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The Traveler's Toolbox

A Compendium of Useful Web Sites

by Brent Betit

A currency converter for most of the world currencies. A world weather report listing city, country and regional weather reports, extended forecasts, and historical monthly averages. A guide to ATM machines worldwide. Maps for every continent -- including Antarctica. U.S. State Department travel warnings. The CDC site listing health inspection results for all cruise ships sailing out of U.S. ports.

In the chaotic world of the Internet literally thousand of useful resources for travelers exist. Finding them is the trick. Have you ever wondered what the average temperature in Bermuda is during May? Check out:

http://www.usatoday.com/weather/basemaps/foreign/carib/wfbah.htm

Do you need to know how much a Moroccan dirham is worth in US dollars -- or calculate what that special offer in French francs will really set you back? Go to:

http://www.oanda.com/

Is there a way to determine whether the ship you intend to sail on adheres to appropriate health and sanitation standards? Direct your browser to:

http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/programs/sanit/vsp/vsp.htm

Over the years, I have collected a number of useful traveler's tools on the Internet. I keep them all in their own subdirectory, my Traveler's Toolbox. In this month's column I am opening my "toolbox" to share a number of these sites with you.

General Travel Resources

Your first click will take you, of all places, to Ithaca. I don't even think there's a port there (how could there be? -- it's inland). Nevertheless, please visit the Ithaca College library. Here, a research librarian maintains a great collection of general travel resource sites, maps and route planners, and special tools for travelers. To visit Ithaca:

http://www.ithaca.edu/library/htmls/travel.html

The Virtual Tourist has news, currency and time converters, driving directions, language dictionaries, and other useful information. To become a virtual tourist:

http://www.vtourist.com/

An extensive collection of general and specialized travel links you may find useful resides at:

http://www.top10links.net/travel.htm

Navigating the World -- Map Resources

Of course, you shouldn't need maps on a cruise ship -- only the Captain has to worry about those, right? Well, you may find a city map for a port you intend to visit useful, or you may need driving directions to the port where you will embark on your vacation. If so, visit one of these excellent sites.

The Marquette University maps and travel page has more than 50 web sites for different map services and also contains a good selection of travel links:

http://www.marquette.edu/library/reference/travel.html

Map Quest includes driving directions from your street to a street in virtually any other city in the continental US:

http://www.mapquest.com/

Excite maps has maps for most states, countries, and international cities, along with driving directions:

http://www.city.net/maps/

One of the most comprehensive index of maps on the web is located at:

http://www.tradezone.com/maps.htm

And finally, you just have to visit the earth and moon viewer -- not because you'll need it to plan a cruise, but because it is cool:

http://www.fourmilab.ch/earthview/vplanet.html

A Virtual Smorgasbord of Restaurant Guides

You can't stay on the ship the whole cruise (actually, you can and some people do). If you do intend to debark, you'll want to do a bit of research in advance to find a special restaurant. Fortunately, you will find numerous appetizing sites on the 'net.

For a site listing nearly 20 outstanding world or US restaurant indexes, one that may "excite" you, go to:

http://www.excite.com/lifestyle/food_and_drink/restaurants/restaurant_guides

A useful and searchable world guide to restaurants:

http://www.orbweavers.com/ULTIMATE/

And finally, the best world restaurant guide I have found is at travel publisher Fodors:

http://www.fodors.com/ri.cgi

Weather Watch -- Forecasting a Good Vacation

What happens if you go to the sunny Caribbean only there isn't any sun? Take a look at historical weather averages (rain, sun, temperature) on one of the many world weather sites before you buy that ticket!

The CNN site maintains four-day forecasts for 7,200 cities worldwide at:

http://www.cnn.com/WEATHER/index.html

USA Today has a similar, comprehensive and extensive weather site at:

http://www.usatoday.com/weather/

The scientists at NOAA have a mission. As they say at their site, "the mission of the Climate Prediction Center is to maintain a continuous watch on short-term climate fluctuations and to diagnose and predict them." For more than a forecast, visit:

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

High Finance on the High Seas

Besides good weather, one thing everyone needs on a vacation is money. Trouble is, carrying great wads of it isn't safe, and American dollars are only accepted in a few countries without first converting them to the native currency -- after which you'll have a devil of a time figuring out why that 1,800 franc toy that seemed so affordable (because you didn't really know where the decimal point went) set you back 500 bucks.

With the Oanda currency converter and traveler's cheat sheet, you'll never strew money around again (at least, not without intending to):

http://www.oanda.com/

If that one isn't good enough, try another:

http://www.xe.net/currency/

To avoid carrying large amounts of cash, bring a debit card or credit card and withdraw cash at one of the thousands of ATM card terminals throughout the world (and recently, on many cruise ships as well). You'll be safer, and sometimes benefit from a better conversion rate, without paying a percentage to a vendor for conversion.

For sites that accept Visa cards, search at:

http://www.visa.com/pd/atm/main.html

If you carry a MasterCard, visit:

http://www.mastercard.com/atm/

Safe and Soundings -- Staying Healthy While Traveling

We've already talked about sanitation inspection reports for ships. Remember? Those are at:

http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/programs/sanit/vsp/vsp.htm

If you have concerns about a country you may be visiting during your cruise, take a look at the US State Department's travel warnings. As that site explains, "Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have Travel Warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets." While it is extremely unlikely that a cruise ship would ever call in a dangerous port, it is still worthwhile to check out the following before traveling:

http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html

The US Center for Disease Control also keeps an up-to-date listing of world wide outbreaks of disease, and geographical health recommendations for travelers (I recently used this site for a trip to northern Africa, and found useful information):

http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm

And finally, if your itinerary includes a foreign airline segment, you'll want to visit the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Home Page, where FAA ratings of foreign carriers may be found:

http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.htm

That's about it for the Traveler's Toolbox. You're already at the absolute best site on the web for cruise line home pages, ship and port reviews, specials -- and of course, cruising columns. So bookmark this one if you haven't already!

You probably have your own Traveler's Toolbox by now, and might be willing to share. I would be interested in anything you may have happened upon in your Internet travels that might assist other travelers. Useful sites may be submitted to me at: Brent@sealetter.com. The best of these may be published in a follow-up column.

Happy cruising.

Line

Brent BetitBrent Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children. This article is his latest in his SeaLetter "The Complete Cruiser" series.

Brent has written many SeaLetter columns on such subjects as sea-going language, cruising with kids and cruise etiquette. To find all of Brent's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Brent Betit" as your search phrase.

Brent is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Brent@sealetter.com.


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