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Travel agents, service bureaus, student organizations, U.S. and foreign governments, maps, guidebooks, etc.
You need not plan or travel without assistance -- many offices and organizations can support your trip in a variety of ways. Below, you'll find excerpts and summaries of topics explored in depth in the book.
You'll also find links to a variety of great travel resource websites. These links and others are being assembled in the growing Resources page here at worldawaits.com.
Travel Agents and Services
Look for terms like "budget", "adventure", "discount tickets", "student", etc., in phone book listings for travel agents. Check out the travel sections of big city Sunday newspapers for agents and discount ticket brokers selling flight packages. If there's a campus nearby, check the student union and area shops for agents specializing in budget travel.
For tickets, hostel and transport passes, student IDs, exchanges, itinerary planning, insurance, and more, work through big organizations like STA (Student Travel), or CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange), and their subsidiary travel agency, Council Travel.
For the best web resource on hostelling, as well as travel news, forums, and discount air fares, visit hostels.com -- you may very well have reached this page via hostels.com to begin with! Visit the Hostelling International site for info and services limited to "official" hostels -- but plan on stays at all sorts of hostels -- the independents and regional groups are often the best!
There are tons of great web resources for travel and destination planning. For now, I'll happily direct you to three great general resources: Yahoo Travel -- which is a terrifically organized link-central to all sorts of resources; Lonely Planet -- for great destination features and general travel chic; and GORP (Great Outdoor Recreation Pages) -- My favorite central site for all things recreational, including good destination/activity features.
Other worthy links include:
Don't forget Hostels.com for all sorts of valuable travel info.
Foreign Government Sources
Go straight to the source for loads of tour and travel info -- especially all the details you need regarding the most recent visa and customs regulations. For embassy addresses and consulate locations, vist the Embassies and Consulates in the US page.
U.S. Government Sources
Several resources are must visits for travelers venturing outside of the most developed nations. For the latest on travel illness and recommended shots, visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) site. The U.S. Department of State has Passport Information and up to the minute Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Additional USDS websites that might be of use include:
Maps, Guidebooks, and "Windows"
I'm a map freak. When my belongings were about to be consumed by the Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 and I had time for one armload from my bookshelves, I grabbed my box of maps and gave the rest to the flames.
Carefully consider your purposes before you buy maps -- which can be quite expensive. Browse the racks with care, and compare the offerings of different companies. Michelin, Kummerley & Frey, ITM, and Hallwag make maps Ive liked. Nelles is important for some parts of the world. Other brands, tourist office maps, government maps, survey sheets, and atlases all have their advantages. I once bought a Michelin atlas of France then removed the pages that I needed for an extended thread through the countryside -- a much cheaper solution than buying the individual maps of the same scale.
You have to have them. At least, most of us in most circumstances will want guidebooks along to support our efforts. Yet they can be a curse as well as a blessing. As a guidebook writer and user, I can promise you'll find that any guidebook -- even brand new editions -- to be unbalanced, inadequate, mis-prioritized, and just plain wrong some of the time.
The key is never to let the guidebook be the master -- never depend on it like a dog depends on a leash.
Look also for guides that aren't part of a series, or that are written by renowned experts (like Carl Franz's Mexico guide or Paul Theroux's walking books). You'd think that books written by residents and natives would be the best, though I have often been better satisfied with authors who have a "traveler's eye". Browse, read excerpts from a variety of guides, and pick one that seems to match your goals and travel style -- one that feels right!
The toughest thing about guidebooks is carrying them -- especially if you're doing an extended trip and crossing several borders. In The World Awaits, I detail several schemes for buying & selling, caching, carrying, trading, and shipping the books you'll need. You might also...
There's a lot more to the issue of guidebooks than many travelers realize. Carry a guidebook, and you're carrying the print version of a human guide -- a human whose experiences, opinions, and priorities were formed during their own travels. Did the writer hit a restaurant when the best cook had a day off? Did she stay in a hostel just before it changed management and went downhill? Was he robbed in a town so that that he soured on all of its better features? Or is the author using second hand information to fill in the inevitable blanks in his or her personal experience?
Guides are not gods. Guidebooks should never be treated as bibles. Instead, think of all of your print resources as providing windows on the world -- never forgetting that those windows are framed by the dark walls of inattention and bad review.
I give the topic a richer look in the book. Here, I'll just remind you to keep those books in their place. They are tools of limited use and varying worth.
Are you a tourist or an independent traveler ...or perhaps a bit of both? The tourism industry will take your money and give you apre-packaged, usually okay, sometimes great tourist experience that you can enjoy with few worries. Independents reap the rewards that only personal design and self-responsibility can yield. For a hard look at the issue, take a peek at The World Awaits.