Guidebooks help you plan your own trips Resources: What's available ranges from series aimed at budget-minded students to those for mainstream travelers.

Travel Q&A

March 08, 1998|By Jean Allen | Jean Allen,SUN SENTINEL, SOUTH FLORIDA

We are planning a three-week trip to Europe next summer. xTC We have taken escorted group tours, but often the places we want most to see are skipped, or our time there is too short. Now we want to travel on our own. I need a good guidebook, not only to suggest accommodations and restaurants, but to provide advice and recommend places to visit. We need to watch the bottom line, but we don't want to stay in any dumps.

There are Europe guidebooks that cover everything from bare basics to high luxury. One good way to judge whether a guidebook will suit you is to go to a bookstore or library and look up places you have already visited. If the guidebook's assessment agrees with yours, you'll probably like the book.

Several series that young travelers use most are also helpful for budget-minded adults: The Let's Go guides, highly opinionated but very useful for students looking for the least expensive hostels, hotels and meals, written by Harvard University students; the Lonely Planet guides, low- to mid-budget choices, thorough and practical with good maps and hotel information; and the hip Rough Guides, researched by British writers.

More mainstream are the Frommer guides, dedicated to keeping prices moderate for independent travelers; and the Fodor guides, whose hotel choices are usually priced above Frommer's, especially useful for independent travelers because of the attention to such details as how to use local transportation.

For motorists, the Michelin Green Guides are excellent. If you plan to travel by rail, I'd get Jay Brunhouse's "Traveling Europe's Trains."

Rick Steves, host of the "Travels in Europe" series on PBS and the Travel Channel, writes a number of regional guides and one that covers all of Europe. I liked "Europe Through the Back Door" as soon as I opened it. Steves is a sort of grown-up version of the collegians who write the Let's Go and Rough Guides: He doesn't want to spend a lot of money, but his comfort level is more suited to average travelers than to backpackers. Steves also has a Web site (www.ricksteves.com).

In addition to choosing a guidebook, write to the U.S.-based tourist offices of the countries you decide to visit, asking for information. These offices, listed in most Europe guidebooks, range from very good to pathetic, and most of the literature is free. Also, I take along the latest editions of the Best Western and Choice Hotels international directories, because those chains' affiliate hotels are well-run, clean and usually inexpensive.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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