Online tools for making you a smarter traveler

There are many travel resources to help you save some cash, be more eco-friendly, and more. Here are just a few.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

Finding the right services to help you save some cash (and headaches) when you travel can be difficult. That's where this roundup comes in. Below you will find a few resources to help you enjoy a better traveling experience whenever you want to get out of the house.

Get your trip on

Campus Visit If you have a high school student who wants to look for colleges outside of your area, go to Campus Visit and get an Amtrak coupon that gives that student 50 percent off his or her rail fare.

From now through December 13, Amtrak is offering students visiting a college campus the opportunity to save half of the cost of their train tickets. Whoever accompanies the student still needs to pay full price.

Campus Visit, a site that's operated by Collegia, takes care of the coupon process for Amtrak. You'll need to input where you're going, what school you're visiting, and whether or not there's an interview scheduled. As long as the application is approved, you'll have a discount coupon you can use when booking an Amtrak trip. It's a highly commendable service.

Campus Visit
Campus Visit helps you get some discounts on Amtrak trips. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Hello Travel Hello Travel is the site for those who don't want to deal with booking a trip on their own.

When you first get to Hello Travel, you'll have the option to research different countries around the world. Once you determine where you want to go, Hello Travel lets you create a full travel itinerary on the site. It's then posted on its agents page where travel agents can review your itinerary, get in touch with you, and build you the trip you want.

I wasn't overly impressed by Hello Travel. Although the service is great as a premise, creating an itinerary took much longer than I would have liked. I'm also unsure what kind of agent response each trip will get. I'd prefer to work with an agent I know, but that's just me. Hello Travel is a nice idea, but your mileage will vary.

Hello Travel
Hello Travel helps agents find your trip. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Rainforest Alliance If you're concerned about the impact your trip might be having on the environment, the Rainforest Alliance provides several tools that will help you find an environmentally-friendly itinerary.

When you first get to the Rainforest Alliance's tourism page, you'll find a series of tools to check out. Perhaps the most useful tool is its search, which helps you find car-rental companies, hotels, bed and breakfast spots, and more that have been certified as environmentally responsible. When you find a place you'd like to stay, you can learn about the hotel, get contact information, and even see pictures of it. Think of it as an environmentally focused Expedia.

Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance helps you find eco-friendly hotels. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

SeatGuru If you're concerned about where you sit on a plane, SeatGuru is a must-see.

The idea behind SeatGuru is simple: book your flight, find a seat, and determine what kind of plane you'll be flying on. From there, go to SeatGuru, find your plane by searching for the airline and its aircraft, and view the display of seats on the flight. Green-colored seats are ideal. They usually provide the most comfort. The vast majority of seats on the flight won't have any color, making them normal airplane seats. If you see seats colored in yellow or especially red, stay away and move your seat--they are uncomfortable.

I can't tell you how many times I've used SeatGuru to help me find better seats on a flight. More often than not, I find myself in a bad location. But with the help of SeatGuru, I can find the right seat and go back to the airline with some locations I'd like. It's a great service that any traveler should try out.

SeatGuru is a must-see for anyone who wants to be comfortable. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

TripAdvisor Fees Estimator Although TripAdvisor provides several search tools for finding flights or creating a trip itinerary, the site's "Flights" page features a new tool called Fees Estimator.

The problem with booking flights is that the total cost of traveling isn't included. Most times, sites only show the ticket cost, but don't account for baggage fees, in-flight amenities, and whether or not you're a frequent flyer. Fees Estimator shows the real cost of your ticket to provide you better information on what you should expect to pay.

When I tried Fees estimator for a flight from New York City to Atlanta, the site gave me cheap tickets for about $265 per person. But after I input that I wanted to check two bags, the cost jumped to $385. That cheap flight quickly became a more expensive alternative to some of the other options. Fees Estimator should help you save some cash.

Fees Estimator
Fees Estimator saved me some cash on airline tickets. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

TripIt TripIt is a simple travel itinerary service that lets you input every leg of your trip to make sure you're prepared when you go. But it's the site's alerts function that makes you a better traveler.

When you first start using TripIt, you'll need to create a trip. From there, you can add a full itinerary, inputting everything from attending a concert to holding meetings. The site even lets you book a concert, restaurant, or play from within the app when you have TripIt Pro. That service costs $69 per year.

Also with TripIt Pro, you'll get what I think is the site's best feature: alerts. If your flight is delayed, your gate changed, or there is a cancellation, TripIt Pro will alert you to it via text message. It also gives you alternate flights that will get you to your destination sooner. In other words, this service could conceivably cut down on the time you spend sitting in an airport.

I should note that you can use TripIt for free, but you'll lose many of its compelling features. If you're a frequent traveler, TripIt Pro is the version to use.

TripIt lets you input several plans. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. SeatGuru: Maybe it's just me, but being comfortable on a long plane ride is extremely important.

2. TripAdvisor Fees Estimator: I like knowing exactly what I'm paying. How about you?

3. Campus Visit: A nice program should be commended. Check out Campus Visit before you bring your kids to visit a college.

If you're looking for more travel roundups, click here for some travel-search sites or here for sites that help you share your vacation plans.