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Electronic Explorer

Road Tips From Cyberspace

June 14, 1998|LAURA BLY

Propelled by cheap gas and a robust economy, American vacationers will be hitting the road in record numbers this summer. And the information highway, while still plagued by massive traffic jams and potholes, offers a plethora of sites to help plan those journeys. A sampling:

* Whether you're in the market for a mapping CD-ROM, a rolling suitcase or tips on how to minimize back-seat squabbles, Rand McNally (http://www.randmcnally.com) can help. The heart of this site is a virtual store that stocks about 3,700 different mapping and travel products; ordering is available online and via an 800 number. You can also check for highway construction across the country and sample games and activities designed to keep kids ages 4 to 9 from whining, "Are we there yet?" every five miles.

* Get past the ubiquitous come-ons for the more comprehensive print version of the I-95 Exit Information Guide (http://www.usastar.com/i95/homepage.htm), and this site offers drivers along one of the country's busiest interstates some solid tips. You'll find weather- and gas-price updates, a mileage calculator, readers' suggestions on favorite greasy spoons and news about construction delays from Maine to Florida--including a Memorial Day weekend accident that damaged a bridge overpass and is expected to snarl I-95 traffic in portions of Pennsylvania through early July.

* One of the first mapping services on the Web, MapQuest (http://www.mapquest.com) remains the leader among a growing number of sites designed to get you from Point A to Point B. MapQuest provides door-to-door directions within about 30 major metropolitan areas, city-to-city directions across North America and an interactive concierge service that incorporates Mobil Travel Guides' ratings for 20,000 hotels, motels and restaurants.

* As BreezeNet's Guide to Airport Rental Cars (http://www.bnm.com/rcar.htm) points out, nabbing the best price on a rental car is never easy. But this well-researched site provides a regularly updated "snapshot" of rates, Internet-only discounts, phone numbers and online reservations for more than 60 airport auto rental outfits in the U.S. and a smattering of cities in Europe, Canada and Australia. BreezeNet's advice on landing the best deal: Compare prices with at least two companies and reserve in advance to avoid high walk-up rates.

* "Eat Here--An Online Traveler's Guide to American Road Food in the 90s" (http://www.eathere.com) hasn't been updated since last year, making some of its recommendations suspect on alternatives to Big Macs and HoJos. Nonetheless, this affectionate compendium of roadside eateries, recipes and cookbooks is enough to make any motorist's mouth water. Case in point: Greenbrier Bar-B-Que in Madison, Ala., where the hush puppies are hot and homemade, and "fresh catfish comes from the Tennessee River, just 10 miles away."

* While the 22-year-old mastermind behind The WWW Speedtrap Registry (http://www.speedtrap.com) maintains that his site "in no way encourages speeding and recommends you always follow the posted limit," it's nevertheless a handy, state-by-state resource for travelers who want to make good time while avoiding the law.

Small bytes: A major redesign of the official Disneyland site (http://www.disneyland.com) includes a virtual multimedia tour and a customized trip planner with details on hotel packages, admissions and event schedules. . . . Hotel Reservations Network (http://www.180096hotel.com), a lodging service that promises discounts of up to 65% in major cities, is offering rebates of $10 to $50 per stay for reservations booked during June. . . . Planet-Out (http://www.planetout.com/pno/travel/) just launched an online service designed to "make travel more predictable and more fun" for gays and lesbians.

Electronic Explorer appears the second Sunday of every month. Laura Bly welcomes comments and questions; her e-mail address is laura.bly@news.latimes.com.

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