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Learning to travel with technology

Planning a vacation is a whole new adventure with help from the Internet. While a travel agent will save you time and uncertainty, Web sites can provide the information you need to find flights, accommodations, and worthwhile activities. If you have the time and patience to sift through pages of cyber information, you can save money and gain insight on your vacation destinations.

Start with a travel search engine such as Kayak.com or TripAdvisor.com. Either of these sites will search major travel Web sites as well as airline and hotel Web sites for deals on flights, hotels and car rentals. The search engine pulls up results from several sites, saving you time and allowing you to compare deals side-by-side. Both of these sites generate revenue from advertising and referrals.

If you are planning a trip of one week or more, privately owned vacation rentals provide a homey and less costly alternative. Sites such as HomeAway.com, GreatRentals.com and VRBO.com provide listings by location of privately rented properties. Vacation rentals range from luxurious to rustic, secluded to metropolitan. You will find cabins in the woods of Appalachia, lakeside or beach homes, and apartments from Manhattan to San Francisco. Rentals may accommodate from one to dozens of guests. The Web site describes each rental in detail, often providing several photos of the home or suite.

A year ago, we found a mountainside home in Utah which we rented for less than the cost of a hotel room. We were able to prepare our own meals in the full kitchen, dine on the deck overlooking a vast red rock valley, and could have invited two other couples to stay in the extra bedrooms. Once you try vacation rentals, you might never vacation in a hotel again.

Other tools available on the Web include Google maps and mapquest, yellow pages and travel guides. Map sites allow you to route your trip, adding several stops as needed. If you don’t have a global positioning satellite for on-the-go routing, the Internet can help you plan the trip from home, where you can print out maps, confirmation numbers, and details on accommodations and activities.

If you travel with your laptop, connect wirelessly at restaurants, hotels, airports and many public places.

Access information on your vacation city through chambers of commerce and travel guide Web sites such as Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Travel.Yahoo.com or TripAdvisor.com. Answers to questions can many times be found on travel blogs posted by those who have recently visited the area.

Simply search with the specific location and issue to find other travelers’ comments. Steer away from advertisements that come up, peruse the results’ summaries for the answer you need.

Some of the most breathtaking tools on the web are Google Earth and Google Street View. Google Earth requires a download onto your computer.

It allows you to see satellite photos of locations around the globe. Google Maps Street View is often available if you enter an address and click on the balloon that comes up for that location. Street View provides photos taken from a vehicle on the street. You can scan the photos a full 360 degrees to see your destination before you ever leave your home.

Patty Harshbarger, owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at patty@cr-bradenton.com or (941) 753-8277.

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