Blog Archives

Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know Google Maps Could Do [Lifehacker Top 10]

There’s more to Google Maps than a place you double-check your directions. Google’s data-stuffed site offers a lot of helpful tools for vacationers, spreadsheet nerds, bikers, and others. Today we’re digging into Google’s data-rich geo-tool and pulling out some helpful lesser-known features. More »

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Packlate Finds Deep Discounts on Last Minute Vacations [Travel]

If you've decided at the last minute that you want to take a vacation but you're concerned you won't score a good deal so close to your departure, check out Packlate—a site dedicated to last minute accommodation deals.

Packlate taps into a network of accommodation providers who would rather rent you a vacation rental at the last minute for half price than leave the property empty and profitless. Currently the majority of properties listed in Packlate are centered around Colorado, Nevada, and California but they are expanding into other rental markets.

You search Packlate like a traditional hotel-booking site. Plug in your travel dates, the location you would like to stay in, and Packlate returns availabilities and discounts. If you're finding lots of rentals you're interested in, it's worth signing up for a free Packlate account—much like online-retailers have agreements to not show retail items at radically lowered prices, Packlate has an agreement to not show the absolute lowest deals to non-subscribers.

Have a favorite tool, trick, or service for finding last minute vacation deals? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Set an Effective Out-of-Office Message to Reduce Workload [Communication]

It’s easy to leave a short and ineffective out-of-office message, especially when you’re leaving it on the eve of a vacation or a conference you’re excited to attend. Doing so however, just ensures more work upon your return.

Photo by makelessnoise.

Over at Ian’s Messy Desk, Ian outlines how to create a good out-of-office message. First, what does a terrible out-of-office message sound like? At the worst end of things the message simply tells the caller that you’re not there which gives them nothing to work with except that you’re unavailable to help them or answer their questions. Ian suggests including:

1. Dates of your absence. Let the contact know when you are out of the office. It helps them decide what their next step is going to be; whether to wait for your return or to direct their request elsewhere.
2. Reason for absence. I like to let my contacts know whether I am on a business trip or vacation. A business trip means I am connected to the office in some way and might be able to respond to a message. If I’m on vacation, I’m out of contact range.
3. Who to contact in your absence. I try and leave contact information for alternate contacts when I am out of the office; a minimum of one up to as many as are needed.

The emphasis on the last entry is ours. Most of the phone calls you receive while you’re out of the office will be for matters that will need to be resolved while you are gone; if you leave proper contact information for the people who would most likely be able to resolve issues that crop up while you’re gone, you’re all the more likely to return to the office with those things done and taken care of. Leaving an ineffective message creates a mountain of work for you to wade through when you return.

For more tips on leaving an effective message check out the full article at the link below. Have a tip or trick for leaving a good out-of-office message or any other aspect of preparing to be away from work? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Google City Tours Adds Walking Directions, Custom Maps [Travel]

Six months after launching City Tours in Labs, Google’s Maps team has tweaked the interface and made it more friendly to how people actually vacation: head to a city, pick places to go, and get precise directions to them.

At launch, City Tours did a decent job of knowing neat places to go inside a city, and even knew (sometimes) when they were open and what they cost. All it did for the traveler, though, was tell you how far apart those destinations were. Now City Tours includes detailed walking directions in your itinerary. And if you’re a My Maps nerd who’s picked out spots to visit on your own, you can import it and lay those map points over the cities that Google has picked out, so you get a mix of suggestions and pre-picked favorites.

There’s more to the latest upgrade, detailed at the blog post below. Have you used City Tours for a real, honest-to-goodness vacation? Tell us what works, and what you needed to DIY, in the comments.

RoomAtlas Puts Hotel Searches on a Google Map, Is Awesome [Travel]

Many sites that help you find a hotel can be a little frustrating to use. They’re either pumped full of ads or jumble results according to advertisers. RoomAtlas does away with all that, providing a simplified but impressive Google Maps-powered hotel search.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

Many travel web sites are often packed with ads, you can rarely search by specific location, and some require you to do a lot of leg work to really visualize the bottom line when it comes to price.

RoomAtlas makes things simple with their easy navigation and obvious options. You can type in an intersection, event center (say you’re traveling for work and would like to stay close by), or a city or street if you’re looking to stay near a friend or attraction, and it’ll return all the results placed nicely and color-coded by price on a Google Map. Once you click through to a hotel, you can then see what the building looks like, read reviews, and so forth.

It’s a dead simple search function, and even if you don’t use it to book your stay (say if you have a rewards program elsewhere), it makes finding the place you’d like to stay easy like Sunday morning.

VRBO Finds Economical Rentals For Your Next Vacation [Vacation]

Looking to vacation on the cheap with space to spare? Check out VRBO to find thousands of vacation rentals at great prices.

If you’re not looking for a hotel experience and would settle for some temporary local shelter for a lot less than you’d pay for a hotel suite, Vacation Rentals By Owner indexes thousands of rentals around the world. You can find cottages, condos, and second homes in locations from rustic to urban settings. Prices range from $400 a week for a tiny rustic cottage on Lake Michigan to $4000 a month and up for amenity-laden houses on the Pacific coast. Most of the locations sleep anywhere from 4-20 people, making the cost of rental astoundingly low for a family or group of friends. Why stay in a dive hotel when you can be renting a full-out house with a lake view?

Visit the link below to see listings in the US and around the world. If you have a trick or resource of scoring cheap vacation accommodations, let’s hear about it in the comments.

Where Makes You A (Temporary) Local [Downloads]

iPhone/BlackBerry/Android/Palm Pre: If you’re in a new location and looking for the low-down on local haunts, mobile application Where may just come to your rescue.

Whether you’re using or one of the native phone applications, finding a place to eat is as easy as setting your location and searching. Offering local information from Eventful, Yelp, GasBuddy, Zipcar, ShopLocal, Starbucks, Buddy Beacon, Topix, and more, there’s no need to stop someone to ask where you can grab a good cup of coffee or fill up with cheap gas.

The results are listed in order, closest to farthest, and include additional information such as star ratings (where available), address, directions, and map. You’re also able to save places for future reference.

Downloading the app gives you the benefit of additional widgets, such as State Parks, Winery Finder, Fore, and World's Largest—for the roadside attraction lovers out there. Widget availability depends upon which cell phone provider you use, unfortunately.

Top 10 Tips to Streamline Your Vacation Planning [Lifehacker Top 10]

U.S. citizens may be notoriously bad at using up our vacation days, but even if you’re just taking off a few days this summer, make the most of it with these 10 vacation tips.

Photo by mikety28.

10. Save Money with a Staycation

Times are tough, but just because things aren’t looking so hot in the finance department doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice vacation. Consider planning a staycation. It may not seem as exciting as exploring exotic new places, but just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can’t explore your own home as though it were a foreign land. Photo by carlock_family.

9. Prepare Yourself for Travel Abroad

Let’s say you do have a good reserve of spare cash for your vacation and you’re ready to go abroad. Chances are you’ve already done your share of planning, but for a little extra help fitting in with the natives, check out web site Travel Etiquette for tips on how to behave properly in different countries. If you’re heading somewhere where they don’t speak your language, brush up on a few common phrases at BBC Languages’ Quick Fix, and make sure you learn the proper phrase for “Where’s the ATM?” since according to MSNBC, you’re likely to get your best exchange rate there—though you may want to let your bank know you'll be doing this ahead of time. Last, fill up your suitcase with just the good stuff when you’re heading back from abroad. Photo by Al Ianni (Away).

8. Handle Your Jet Lag

If you’re traveling across time zones, jet lag can rob you of precious fun-time, so take a look at British Airways’ jet lag calculator for tips on how to adjust your sleep schedule beforehand so you don’t end up napping through the good stuff. If you haven’t planned ahead enough, try wearing sunglasses or starving yourself to fend off jet lag. Finally, if you didn’t plan ahead at all, a few jet lag cures (like melatonin) may be just what the sleep doctor ordered. Photo by Ann Chou.

7. Hit the Open Road

Of course, flying isn’t the only way to get somewhere when you head out on holiday. Perhaps instead of flying the friendly skies, you may want to enjoy one of the best scenic drives in the U.S. The cost of gas is still a consideration, so figure out how much it’ll cost you at web site Drive Pricing—or simply stay close to home with a vacation within 71 miles. You may have to do a little more planning to survive a long road trip, but there’s nothing like a classic road trip. Photo by NOIZE Photography.

6. Deal with Overload When You Get Back

Nobody wants to think all that much about what’s waiting them when they return from a relaxing vacation, so if you can manage it, just take a full-on email sabbatical and skip the full inbox altogether. If that’s not an option, it may be time to empty your inbox with the Trusted Trio—or if that's not your style, see how our readers sort through vacation email buildup. And now that you’re back, check out how your peers kickstart work mode after returning from a vacation. Photo by DeaPeaJay.

5. Make the Most of Your Vacation Photos

If you haven’t snapped some great photos, how will you ever remember what you did? (Or prove you were there?) Take a few words of wisdom from the New York Times’ on how to be a better photographer when on vacation, or if you’re really serious about your photography, take Fodor’s advice and set up a shooting itinerary (and use a map to keep track of them). If, despite your best efforts, you’ve got other tourists cluttering up your otherwise masterful snaps, try web site Tourist Remover or Wired’s Photoshop guide to removing tourists from travel photos. Photo by mandj98.

4. Get Your Laptop Travel-Ready

I'm a firm believer in unplugging as much as possible during a vacation, but who am I kidding—most of us still travel with our laptops. Keep it safe in your luggage by securing it for air travel, and grab a TSA-checkpoint friendly laptop bag to expedite your trip through security. Before you leave, try minimizing your need for the laptop in the first place with some smart vacation auto-responders in Gmail that’ll notify everyone that you’re out (so you don’t have to deal with messages that aren’t important). If it is important, try something like AwayFind so people who desperately need to get in touch with you can. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a quick but refreshing weekend trip, consider trying a battery-only weekend to help restrict your computer time to the bare minimum. (You’re supposed to be on vacation, after all!) Photo by joey.parsons.

3. Streamline Your Packing

When it comes to lugging around all your bags, we’re major proponents of the one-bag philosophy of traveling light. In fact, web site One Bag is an excellent go-to source for all-things-packing, offering packing lists and methods—like the wrinkle-free bundle method—to help you make the most of your luggage. You can also put your MacGyver chops to use when traveling by repurposing items for your packing purposes (stuff souvenir maps in a water bottle, for example). Photo by Digiart2001 | jason.kuffer.

2. Find Cheap Tickets

If you’re only goal is cheap tickets without much hassle, take a look at our Hive Five Best Travel Sites for a quick glance at some of the best places to find a great deal—or just head straight to Kayak, our readers’ (and our) favorite travel site. If you want to play the odds, Bing Travel’s Farecast predicts whether the price of a ticket will rise or drop over time, helping you determine the best time to buy. On the other hand, if you’ve got an open calendar and just want to get out of town, web site Voyij (pronounced “voyage”) can find very cheap tickets for flexible travelers. Frequent fliers, check out Placely and MileMaven to get the most from those frequent flier miles. Photo by alex-s.

1. Get the Best Seat on the Plane

If there’s one thing we hate, it’s starting off and ending our vacation with a suffocating airplane ride. Head to web site SeatGuru before choosing your seats to find the best seat on your plane. (It shows which seats have extra legroom, outlets, and which are just a touch too close to the bathroom, for example.) If you’re booking too late to get your pick of the litter on seats, low-cost carriers are now offering the most legroom (believe it or not). Last but certainly not least, if worst comes to worst and you’re stuck in an airport waiting out delay after delay, get to know Rule 240 and score some meal vouchers, a hotel room, partial refunds, and more. Photo by Allerina & Glen MacLarty.

Are you a master traveler or vacation planner? Share your expertise in the comments.

Travel Etiquette Site Explains How to Behave in Different Countries [Travel Tip]

Every culture has its distinct customs and traditions. Web site Travel Etiquette breaks them down by country to help teach you how to behave before you head off on your trip so that you can represent yourself and your home country well.

Photo by Ed Yourdon.

So far the site has over 60 articles including tips on how to behave when in any place from Morocco and Japan to South Africa and Portugal; new locations (including U.S. destinations) are added regularly. To find tips, you can type in the country name using the search box or just scroll through the continents and countries listed in the sidebar. The site also lists featured articles on its homepage.

Sample tips include how to dress appropriately, dine properly, and meet-and-greet people. For example, Travel Etiquette says not to be surprised by social situations in Argentina that involve swearing.

…Don’t be alarmed or surprised to hear what you might consider to be name-calling or swearing amongst friends. In this instance, political correctness certainly does not rule supreme, and Argentines might readily use phrases such as ‘fat’ or ‘big balls’ when talking to friends. No harm is meant, it’s simply the culture and friendly banter!

The site also provides more general tips like how to behave in hotels and airports, and also offers tips for blending in with the locals.

Have you traveled to a foreign country and learned some local customs in the process? Save your fellow readers from possible embarrassment by sharing below. And since odds are you’ll be carrying a map, learn how to fold one like a pro before you go.

Ensure Your Car Rental Goes as Planned [Travel]

Chances are you’ve seen this classic Seinfeld moment in which Jerry vents his frustrations over the bastardization of “reservations” in the world of car rentals. If you’re planning to rent a car for your summer vacation, weblog Consumerist helps you avoid these pitfalls with useful rental tips from an employee.

It may come as no surprise that the car rental employee reaffirms the problem illustrated in the Seinfeld episode as totally accurate:

If you make your reservation online, be proactive and call the station where you’ll be picking up your vehicle to verify that the reservation went through and that your desired car will be on the lot. Should you have to do this? No, you shouldn’t. But what’s the harm in giving a heads up so that potential difficulties can be headed off at the pass?

The Consumerist post covers 13 tips from the rental employee. None of them are particularly groundbreaking, but it’s a worthwhile read for adding a few items to your pre-vacation checklist to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. If you’re already an expert in car rental maneuvering, drop off your two cents in the comments.

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