Interactive Traveler: Web Wonders
I'll Take That for You, Sir
A new web-based company handles your bags—but it ain't cheap
Bulky bags, ever-increasing carry-on restrictions, interminable waits at the carousel—wouldn't it be great if you could travel without any luggage at all?Now Virtual Bellhop (www.virtualbellhop.com) is taking its cue from fashionistas and pro athletes, who sometimes ship bags ahead to their destinations. "With so little free time, people want to start their vacations at their front door," says president and CEO Bill Cippola. But breezing through the airport unencumbered comes with a pretty hefty price tag: our recent door-to-door test run from New York to South Carolina and back cost $240 for one suitcase; round-trip airfare was only $228. Cippola claims rates will go down as the service's popularity increases, but until then we suggest you forget the virtual—bring along a real bellhop and you'll still have money left over for a tip.
The Planet in Your Palm
No need to pack 10 pounds of guidebooks when traveling to more than one destination. Now you can simply consult your Palm Organizer, thanks to the new CitySync guides from Lonely Planet and Concept Kitchen. Digital content and maps culled from Lonely Planet's original guidebooks are available for seven American and five international cities—San Francisco, Sydney, Hong Kong, Paris, and London among them—with many more on the way. The electronic versions don't have as much city history or background info as the real guides, but they offer more listings for restaurants and nightlife. And the Palm's excellent interactive features come in handy while you explore: scribble notes about your hotel, bookmark hot clubs, search for a restaurant's address, and navigate neighborhood maps with a tap of your stylus. Best of all, you can get free updates from the CitySync Web site instead of buying a new edition of the guidebook. $19.95 per city guide; 888/611-7327 for CD-ROM orders; www.citysync.com for downloads.
Your flight was delayed, they ran out of pretzels on the plane, your hotel room was a mess, and the staff was just plain rude. Basically you've had a trip from hell, and no amount of complaining could make you feel better—or could it?PassengerRights.com is a free Web site that lets disgruntled consumers vent about their problems (and sometimes resolve them, with the help of industry experts). Not just a forum for unhappy travelers, PassengerRights.com provides sensible tips on how to complain (keep your grievance letter businesslike; don't exaggerate) and shares weekly horror stories, like the frightening tale of a 10-year-old girl lost in Chicago's O'Hare airport. The site also publishes Travel Confidential, a monthly newsletter available online and via the mail ($59 per year) that gives the inside scoop on how to find the lowest fares, get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket, and uncover other hush-hush travel secrets.
There are still people who don't know the thrill that comes from hearing those magical words "You've got mail." But now you can keep in touch with low-tech friends through Letterpost.com, a virtual post office that transforms e-mail into snail mail for the price of a 99-cent "stamp." Visit www.letterpost.com, compose a letter, pay with your credit card, and hit send. Your message is then printed out at a regional mail center and popped into the post.