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Before You Go: A Travel Toolbox

Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page P09

Sometimes it's the simple things that are the most difficult to figure out. What's the average temperature in Rome in early November? Are there flight departure delays out of Los Angeles? Where's an ATM machine near a certain hotel in London? The Web can answer all these questions, but you have to know where to look. The sites below are our picks for answering those nuts-and-bolts questions.

AIRLINE TRAVEL: www.tsa.gov. The federal Transportation Security Administration's site contains lists of prohibited and permitted luggage items, average wait times at airport security checkpoints and travel tips for persons with disabilities and medical conditions. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration's site, www.faa.gov/passengers, contains airline consumer contacts and airline safety records; passengers can also file air travel complaints here.

_____Way to Go Guide_____
Travel Agents, With Reservations
Booking a Flight: A Seven-Step Plan
Hotels, by the Booking
Catching the Bus
Taking the Train
How to Renew or Apply for a Passport
Specialty Travel
Before You Go: A Traveler's Toolbox
Travel Web Sites

AIRLINE SEATING: www.seatguru.com. Everything you ever wanted to know -- including leg room, width, pitch and proximity to the bathrooms -- about the seating for 21 airlines.

ATM LOCATORS: www.visa.com/atms. The Visa site allows searches for ATMs by region, county, city and Zip code. The advanced-search feature also displays locations on maps and includes info on 24-hour and disabled-accessible ATMs. MasterCard's site, www.mastercard.com/atmlocator, can locate 900,000 ATMs in 120 countries and includes such details as drive-through locations and ATMs at specific banks.

CURRENCY CONVERTERS:www.xe.com. Best site for quick conversions of 15 major currencies. For more details, such as histories and cash vs. interbank rates, go to www.xe.com/ucc, which has info on currencies from the Algerian dinar to the Zambian kwacha. Also, www.oanda.com offers a travel page where you can print a currency cheat sheet.

CUSTOMS SERVICE: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel. The Bureau of U.S. Customs and Border Protection publishes a "Know Before You Go" fact sheet with details about items that can and can't be taken into the country, and the rules regarding duty fees.

FLIGHT STATUS: www.flightarrivals.com. Check a flight's status within a two-hour window by airline, flight number, city, airport, etc. Also, www.fly.faa.gov publishes a map of U.S. airports color-coded to indicate flight delays.

FREQUENT FLIERS: www.webflyer.com. The site contains all sorts of details about the complicated world of frequent-flier miles, covering every major hotel and airline program. A mileage converter shows what miles in one program are worth when converted into another. Go to www.flyertalk.com if you like chatting with others about the world of miles. Also, www.frequentflier.com has good articles on hot topics, such as what to do with those US Airways miles.

HEALTH AND SAFETY: www.travel.state.gov/travel/index.html. The U.S. State Department's site publishes consular info sheets and travel warnings on every country, with details about crime, terrorism and traffic safety. Go to www.worldtravelwatch.com for a second opinion. And for health-related info on vaccines, health threats, etc., go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's site at www.cdc.gov/travel.

INSURANCE: www.insuremytrip.com. The site compares and gives quotes for 62 travel insurance policies from 14 companies, including Access America, Travel Guard, Travel Insured and most of the other better-known firms. Easy-to-read chart lets a consumer see which policies are best for terrorism, financial default, emergency medical evacuation, etc. Also check out www.quotetravelinsurance.com, another site that compares and quotes 60 policies from five companies.

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