Travel dates back to antiquity where wealthy Greeks and Romans would travel for leisure to their summer homes and villas in cities such as Pompeii and Baiae. While early travel tended to be slower, more dangerous, and more dominated by trade and migration, cultural and technological advances over many years have tended to mean that travel has become easier and more accessible. Mankind has come a long way in transportation since Christopher Columbus sailed to the new world from Spain in 1492, an expedition which took over 10 weeks to arrive at the final destination; to the 21st century where aircraft allow travel from Spain to the United States overnight.
The confusion is even worse if you want to fly internationally. Official fares to most countries are set via a treaty organization called the IATA, so most computer systems list only IATA fares for international flights. It's easy to find entirely legal ``consolidator'' tickets sold for considerably less than the official price, however, so an online or offline agent is extremely useful for getting the best price. The airlines also can have some impressive online offers on their web sites.
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Airlines are scrambling for revenue anywhere they can find it. Fuel surcharges are now common across the industry, and can be several hundred dollars on overseas flights. Most US lines other than Southwest charge for all checked bags on domestic flights. Many now charge for picking your own seat, and charge more if you pick a decent seat by an exit row or bulkhead. (The kindest way to think of it is that the prices have increased, but you get a discount if you're willing to fly with no checked bag, sit in a lousy seat, and bring your own lunch.) Nobody includes meals on domestic flights any more, although I have to say that the $7 salads and sandwiches are often a lot better than the former free gray-green glop.
Authorities emphasize the importance of taking precautions to ensure travel safety. When traveling abroad, the odds favor a safe and incident-free trip, however, travelers can be subject to difficulties, crime and violence. Some safety considerations include being aware of one's surroundings, avoiding being the target of a crime, leaving copies of one's passport and itinerary information with trusted people, obtaining medical insurance valid in the country being visited and registering with one's national embassy when arriving in a foreign country. Many countries do not recognize drivers' licenses from other countries; however most countries accept international driving permits. Automobile insurance policies issued in one's own country are often invalid in foreign countries, and it is often a requirement to obtain temporary auto insurance valid in the country being visited. It is also advisable to become oriented with the driving-rules and -regulations of destination countries. Wearing a seat belt is highly advisable for safety reasons; many countries have penalties for violating seatbelt laws.
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Four giant airline computer systems in the United States handle nearly all the airline reservations in the country. (They're known as CRSs, for computer reservations systems, or more often now GDS for global distribution systems.) Although each airline has a ``home'' CRS, the systems are all interlinked so that you can, with few exceptions, buy tickets for any airline from any CRS. The dominant systems in the U.S. are Sabre (home to American and US Airways), Galileo (home to United), Worldspan (home to Delta, Northwest), and Amadeus (many European lines.) The company that owned Galileo and Orbitz recently bought Worldspan, so the two GDS will presumably be merged. Many of the low-price start-up airlines don't participate in any of these systems but have their own Web sites where you can check flights and buy tickets. Southwest, the largest and oldest of the low-price airlines, doesn't participate, either. Southwest's web site gets car and hotel info from Galileo, but the info seems not to flow the other way. Orbitz one of the big three online travel agencies, runs its own system which is "direct connect" linked directly to many of the airlines.