Using internet tools to plan vacations

How to use the internet to plan and research holidays

The following assumes that you know how to access the World-Wide-Web and can use email. The following is a brief introduction to Internet use.

Search engines

The Internet has a vast amount of information available, but sometimes finding what is useful for you can be like finding a needle in a massive haystack. In this book, the tool that is used the most is an Internet browser, either to directly access a webpage, or to find it by using a search engine.

When it comes to search engines, the name that comes to mind is probably Google, although some less confident computer users may use Bing as this is the default set on most Windows PCs. Search engines do not search the Internet in real time, but trawl through a massive database of downloaded websites, and as a database is used, it is possible that the page suggested no longer exists, or has changed in some way.

You may find that you don’t find what you are looking for if you stick to one particular search engine. As well as Google or Bing, you could try one of the following.

Lycos

Ask

There are some websites that carry out searches on more than one search engine at a time, thereby saving you from using each engine individually.

Dog Pile (Zoo)

Using a search engine

To get the most from any search engine you should take the time to learn how to use it properly. When carrying out a search you can save time by using the correct search term and removing any term that is not of interest. Before your next search, take a look at the search engine’s FAQ or search tips page so that you can familiarise yourself with the best search methods for that particular website.

The words that you enter into the search bar are called keywords. One keyword will probably give you too many options and more than 8 is probably too many.

For example

holidays gives around 873,000,000 results
cheap holidays gives around 332,000,000 results
“cheap holidays” gives around 6,450,000 results.
“cheap holidays” – spain gives around 5,340,000 results.

Using the quotation marks in the third search reduces the number of results, as only the pages that contain the phrase ‘cheap holidays’ are listed. With the second search all webpages that contain the words ‘cheap’ and ‘holidays’ anywhere on the page are listed.


With the last search only pages that contain the phrase ‘cheap holidays’ and do not include the word ‘spain’ are listed. The – sign must have a space before it and must be immediately in front of the word to be excluded so that it’s not mistaken for a hyphen. With Google, it can be used to exclude whole websites as well, which is handy if you know that the website in question just doesn’t have the required information, or if you have already searched it. Other search engines might allow the term AND NOT instead of the – sign.

For example
spain –site:guardian.co.uk will exclude the Guardian newspaper’s website from your results.

The OR operator can be used to narrow your searches down.

cheap holidays spain OR germany will show pages that have either ‘spain’ or ‘germany’ mentioned. If OR is not used then only pages that mention ‘spain and ‘germany’ will be listed. The ‘OR’ must be in capitals. The symbol | can be used instead of OR, but it’s probably quicker to type OR than trying to find the | key!

Google also allows you just to search the contents of one website
spain site:lonelyplanet.com will only search for the word ‘spain’ on the pages of the Lonely Planet website.

There are exceptions to the search rules about punctuation and common words such as ‘and’ and ‘the’ when used in searches. If you are having problems in finding a relevant search, then remember to check the search engine’s tips or FAQ pages.

Searchbots

A Searchbot is a piece of software that continuously searches the Internet for you. This can be quicker and easier than searching numerous search engines yourself and a Searchbot can compare and combine the results for you. It might even be able to answer a question for you.

There are various websites where you can build a Searchbot, such as www.searchbots.net which tries to make the process fun by allowing you to design your own robot. However, a simpler way is to set up a Google Alert. Then every time your chosen search phrase is found by Google you get an email.

You do need to set up a Google account to use this service. A Google Alert can be used to monitor the news for your chosen destination and you can set it so that you are notified when Google has found a new article about your destination.

When you set up an alert you can use the same tools as when doing a Google search to ensure that information that isn’t relevant, such as share prices, is not sent to you. You can also set the reports to a frequency that suits you best, from as soon as it happened to once a week. www.google.com/alerts