The numbers of new communications methods in our cyber-wired world are growing at lightning speed. The latest for independent young travelers: a new communications card that enables you to listen to voicemail from home, free of charge, on almost any computer with Internet access.
Of course e-mail is a thrifty way of keeping in touch with family and friends. Now voicemail is just as easy, with a new service called eKno being offered by guidebook publisher Lonely Planet.
When you join eKno, which is free, you get an identity number and a personal identification number. If you want to make regular long-distance phone calls during your travels, you can get special rates by calling affiliated access numbers in more than 40 countries.
You dial in on a special telephone number that family and friends can also use to leave voicemail messages. During your travels you can pick up these voice messages by calling an access number in the country you're visiting. The amount you'll be charged for the time spent listening to your messages varies. In Australia it's 4 cents per minute; in Hong Kong, 78 cents a minute.
But the real deal is that if you're near a computer that's hooked to the Internet, you can listen to your voicemail messages for free. You just go to the eKno Internet site and punch in your ID numbers. If the computer's browser is compatible, you'll hear your messages.
The eKno service has a few more frills: free e-mail addresses, so you can pick up regular e-mail messages from any computer; free online delivery of the Lonely Planet newsletter, Comet; and the online Travel Vault, a secure place for storing important information such as ticket and passport numbers in case you somehow lose the documents. For more information, call (800) 294-3676; Internet http://www.ekno.lonelyplanet.com.
If you are searching for economical Internet time abroad, libraries often have free Internet services. Some hostels and restaurants also offer free or inexpensive Internet time to draw in customers for their other services.
Contiki Holidays, a specialty travel company for 18- to 35-year-olds, will offer 40 tour programs in Europe for 2000. The new "Lifestyle" program, for instance, is designed to focus on a specific region and provide opportunities to soak up the local culture.
One example is the "Taste of Tuscany" tour, a 12-day coach excursion that visits the towns of Orvieto, Assisi, Siena, Florence and San Gimignano. Included are bike trips into the surrounding countryside, walks through the vineyards of Chianti, a cooking class and wine tastings. Breakfasts, three lunches and most dinners are included. The land-only price is from $1,625, double occupancy. If you do not have a roommate, Contiki will arrange one.
Contiki operates more than 40 tours in Europe, plus programs in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. The European budget tours with multi-share accommodations cost from $85 per day. European tours with superior twin-share accommodations begin at $97 per day. Also new for 2000 is a 14-day "Mediterranean Highlights" tour, which visits Spain, France, Monaco and Italy from $995. Contact a travel agent or call Contiki Holidays at (800) 266-8454, Internet http://www.contiki.com.