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Kudos to the Webby Awards’ Travel Nominees

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Since 1996, the Webby Awards have been saluting the best web-based innovations of each year, from site design to the best e-shopping destinations and everything in between. This year’s nominees were announced today, and the travel candidates include some of our favorites, from Kayak to Hipmunk and TripAdvisor—all of whom took prominent spots on our own Best Apps and Websites list. One surprise nominee: Unique, a website focusing on city-specific micro-guides, primarily in European cities like Brussels or Rome. It’s new on our radar, but a gem of a find.

Among the 11 honorees from which the five nominees were chosen is yet another treasure trove of resources, from The Most Perfect View (which finds hotel rooms with postcard-worthy exposures) to yours truly—Travel + Leisure. (Thanks, Webbys! We couldn’t be prouder to be part of such great company.)

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Tech Thursday: NowCation and the Rise of the Destination Agnostic

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We’re noticing a funny trend around here. From GetGoing, the site that surprises you with one of two affordable vacation choices, to mystery vacation deals at numerous airlines and travel agencies, all fingers point to the rise of the Destination Agnostic: A traveler who cares not where she goes, so long as she goes somewhere without breaking a budget.

Into this trend falls NowCation, a site that offers "getaway deals" at rock-bottom prices—if you’re willing to leave the dates and destination up to the computer. Just plug in your departure city and the program gets to work, instantly suggesting where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. This morning, deals from New York’s JFK included ten nights in New Orleans (hotel and air included) for $802 and San Juan, Puerto Rico for four nights for $467 (also inclusive of hotel and air). Package deals like these offer the best value, but those who prefer to choose their own accommodations can purchase airfare alone.

The deals don’t always make sense—we’ve seen suggestions for vacations whose departure date was in the past, or for 2-day stints in Europe where you’d barely get settled in before checking out. But that’s what happens when you let an algorithm—not a human—tell you where to go.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Nowcation

Surprising Number of Travel Innovations Announced Today

glass plane

Strange things are afoot in the travel world today. It seems like our inboxes have been flooded by announcements of weird and wonderful innovations. Here's a selection of the most interesting news of the day (that would be April 1, by the way).

Ever the publicity hound, Richard Branson announced that his engineering team has secretly developed the world's first glass-bottom airplane. (Picture above) The plane's underbelly will be completely see-through, allowing travelers the "opportunity to look down on the beautiful scenery of Great Britain as they fly." But rest assured: Cabin crew will be trained to calm the nerves of vertigo-prone fliers. (Amy Farley)

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Tech Thursday: Your Travel-Friendly Google Reader Replacement

Feedly

New reading apps and aggregators are in the spotlight this week, as Google Reader officially goes dark. And as it turns out, our favorite replacement for Google's popular RSS reader is a proving a great tool for travel planning, too: Feedly not only aggregates content from your favorite blogs, it also de-clutters the search process so that you can easily find the inspiration you’re looking for. (Think: #London #food.)

For users of the old Google Reader, Feedly will still deliver all the basic functions you’ve come to know and love (though we haven’t yet found a way to search for other people’s reading bundles). Google Reader subscriptions are automatically updated into your Feedly stream, to make the transition seamless. And to improve upon the old model, Feedly introduces magazine-style reading, with big, splashy images that feel far less daunting than a long list of headlines.

After a pilot run, our favorite travel features are without a doubt access to hotel deals. A reading list filled with special offers from Expedia, Orbitz, and each of the Starwood brands (Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, W, Westin, to name a few), is teasing us today with free champagne and breakfast in bed in Paris, or a free night’s stay in Hong Kong. And on other tabs, our London, Paris, and Rome lists offer the latest on museum exhibits, restaurant openings, and cultural events. What’s not to love?

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Feedly

New Website Saves on Airfare By Choosing Your Destination For You

Getgoing.com

Getgoing.com, a new website that officially launches on March 6, promises to save leisure travelers up to 40 percent on airfare. How do they know you're really a leisure traveler? Simple. You choose two different destinations in the same region of the world (for example, Vienna and Geneva, or Costa Rica and Panama) and enter your travel dates. Then provide your billing information to complete your reservation. The Get Going team randomly chooses one of your two options. The "surprise" is supposed to be part of the website's charm. The savings is the other part.

The website covers hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries. Here are some airfares from New York I found on getgoing.com and the lowest comparable fares on Kayak: Milan, $568 ($635 on Kayak); Istanbul, $577 ($705 on Kayak); Las Vegas, $247 ($338 on Kayak); Beijing, $815 ($1,020 on Kayak). I didn't find any 40% discounts, and the flights on getgoing.com may be different from those on Kayak, but in every example I tried, getgoing.com had the lowest fare.

And now for the drawbacks: Getgoing.com is the wrong choice if you are a business traveler who needs to be in Los Angeles on Monday morning or you're traveling to a family reunion in Glasgow, because you may not get your preferred destination. You won't know which airline you'll be flying or the location of your stop-over airports (if any) until you complete your purchase. Even more important: your tickets are completely nonrefundable and changes are not allowed, even if you're willing to pay a penalty fee. You can, however, buy cancel-for-any-reason trip insurance at a cost roughly equal to 10% of the airfare.

For free-and-easy travelers who choose their destinations using a blindfold, a dart, and a map taped to the wall, getgoing.com could be a useful booking tool. But for the rest of us, maybe not.

2012-hs-mark-orwolljpgMark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.


Image courtesy of Getgoing.com

Tech Thursday: TripAdvisor Takes a Stance Against Blackmail

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Long gone are the days of the anonymous critic. Nowadays, anyone with a Yelp account can wield enough power to make a business owner quiver. But you already knew that much. A surprising new development? The rising trend of blatant blackmail—guests demanding freebies and service perks to prevent a zero-star takedown. And it's gotten so out of control that one entrepreneur has even introduced Reviewer Card, where for $100, members get a black card embossed with the words "I Write Reviews," a not so subtle way of saying, "Upgrade me—or else."

The Internet has already lashed out against the ridiculous concept of the Reviewer Card, but at this point, hoteliers and restaurateurs need practical support, not a flurry of blog-based comments. Enter TripAdvisor, which recognizes that extortion—even if just on digital review sites—is more than just a nuisance. In fact, it's illegal in many places. Their new blackmail reporting tool allows hoteliers to report any threats or suspicious behavior before a poor review is posted, creating a flag for similar-sounding, low-scoring posts coming onto the system. If a match is detected, the review will never make it online, whereas before, business owners would have to monitor their published reviews to find questionable content. It's a big move that benefits both businesses and consumers—and the latest weapon in TripAdvisor's strong fraud detection arsenal. For the sake of restaurants, which are just as affected by the blackmail trend (if not more so), we only hope that Yelp follows suit.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

 

© Adrian Weinbrecht/cultura/Corbis

Trip Doctor: OpenTable Acquires Foodspotting for $10 Million

OpenTable

It’s been a big week for tech news, but for this foodie, no announcement was more exciting than OpenTable’s $10 million acquisition of Foodspotting. For starters, the dish-sharing app will bring new, visual content to the reservation titan’s portfolio of listings. But over time, we can expect the partnership to yield unprecedented search tools to help us find (and enjoy) our next great meal.

Officially, the deal isn’t yet written in stone, but OpenTable users will already see some changes. In advance of Tuesday’s announcement, OpenTable began rolling out preliminary features, such as incorporating user-generated photos from Foodspotting onto restaurant listings. Eventually, most restaurants on OpenTable will have a visual menu, documented with snapshots from Foodspotting users. And from a social standpoint, the partnership will allow you to canvass your Facebook friends for their favorite dishes at the restaurants you’re scheduled to visit.

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Free Online Photography Museum

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Arago is a new, free-access portal to all of the photography archives in France. At launch, the site included the collections of the Direction General des Patrimoines and public establishments under the Ministry of Culture–30,000 representative images from about 20 institutions. Arago will gradually expand to incorporate private collections as well as other public ones. The site is named after French politician and astronomer François Arago, who presented the Daguerrotype process to the Academie des Sciences in 1839, ensuring photography would be France’s gift to the world. Go on, browse—and be transported.

Tina Isaac is a contributor to TravelandLeisure.com.

Photo of Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986) by Alfred Stieglitz

Trip Doctor: Get Paid to Travel

Worksurfers

Nearly every Ask an Editor Day, you’ve asked us the same question: How can I get paid to travel? Here’s a new way to make it happen: Worksurfers. The recently launched startup aims to connect creative professionals with short-term freelance assignments around the world, allowing them to hop the globe—or prolong an existing vacation—while broadening their portfolio. Simply sign up and input the type of work you’d be looking for (and where) and you’ll be e-mailed job leads as they’re made available.

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Trip Doctor New Year’s Resolution: Saving for a Safari

African Safari

In 2012, I crossed one major dream trip off my list: a gluttonous tour of Italy, focusing on agriturismos throughout Emilia Romagna. And while it may take more than a year for me to save up for the next dream trip, I’ve resolved to start planning—and more importantly, putting aside the cash—to make it happen.

The destination and length of my trip are to be determined—but I know I want to safari in good company, particularly with friends who call Zimbabwe home. We’ll likely spend a few relaxing days in Harare before taking off on a game-tracking adventure, likely in nearby Zambia or South Africa. I've already started mining our recent safari planning guide to get a sense of cost, but even with friends on the ground, I know this vacation won’t run cheap. Here, a few tools that will help me start saving.

•    MyTab.co: The Italian getaway was only possible with the help of my honeymoon registry. I won’t be getting married again in 2013 (phew!), but birthday and holiday presents can still go into my travel fund. MyTab.co serves just this purpose, allowing users to collect money (from gifts and from personal savings) that must be used for travel. The best part? A “match my cash” program that earns users discounts on flights and hotels.
•    Mint.com: My husband and I have used Mint.com since merging bank accounts, but I’d love to maximize its potential in the new year. The tool, which analyzes where your money goes, can help me pinpoint areas where I can spend less (taxis, mid-week lunches)—then, it’ll show me how much leftover cash I have at the end of each month.
•    Miles, miles, miles: Getting to southern Africa will represent a large fraction of my total trip costs. I’ve been collecting miles, and will continue to do so, but if you’re not, check out this handy graphic from NerdWallet.com, which outlines the great sign-up bonuses that travel cards shell out for new users. Signing up for a card can earn up to 40,000 points—almost half of what you’d need for a long-haul flight on most airlines.

What trip are you saving for in 2013? Do you have tips we should add to our list? Let us know in the comments!

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Micato Safaris

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