NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Doug MacDonald, co-President, July 98
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'Tis summer, and most folk's thoughts turn to vacations . . . ." I hope that you won't miss any of our meetings, of course, but if you must...Have Fun!

Speaking of vacations, the Internet is an outstanding place to pick up a lot of information about interesting places to go and things to do. My wife and I have been thinking about a driving vacation in the fall, so we dug out some old National Geographic Traveler magazines and started looking. We found that many of the states we were thinking about have web sites for their departments of travel and tourism. A quick trip on the Internet provided us with a list of numerous publications we could request -- all free! Commercial tourist attractions (and even some federal, state, and local government facilities) often have web sites, and a quick trip there provides lots of good information. By checking out a couple of sites we were able to eliminate them as not being what we thought -- better than getting there and finding out the obvious after a trip "off the beaten path!" Many city web sites have links to local hotels and motels. Those sites often provide "on line" reservation services, or at least a more thorough breakdown on prices than is usually available in AAA or other travel guides which of necessity must deal with "old" information.

Don't forget the search sites like Yahoo, HotBot, InfoSeek, etc., all of which have travel and vacation sections of their own. You have to be careful how you structure your search, otherwise you will be inundated with information. "Art" and "Museums" and "Des Moines" will produce a more reasonable list of available articles to check out than just "Des Moines" or "Museums" by itself. It takes a minute to learn the syntax for your favorite search engine, but once you do it can be a very useful way to gain new information about potential vacation sites.

You can even book your own airline reservations and car rentals, if you have a mind to -- although before you commit you might want to check out some of the "discount" airline sites that let you put your flight requirements out for bids! You may find that there are available flights much cheaper than you thought -- and you don't always have to book six months in advance! Actually, some of the true discount flights are only available on relatively short notice because the airline only has a good idea how "full" each flight will be one week before departure. There is no substitute, of course, for a good, professional travel agent -- but the Internet can be a real aid in "double checking" pricing and availability information. At least if you browse a bit first you will be in a better position to know what you want when you deal with the agent.

If you enjoy planning your driving trips in some detail, you might want to invest in Rand McNally's "Tripmaker," the AAA planner, or one of the other software programs available that will help you literally "map out" your trip. Most of these applications have the ability to provide you with alternative routings if you prefer a "scenic" drive, and will generate a step by step itinerary that provides you routing information in as great a detail as you would like. The CDROM products also have tourist information and hotel/restaurant suggestions, although of necessity this information may be somewhat "dated." The mileage and timing calculations are outstanding on the Rand McNally product. (They ought to be, they sell the same calculation engines -- at a substantial price -- to those of us in the logistics and trucking business!)

The "bottom line" is to have a good time wherever you go. But remember that your computer and the Internet just might help get you there cheaper, easier, and better informed.

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