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FOCUS ON SUMMER TRAVEL : Good Carma

Where to Go Get Information Before You Get Going on the Road

May 27, 1999|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This summer, U.S. vacationers plan to take 229 million trips of 100 miles or more by car, truck or recreational vehicle, an increase of 4% over last year, according to estimates from the Travel Industry Assn. of America and AAA.

While some of us dread the planning stages--finding maps, figuring out the best routes and learning ahead of time about local attractions and events--many others view the planning as half the fun.

Whichever group you are in, you can take advantage of many easily accessible resources for planning a family car trip, whether the destination is a hundred miles away or thousands.

In addition to guidebooks on family travel that list kid-friendly locations and lodgings, there are several online sites that can plot your trip and provide colorful maps and detailed, turn-by-turn instructions--promising an end to those "I'm not lost, so I don't need to stop for directions" debates. Other sites give practical tips and advice for parents on such topics as how to avoid back-seat squabbles.

Face-to-face advice is also widely available from Auto Club counselors who provide information as a member service and from experts at specialty bookstores.

Here are our picks to help you get going and to have a safe, enjoyable journey:

Books

"The Fun Also Rises: The Most Fun Places to Be at the Right Time" (Greenline Publications, 1998, $17.95) is a 256-page paperback billed as "The Ultimate Vacation Planner to the 50 Best Events and Destinations in the U.S. and Canada." It's a godsend for active vacationers whose worst nightmare is arriving at a destination only to find there's not enough to do.

Author Alan Davis spent four years on field research--traveling to fun spots--to be sure that doesn't happen. After you've narrowed it down to the event--say, Summerfest in Milwaukee next month, touted as the world's largest music festival--you get pages of details: a history of the city, day-by-day events with times and a hot sheet with recommended hotels, restaurants and nightspots.

"Great RV Trips" (Fulcrum Publishing, 1998, $16.95) solves another dilemma: Now that you've ponied up a small fortune to gas up your recreational vehicle, where do you go? Veteran RV driver Charles L. Cadieux provides great suggestions for trips to such destinations as Alaska, Oregon's coast, the Rockies, Texas and Vancouver Island, Canada.

Within each destination section, there is a map and specific information about the best routes, RV parks, restaurants and attractions, with suggestions about how long to stay at various sites.

Online Maps

Mapquest (http://www.mapquest.com) provides address-to-address directions for the entire United States, plus some border areas of Canada and Mexico. Users simply type in departure and destination addresses to get maps and text directions.

MapBlast (http://www.mapblast.com) provides a similar service, including step-by-step maps and estimated travel time for locations all around the United States and the rest of the world. Users can print maps and even e-mail them.

Online Publications

Family Travel Times (http://www.familytraveltimes.com) is a subscription-based online newsletter ($39 for six issues), but some of the Web site material can be accessed without a subscription. One example: "The ABCs of Car Travel," currently posted, includes 26 voice-of-experience tips. (Wake up sleepers 10 minutes before that stretch-your-leg stop so they will be less groggy; know where you'll lodge for the night by 5 p.m.)

The site also includes information on cruises, ski trips and air travel with families.

Family Travel Forum (http://www.familytravelforum.com), another online newsletter, has a spunky motto: "Have Kids, Still Travel!" The May-June issue includes "Baby on Board: 50 Tips for Car Trips."

The newsletter, its archives and other information can be accessed only by members (rates range from $2.95 a month to $48 a year, depending on the package chosen), but some of the information (such as the family travel bookstore) can be accessed by anyone.

In-Person Help

Counselors at the Automobile Club of Southern California (http://www.aaa-calif.com) do more than pass out tour books.

"When a member comes in, we have a counselor who will talk to them, map out their trip and give them different routes," says Susan Dabinett, the Auto Club's district manager in West Los Angeles. "The counselors are versed and experienced and can talk about the pros and cons of each route."

After deciding which route is best, the member gets a planning map, city maps and the club's trademark TripTiks, more detailed maps that show lodging, restaurants and rest stops. For more information, members can call their local club office or toll free at (800) 222-5000.

Travel bookstore owners encourage customers to drop in and describe the car trip they want to take so they can recommend the best books and maps.

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