Travel Tips, Part 1

James A. Martin
PC World
Friday, May 19, 2006; 12:10 AM

Summer is nearly here. And summer means going to the beach, preferably with an enormous box of Popeye's Fried Chicken (extra biscuits, please). Driving with the top down and the music up. Looking at the sky at 9 p.m. and still seeing light. Listening to crickets and watching fireflies and...

Oh, I could go on. But here's my point: Summer means travel. And travel--for you and me--means hauling gadgets from here to there. This week, I've got tips on planning your trip. Next week, I'll focus on packing your gear.

Kayak.com is my first stop when I begin my online research for a flight. It's a travel search engine, as opposed to an online travel agency like Expedia. Tell Kayak.com you want to go from, say, New York to San Francisco, and it searches hundreds of airline and travel sites for itineraries matching your chosen dates. When you see an itinerary you want, click it, and Kayak.com routes you to the airline's Web site for booking. Reserving directly with an airline eliminates the intermediary and the modest fees that some online travel sites charge. Also, many airlines give you extra mileage points when you book travel on their Web sites.

But the real reason I love Kayak.com is its simple, uncluttered, Google-like interface. Also, the search results are easily adjusted. For example, you can change departure or arrival times just by moving slider bars; the search results are automatically adjusted accordingly. You can eliminate a particular airline from the search results simply by unchecking a box next to the airline's name.

Frequently, I'll reserve a hotel room online. But almost always, I call the hotel first to ask questions. Among my questions are:

Do all rooms have a safe? If so, what are its dimensions? Are the in-room safes large enough to accommodate a laptop as well as additional gear, such as a camcorder?

Is there wireless Internet access in all rooms? Where is the wireless signal strongest? A hotel may advertise wireless Internet, but the signal may be too weak in your room to use.

If the hotel's Web site doesn't mention any fees for Internet access, ask the front desk clerk or concierge. A rule of thumb: High-end hotels usually charge for in-room Internet access (wired or wireless), while budget hotels often provide it free. If the hotel or inn doesn't offer Internet access, ask if there's an Internet cafe nearby.

Does the hotel have a business center? If so, what are its hours of operation? Granted, you may be on vacation, hoping to "get away from it all." But business may rear its ugly head, so it's good to know you can print a document or receive a fax, if necessary. (For more on hotel business centers, read my column on the subject .)

Having a good Global Positioning System device as you drive around new cities and towns can remove a lot of stress. So if you'll be driving a lot on your trips this summer, consider buying one.

Dedicated, portable GPS devices often cost $600 or more. But you can add GPS accessories to cell phones and PDAs for less. For instance, the Palm GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition ($350) adds GPS navigation to a Palm Treo 650 or 700w. The package includes TomTom Navigator 5 mapping software with voice-guided directions. The GPS device communicates with your Treo over a Bluetooth connection.

ForPC World's review of the $250 Palm Bluetooth GPS Navigator kit (compatible only with the Treo 650), read " Palm Add-On Gets GPS Right, Mostly ." Our Product Finder has the latest prices.

For a review of several GPS devices, read " Never Ask for Directions Again ," or go straight to the article's Top 5 chart for specs and pricing.

For my review of Garmin's Nuvi 350, a dedicated GPS device, read " Pocket-Sized GPS "; you can go to our Product Finder for current pricing.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, #00026 Tips

Samsung's Q1, an "ultra mobile PC" based on the Microsoft-Intel Origami platform, should be for sale in the U.S., Europe, and China sometime in May, according to the company. Prices haven't been announced for these countries, but Samsung was scheduled to make the Q1 available in South Korea on May 1 at $1264.

The Lenovo Group is setting its sights on the small and midsized business market by selling ThinkPad 3000 notebooks and other Lenovo PCs in 135 Best Buy for Business locations. Best Buy for Business sites are located within larger Best Buy stores.

According to Verizon Wireless, the days of all-you-can-eat mobile broadband may be numbered. Heavy users of Verizon's BroadbandAccess service, such as those who use it for streaming video, may face higher prices in a tiered rate structure system, the company says. No specific plans to raise rates beyond the current $60 per month fee (with a two-year contract and qualifying voice plan) have been announced.

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it . However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.


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