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Dream away with online searches

Tropical vacations can offer a glimmer of hope at the end of a long, cold, dark, snowy tunnel. Thanks to a number of online tools, you can find the sun vacation you dream of without having to choose the all-inclusive option. So whether it’s culture in Havana, a fishing village in Mexico or a week of partying in Vegas, these websites can help you find the best deals to tailor your dream getaway.

Flights:
From Montreal or Toronto, yuldeals.com and yyzdeals.com feature the best fares and coupons for flights and all-inclusive vacations. You can even post in the forum if you have a destination in mind, and Chris Myden, the airfare guru, will help you out. Kayak.com/explore is a handy tool that lets you set your budget, and then shows your options on a map. If you already have a location in mind, itasoftware.com lets you see a “calendar of lowest fares” to help choose the best time to go.

Budget Accomodation:
With websites like airbnb.com and stay4free.com, you can live in the comfort of home away from home. Stay4free.com is one of a number of home exchange websites where you can trade homes with a stranger for an agreed-upon period, whereas airbnb.com offers rooms or houses for rent from individuals or families living all over the world. With couchsurfing.com, you can find friends, couches and great advice from locals in your destination, and Hospitalityclub.org offers similar services for the adventurous traveller looking for a cultural exchange. Both are free of charge.

Hotels:
If going budget scares you, there’s Priceline.com, which lets you bid on a hotel without knowing its name. Biddingtraveller.com and biddingfortravel.com can help you find the best deals possible on Priceline.com. If you’re looking to splash out, wecomebeyond.com offers architecturally spectacular hotels and vacation rentals, from a private villa in Costa Rica to a rooftop apartment in Buenos Aires. Finally, Hotels.com, with thousands of hotels worldwide, offers options for all price ranges and has great last-minute deals on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Discounts and Deals:
Groupon and LivingSocial offer excellent deals on destinations, dining and activities worldwide. If you’re planning on staying closer to home, yipit.com compiles the deals from 787 bucket lists in 118 North American cities and gives you the ability to refine your selections to only those that interest you: museums, dining, outdoor adventures, etc. Make sure to check the expiry dates to ensure that your coupon is valid when you go. Autoslash.com helps save on car rentals by constantly scouring the web for coupons and automatically rebooking your reservation according to the best deal up until the day of your rental – all for free. Cayole.com simplifies finding the best cruises by allowing you to select your destination, price range, cruise lines and departure dates and then suggesting whether to book now or later for the best price.

Useful services:
If you’re driving to your destination, Parkatmyhouse.com lets you rent a spot on a residential driveway. If you have a van, this can double as accommodation. Don’t know anyone where you’re going? Rentalocalfriend.com, a website created by Brazilian journalist, Alice Moura, offers half-day and full-day tours around cities all over the world by young, interesting, world-savvy guides. And if you’re an adrenaline junkie, Pocketvillage.com lists activities, tours and adventure tourism ideas, bundling together the countless options into one neatly presented website.

Published in the Gazette on Feb 4, 2012

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