There's only so much we can learn from the comfort of our computer screens. At some point, we've got to venture into the unknown, embark on something new and explore the world around us. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, below are a few different tools to aid you in your journeys:
1. What He's Having: There are moments in life when the stars align and you find yourself in Thailand during a full moon festival, Italy during an olive harvest, or Fiji for the biggest surf waves of the year. You could take your chances, or you could consult Joobili. Joobili is an event-based travel recommendation system where users enter their desired travel dates, country of travel and interests. From here the Joobili community suggests a variety of events with a map view of the results. Rather than planning your trip blindly, you can hit (or miss) every major festival, sporting event or concert tour on your travel route. TripSay and I Want to Go There also offer crowd sourced tips on favorite travel spots. Meanwhile, NextStop members entice your inner-adventurer using pictures and short 140-character descriptions.
2. The Whole Fam Damily: Are you traveling with a large group? Triporama lets users plan by committee. Similar to Evite, hosts create a group home page and invite friends and family members to contribute. Members can store and share travel research, assign tasks, conduct polls, build itineraries and integrate maps. While this is an extremely useful tool, be warned that if you ask for someone's opinion, you'll probably get it. TravelMob is another great tool offering similar group planning functionality.
3. A Clean Bed: With hostels, it's a crap shoot as to whether or not you're going to end up in a room with a drunk couple or a mentally unstable ex-pat. And if you're traveling on a budget, hotels can be expensive. Air BnB offers fantastic deals on nightly rooms, sublets or vacation rentals. Site members rent out their fully-furnished rooms, apartments and homes. For the price of a horrible hotel in New York, you can often get a luxury apartment with kitchen facilities. iStopOver is a similar service, but users can also rent out office space. This way you can extend your stay, finish some work and still have time to enjoy the sights.
4. Map Happy Directions: Whenever you see a travel brochure with the phrase, "The city's best kept secret" on it, you know this is an outright lie. Real secrets travel by word-of-mouth and are far from the noise of the tour buses and gift shops. AMap.to allows users to add links, videos, images, directions and comments to a map. This is a great way to share your favorite restaurants and parks and help others find them. The service offers the option to upload a shortened URL to Twitter, Facebook and Digg. Be choosy with what you upload, after all, it's only a matter of time before the cult of Lonely Planet travelers flock to online communities for new suggestions. If you're looking for spots in the US, TripCart offers travel mapping for drivers. Users can share and plan their routes and rest stops on the way to major and not-so-major attractions. Now you can get lost in that maize maze you've always wanted to visit.
5. Posse Up: Sometimes you've been on the road so long that you just want to see a familiar face. Dopplr lets frequent travelers share their location and travel plans with friends. Similar to TripIt, the service lets us upload itineraries and share them to schedule a rendezvous. While not specific to travel, Whrrl, Loopt and RWW's most promising company of 2008, Brightkite, are also great geo-based friend tracking tools.
FlightTrack ensures that we find our airport gates, catch our connections and make our way home. The premium version costs $10 and allows users to sync with their TripIt itineraries. NextFlight also tracks departures for more than 1,100 airlines. Meanwhile Flight Status tracks arrivals, departures and your baggage. And for those of us lacking a good sense of direction, Gate Maps helps us navigate confusing airport layouts and make it from gate to food court to gate.