The world is your oyster, but do you have any idea how to eat it? An Israeli backpacker and software developer has launched a very friendly website called Tripsak that concentrates useful tools to plan your next trip abroad, presented by destination. If your destination is a city or town, that is. If you vaguely want to see "mountains" or "pretty lakes," this is not the site to consult.
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That said, Tripsak is free and remarkably easy to use. It is only two weeks old, however, so it's a work in progress, and much information remains to be added.
Tripsak collates and concentrates information from other travel-related websites, such as TripAdvisor, Wikitravel, Travelfish, Hotels.com and what have you, and conveniently sorts it by destination.
Upside: Suppose you're about to visit Zambia. Clicking on the country name leads to a selection of four major cities. Clicking on one of the cities accesses a new page with information on seasons, airports, restaurants, attractions, food, flights, accommodation, the currency and more.
Downside: Still lacking is information on, for example, shots you'd want to get before visiting. Or where to find medical succor if a crocodile eats your foot. Additional features will be added soon, promises Israeli backpacker Aki Delmar, 27, who launched the site last month.
Another feature likely to come soon: travel advisories (such as the U.S. warnings to its citizens to avoid destinations wracked by riots or war).
Also, one has to have some idea where one is thinking of going. Typing in "Alps" won't bring you anywhere near snowy mountains. Entering "Galilee" into the search field leads to the suggestion "Galle, Sri Lanka".
Entering "Israel" brings up a list of cities, each with its own attractions, but not regions. If you want to see the Alps and want Tripsak's help with information, narrow your search down to a town, such as Davos (which is, Tripsak advises right off the bat: "Very expensive").
Does it make sense to land there?
Delmar, who has been on the road for three years and spoke with Haaretz by phone from Mexico, confirms that the site is entirely based on Internet information. But he does some research and verification.
"We make sure the information makes sense," he says. When adding new types of data, he researches the potential problems. "Then I write a short program to search for all the destinations prone to have problems, so I can manually verify the data," he explains. "For example, when it comes to high season, I know that ski destinations are prone to make mistakes because their high season – winter – may be the opposite from the rest of the country."
Another example of the occasional need to manually vet the algorithms' output is airports.
Suppose you want to go to Zalakaros, Hungary, Delmar explains. Tripsak would recommend you fly via Zagreb Airport in Croatia, because it's a shorter trip to Zalakaros from there than from Budapest Airport. Fine.
But by the same unfiltered logic, Tripsak should automatically choose the Beirut Airport for anybody going to the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, because Beirut is closer than Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. The only snag is that one can't cross to from Lebanon to Israel because the countries are formally at war. "That's when manual verification is needed," Delmar explains.
So why you do you need Tripsak? Because it saves you going to more than one site to find information.
Tripsak doesn't have every city or park in the world. It has information on about 5,000 destinations and counting, chosen by its algorithm as the most popular, Delmar explains. Eventually he'd like to have every potential destination in the world. Having started with the mega-popular ones, now he's working on less popular options, for which less travel is information available online – notably countries in Africa and Central Asia. "I'm also adding more destinations that are good for very specific activities - mountains with ski resorts, small surf towns and so on," he says.
The bottom line is that Tripsak can make your life easier even if you're just going to Paris for a weekend. Cool tools the site provide include measuring – "Say you're in Barcelona and want to visit other cities in Spain, but aren't sure about the distances. You can go to the Barcelona page and click any destination on the Location tab to see the flight or drive distance," Delmar says.
In some categories (marked by red boxes), users can set preferences. For example, under "Visa", you can click "change citizenship". If you have an Israeli passport, you would set that – and from that point on, Tripsak will link you to the visa requirements for Israeli citizens for every destination you check. But the bigger value is for people who travel a lot, and feel uncertain where to go. Delmar says: "Instead of just going to Google with every question, you can save hours with the tools that Tripsak provides."