Making Tracks

TRAVEL SMARTS

Train excursions where the trip itself is the destination

March 10, 2002

Sometimes a vacation is more about the journey than the destination. The Rail Travel Center, based in Vermont, offers more than 30 worldwide train tours with overnights in various cities and sightseeing side trips. The company designs and staffs the getaways on trains from Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada and Mexico's private train, the Sierra Madre Express, among others.

For 2002, the roster includes trips to and through the national parks of the Southwest; a tour of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains to see spring blossoms and the Biltmore Estate's art collection in Asheville, N.C.; a fall foliage ride through Colorado; and a tour through Europe.

"Our trips reflect the old . . . maxim that getting there should be half the fun," says Carl Fowler, the center's general manager.

Most of the rail excursions last one to two weeks and cost between $2,000 and $4,000. They include meals, sightseeing and lodging (sleeper cars are available on some trips; hotel accommodations range from Doubletree to Victorian-furnished suites). For more information or a 2002 tour catalog, call 800-458-5394 or see www.railtravelcenter.com.

-- Tricia Bishop

AIRPORT SECURITY: TIPS FOR PASSENGERS

Confused by all the boarding restrictions the airlines require to keep the skies friendly? You're not alone -- otherwise, the security checkpoint lines would move a lot faster. Here's a list of tips compiled by the Travel Smart newsletter to help you navigate through airports:

* Wear comfortable, slip-on shoes (and socks without holes). You may be asked to remove your shoes so they can be scanned. And no steel toes.

* Don't wear metal unless you can put it in that little tray for scanning -- that means no underwire bras. If you have surgically implanted metal in your body, bring a note from your doctor.

* Don't wrap presents. If it's not apparent what's inside from scanning, security will open packages.

* Check your purse and carry-ons for troublesome items: corkscrews, scissors, tweezers, metal nail files, pocket knives, butane lighters, manicure scissors and anything else pointy and sharp (no aerosol hairspray and lighters, either). For a complete list of banned items, go to www.faa.gov / apa / tipbroch.htm. -- T.B.

Hopping around Australia

Now you can go Down Under for less: On its Web site, the Australian Tourist Commission lists 17 multi-leg, two-week getaways that cost under $2,000, airfare (from Los Angeles) and accommodations included. Most packages, available from operators like Quantas or Air New Zealand, split your vacation time among Australian cities -- Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns (home of the Great Barrier Reef) and Brisbane, among others -- and operate under a theme, such as "the Outback" or "cultural capitals." Transportation between cities is included. For information, go to www.australia.com. -- T.B.

Virginia to have fun with books

Virginia's annual Festival of the Book runs March 20-24 in Charlottesville with talks, readings and book signings by novelists, poets and illustrators. This year's highlights include a session with author David Baldacci (right) and FBI rescue team member Christopher Whitcomb about the research for Baldacci's last thriller, Last Man Standing. Programs for kids include puppet shows and readings by middle and high school students. For a complete schedule of events and participants, go to www.vabook.org, or call 434-924-6890 for information. -- T.B.

New heights in Nepal

This month, Nepal, which relies heavily on tourism dollars from mountaineers, will open an additional 103 Himalayan peaks to climbers and trekkers, according to the Nepal Tourism Board (www.welcomenepal.com), as part of a yearlong promotion meant to draw visitors to the developing country. The openings will bring the total number of Nepal's climbable mountains -- Mount Everest included -- to 263. -- T.B.

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