Ten handy books for vacationers

Travel has become considerably easier since Miss Knox took her trip through Europe, as can be seen by the items her father procures in obedience to "The Traveller's Aid": a tinderbox, a mariner's compass in a snuffbox, a thermometer and a toothpick in a cane, a barometer in a sword; also a blunderbuss and a case of pistols.

More vital than a blunderbuss, these days, is being armed with knowledge. The experienced traveler may never have been in East Overshoe on the Tauber before, but he has a sense about what kinds of problems are likely to develop, and how to go about solving them if they do.

A shortcut to this kind of insider's outlook is reading a book like The Complete Handbook for Travelers, by Hal Gieseking (New York: Pocket Books, $7.95 ). An example of the sort of useful hint to be gleaned: National airlines often control some hotel rooms in their country of origin, i.e., the West German airline Lufthansa has a special relationship with Inter-Continental Hotels, so if you're searching for a room in a crowded German city, you might be able to get you one if you hold a Lufthansa ticket.

Mr. Gieseking also tells you what words to look out for when reading a travel brochure (called "weasel" words). For instance, a 17-day trip tom Greece is quite a different matter from a 17-day trip inm Greece. Or if a brochure claims that "tonight you can enjoy the sparkling night life of Paris," it means that this experience is not included in the tour's price --the word "can" is the "weasel." And the phrase "Nobody beats our new low fares to Timbuktu" means this airline's prices are the samem as its competitors'.

There are also useful phone numbers telling where, for example, to call to determine whether the cruise ship you're thinking of taking has passed its sanitation inspection, addresses of budget hotel chains, and lists of tourist boards that provide free travel information, of domestic airports that tell how far they are from the city center, and of radio stations and newspapers that offer ombudsman services.

Another excellent general handbook is Super Traveler, by Saul Miller (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, $6.95). Whereas Mr. Gieseking is a travel writer and consumer advocate, Mr. Miller is a lawyer, which may be why his book emphasizes the legal problems of overseas travelers: declaring items when entering or leaving a foreign country, getting in trouble with the law, and visa requirements.

How much of your overseas trip can be taken off your income tax if you do some business on it is another of the subjects discussed (answer: all, if the entire trip was a business trip; if the primarym purpose of your trip was personal, then you can deduct only business-related expenses). Mr. Miller suggests using a credit card abroad to pay for any item that you plan to have shipped -- if it never shows up, you can complain directly to the credit card company. Merchants don't wish to have their authorization to accept credit cards revoked.

Also it might be useful to know, in case your flight is overbooked, that if you have failed to fulfill airline requirements -- checking in an hour ahead, reconfirming your reservation 24 hours in advance, and so on -- you may not be eligible for denied-boarding compensation.

Are you a music lover? Well, if you're headed for Missouri anyway, why not go there in mid-June when the National Ragtime Festival takes place on the decks of a showboat on the Mississippi River? On the other hand, if you are going to Yugoslavia in July or August, you might enjoy the International Summer Festival Ljublana, which features small chamber concerts in the courtyard of an 18 th-century church, larger performances in a monastery garden. The International Guide to Music Festivals, edited by Douglas Smith and Nancy Barton, with a foreword by Sir Rudolf Bing (New York: Quick Fox, $6.95), lists classical, folk, jazz, and bluegrass festivals. By far the largest listings are in the United States and Canada. The guide also gives camping information, describes nearby attractions, and tells where to send for tickets.

Travelers interested in theater and dance will find the International Directory of Theatre, Dance and Folklore Festivals, by Jennifer Merin (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, $19.95) an extremely useful volume. Over 850 festivals, in 56 countries, are listed with brief descriptions and addresses to write to for more information. All festivals take place at regular intervals; they range from homey to dignified, amateur to professional, from Edinburgh's Fringe and the Jerez de la Frontera (Spain) annual horse fair to the Dragacevo (Yugoslavia) Assembly of Village Trumpeters.

As you look through the listings, organized by country, a kind of cultural profile emerges. Only Britain, for instance, would have a young writers festival, offering professional productions of plays by writers 18 and under. Author Merin comments, "What's a festival in Spain is quite different from what's a festival in Yugoslavia." She suggests that the sort of event you're interested in -- mime, opera, serious drama -- might determine which country you choose for your vacation.

This book is not usually available in major bookstores, but you can order either directly from the publisher or through a bookstore. Many libraries also have it.

The Morrow Book of Havens and Hideaways, by Thomas Tracy and James O. Ward (New York: William Morrow & Co., $6.95), pinpoints the sort of charming country inn that you just can't find after a hard day on the superhighway. Patchwork quilts; memories of historic figures dining, composing poems, or painting pictures; clawfoot tubs; and gourmet meals are mere commonplaces in this book. Most hotels are possessed of some endearing oddity: One gets its fruit and vegetables from its own farm; another place boasts more than 420 species of birds nearby.

Speaking of birds, if you're fond of them, you might look at The Random House Guide to Natural Areas of the Eastern United States, by John Perry and Jane Greverus Perry (New York: Random House, $11.95). The authors point out that 95 percent of all nature lovers crowd into about 5 percent of the available sites. The description of each site tells whether or not cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are permitted; whether swimming, camping, and canoeing are available; rules for pets; and what plants, birds, and animals may be viewed.

Inn lovers will be pleased by the new Inn Way series of guidebooks, by Margaret Zellers (Southport, Conn: Geomedia Productions, $4.95). The first two focus on Switzerland and the Caribbean -- two spots where the traveler might be especially happy to find picturesque, reasonably priced accommodations. Available in bookstores or from the publisher (add $1.50 for postage and handling). If you plan to write later, ask for the updated price list, and specify what season you will be going.

The 1981 editions of Fielding's Europe ($10.95), Fielding's Selective Shopping Guide to Europe ($4.95), and Fielding's Low-Cost Europe ($5.95), all published by William Morrow & Co. in New York, have just come out. The Fieldings have developed a way of coping with the problem of guidebooks being outdated before they hit the bookstores in these days of skyrocketing inflation. Buying one of these guides gives you access to a toll-free phone number with experts to answer travel questions and to update the information in the books. Actually the shopping guide is a worthwhile purchase even if you're vacationing close to home this year, because many of the stores described offer mail order service. Or if you want to do your Christmas shopping at Fauchon's, the address is h ere.

I think Cleone Elizabeth Knox would have loved it.

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