New-Breed Travel Guides

`GLOBALLY correct travel" could become the new buzzword of the '90s for the travel industry.

Insensitive cultural imperialism, with all its tourist trappings, is out. Political, environmental, and cultural awareness is in. And such notions are beginning to pop up in travel guides.

Fodor's is at the head of the globally correct pack with its new guidebook series, The Berkeley Guides: On the Loose in Eastern Europe (652 pp., $15.50), On the Loose in Mexico (556 pp., $14.50), On the Loose in the Pacific Northwest & Alaska (524 pp., $14.50), and On the Loose in California with Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon (492 pp., $14.50). Filled with lively, funny, and entertaining writing (though sometimes overly hip and underly tasteful), the series is penned by - who else? - students at the Uni versity of California, Berkeley.

"Most guidebooks concentrate on the touristy stuff, ignoring a country's society, politics, and culture. Boring!," states the introduction. "We give you the information you need to understand what's going on around you, whether it's a threat to the indigenous peoples or the explosion of cheap-labor factories.... We tell you about customs to respect, political and social situations you should be aware of, and your potential impact on the places you're visiting."

The budget guides are printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks, and two trees are planted for every tree used to produce the books. Useful advice includes: "The waitresses love to gyp clueless tourists, so do your best to act like someone in the know." "Don't expect to catch any Zs until midnight." Warnings such as "yucko" and "creepy" pepper the text.

Oddball sites, free accommodations, out-of-the-way places, and hands-on experiences are included. For example, one writer traveling in the Romanian countryside describes being taken in by a peasant family in exchange for milking cows and working in the fields.

If bedding down in a cow barn isn't your idea of nirvana, Prentice Hall's The Real Guide series offers a tame alternative. The latest addition, Europe: The Real Guide (1,242 pp., $18), is for middle-aged, middle-income, middle-of-the-road travelers who want to mix a wee bit of adventure into their budget travels. Straightforward, pitched to a "new breed of politically aware and socially sophisticated travelers," the series is actually only slightly more globally correct than standard guidebook fare. Both

do include sections for women traveling alone, homosexuals, and special-needs travelers, though. Unfortunately, little background information is provided about the writers.

Back in the '60s, Harvard University students began producing a series of guidebooks from a "dungeonesque" Harvard Yard basement. Now the No. 1 best-selling international guide, the "Let's Go" budget guides will be The Berkeley Guides' greatest rival. The series, now published by St. Martin's Press, has two new additions: Let's Go: Rome (256 pp., $11.95) and Let's Go: Paris (291 pp., $11.95). Although filled with practical and sometimes exotic information, and printed on recycled paper, the texts may nee d updating if the Harvard students want to hobnob with the globally correct crowd.

Lonely Planet budget guides tout themselves as a down-to-earth alternative to books for the "student-backpack set and the Tuesday-It-Must-Be-Belgium crowd." They offer pithy, in-depth information for travelers in search of a culture's true essence.

The authors are experienced travelers and seasoned writers; the publisher has been in the guidebook business for 20 years and has produced over 100 titles. So it's surprising that after producing guides for such exotic locales as Tonga and Vanuatu, Lonely Planet only now has gotten around to publishing its first editions of Western Europe on a Shoestring (1,320 pp., $24.95), Mediterranean Europe on a Shoestring (1,124 pp., $24.95), and Scandinavian and Baltic Europe on a Shoestring (548 pp., $17.95).

A percentage of the income from each guidebook is donated to famine relief, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and other causes deemed worthy by the publisher.

"Green Travel" has become a $2-billion-a-year business, write authors Daniel and Sally Wiener Grotta in The Green Travel Sourcebook: A Guide for the Physically Active, the Intellectually Curious, or the Socially Aware (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 304 pp., $14.95 paper). That's an insignificant figure compared with the $200-billion-a-year mainstream travel industry, "but it does indicate that Green Travel is a healthy market with a growing audience," they write. Travelers want to experience people and places

intimately without "inadvertently polluting the environment or contributing to an oppressive political regime, and perhaps make the world a little better place," states the introduction.

The authors offer guidelines for responsible travel, ideas for the "socially aware" ("from feeding the hungry in Calcutta to feeding your mind at Oxford"), and a long list of environmentally correct travel ideas.

A similar approach is found in Eco Journeys: The World Guide to Ecologically Aware Travel and Adventure, by Stephen Foehr (Noble Press: Chicago, 351 pp., $14.95 paper). This reference to "fun and exciting ecologically aware vacations" is short on preaching and focuses on specifics: from elephant excursions along the Nan River in Thailand to rafting the wild Zhupanova River in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, which has been open to travelers since 1990. The book also includes ideas on how to get involve d in volunteer conservation projects.

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