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Electronic Explorer

Dr. Memory's Journeys Into Cyberspace

August 13, 1995|LAURA BLY

The Internet's multimedia World Wide Web is touted as an armchair tourist's ultimate fantasy. With the click of a mouse (and a high-speed modem), curious Internauts can zip from Antarctica to the North Pole--listening to sound bites of Eskimo songs along the way. But as avid traveler and self-described "computer whiz kid" Bill Dell knows, navigating the Web can be an arduous journey as well.

"It's not a thing or a place," notes the Annapolis, Md.-based executive for an environmental technology company. "It's this monstrous, bizarre, un-indexed encyclopedia." Sifting and cataloguing the Web's rapidly expanding array of travel resources has become Dell's passion. And the result of that obsession, an eclectic directory called Dr. Memory's Favorite Travel Pages, is one of the most useful travel destinations on the 'Net. The address: http://www.access.digex.net/ ~drmemory/ cyber_travel.html.

Dell, who named Dr. Memory's Favorite Travel Pages after the central computer in a 1970's Firesign Theater radio program, launched the directory a year ago with a list of about 100 travel-related Web sites he'd stumbled across during his journeys in cyberspace. (Dell's business and vacation travel keeps him on the road about half of the year.)

Now Dr. Memory has about 850 sites, with more added every week. The opening table of contents lists such general categories as "Trains, Planes and Automobiles," "Where to Stay," "What to Do When You Get There" and "Things to Read." By clicking on one of the major headings, cybertravelers can access more detailed lists, and, in turn, link directly to a site.

Dell, who books his own travel and spends between one and four hours a day on-line, doesn't accept advertising or charge for a listing. He gleans new sites from travel mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups, but has declined to list thousands of Web pages because they aren't up to his admittedly subjective standards.

He's seeing more get-rich-quick scams, he says, along with a burgeoning crop of "rank amateur travelogues that tell you how the toilet flushed" in some far-flung locale. But Dell is impressed with the growing number of Latin American and Caribbean sites, as well as publications that offer a glimpse into a destination's culture. And, he says, the pace is picking up: Sometime in the next few weeks, Dr. Memory's Favorite Travel Pages will post its 1,000th travel link.

In honor of the occasion, Dell plans to set up his own Internet Relay Chat (the 'Net version of on-line services' "chat rooms"), break open a bottle of bubbly, and "spend an hour with whoever wants to join me."

Other comprehensive directories of Web travel resources include Travel Weekly's new site (http://www.novalink.com/travel), with travel-related news excerpted from the trade publication, and the immensely popular, newly updated Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com). Yahoo! offers search capabilities, as well as links to other Web sites--a big plus when you've got a specific destination in mind.

Small bytes: Booking airline tickets on-line has never been easy, but a new company called Internet Travel Network (on the Web at http://www.itn.net/itn) promises to minimize the mumbo-jumbo. Travelers can tap directly into the Apollo reservation system, using easy-to-follow, point-and-click forms, but must purchase tickets through one of more than 1,000 affiliated travel agencies. Unlike its Web competitor, PC Travel (http://www.pctravel.com), Internet Travel Network doesn't require users to provide a credit card number before they access the system . . . Hotel Reservations Network, a booking service that offers hotel discounts of up to 65% in 10 major cities, is now on the Web at http://www.hoteldiscount.com. Prospective guests can see a picture of the hotel exterior, lobby, sample room and a map of the hotel's location before they book, and can make reservations directly on-line.

Bly welcomes reader comments; her e-mail address is Laura.Bly@news.latimes.com. Electronic Explorer appears monthly.

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