Frugal Vacation Travel Guide
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6 top travel websites to plan a great trip

Frugal Travel Guide 2011 » 6 top travel websites to plan a great trip

Between taking time off from work, travel planning, booking tickets, packing and shuffling your family from point to point, it's easy to feel like you need a vacation from your vacation.

These free online tools can ease your pain and help you save money by finding deals, keeping track of your itinerary and organizing your trip before you leave home.

TripIt.com: The mother of all travel websites, TripIt organizes all of your scheduled events -- flights, tours, restaurant reservations and car rental -- into one single itinerary you can view by computer or mobile phone. Simply forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com, and this travel website compiles a master travel schedule along with locations, maps, contact information and weather forecasts for each planned event.

"Few people have every element of their trip coming from the same provider," says Jason Clampet, senior online editor at Frommers.com. "You might book your hotel through TabletHotels.com, your airline ticket through JetBlue.com and your restaurant reservation through OpenTable.com. ... Having all of that combined makes traveling very easy."

TripIt has a pro version that offers several features including tracking frequent-flier mile awards and fare deals, but this free travel website will do for casual travelers, Clampet says.

Flybudget.com: Ann Lombardi, co-founder of The Trip Chicks, a travel agency in Atlanta, says that travelers can save 20 percent to 40 percent off airline fares to expensive locales by breaking up their trip. Instead of flying directly into a pricey hub, travelers can save money by flying into the closest major airline hub and taking a budget airline to their final destination.

"This is not for the overpacker," Lombardi says. "On (international) budget airlines, they measure luggage by weight, not by piece. You're allowed a certain amount of weight and for every pound over, you pay a fee."

While you can't book flights through Flybudget.com, this travel website helps you research which budget airlines are available for your route. Then, you can save money by booking directly on the airlines' websites.

Google Translate: Speak your phrase of choice into your iPhone or Android cellphone and this app will not only translate and play it back in any of 22 languages, but also write it in an additional 34. The app is free and is infinitely useful for off-the-grid travel, but there's a catch. While the app may be cheap, international data plans required to access the app abroad can add up fast.

"People are really concerned about the dollars and cents of using a smartphone abroad," says Jason Clampet. "People are still very cautious and when they are abroad, they're relying on old-school methods instead of high-tech." For those who fear international data charges, Clampet suggests sticking with an old-fashioned language dictionary.

AwardWallet.com: The best way to save money on travel is to let someone else pay for it. Designed to organize your frequent-flier miles, hotel and credit card points and gift cards, this online travel tool keeps track of when points expire, ensuring that your rewards won't go unused. Lombardi says that the site is particularly useful for those saving hotel points or frequent-flier miles for a big trip over lengthy periods of time.

"Many people waste frequent-flier miles because it's hard to monitor when points with different airlines actually expire," she says. "If you're saving frequent-flier points from different airlines over several years, it's more efficient to keep on top of all your points through AwardWallet.com."

Airbnb.com: For families and groups, condo and house rentals frequently offer lower weekly rates than hotels as well as amenities such as kitchens that can substantially reduce food costs while traveling.

Airbnb.com allows homeowners to rent out anything from a spare couch to a spare mansion at any price they choose. That means you can save money by negotiating unheard-of travel deals, like a fully equipped studio in the heart of Paris for $80 per night.

BiddingTraveler.com: If you want the swank and pampering of a hotel, bid low to save money. "I like Priceline.com's hotel bids, but the trick is to know what property you'll likely receive and exactly what to bid," says Chris Guillebeau, founder of the travel savings site Travel Hacking.

Enter BiddingTraveler.com, an online travel tool that shows you what hotels Priceline is offering in a specific area, what bids they've recently accepted and rejected, and a recommended bidding strategy for getting the best deal. Once you know how low local hotel room rates have dipped to lure in travelers, BiddingTraveler walks you through the actual bidding and booking process. The site recently touted four-star digs in downtown Chicago as low as $54 per night.

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