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August 18, 1991|JERRY HULSE

Although not all European countries require an international driver's license, it's a good plan to apply for one--just in case. The licenses are issued at any office of the American Automobile Assn. (membership is unnecessary). You'll need two passport-size photos and your regular driver's license. The licenses make for good ID when renting a car. Remember that driving in certain European countries is a different story from driving at home. In some instances, there seems to be a total lack of rules of the road. Particularly on Germany's autobahns. I was tooling along at 100 m.p.h. (yes, miles per hour , not kilometers) to avoid the speeders when a motorist began tailgating me between Heidelberg and Frankfurt a couple of years ago, then began blinking his lights for me to move over. The autobahns seem to attract the macho types. Other European countries where caution should be heeded are France/Italy. Like the Germans, the Italians change personalities whenever they get behind the wheel of a car. If you're uneasy about driving, take the train. Or a bus. Or join a tour. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of the open road (allows me to stop when I choose, explore villages off the beaten track, set my own pace). More enjoyable than following a rigid schedule.

Traveler's Checks vs. Cash: Those TV commercials dealing with lost cash should be heeded. Carry traveler's checks or credit cards. Traveler's checks are available from American Express, Thomas Cook, Citibank, Barclay's, Bank of America and others. Generally, I carry a small amount of U.S. money in order to avoid cashing a large traveler's check for last-minute expenses when leaving one country and traveling to another, then getting stuck with currency that must be converted at a discount later.

Rules for buying traveler's checks:

--Keep a list of the check numbers in the event of loss.

--Mark off the number of each check as it is cashed.

--Keep the list separate from your traveler's checks in case your checks are lost/stolen.

German Rail: GermanRail's new Flexiplan is available for the first time for unlimited travel on all German rail lines, including those in the previously divided section of the country. Good for 5, 10, 15 (non-consecutive) days within a one-month period. Rates from $130/$190 for coach/first-class travel (5 days) to $250/$275 (15 days). Rail/drive packages also available. For details, check with your travel agent or contact GermanRail, 747 3rd Ave., New York 10017, (212) 308-3100. Locally, the German National Tourist Office (444 S. Flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071) is mailing an excellent booklet titled "Germany As You Like It." Forty pages of information/maps. You can also order by phone: (213) 688-7332.

Thailand: Thailand has introduced a new rail service called Sprinter Express. Operates from Bangkok to several of the country's popular tourist destinations, including Chiang Mai. The British-built trains feature adjustable seats, telephones, fax machines. Hostesses on board to serve passengers, answer questions concerning destinations. Reasonable fares. Only $20, Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The Sprinter Express trains carry up to 80 passengers. Reservations through your travel agent. Other details from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1101, Los Angeles 90010, (213) 382-2353.

New Zealand: Lawrence James of Santa Fe Springs asks: "Where do I write for information about B&Bs in New Zealand?" Try the New Zealand Tourism Office, 501 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 300, Santa Monica 90401, (800) 388-5494 or (213) 395-7480. If you're in no hurry, there's an excellent service in New Zealand that specializes in B&Bs, farm-host bookings, hotel/motel reservations. It's called New Zealand Travel Hosts. Owner June Hawes knows New Zealand well, having traveled extensively on both islands. B&Bs priced from $38/$60 New Zealand per person (double occupancy). Full board costs $70/$150. In addition to booking accommodations, Hawes offers to prepare a listing of recommended routes/attractions for U.S. travelers. This is a free service. Hawes also arranges for car rentals.

June Hawes, New Zealand Travel Hosts, 279 Williams St., Kaiapoi, Christchurch, New Zealand. (We've had fine reports on Hawes and her services.)

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