Super-organized travelers can find no end of resources on the Web to satisfy their need to get everything just so before leaving home…
Ship your luggage ahead. Want to zip off on vacation like a jet-setter, with nothing more than a carry on? Use an air-freight service like LuggageConcierge.com, or LuggageFree.com, SportsExpress.com, or VirtualBellhop.com to ship big bags ahead. You have to send things several days in advance for U.S. destinations, and as much as two weeks ahead to foreign places. And it’s not cheap: about $100 domestically for small- to medium-size bags or a set of golf clubs or skis; more for larger bags and for all bags shipped internationally. But, oh, the feeling of luggage liberation. Bags are generally insured up to a value of $1,000, but you double-check that limit; additional insurance costs about $1 per $100 of value.
Find the cleanest beach. The Blue Flag Programme acknowledges beaches that meet high standards in terms of ecosystem protection, water quality, beach cleanliness, and waste management. It was started in France by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) during the “European Year of the Environment” (also known as 1987) and has since spread to Europe and beyond. Today the list includes both beaches and marinas — 3,300 of them, in fact — in 36 countries, with more countries adopting the program each year.
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Plan your theme park strategy. Founded and edited by a former attractions host at Walt Disney World, ThemeParkInsider.com taps readers for ratings and reviews of parks around the world. Listings have sections on hours, reservations, strategy, and current park buzz.
Find Wi-Fi hotspots. Users review Internet connectivity and other tech services offered by hotels on Geektools.com. The site Jiwire is a private company (a mobile broadband advertising network, to be precise) that offers a very public service. Its Web site helps you find Wi-Fi-verified public hot spots, roughly 150,000 of them, in 137 countries.
Book activities well before leaving. National, regional, and city tourist board Web sites often have links to theaters, nonprofit associations, or commercial companies with calendars and online booking capabilities. So do sites like Citysearch.com and WhatsonWhen.com. Some of the world’s top museums let you buy tickets to special exhibitions with a few clicks or a phone call. And did you know that Ticketmaster.com serves not only the United States but also several foreign countries? For discount tickets, try the Theater Development Fund. For opera, head to Operabase.com. But the mother of all sites has to be Viator.com — it lists and lets you book shows, tours, day trips, and other activities all over the world.
Book an airport parking space. A couple of clicks on AirportParkingReservations.com and a small deposit are all it takes to book a space at one of more than 65 airports in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Choose from self-park, valet, outdoor, and indoor lots. Free shuttle service and luggage assistance and discounted rates are among the perks of using this site. Booking spots through Avistar Parking may yield a 10% discount on already low rates. And ParkSleepFly.com has money-saving packages from airport-area hotels that offer a week or more of discounted or free parking to overnight guests.
Check out airport security wait times. The Transportation Security Administration helps to make up for the hassles of beefed-up security with a section on its Web site that helps you estimate — based on historical data — how long it takes to clear checkpoints in U.S. airports.
Check out your flight status. Flightstats.com reports on flight delays, airport weather conditions, and on-time performance, among other things. You can sign up for e-mails or mobile phone alerts. Official Airline Guides can fill you in on flight status, flight duration, airline routes, and more. Orbitz.com is one of the first booking sites to add a blog (the OrbitzTLC Traveler Update) for travelers to report on things like airport delays.
Check in on-line. More and more airlines are not only allowing you to check in on-line but also to pick a seat and book bags in advance. Hyatt, Hilton, and Far East Hotels are among the hotel chains to allow electronic room check in. More companies will certainly follow their lead.
Firm up those dinner plans. Research restaurants on Fodors.com and make online reservations with services like OpenTable.com, which covers most states, including 20 major cities and has limited listings in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. DinnerBroker.com has restaurants throughout the United States as well as a few in Canada. For good nonfranchise road-trip options, check out Roadfood.com and DinerCity.com.
Calculate how much your drive will cost. Input your route and the make and model of your car on the AAA’s fuel-cost calculator. Although figures assume there are no traffic jams (and you have to assume there will be), gas prices are updated regularly. Use it to budget for a road trip or to decide whether to fly or drive.
Find a decent bathroom. The Bathroom Diaries is flush with unsanitized info on restrooms the world over — each one located, reviewed, and rated.
Map out public transportation. Hopstop.com has transit maps and can give you bus and subway directions between sights in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. More destinations are in the works. SubwayNavigator.com helps you conquer underground systems in more than 100 cities around the world.
—Laura M. Kidder