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Guiding lights; The Holden family (mum Nicola, dad Paul and two children aged eight and ten) have boarded a plane to Capetown and won't return to their Edgbaston home until April 1, 2004. In a fortnightly column for Post Style, Nicola Holden offers an explanation why, and this week she explains how even the most experienced traveller will always need their trusted travel guide...

Byline: Nicola Holden

These days, we are all internet mad, and travel has been one of the worldwide web's great success stories. A few hours browsing holiday sites, obtaining quotes for chic city hotels or rustic fincas in the Balearics is the perfect tonic on a bleak winter evening in Teesdale, even if you are purely in virtual travel mode, with no intention of actually going anywhere. For us, planning and researching accommodation in so many different countries, however, the net has serious drawbacks. Go into Google and key in self-catering accommodation in California , for example, and 4,479 websites come up. Too much information, as they say.

One night I spent two hours looking for accommodation in Sydney and managed to send a paltry single email requesting information on a property that turned out to be unavailable. Am I alone, too, in finding it extremely difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to sifting through search results? Go into the A-Z of Tourisms website for San Francisco, click on Apartments, and you are instantly given -yes!

holiday cottages in Wales to look at. The web is great if you know what you want within fairly narrow parameters, a cheap flight to Venice, a last-minute hotel in London. For more general research it can simply be too unwieldy. One publication to help cut through all this is the Rough Guide to Internet Travel (RoughGuides pounds 5.99). A well organised directory of some very useful websites, from sensible information about individual countries to more er -specialist information (a website dedicated to American train-related slang anyone?).

As a starting point for researching any trip though, you really can't beat a good up-to-date guidebook.

Obviously these come in all shapes and sizes and any in-depth research requires a weighty tome and the serious traveller ends up acquiring bicep-bulking piles of books in the 1,000-page-plus category. Of these, the Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) and Rough Guides (www.roughguides.com) are the best known.

Everything about a Lonely Planet guide shrieks budget traveller, especially the loo paper-thin pages, crammed type and hard-to-read maps, but their popularity endures because they are so thorough and know their market so well.

Rough Guides are better designed and easier to use. I find The Rough Guide to New Zealand is particularly readable and well laid out. Rough Guides now also publish rip-proof waterproof maps and talking of maps, the American AA maps for the States give driving times between major cities, something which none of the guide books cover systematically (distance tables don't help if you don't know what the terrain is like).

For sheer gorgeousness, the Dorling Kindersley Eye-Witness travel guides are hard to beat. Lavishly but purposefully illustrated, with street by street walking tours, wonderful museum guides, and a feast of visual information that makes you long to jump on the plane.

My own favourite is the Footprint Handbook series (www.footprintbooks.com) which strikes an elegant balance between accessibility (beautifully designed and readable) and really detailed coverage (bike hire in Perth, cockroach racing in Brisbane!). Footprint Handbooks are also free of the slightly preachy tone that can sometimes creep into the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet series, recognising as they do that most travellers need a treat now and then. All these guides have a major weakness though, and that is a lack of help for those planning to travel with children, a strange omission, particularly as the family adventure travel market is expanding rapidly. Planning a trip such as ours has been a case of combing the guidebooks for clues here and there as to what the kids might like to do, and trying to piece them into a sensible itinerary. Finally, for anyone planning a trip, with kids or otherwise, to South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, I can recommend the family-run Greenwood Guide series (www.greenwoodguides.com), which focuses on special accommodation to suit all pockets and clearly states whether any establishment welcomes children or not. As I have emailed back and forth to many of the places recommended by Greenwood, some of the proprietors have started to feel like friends already. We shall see!
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 5, 2003
Words:699
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