The traveler’s buzz: Social media makes trip planning a snap

Imagine the 1983 National Lampoon film "Vacation" if the Griswold family had access to the online and mobile travel planning tools available to today's vacationers. It would hardly have been the means for high-grossing comedy, much less four sequels.

Fortunate for modern-day Clark Griswolds, the resources available today make planning an experience all its own, and getting away easier than ever. Social media sites, blogs, twitters and mobile applications bring a whole new dimension to planning and taking a holiday.

Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak? Yesterday's news. Check out these sites when planning your next trip:

You cannot ignore the likes of this Wiki site in planning your trip. True to its Wiki origin, its straight-forward, just-the-facts format is perfect for comparing notes on potential destinations.

Who best to advise you where to go for a romantic getaway than your fraternity brother from undergrad? If you haven't set up a page on Facebook and looked up everyone with whom you went to preschool, then get on it. The people that know you best are always happy to share with you their advice; all you have to do is ask.

Upon entering the site you input what it is you want to do and where it is you want to do it. From there, Uptake pulls its information from over 5,000 travel web sites – such as TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Yahoo! Travel – and the opinions posted by over 20 million fellow travelers, saving you the time of having to look up all of these sites yourself.

The coolest gadget about this site is the "Travel Pack" feature, which is very helpful particularly in the planning stage. Once you create a Travel Pack for your trip, you can then peruse the site and add to your travel "packs" hotels, attractions, shopping venues, etc. that intrigue you. Or, you can look at sample Travel Packs and learn from the travels of others. Planeteye then gives you the capability of sharing your proposed trip with friends via email.

Twitter, a micro-blogging site, is not for everyone. Its market is those individuals who absolutely have to be in the know the minute something happens. Where it will come in especially handy for travel purposes is in trip planning – once you sign onto Twitter, you can follow traveling friends who are also Twitterers, as well as postings from the likes of New York Times' Travel, LA Time Travel, Fodors and even Travel & Leisure Magazine. As Twitter becomes more mainstream, the more uses the traveler will find for it. Be sure to follow this new tool.

The site is as close to a one-stop-shop as one can get in terms of travel planning and booking. TravelMuse's "Inspiration Finder" helps travelers dial in on destinations based on a myriad of preferences such as budget, activities, length of stay and even how far from home you're willing to travel. TravelMuse also allows you to create a profile and, much like Facebook, find friends and create a social network. From there you can create your trip itinerary, read up on the advice of others who have gone before, book travel and then share these plans with your friends via a "share" feature that includes the likes of email, MySpace, Facebook, Reddit, Digg, LinkedIn, etc.

With this site, you can organize all of your trip details on one master online itinerary – even if arrangements are booked at multiple travel sites. Tripit then automatically includes things like maps, directions and weather. You even have the ability to book theatre tickets, activities and more right from within the online itinerary. Once on the road, you can safely access your plans, share them or even check-in for flights. Tripit offers a mobile application and even talks to LinkedIn, so that you can see where your LinkedIn network is traveling.

Michigan-based Passageways Travel's online tools include a very useful fare comparison chart, which lists fares to popular destinations from Michigan's main airports. You'll also find countless ideas for cruise and package travel, including specialty trips hosted by local celebrities as well as the ability to check flight statuses, weather and, of course, book your travel online.

And locally…

Last October, Cherry Capital Airport launched a new service on its web site, giving Traverse City's travelers the ability to book their flights online. Travelers who book via the site are backed by a 24/7 conceirge service to assist with any travel issues that may arise (a toll free number is issued to you when you book your flight). The wes site also includes an up-to-the-minute listing of fares from Cherry Capital.

Not ready to leave the personalized travel agency experience behind, but still want to do your research from the convenience of your home? Locally-based Bellissimo Travel's web site offers a travel blog via the "Bella News & Updates" link. Follow along at your leisure, and then once you've been enticed by the many cruise and holiday options described in the blog, contact Bellisimo directly.

Be sure to check them all out to see what works best for you. And, if none of these sites work, there's always Walley World. BN