Say you’ve decided you want a vacation trip but you can’t figure out where to go. If you’re in that situation, a few online operations are eager to help you decide. To me, the basic idea is a stretch: I always know of more places I want to visit than time or money to go. But if you are one of those people who really need help, you can find it at the click of a mouse.
Wanderfly is the latest entrant into this market niche. Its process is simple:
- Enter your point of origin—select from a menu (most bigger cities, but small-town residents may have to choose a nearby city with an airport).
- Select basic trip parameters: a range of how much you want/expect to pay, season of travel (general, such as “late November,” not date specific), a length-of-stay range, and an “I want to explore” destination choice—with “anywhere” as an option.
- Select one or more type-of-trip options from a list of 12: casino, eco, food, culture, outdoors, romance, shopping, spa, party, beach, entertainment, and luxury.
After due electronic cogitation, the search engine displays basics for one trip: hotel plus flight and cost. It also displays a lot of specific activity suggestions—restaurants, museums, entertainment attractions, excursions, and such, but without prices showing. If you accept the suggestion, Wanderfly makes air and hotel bookings through Expedia, which presumably means you’d enjoy whatever package deals are available through Expedia. And if you don’t like the first suggestion, you can ask the system to try again.
Does Wanderfly work? Well, yes, but in a limited way. My test (starting from my local airport at Medford, Oregon) for a “food” trip took me to Sonoma, California, for a “casino” trip to Santo Domingo, and for a “food” plus “outdoor” trip to San Francisco. But the best airfare it found for the “food” trips (both Medford to San Francisco) were actually higher at the time than airfares from Medford to the East Coast. And I have no idea why the system preferred Santo Domingo for a casino trip to more easily accessed Las Vegas. As a more fundamental question, the site did not allow me to specify individual outdoor activities such as golf or tennis, and a hotel in downtown San Francisco would have been a poor choice for a golf or tennis vacation.
Several other online sites provide somewhat similar trip-planning assistance:
- The closest approach to Wanderfly’s trip planning function is the “Inspire Me” option on TravelMuse, which offers a wider choice of input options than Wanderfly but works about the same way.
- Another relative newcomer, Zicasso, provides a somewhat similar service, but it’s not automated. Instead, you fill out a trip request, enter it, and receive up to three detailed “trip plans” from “distinguished travel specialists” (read “travel agencies”). The big advantage is, of course, you can be as specific about your requests as you want to be, and—as I often note—a good travel agent can provide assistance you just can’t get online. I haven’t used it, but Zicasso has earned some good press.
- Lots of sites offer less rigid trip planning assistance. TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, for example, and many other popular sites provide all sorts of suggestions for various sorts of trips, but without the automatic purchase links.
My most fundamental question about all these systems, however, is why so many people really have no idea where they might want to go for a trip? To me, that’s never in play—I always have a mental list of places I want to go and things I want to see. I might need help in finding the best deals, but never in deciding what I want to do.
I’m sure, however, that some of you aren’t always as sure. If so, by all means, give Wanderfly a try—but also try TravelMuse, TripAdvisor, and a few of the other sites as well. You never know when you’ll get a great idea that wasn’t even on your radar screen.
Have you ever had success booking a trip with an online travel planning tool? Do you think these systems are helpful? Share your thoughts by adding a comment below!
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com and TripAdvisor.com.)