The Internet has swiftly become an indispensable tool for travellers, with the travel sector established as one of the mainstays of e-commerce. Much like an unfamiliar city, however, the Web can be a daunting place to explore on your own. Even if you have some idea of where you're heading, you can stumble into many a blind alley along the way.
This book is a simple guide on how to plan and purchase any trip online. As well as general advice - telling you what's out there and how to find it - it will also point you to hundreds of individual Websites, representing the cream of those devoted to specific destinations or activities. All you need to know is how to go online in the first place; if you don't know that, buy our excellent companion volume, the Rough Guide to the Internet.
The most obvious appeal of using the Net for travel arrangements is that if you know exactly what you want - a flight or ferry from A to B, the cheapest possible rental car, a cut-price all-inclusive package - there are great deals to be found. That's just one small part of the process, however. The Net can help you to choose a destination in the first place, using sites that cover the whole world as well as those focusing on particular countries or cities, and to decide where you want to stay and how you're going to spend your time. We'll also show you how to look up the latest news or weather reports before you leave, and even how to stay in touch with home once you arrive.
Throughout the book, we've mentioned whether sites offer "online booking", meaning that you can make your choice, and pay for it, without any contact with another human being. While that can be very convenient, it can also tempt you to rush into something you don't know enough about. On top of that, Websites can be very obtuse, and don't always tell you something unless you ask for it - such as the fact that there's another train an hour earlier that costs half as much or takes half as long. So, don't get too carried away. As a general rule, try to combine your Web research with phone or face-to-face conversations; you'll find in any case that many specialist operators insist on talking to all clients to be sure they know what they're doing.
Although security is an understandable concern for all Net users, online fraud is in fact very rare. Common-sense precautions to follow include never sending your credit card details via email, and making sure that all payments are carried out through a secure server.On a broader level, don't trust sites that fail to carry full street addresses and phone numbers; that are hosted by free servers such as Geocities rather than having their own domain names; and that can't put you in touch with satisfied customers on request.
In addition, as with any business transaction, online or otherwise, it's up to the buyer to beware. Just because a site claims to offer cheap flights (and is found by search engines looking for "cheap flights", or has paid for a link from some "cheap flights" portal) doesn't mean its flights really are cheaper than any others. And the mere fact that a site looks pretty, or expensive, doesn't mean the product it's selling is any good (or even that the site does what it says it will). That's where this book comes in. We've trawled through thousands of sites to find those that are genuinely useful, whether they're beautiful, quirky, or downright ugly. We hope we're going to save you time and money, both at home and on the road, and point you towards some wonderful travel experiences....Continua