From the Kenosha News on 4-9-06

Use these on-line resources to plan travels to Europe

If you’re taking a trip to Europe for Spring break or thinking of one for the summer, there are many on-line resources to help you.

First, sites that have general information on destinations can help you decide what you’d like to see.

If you’re interested in packages or want to know the latest specials, check out travelzoo.com and gate1travel.com. You can sign up for the Travelzoo newsletter and get specials sent to you each week.

Once you’ve decided what to visit, you can find airfare using any of the big aggregators: Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire, Orbitz, or Priceline. Alternately, you can check various international airline web sites, especially American at aa.com. We’ve found excellent prices from aircanada.com. You can also try the airline specific to the country you’re traveling to: Airfrance.com, Lufthansa.com, Alitalia.com, etc. A lesser known web site for airfares – to or within Europe – is cheapoair.com. Beware when comparing prices; some services list fares without tax, and some have the taxes added in already.

For travel once you get there, you’ll likely rent a car or take the train. The major aggregators can help with cars, or go directly to the car rental agency site – like hertz.com – if you have special discount code like AAA offers. Note that many rental agencies in Europe will allow you to return a rental car at a different location at no additional cost. For train travel, you can purchase a Eurail pass on the Rick Steves web site or at eurail.com or raileurope.com. For train schedules and fares, use any of the following sites:

You can also consult the individual rail sites for the various countries, including sncf.fr ( France), trenitalia.com ( Italy), reiseauskunft.bahn.de ( Germany). There will be a button or link on each to display the information in English.

If you’re driving and need directions or otherwise need to find out where things are in Europe, use mappy.com to get the same types of maps and driving directions you’d use mapquest.com for in the U.S.

For lodging, my absolute favorite site is tripadvisor.com, which gives reviews by regular travelers. Another useful site is venere.com. If you’re staying in a location for a week or more, use Google to search for “vacation rental” and the location. Look for a U.S.-based agency such as franceforrent.com or chezvous.com. Aggregator sites such as hotels.com or one of the others above can give you prices and help you make reservations, but make sure you check for reviews on Tripadvisor to avoid a bad experience. Tripadvisor can also help you know which restaurants are worth a try. Of course, guide books like the Rick Steves series, Frommer’s, Michelin, or the Go guides are also very valuable.

Finally, to figure out what you’ll be paying, you can get fairly accurate currency exchange information from www.xe.com/ucc.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 4-9-06