Taking to the Web Before Hitting the Road

NPR's Farai Chideya talks with tech expert Mario Armstrong about the best sources on the Internet to help you plan your summer vacation.

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ED GORDON, host:

Now it's time for some tech tips. NPR's Farai Chideya spoke with our tech expert, Mario Armstrong, about ways you can save money and still enjoy a dream vacation.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Let me ask you this, am I too late to find travel deals?

MARIO ARMSTRONG reporting:

No, you're never too late. It's really an interesting time to find travel deals. You have, you know, the rise in prices for certain things and then the discount in other areas for different types of transportation. But you're never too late to do travel.

One of the sites that you could take a look at is called lastminutetravel.com. Now, I'll be the first to tell you, they don't always have the best rates or the best prices, but they do seem to always have last-minute availability on very popular destinations that seem to be overbooked or don't have enough rooms if you call the destination directly.

So yeah, there's never too late of a time to be able to go online. You can find a trip to leave the same day, in fact, in a lot of cases.

CHIDEYA: Well, what about some good Web sites that would let me book a car or -you know, I've heard about these Web sites where basically you go on and you see information from other Web sites and you can compare them.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, these are aggregator Web sites, which are really good because it's essentially what you said. It will allow you to use one Web site destination to search hundreds, sometimes literally thousands, but most cases hundreds of other travel-related Web sites. Therefore, you don't have to jump from site to site to site.

I've done some tests on some of these. I've actually used to book some travel one called SideStep.com, and I've been very impressed by SideStep. In fact, I did a three-day trip from Baltimore to L.A. on Expedia, and that flight cost me about $462. On SideStep, it saved me $116 for the exact same flight.

So there is some value in being able to use an aggregator that can search multiple sites. Another one is called kayak.com. And one that I also recently found that's called fodors.com, and the reason - one of the things that was really neat about them is that they had local writers, travel writers, that knew a lot about those local destinations.

So all three of those sites really do good at aggregating multiple destinations for you to find the best flight, the best time, and the best price.

CHIDEYA: And for everyone who's just running for their pens, we will put these on the Web site, npr.org.

So, Mario, what about finding out what events or festivals might be happening in a city so that, you know, if you want to go to a place while something is happening, how do you find that out?

ARMSTRONG: So I went to fodors.com, and they have a feature on their site, for example they have a place right now that shows you five low-season savers. But instead of just listing them out, they actually give you a description, ideas on how much savings you can look forward to, and what the trade-off may be.

So for example, if you're looking for the Reggae Sumfest that happens out in Ocho Rios in Jamaica, you would find on fodors.com when that's taking place in August, what some travel tips you may want to think about, and where you may want to stay if that's your main purpose in traveling to that location.

One other thing that popped up on SideStep.com is a new tool, something that they're testing in beta mode right now, but it's called Activities. You can literally search now based on the activity, whether it's a tour, an attraction, whether it's a cultural activity, whether it's an event or concert. You can search on the activity - put in the search, date range, you're looking for and the location where you may be interested in - and up will pop a bunch of activities that are right there for you.

CHIDEYA: More on a kind of local level or regional level. With gas prices and airfares going up, what are other options for people who want affordable travel during the summer?

ARMSTRONG: One Web site that I often tell people about is called gasbuddy.com. This is a - basically a gas-watching Web site. Another one is called gaspricewatch.com, and essentially this relies on volunteer spotters, or the gas stations themselves, to post prices from around the country.

So you can, in effect, see what your neighboring gas station versus maybe a few miles down the road may be charging for gas. And in some cases you can see savings as much as twenty cents a gallon.

CHIDEYA: I guess my last question is, so you've covered the travel part. What about places to stay? How should we look at that?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, places to stay, it's all in the eye of the beholder, right? It's all in where you want to be and where you want to go. If you're interested in a specific destination, like I was surprised on fodors.com to find Ocho Rios in Jamaica was one of the low-season savers that they had and that you could actually save between 20 and 40 percent on hotel room rates.

So it all depends, Farai. If you have a specific location in mind, then you can drill down on that. But if you're just looking to get away, the Internet is full of opportunities for you to find a quick or a long trip to go have some fun and get some relaxation.

CHIDEYA: Okay, that's good. I'll be gone for the next four weeks. No, just kidding. Thanks a lot, Mario.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: I didn't know that you could get away like that.

CHIDEYA: I really can't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: You're welcome, Farai.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya and NEWS AND NOTES Tech Contributor Mario Armstrong. Mario also covers technology for Baltimore-area NPR member stations WYPR and WEAA.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: That's our program form today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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