Travelers can tap the Web while away

The Web can be a big help to a government traveler, not just for
planning trips but literally on the fly.


If your office is like most, only a few people are out traveling at a time, so the
entire office can share access on one of the Internet services that have local phone
numbers around the world. Some, such as CompuServe, offer reasonably priced toll-free
numbers for connecting from truly out-of-the-way locations.


Perhaps you have trouble connecting to the office network over the Internet to get your
e-mail, because of a firewall or other reasons. If so, consider setting up a free Internet
e-mail account to which co-workers can send urgent messages and attachments when
you’re gone.


If the office network permits, you can also retrieve mail remotely this way from your
office account.


The free mail accounts at http://www.yahoo.com
handle attachments exceptionally well, and you can automatically retrieve messages from up
to three other accounts as long as they follow the Internet’s Post Office Protocol
for e-mail.


Yahoo, a for-fee Internet service provider, has numerous access points, but you
don’t have to be a paid subscriber to access many features. A free e-mail account can
filter out junk mail, too.


There are many other free e-mail accounts on the Net. I recommend choosing a large
supplier such as Yahoo, which is likelier to survive over time than a small, localized
Internet provider.


You can still access the Web through the small provider, but an independent e-mail
server frees you from concerns about the provider’s survival.


Yahoo and other online services post valuable map information online. You can find just
about any city, town or address, scroll down the resulting map and enlarge a portion or
zoom out to see more.


You also can request specific travel directions, although they usually aren’t as
concise as a local person could supply, because the online mapping services suggest only
major roads and highways. But you might be less likely to get lost on such routes than on
one suggested at the local gas pump.


AltaVista’s MagicBit link has good travel-related features. Go to http://www.altavista.com and click on Travel or go
directly to http://www.magicbit.com/links/travel.htm.


When you spend a lot of time on the road, the glamour of room service quickly fades.
Government per diem rates seldom run to hotels with a good concierge, so how do you find a
restaurant that serves the kind of food you want?


Easy—search the Yellow Pages in your hotel room. But how far away is that meal? If
you don’t know the city, you can’t tell whether the restaurant is around the
block or across town. And how do you find a restaurant in the city you will arrive in
tomorrow, so you can set up a meeting? Your local phone directory from the night before
won’t be any help.


Once again, the Web comes to your aid. Most big cities have restaurant guides somewhere
on the Net. A list of 2,000 sites appears at http://www.usacitylink.com.
  Click on Visit a City to get to the master directory.


Fodor’s at http://www.fodors.com has a trip
planner, restaurant guides and hotel advice for free. In the restaurant guide section, you
can browse through a list of all eateries that have been reviewed, or you can search by
such criteria as price, location and cuisine.


The site is often slow, but it isn’t a Yellow Pages listing. It covers only the
better restaurants and gives complete reviews, so the wait may be worth it to you.


For detailed, turn-by-turn directions in several cities, look to http://www.metronavigator.com. Check for the
latest changes. The service is so useful that it’s worth trying, even though it has
had technical troubles recently.


Visit http://www.frommers.com for information on
200 U.S. locations including brief descriptions of cities and other tourist information.
The site has a good guide to hotels in various price ranges, so government travelers might
want to bookmark it.


Do you need lots of information for a multistop trip? Don’t waste time searching
through multiple sites before you leave. If you can’t easily access the Net on the
road, download the data to search later while waiting to board a plane or in the air.


Visit http://www.travelmaster.com for
downloadable files on everything from hotels to golf courses. The site covers 220
countries and 70,000 lodgings as well as most airlines. It isn’t a free service, but
the $30 fee might be a good investment for a busy traveler or an office whose occasional
road warriors share the same notebook computer on different trips.


The site is especially helpful if you have to change plans on the fly and can’t
keep accessing the Net for new maps and lodging data.


One of the main travel metasites is http://www.travelocity.com,
which has everything from reservations to destination guides arranged well.


The site covers only large towns and cities, but for each one it gives information on
weather, flights, lodging, maps, directions, even links from your present location to the
closest gas station, automated teller machine or other local destination.


You must join Travelocity for the fullest access, but there are lots of free services.


Need a room in Bora Bora or Pittsburgh? If you haven’t been there before, one is
no more exotic than the other. You need help to pick the best lodging at the right price,
closest to where you will be working.


Check out http://www.all-hotels.com for
assistance. For example, the Moana Beach Parkroyal in Bora Bora, Tahiti, has 40 rooms
starting at $414. If your boss isn’t passing out inspection tours in Tahiti this
year, there are 10 hotels listed in Pittsburgh.


For out-of-town feds, Washington is one of the cities listed under Hot Deals. Click on
this option and specify occupancy to get rate quotes from a dozen or more hotels within
seconds.


You also can get maps, local weather reports, news, directions and a guide to important
services such as the nearest pharmacy or copy shop from the site. The listings include
detailed directions, phone numbers, addresses and business hours.


Although this is great for major destinations, All-Hotels does not list smaller towns.
You’ll have to look elsewhere for them. And, despite the claimed 10,000 hotel
listings, you will run across towns for which the guide won’t help.


The site at http://www.hotelstravel.com lists
many more hotels along with links to downloadable .jpg and .gif road maps and information
about items of interest. This is a less useful site than All-Hotels but covers many more
locations if you search individual hotel chain locations for a state. Prices are not
listed, but you can make online reservations.


American Express is a travel agency, too, and it posts lots of useful information at http://www.americanexpress.com.  Don’t
leave home without it.


For chain-specific choices, see http://www.hotelchoice.com.
It lets you check room rates and availability for the Choice Hotel Chain, including Econo
Lodge, Choice and Quality Inn. The chain offers a 10 percent online discount.


Many other chains can be reached easily from AltaVista’s MagicBit’s travel
directories, so I won’t list all the Web sites. But food and lodging aren’t all
you need on the road. The Internet helps with work, too.


Need to locate a business near your location? Online Yellow Pages can point you to the
nearest garage or to a computer dealer who might have the replacement for something that
broke.


If you travel for, say, the General Services Administration, your job may involve
finding the same sorts of services as any other business—for instance, cleaning up
foreclosed or surplus sites for sale. If your job requires you to discover a local
locksmith or lawn service in a hurry, Internet Yellow Pages are the way to go.


Got a company telephone number but can’t remember the location? There’s a Web
site that cross-references cities from a given area code or the reverse for any region in
the world. It’s very useful when you need to know what time of day it is elsewhere.
The site at http://www.decoder.AmeriCom.com/
is divided by U.S., Canadian and overseas locations.


Looking up people and businesses whose names you know is easy on the Internet. Yahoo
has business and residential listings. You can also try http://www.555-1212/whte_us.htm, a metasite for
the U.S. telephone White Pages.


There’s a reverse directory: Input the phone number to see who owns it. A
QuickFill feature lets you list name and location once, and the site automatically fills
in the data in the correct format for Four11, ProCD, Database America and MetroMail
directories.  Just click on the one you want to search first.


If you have to make more than one search to find your party, it’s a lot quicker to
go to this site first rather than fill out the different forms at each of the four
directory sites.


Another reverse directory appears at http://www.jsrsys.com/reverse.htm.
You might need to try more than one, because they all seem to have slightly different
listings.


Have you ever felt under the weather while far from home, and unsure enough of the
local lingo that you would rather not try communicating with a doctor? Sure, you can call
the U.S. embassy or consulate, but that might be 500 miles away.


Cyberdoc comes to the rescue at http://www.cyberdocs.com/main.htm.


It lets you consult a board-certified U.S. doctor and even have U.S.-quality medicine
delivered almost anywhere in the world. A virtual housecall costs $50, and you don’t
have to sit next to someone who’s sneezing.


If you know in advance that you’ll need medicine during a long overseas stint,
check out http://www.cyberpharmacy.com.


Practically every television and radio station has weather forecasts, but just when do
they run? They usually focus on local conditions, so how much good are they when
you’re on the road between cities?


Even if you can view a national forecast on CNN or one of the other networks, the
weatherperson seems to always stand in front of the part of the map you need to see.
Unless weather is really bad where you are going, chances are you’ll be left guessing
about temperature and other conditions at your next stop.


On the Web, you can find weather reports, maps, forecasts, even satellite photos for
dozens of locations, exactly when you want them and for exactly the places to which you
travel.


Yahoo offers several options, including personalized settings in MyYahoo. The site at http://www.weather.com  gives you a forecast from
the Weather Channel any time.


The place for fast updates on tropical weather is http://www.weatherfast.com.
It has a special emphasis on hurricanes.


Despite its name, the site called Weather Underground, at http://www.wunderground.com/, doesn’t protest
anything.


Instead, you key in a city name, select a state from the menu or just give a ZIP code
for a detailed report on local conditions and a forecast.


If seeing is believing, check out http://www.earthcam.com
for a selection of live webcam images showing various outdoor conditions.


The paranoid reader can discover live images from California seismographs at the site.


Why so many weather sites? The forecasts might be similar, but each presents the
information in different ways and some, such as weather.com mentioned above, have
small-town reports you can’t get from TV forecasts.


It isn’t always easy to access the Internet on the road. In the United States, you
may need several connectors to link your notebook to a telephone system. Make sure you
have the right adapter.


If you try to hook up to a private branch exchange that operates at a high power level,
you could burn out your modem.


Any office with travelers who really get around should invest in a collection of
telephone system connectors. The ultimate connection kit is available from 1-800-Batteries
Inc., a Reno, Nev., company. Visit http://www.1800batteries.com.


For $457, you get 39 connectors for universal compatibility. Or, for $189, you can buy
the 16 adapters needed for Europe.


If your office gets many foreign travel assignments, be sure to bookmark a State
Department site, http://travel.state.gov,  for
important warnings, services and notices.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. 

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