Travel is a special side of "local." Some local sites in travel-heavy locales, such as SignOn San Diego and Vegas.com, get 60 percent or more of their traffic from visitors.
But I have never really been an early adopter of travel services, even for planning summer vacations. In fact, as recently as 1998, for a British Columbia Kayak trip, I found that I was the only person that didn't find the Outfitter via the Internet. To add to my shame, the other kayakers were just Web "civilians": retirees, writers, lawyers and stock brokers.
Since then, the Web has really become an integral part of all travel planning, early adopter or not. Last week, my wife and I took a six-day trip to Yosemite National Park. What we found is that it would actually have been unnatural not to rely on the Web. Our experience, however, was decidedly mixed.
First, it wasn't easy to figure out what to do and where to stay. On the Web, there are many Yosemite sites, fake Yosemite sites, and other things … but at this point, no one has done a really good comprehensive site. There are, however, plenty of good boards for Yosemite (Trip Advisor is especially good).
I would have expected The Fresno Bee, a McClatchy paper, to have a good Yosemite site, since Fresno is Yosemite's gateway. But no chance. The Bee did, however, have an excellent blog on Hiking The John Muir trail. The blog has everything … video, maps, the wisdom of the journalists. But for me, it didn't have much actionable info.
Then I planned our route via Google Maps from our home in Carlsbad to Fish Camp, next to the park. I wanted to see how hilly it was, and Google Maps, via Google Earth, is great for that. But that was a big mistake: Google missed the vital turn and had us going 100 miles off track. It was a good thing my wife smelled a skunk, having previously consulted a 10-year-old AAA map.
We still, however, wanted a turn-by-turn print-out for the car. Old standby MapQuest gave us a perfect one (and Yahoo! Maps also was right on). However, none of the map sites provided information on the avalanche that had closed a key Yosemite route several months before. It would have been great if a news update had been integrated into the sites.
I was actually concerned about the closed road, and we called AAA. But it didn't have the info either. (AAA has bungled the Internet revolution and is a shadow of its former self). Ultimately, the closing turned out to be for the El Portal entry, which did not affect my route. (And the "closing" has been upgraded to a 30-minute delay.)
Then we planned our hotels — camping sites being mostly unavailable for our almost last-minute planning at one of America's favorite parks. We found The Tenaya Lodge just outside the Park via Google, and gave ourselves two nights at this plush resort, mostly because I wanted to use the touted pool. Then we moved on to The historic Wawona, inside the park for three nights. We got the availability information right online, and then called ahead to save the 10 percent online booking fee.
When we got to The Wawona, we learned that we could have gotten an additional 10 percent discount if we were Yosemite Association members. We wish we had known that before we left. There should have been a link. Later on, I hit myself again when I realized I could have signed on to the Internet Caf in Yosemite Village, for 25 cents a minute, to become members while we were still in the Park. This would have saved some $40 in hotel bills, while supporting the worthy non-profit. (OK, we joined anyway).
We used the Internet one other time, while still at The Tenaya. Thinking about getting home, we wanted to reserve a place to stay in Lone Pine, on the Eastern side of The Sierra Nevada Mountains (and half-way home to Carlsbad via an alternative desert route) I woke up early at 6am to gain access to the usually busy free terminal at the registration desk. Then I Googled it and misspelled "Lone Pine" as "Long Pine," getting all kinds of bogus chamber of commerce info, etc. It is amazing the kinds of trash that is out there.
When I finally got it right, I had a listing of ten different hotels, without rates, and wrote down their toll-free numbers to get more info and make a reservation on the payphones down the hall. I could have booked online if I chose either Best Western or Comfort Inn, but I didn't think I'd get as a good a deal. I was right, and got a great, family-owned motel via the power of the phone.
Bottom line: The trip to Yosemite is as special as everybody says. And the Internet really helped. But at the same time, the Internet services often only got us half-way there, or provided misleading information. Ultimately, I give the Webbiness of this year's trip a "3" on a scale of "5." Next year, I am sure it will be even better and at the same time, I vow to become a savvier user. Back to work!