houses and sites. It can be economical to take out a membership of the Australian National Trust before leaving Australia if visiting National Trust sites is part of the itinerary as there are reciprocal arrangements.

Travel search tools - Wotif

Wotif is another travel website offering the opportunity to search for and book Accommodation, Flights, Holiday Rentals and Holiday Packages.

When booking accommodation choose the general location from the drop-down lists. In this example the search was for accommodation in Victoria for two adults on a particular date. Click the Search button.
The next screen allows you to narrow the search so the search was filtered to a hotel in Ballarat.
A list of hotels in Ballarat was then provided. Click the image for details about the hotel. The first price column shows the full rate for booking a room while the prices in green are the Wotif price for the room for each day of the week. If the accommodation is booked out this is indicated. Placing the cursor over a date shows the conditions for the price quoted - a minimum booking of two or three nights may be required. Selecting a date and for a hotel takes you to a page with full details about the hotel, prices offered for different rooms, reviews and a map showing the location of the hotel. Use the Book button to book required type of room.

Wotif also has a special mystery Wot Hotel deal on offer, the identity of which is provided in an email after a booking is made. Changes to the booking will not be accepted and no refunds are available for mystery Wot Hotel rooms.

Wotif can be a useful site for locating the availability of inexpensive rooms at short notice.

Travel search tools - Lastminute

Hotels, Flights and Restaurants are among the services that can be located and booked on Lastminute. The website is a 'lifestyle website' as well as a travel website. Bookings can be made for destinations anywhere in the world.
Quoting from the Lastminute website - ' is Australia’s leading travel and lifestyle website. We give our customers the inside track on how to find smarter, affordable, inspirational travel and leisure solutions that help them make the most of every lastminute. From hotels to holidays, flights to facials, and cooking classes to car hire, is the perfect way to source everything you need to turn your weekends and getaways into ones to remember. Offering fabulous deals for those with champagne taste on a beer budget, is proudly responsible for launching the Secret Hotels® concept in Australia.'

Like other travel websites to look for hotels you fill in a form selecting the location from a drop-down list, days accommodation is required, number of guests, select minimum star rating and indicate cost prepared to pay per night. If you know the name of the hotel where you want to stay, type the name in the search box and click the Go button. 
A list of hotels with accommodation prices is provided. The search can be narrowed using the options in the side-bar on the left of the screen. Clicking the image of the hotel to obtain detailed information about the rooms and prices. Click the Book button to book the selected room.
A point of difference  between Lastminute and other accommodation booking websites is that it has a Secret Hotels option. Quoting once again from the website - 'Only can offer you this exclusive hotel deal from one of our best-selling hotel partners. The other guests in the hotel would be jealous if they knew how much less you’d paid than them for the same room, so the hotel wants to keep it a Secret.' A special price has been arranged for selected rooms but the purchaser finds out in an email the name of the accommodation after they have concluded the booking. There is a no cancellation and no refund policy on this option,

Travel search tools - Trivago

 Trivago searches 200 travel websites to locate the best accommodation deals for users. According to the Trivago website, on the day I looked,  access is available to 730,708 hotels throughout the world. Trivago is a search tool only. To book accommodation found on the Trivago site you will be transferred to the booking agency website.
In this example a search was made for accommodation in Sydney on certain dates. Options in the side-bar on the side of the screen are used to narrow the search. Options include Stars, Rating, Price Range, Distance, Hotel Size and Options. There is also a search box in the side-bar where a search can be made for a specific hotel.

Use the Rating logo to view how others have rated the hotel. The Distance logo provides access to a map of the surrounding area. The information logo provides summary information about the accommodation. Select View All Deals option to see what is being offered.
Select View Deal button to transfer to the selected booking agency to make the booking.
 Additional information about using Trivago can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Travel search tools - was established in Amsterdam in 1996 as a company for booking accommodation online. Accommodation includes hotels, apartments, B & Bs, guest houses, villas.
Search by typing the name of a city, region, district or specific hotel in the search box. If known, type in the dates of the proposed stay, the number of rooms required and number of adults and children before using the Search button to initiate the search.

For this exercise Edinburgh was chosen as the destination.
The side-bar contains filters to narrow the search including Star Rating, Property Type, Facility, Room Facilities, District and Chain. In Room Facility I selected View. Further options can be added.
The map shows the location of the hotel and clicking the Show Map option shows the location of the selected hotel to other hotels nearby.
Reviews for the selected accommodation are available.
Use the Show Prices button to see prices. Prices are provided in Australian dollars and are indicative as the dollar value may change when payment is made. The Frequently Asked Questions section provides additional information. Use the Reserve Button if you want to make a booking and provide the required information.

The website can also be searched using the Browse by Destination Theme at the top of the web page. Destination Themes include Fine Dining, Shopping, Sightseeing, Beach, Relaxation and Culture.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Travel search tools - Hotels Combined

Hotels Combined allows users to search and compare room availability and prices from all major travel websites.
Use the search box to enter the name of a city or hotel, number of people, plus, if known, the dates accommodation required. The search in this example was for London. A long list of hotels was located. Use the boxes in the left side bar to narrow the search. Nominate star ratings or a price range. Limit the search by property type or guest ratings, hotel features or themes. The search can be narrowed by selecting a smaller area or the name or partial name of a hotel can be entered in the designated box. A search can also be narrowed by hotel chain.
The search was narrowed by choosing Southwark from the Places box. At the end of the side-bar is the option to search a map which was then selected by clicking Open Map.
From the resulting map I was able to choose a hotel within easy walking distance to the museum I wanted to visit and also not too far from sites on the other side of the river.
Hotels Combined provides a list of prices for different rooms and the name of the travel website offering the best price for the room. A list of hotel features is also provided and a summary of comments made in guest reviews is provided. Clicking on the official site link under the name of a hotel will take you directly to the hotel's website where more information about the hotel can be obtained. Back on the Hotels Combined website, clicking on the name of the room or clicking the Go button will take you to the travel website where you can make a booking. 

Travel search tools - SeatGuru

The parent company of SeatGuru is TripAdvisor. SeatGuru provides airline seat maps, flight information and flight shopping information.

SeatGuru is particularly useful for checking the configuration of seating on selected flights. Type the name of the Airline, flight code and day of flight into the search box to view the seating configuration of the plane.
Comments from users are available as well as a Seat Map Key based on user comments.

Other features of this website include Comparison Charts for different types of  airlines, information about different Airlines and Guru Advice providing information about flying, airports, seat selection, baggage and gadgets used on flights.

There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section of the website.

A recent feature of SeatGuru is the Flight Search section for locating and comparing flights. You are then directed to an online travel agency website to make the booking.

Travel search tools - Webjet

Webjet is an Australian and New Zealand online travel agency. It compares flights to selected destination provided by Jetstar, Qantas, Rex, Tiger Airways, Virgin Australia and also international airlines. The website provides tabs for comparing and booking flights, hotels, holiday packages and car hire.
In this example we are comparing prices for flights from Melbourne to Cairns.
A list of flights available from Melbourne to Cairns is provided starting from the earliest flight in the morning. The price charged by each airline for particular flights are provided. There will be a wide variation of prices depending on the Airline providing the flight, time of day of the flight and whether the flight is non-stop or has a stop-over. When selecting a flight it is necessary to check the baggage limits. Some flights only allow carryon baggage. Click the View Fare Rules link under the Airline icon for information about additional charges if changes need to be made to a flight or if flights are cancelled. Select the required flight by clicking the price link for the selected Airline and time of flight.
Check your selection before going any further with the booking. You can then add bookings for hotels and car hire, if required, and add travel insurance before clicking the Book Now button. After that fill in the forms confirming the booking and providing payment details. The final step is to use the Complete Booking button to complete the booking.

A list of Frequently Asked Questions is provided in the Contact section of the website.

Travel search tools - Zuji

Zuji purports to be 'one of Asia Pacific's leading online travel agencies'.
The coverage of locations, however, is world wide. Like Expedia, on Zuji you can book flights, accommodation and holiday packages and car hire. There is a note on the homepage of the website stating the Zuji booking charges.
Zuji's parent company is Webjet and the reviews provided in Zuji come from TripAdvisor.
The above search was for hotel rooms in Paris available on particular dates. Use the options in the sidebar on the left of the screen to narrow the search - for example select a hotel with free wifi near the Louvre. Information about available hotel rooms is provided. If you want to make a booking, click the Book Room button.

Use the Flight tab to search for and book flights. Select the airport for start and end of the flight and provide dates for one-way or return trip.
You will be presented with a list of options. In this example the flight was from Melbourne to Darwin.
Scroll through the options and check duration of the flight, whether the flight is non-stop and the time the flight leaves its original destination as well as the cost of the flight.
Click the Show Details link for each flight for additional information.
Also check for baggage information allowed for the flight and the baggage charges. Once you have made your selection you can add accommodation, car rental and travel insurance to your booking if you wish.
The Show Details link will provide the full booking price. Provide an email address for receiving a copy of the itinerary then click the Book Now button if you want to make the booking.

The How to Book page provides information using the Zuji website for booking flights and holidays.