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Roughing It With a Guide

November 03, 1996|LUCY IZON

Rough Guides has grown a little softer since the introduction of its first budget guide to Greece in 1982. The series, which has grown to more than 60 titles, includes guides that still carry information on hostels, campgrounds and budget hotels, but now the handbooks also cover details on facilities for independent and adventurous travelers with bigger budgets.

Recent new additions to the series include guides to Costa Rica, Bali and Lombok, Hawaii, Singapore, West Africa and Goa, India. There is also a handbook for first-time visitors to Europe (especially helpful to backpackers) and two sites on the Internet where surfers can view information from their guidebooks.

Picking up a guidebook at the last moment may suit many independent travelers, but a little planning with a guidebook can help avoid frustrating situations.

Costa Rica is a good example. The country is popular among adventurous tourists from North America because about 25% of it is protected by national parks, wildlife refuges and biological reserves. It's known as a friendly, politically safe environment where you can surf, raft, explore cloud forests and watch active volcanoes.

There is also inexpensive transportation (you can get anywhere within the country by bus for less than $10). But often there can be more tourists than beds, and if you arrive in high season, December to April, without reservations, you might not find one.

The new "Rough Guide to Costa Rica" by Jean McNeil (Rough Guides, $15.95), could be especially helpful to those on tight budgets. Not only does it include listings of budget hotels, camping facilities, guest houses and the country's network of 10 youth hostels, the guide also provides fax numbers for easy reservations. One drawback is that the guide doesn't give accommodation prices, just categories.

The author covers popular beach sites and warns that there are more than 200 drownings each year resulting from riptides, most of them unnecessary. More warnings: "Don't swim at beaches where turtles nest (this means, more often than not, sharks), never swim near river estuaries (pollution and riptides), and always ask locals about the general conditions of the beach before you swim."

You will also find contacts for study and volunteer programs, language schools and tours ranging from cycling to sea kayaking, diving and rafting, plus opportunities to see giant leatherback turtles climbing up Pacific Coast beaches under the moonlight to lay their eggs.

A new addition to the Rough Guide series this year is "First-Time Europe" (Rough Guides, $9.95) by Louis CasaBianca.

In 218 pages it covers a wealth of practical information for the novice traveler, everything from advice on health, transportation, money and safety to addresses for national tourist offices, packing suggestions, details on rail passes and warnings on buying budget airline tickets.

Here's the type of information "First-Time Europe" offers:

"The prices of Eurail and other train passes are increased every year on Jan. 1. You then usually have six months before you must validate your pass . . . those who intend to start their train travel before July 1 can save money by buying their tickets before the prices go up."

When visiting popular tourist sites, CasaBianca advises "go early." You couldn't, however, send someone off to Europe with this book alone--they would still need a well-researched guidebook with specific recommendations.

Rough Guides has also introduced two sites on the Internet where travelers can get free travel information.

At the site you can read Rough Guide's Canada, U.S., Mexico and Europe guidebooks. Travelers are encouraged to give feedback in a section called Threads. When I logged on, readers were justifiably criticizing the site's Canada map, which labeled the prairie provinces as central Canada and chopped off the top of British Columbia.

At you can use their A-Z catalog to browse titles in the series, read introductions to countries, and get updates and bulletins. You can also read or download French and Italian menu decoders from their phrase books.

Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at

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