NEW, more personalized travel services are arriving. The demand for a different, more intimate travel experience has produced a growing number of small travel consultant businesses that can book you into a London apartment for a week, tailor-fit your family's itinerary for a drive West, or set you up in a French ch^ateau. One such service began when British-born Sarah Jones-Lloyd was living in California with her husband back in the '70s. Her friends asked her for help in planning a vacation in Great Britain. They wanted an out-of-the-ordinary tour: Could she help them arrange to stay with a British family?
Mrs. Jones-Lloyd linked up with a friend in the Cotswolds, Gilliam Casey, and they started ``In the English Manner,'' which arranges for clients to stay in private homes, even castles and country estates as exclusive guests of the owners.
Guests have access to all of the estate's facilities, which might include swimming, horseback riding, or hunting. Breakfast is included, and dinner is optional, although guests almost always prefer to have the undivided attention of their hosts on the first night.
Mrs. Jones-Lloyd, now back in England, describes her company as ``a complete planning service for a vacation,'' with offices on the West Coast, Atlanta, and Boston. Clients describe their interests, where they want to go, and how many will be traveling, and the service suggests houses and hosts they might enjoy.
A popular recent addition to the service is London apartments for rent by the week. Most of the apartments are owned by landed gentry who use them occasionally and rent them out at other times, and each is overseen by one of the travel company's staff. Often, says Mrs. Jones-Lloyd, clients arrange for a stay in London and in ``one or more houses in the country.''
This reporter and her husband used Jones-Lloyd's service on a recent trip. From a book of listings with photographs, we were shown four reasonably priced options located near buses and the underground in central London.
The apartments ranged in size and price from a tiny jewel at 400 (about $688) to a charming, spacious converted pub which could sleep four at 795 (about $1,367) per week.
In addition to booking stays in private houses ``In The English Manner'' will suggest itineraries, supply airline tickets, arrange for car rentals or chauffer-driven cars, guides, and other services in Great Britain, Ireland, and France. They also offer three walking tours in conjunction with a well-known English company and three ``Do It Yourself'' driving tours. With a few exceptions, there are no additional charges for bookings.
MEANWHILE, out on a ranch in Montana, Bill and Pam Bryan got into a personalized travel consulting business in a similar way - through several years of showing friends from back East the beauty of the Northern Rockies.
Mr. Bryan, with degrees in biology, environmental education, and natural resource planning, had been leading trips in the region since the '70s. His wife had spent several summers in the area while growing up on her family's dude ranch in Wyoming and led groups to the Denali National Park back country. With their three children, they have hiked, skied, and camped all over Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
The Bryans' service, ``Off The Beaten Path,'' provides a personalized itinerary for individuals, families, groups, or organizations looking for adventure in the three-state area.
They offer five options: complete itinerary; destination itinerary; telephone consultation; group travel; and ``Anything is Possible.'' Charges range from $75 for a telephone consultation to a minimum of $350 for a complete family itinerary which includes accommodations, historic sites, cultural offerings, shopping suggestions for local arts and crafts, even tickets to events.
``We use authentic places in the region,'' said Mrs. Bryan in a telephone interview. ``In some cases we're interacting with the third-generation owners of a ranch.
``Some of our clients only want the most costly,'' she continued, ``others are on a budget and use us to help spend funds wisely. But, most clients are in between.''
``Off the Beaten Path'' itineraries might include time at one of several dude ranches, river trips by canoe or raft, guided tours with a naturalist into Yellowstone National Park or elsewhere, hiking trips with or without llamas, horse-packing trips, and even field courses on birds of the area, or specialized activities for children.
A third personalized service is ``Friends of France, Ltd.'' Henry Stark and Cher Powell were very pleased as clients of this 10-year-old service, having stayed in a ch^ateau in Loire, a farm in Normandy, and with a vintner in Cognac. When they heard that the previous owner couldn't continue the service, they felt they should try to carry on what they had found was the peerless cultural exchange. They bought the business; this is their first year.
``Staying in a 16th-century ch^ateau is an incredible way to learn history and the language,'' said Mr. Stark. ``How else would you find out that not all French people are enthusiastic about celebrating this year's bicentennial, who think the revolution wasn't a good thing?''
``Or to dispel the myth that Americans eat only hamburgers and that everyone from Houston dresses like a cowboy?'' added Ms. Powell.
French hosts include 34 families with houses ranging from grand ch^ateaux to modest farmhouses, at $40 to $125 per night (continental breakfast included), with a minimum stay of three days in any one home.
MR. STARK and Ms. Powell emphasize that this is not a bed-and-breakfast operation, but a cultural exchange experience: Brochures are free. A 75-page book with more information is available for $5.
The book describes each house and family, the type of (optional) cuisine offered, and places of interest in the area. Along with the book comes a questionnaire on accommodations. ``Friends In France, Ltd.'' take it from there.
There are any number of these personalized travel services cropping up; news of them is spread mostly by word of mouth. Most are expensive. Some advertise - look for them in the classified sections of national and regional magazines that cover travel.
National and state tourist offices may know of such services. You might want to ask any of the personalized travel services for references from satisfied customers. ``In the English Manner,'' PO Box 936, Alamo, Calif., 94507. ``Off the Beaten Path,'' 109 East Main St., Bozeman, Mont. 59715-9943. ``Friends In France, Ltd.,'' PO Box 1044, Rocky Hill, Conn., 06067.