Hit the Road

Digital tools can help with summer travel.

by André Natta

While we look for ways to escape the heat in central Alabama, many will take to the roads in search of relief.

The world of mainstream digital tools may be helpful in terms of figuring out how many friends want to get together at the local watering hole, but there are other tools available that can be used to figure out where you’re going, how you’re getting there and exactly what you’re going to do once you arrive.

You may want to consider visiting Gas Buddy before walking out the door. This website helps millions of travelers (and commuters) determine the best place to fill up for the journey ahead. There is also a heat map that gives visitors a good idea of how our region compares to the rest of the country temperature-wise, thus helping determine whether that cross-country road trip is really a good idea.

Those looking to take to the skies have a few options online to help with finding a deal on the flight. Hipmunk is similar to existing travel-focused price comparison services like Kayak, allowing you to see what most airlines and hotels have available for your trip. Instead of having to review the results in grid format, it’s a color-coded graph allowing travelers to visualize what all those times mean. You’ll see how long you’ll be in the air and the length of that layover.

Once folks know how they’re getting to their destination, one issue that’s still tough is making sure you keep all of those confirmation e-mails. TripIt, a web service founded in late 2006, allows you to forward all of your airline itineraries and hotel reservations to one location online, making it easy to retrieve on your mobile device or the inbox on your laptop or tablet. Members of this site can simply forward confirmation e-mails to their account instead of entering them manually. But I’ve had minor issues with that functionality. I’m not sure I would recommend the automatic forwarding function; if it’s the same e-mail account associated with your Facebook account, you’ll end up with “trips” to the softball field attempting to populate your trip list.

TripIt has become popular among business travelers, while Dopplr is probably more suited for recreational travelers. Launched in late 2007, it allows users to invite friends and followers from other social networks to be their guides while on vacation. It also helps you connect with others who may have visited the city and maybe even make a new friend or two during the trip. It allows you to do research for the trip without necessarily having to broadcast it all over your Facebook or Twitter accounts. It could also be seen as the more socially conscious option. One thing you can  do from the account is keep track of the CO2 output your travel has resulted in—perhaps encouraging to think about the need to travel and its overall effect on the world around you.

All of these services are also available as either mobile websites or as apps for all major smartphones. They find a way to keep us connected just until we reach our destination—where we should be unplugged and relaxing.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

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