Travel Tools: Virtual Tourist

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I stumbled on this really neat site. There are a ton of maps out there, with little flags, pins, and buttons you can place over countries, to show were you've been/are going, but I really like VirtualTourist because it's so damn pretty and easy. Sign-in, click on the countries, done. Actually, the map feature is only a facet of the site. VirtualTourist helps you plan trips, book flights, find deals, meet other users, read reviews, make your own homepage, etc. The most helpful page, however, is this one- 10 Things to do on Virtual Tourist.

The map says I've only been to 9 countries- boo hoo. I want to have been to like 87. It's going to move to 10 once I land in Tokyo! Speaking of which, 25 freaking days left, hell yes!


Travel Buyables: Haute Luggage Tags!

You know I don't like checking my bags...but that doesn't mean I can't label my luggage! I recently bought some tags that were on sale at Target, $5 for two. I think they're pretty cute. I looked online and found some pretty nice ones!

The one to the left is from lugtagz. They've got some great mod retro tags with metal bead chains. Freakin' adorable! I love that whole retro feel to things so taking something simple like a plain black bag or a silver lunch box and punching it up with one of these tags is gorgeous.

Target's got these cool motel luggage tags that accomplish the same feel! I swear, Target is the cat's ass when it comes to shopping. [My dad say's that means 'cool,' though I'm skeptical.] The selection at Target is more cutesy than anything else, but thats just the online store. The store itself has some pretty sweet plastic ones with bold colors and sturdy rubbery/plastic straps. I just looked at the back of the tag and it says, 'Bright colors make it easy to identify your bag' and 'Personal identification panel on back of tag.' I guess both of those are good advice.
Some other cool sites and tags:
Visitag's got a neat spin on personalized tags.

This site, aptly called Discount Luggage, has a selection of tags wider than Peter Griffin's butt. Lots to choose from, cutesy to simple, expensive and not-so-much, definitely worth a look!


Travel Tools: VibeAgent Review

How often does a site come along that incorporates the best attributes of a handful of sites and throws them all together? Not too often but there's a great travel startup out there that is making some really awesome steps in doing just that. Specifically, with hotels!

The new site, still in its beta and hidden stage, is called VibeAgent and in one word; it's awesome. You can search for hotels and sift through reviews containing special keywords that distinguish your tastes from those of others and find just the right blend of expectation and accommodation. It's actually quite ingenious. You can post your own reviews of hotels and answer to questions that fellow users ask regarding your review. Actually, the users of this site are called 'Agents' and each one has a profile. You can invite any agent to be your friend, join your group, send them a message, or even bookmark them. Clicking on an Agent will show you a cool map of places they've been and written reviews about, and also whether or not they're 'planning' a trip.

As far as your individual account, there are tons of features. First, there's the usual- you can load a photo, a few lines of 'about me,' date of joining, etc. Then there's the cool stuff. For example, you can note whether you're planning a trip somewhere. Then, people who see that and have ideas for you can pass them along, become your friends, send you a message, etc. Next, and this is an awesome feature, internal messaging. That's right! You can send messages via your own message center to Agents or customer support. That's the beauty of start-ups- the staff is so eager to interact with users; greedy for feedback. I had an issue and Adam, who I believe is one of the higher-ups, helped me out himself. Awesome customer service, don't lose that!

Lastly, the company keeps a blog, which is excellent in keeping all the users up-do-date on the lasted additions, enhancements, and system fixes. It's actually a great source for travel news in general; specifically, hotel searches! There are also forums for meeting and getting help from fellow Agents. All in all, VibeAgent should be a part of your trip planning process- from now on, it's definitely part of mine!

Travel Buyables: Vintage Luggage

Two words: Old luggage. I love love love vintage luggage! I have a pretty decent collection, too! When shopping for luggage, never go looking for it. I've never bought a piece of luggage that I was looking for. More so, I'm surprised by their presence in local thrift shops, antique stores, garage sales, and vintage shops.

Most of the stuff I've bought has been under $5. You have to set rules when you go shopping- period. Doesn't matter what you're shopping for, always have a price limit in mind. Me, for example? Well, I don't buy pants over $9, I don't buy dresses over $30 and I don't buy luggage over $5. It's great! Here are a couple of my favorites.

This is clearly from the late 60's to mid 70's- I'm unable to find a year on it, but the pattern, the colors, and the fabric/materials used help pinpoint its era of manufacture. It's got two metal zippers, the main having a large lock at the end of the zipper trail. The inside is a light orange/yellow vinyl material with an embossed paisley pattern. It has a green vinyl trim and a heavy, plastic handle. It's not very big, and it's thin so I use it for 3-day to a week trips.
The next piece is also from the 60's, but it's much smaller. It's a bowling bag! I found this in a thrift store and bought it for 50 cents. It is a bright blue with a wonderful white handle. It's in great shape, I cleaned the hell out of it with some Windex, and I use it for overnight stays, to 3 days. It meets the 'carry on' standard measurements, so I don't have to check it, either. Plus, it's completely adorable, hello!?
There are some fantastic websites for buying old luggage- but like I said, I don't spend over $5. Here's a good website for sprucing up your luggage treasure, too.

Travel Tools: Web2.0 Style

I was reading an awesome article on CNN's, about the 31 hottest startups, looking for some cool traveling sites and found a couple that are simply awesome!

First, Trivop, which allows visitors to take video tours of the hotels from videos provided by travelers!! Very very awesome! Based in France, they've already got 158 vids going for hotels in Paris- c'est magnifique!

Next, Bezurk, which the article states, "aims to provide the best prices for flights, hotels and cars in one place." Kind of vague, right? I mean, isn't that what Kayak, Sidestep, and SkyAuction aim for, too? Well, Bezurk might just give them a run for their money! They use AJAX as their main developing platform, which allows users to "sort flights quickly by price or departure time without reloading the page." Round of applause for time saving!

So use Bezurk to find a nice flight to say....oh...I don't know, India! Check out Trivop for any hotel virtual tours- none? That's ok, because you can use Burrp to find the most fun and non-touristy recommendations for food and nightlife in India. Sign up before the site gets too trendy and useless, like MySpace. Right now it's a very cool idea- like Yelp! There's another site sort of like this, but more focused around virtual and 3D maps for China called Edushi. Says the article, "Apart from allowing users to look for information on the existing maps, eDushi lets them build interactive maps in basic 3D, adding comments and information. For example, one user might write a map entry about hotels in Shanghai, and others might make comments that help to build out the map." The site is in Mandarin, however- but you can go to Google and have the pages translated, if you like!

Now, by far, the coolest site on the list, Bliin. This site is genius, here's how the article explains it, "Bliin lets you broadcast your location and post location-tagged photos from your computer or phone. If you have a GPS-enabled cell phone, you can allow friends and other Bliin members to track your real-time movements on a map. " So, you could be standing in front of the Eiffel tower, snap a picture on your phone, send it to Bliin- and your friends would be allllll sorts of green with envy!

Weblin is a neat application that pops up an avatar when you are viewing a page, and the avatars of other members will appear, too! I think this is great when looking to plan big trips with a handful of people- you can all meet at a site, or a page and have a conversation while all looking at the same info. Pretty neat- I have an image of it in action below:
Check out those sites, get an account and reserve a username before you have to add numbers and random letters to your name! I was able to acquire 'Veronique' for nearly all of them, yay!