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For a Custom-Tailored Trip, Whatever Your Niche

Sunday, February 3, 2008

You're out to conquer the world, one vacation at a time. And to help you along the way, we scoped out niche resources covering 10 popular travel categories, from dietary (vegan tours to Italy, anyone? Anyone?) to pet-friendly (including info on pet sitters). Here are umbrella organizations, travel agents, Web sites and phone numbers to help you plan the Next Great Trip.

African American

* Pathfinders Travel Magazine for People of Color (215-438-2140, http://www.pathfinderstravel.com; $18), also offers a free e-mail newsletter with travel tips and deals.

* Travel Professionals of Color (866-901-1259, http://www.tpoc.org) is a trade organization with several members in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

* The African American Travel Conference (330-337-1116, http://www.aatconline.com) is an organization of more than 2,500 travel planners focused on African American travel. Its site is mostly for travel agencies but also lists contact info for its members.

* The Black Boaters Summit, a popular event held in the British Virgin Islands, is arranged by Honey Let's Travel (510-222-6308, http://www.honeyletstravel.com), an African American-owned travel agency in California.

* The nonprofit National Association of Black Scuba Divers (800-521-6227, http://www.nabsdivers.org) arranges dive trips and is a clearinghouse for dive-related information and education; Underwater Adventure Seekers ( http://www.uasdivers.org) is the Washington chapter.

* National Brotherhood of Skiers (773-955-4100, http://www.nbs.org) is an umbrella group of more than 75 ski clubs across the country. One area club, Black Ski Inc. (301-231-3900, http://www.blackskiinc.org), organizes year-round ski and non-ski travel events.

* SoulofAmerica.com ( http://www.soulofamerica.com) publishes online city guides focused on African American culture and heritage. The site includes information on passport rule changes, photo galleries and Caribbean island highlights.

Family

* For those planning a destination family reunion, Groople (888-447-6675, http://www.groople.com) is an online agency that specializes in group travel. The Group Cruise Wizard also gives the option of having everybody select and pay for his or her stateroom online, so one person doesn't get stuck with the bill.

* The Transportation Security Administration has a page with tips on air travel with children ( http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/index.shtm).

* Single Parent Travel ( http://www.singleparenttravel.net) has answers about documentation for traveling abroad, organized tours, a monthly newsletter and personal ads, and is aimed at "single parents, grandparents, big sisters/brothers and married parents traveling without a spouse": anyone traveling with children in tow.

Gay and Lesbian

* The nonprofit International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (800-448-8550, http://www.iglta.com) has a searchable database of GLBT-friendly tour operators, events worldwide and cities' convention and visitors bureau Web sites.

* The Damron Co. (800-462-6654, http://www.damron.com) publishes guidebooks, compiles a worldwide events calendar and offers a tour guide database.

* PlanetOut Inc. is a multimedia company that publishes magazines and Web sites with travel-specific info, such as Gay.com ( http://www.gay.com/travel), OutTraveler.com ( http://www.outtraveler.com) and Planetout.com ( http://www.planetout.com/travel). The annual PlanetOut Travel Awards, listed on the site, go to winners in 10 categories, including gay resort towns, tour operators and cruise lines.

Health/Disability

* The nonprofit International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (919-349-6661, http://www.icdri.org) features a Travel & Leisure section with a roundup of countries' and states' Web sites about accessible travel for those with disabilities.

* Accessible Europe (011-39-011-30-1888, http://www.accessibleurope.com) is a group of travel agents headquartered in Italy who specialize in accessible tourism.

* Accessible Journeys (800-846-4537, http://www.disabilitytravel.com) focuses on wheelchair travel, offering group tours and independent trips, and is the self-proclaimed "largest group cruise operator in the world for slow walkers, travelers with wheels, their families and their friends."

* The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (800-900-8086, http://www.ncpad.org), hosted by the University of Illinois, has recreation resources on outdoor/travel activities, such as canoeing and horseback riding, and info on what you need to know before you go.

Among other resources we found:

* The Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (877-394-8747, http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel) is essential for information on travel health.

* The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (716-754-4883, http://www.iamat.org) maintains a worldwide membership of English-speaking doctors with medical training in the United States, Canada or Great Britain.

* The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (212-447-7284, http://www.sath.org), a nonprofit membership organization, provides Web links to the disability access information of 25 major airlines, as well as info on the Air Carriers Access Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Military/Government

* Armed Forces Vacation Club (800-724-9988, http://www.afvclub.com) offers vacations at timeshare resorts for $329 per unit per week on a space-available basis.

* Government and Armed Forces Travel Cooperative ( http://www.govarm.com) is a Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored group that offers travel and leisure services to federal employees, military service members, and civil service and military retirees.

* U.S. Army Family and MWR Command ( http://www.armymwr.com) runs five Armed Forces Recreation Centers (in Virginia, Florida, Hawaii, Germany and South Korea) and offers discounted hotel accommodations, tours and attractions through its travel service partners.

* U.S. Central Command Rest & Recuperation Leave Program ( http://www.armyg1.army.mil/WellBeing/RRLeave/index.htm) is an official site run by the Army G1 (Personnel) Office, providing information on R&R leave in the United States for soldiers deployed to combat/hostile areas, as well as links to R&R programs in Europe.

* The U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Citizen Services and Communications ( http://www.usa.gov/Federal_Employees/Travel.shtml) has info on government room rates and active and retired military-specific deals.

* Military.com ( http://www.Military.com), a free nongovernmental military membership organization, lists discounts and travel tips and hosts travel discussions.

* The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association endorses NARFE Travel (800-607-4538, http://www.narfetravel.com), which arranges cruises, land tours and other trips for members.

Pets

* The Humane Society of the United States has a page on its Web site devoted to pet care and traveling with pets (202-452-1100, http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/caring_for_pets_when_you_travel ).

* TripsWithPets.com (877-717-2964, http://www.tripswithpets.com) features pet-friendly accommodations and travel tips. Also included are a link to finding animal hospitals in travel destinations and an "Ask the Travel Dog" section dealing with pet-caregiver questions.

* PetsWelcome.com ( http://www.petswelcome.com) lists pet-friendly accommodations and travel tips.

* PetsOnTheGo.com ( http://www.petsonthego.com) lists pet-friendly lodging and trips and offers a blog written by staff members.

* The magazine Fido Friendly ( http://www.FidoFriendly.com; $20 per year), devoted to traveling pets, highlights travel accessories and accommodations, and offers travel tips.

* The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (800-311-3435, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dq/animal.htm) Global Migration and Quarantine site covers the importation of pets and other animals into the United States.

* The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (301-734-7833, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/pet_travel/pet_travel.shtml) has info on domestic and international pet travel.

Seniors

* An advocacy group for the over-50 set, AARP (888-687-2277, http://www.aarp.org/travel) has travel-specific information on its site; AARP the Magazine, which has a travel section with a free online presence ( http://www.aarpmagazine.org/travel), is included in the $12.50 annual membership fee. The AARP Passport program through Travelocity (888-291-1757, http://www.travelocity.com/AARP/home) allows members to arrange discounted travel through the all-purpose booking site.

* Elderhostel (800-454-5768, http://www.elderhostel.org) is a nonprofit group that runs education-focused, all-inclusive "learning adventures" in more than 90 countries for travelers 55 and older. The associated Road Scholar program (800-466-7762, http://www.roadscholar.org) also is learning-focused; its trips are a bit higher-end.

Single/Solo Travel

* Connecting: Solo Travel Network (604-886-9099, http://www.cstn.org) offers info on single-friendly trips; enhanced membership ($35 a year) includes an additional database and a bimonthly newsletter.

* Solo travelers of the same sex room together -- and avoid the single supplement -- on tours through Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door (425-771-8303, http://www.ricksteves.com).

* TravelAloneandLoveIt.com ( http://www.travelaloneandloveit.com), run by longtime flight attendant Sharon Wingler, includes a helpful Q&A column and links to other solo-travel sites and the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory ( http://www.towd.com).

* Those both single and attached can sign up for a trip buddy through Travel Chums (212-787-2621, http://www.travelchums.com). The free membership provides an info database, notification when someone else with similar travel criteria joins and access to subject-specific message boards. For $180 annually, you can post photos and send messages to other members.

* 2insteadof1 ( http://www.2insteadof1.com). The travel companion site's thorough Quickfinder feature lets you search member postings by travel date, destination and activities.

Students/Teachers

* STA Travel (800-781-4040, http://www.statravel.com) is the self-proclaimed "world's largest student, youth and budget travel organization," with databases of discounted flights, tours, rail passes and hotels, plus travel resources such as eco-friendly tours and user forums.

* The International Student Travel Confederation ( http://www.istc.org) is a nonprofit membership association endorsed by UNESCO that works with travel agencies focused on student, youth (under 26) and teacher travel. Its identity cards, available from http://www.myisic.com, provide discounts worldwide. The site also links to a worldwide embassy directory ( http://www.embassyworld.com), handy if your passport is stolen.

* The Web sites for travel publication companies Lonely Planet ( http://www.lonelyplanet.com) and Let's Go ( http://www.letsgo.com) provide blogs, downloadable playlists and RSS feeds in addition to country-specific info.

* Social networking sites such as MySpace ( http://www.myspace.com) and Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com), among others, can host forums and discussions about where to go and how to get there. There are specific travel-related pages, such as the STA Travel page ( http://www.myspace.com/statravel).

* Founded in 1947, the Council on International Educational Exchange (207-553-4000, http://www.ciee.org) lists high school- and university-level study abroad opportunities and "gap year" information, plus programs for teaching abroad.

* The comprehensive Web site StudyAbroad.com ( http://www.studyabroad.com) offers info on educational opportunities worldwide.

Vegetarian/Dietary

* The Baltimore-based nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group (410-366-8343, http://www.vrg.org) hosts a search-by-location database of vegetarian-friendly eateries.

* Message boards http://veganforum.com and http://www.veganfreaks.net/forum/index.php let vegan travelers compare notes.

* Maryland-based Green Earth Travel (888-246-8343, http://www.vegtravel.com) offers info for those with vegetarian, kosher, halal or medical diets.

* The Travel page on the Happy Cow's Vegetarian Guide ( http://www.happycow.com) includes a guide to vegetarian B&Bs, picks of the world's top veg-friendly cities and information on health stores and restaurants in more than 100 countries.

* The International Vegetarian Union ( http://www.ivu.org) offers a multilingual database for the traveling vegetarian who wants to patronize like-minded businesses and organizations.

* The VegDining.com ( http://www.vegdining.com) restaurant directory is free, though the $4.95-per-year subscription gives access to full listings, recipes and other info. The fee is waived for those with the $14.95 VegDining Card (discounts at VegDining.com member restaurants).

* Run by an executive of the British-based Vegan Society ( http://www.vegansociety.com), the Vegetarian Guides site ( http://www.vegetarianguides.co.uk/index.shtml) posts vegetarian and vegan events and festivals worldwide and markets the destination-focused Vegetarian Guide titles.

* For those who keep kosher, Shamash: The Jewish Network ( http://www.shamash.org/kosher) offers a database of 2,500-plus kosher restaurants worldwide.

* For halal travelers, the Web site Zabihah ( http://www.zabihah.com) features thousands of reviews of restaurants and markets worldwide, searchable by country, state and city.

Volunteer

* The nonprofit Action Without Borders (212-843-3973, http://www.idealist.org) is a great place to start. Volunteers can search the database of more than 72,000 member organizations worldwide by location, area of focus and dates. The travel-specific page ( http://www.idealist.org/volunteer/travel.html) lists organizations seeking volunteers.

* The American Hiking Society (301-565-6704, http://www.americanhiking.org) offers field trips for rebuilding trails and fences on public land in about 30 states. Trips cost about $275. The AHS is also working with the Patagonian Foundation on volunteer trips to Chilean Patagonia.

* Global Volunteers (800-487-1074, http://www.globalvolunteers.org) is a nonprofit international development organization that places about 150 teams each year in one- to three-week projects. The educational, social or medical projects (chosen by the local community) start at $795 per volunteer. In addition to about 20 overseas programs, there are also sites in three states.

* Habitat for Humanity's Global Village (800-422-4828, http://www.habitat.org/gv) offers seven- to 16-day home-building placements in the States, Canada and overseas; cost runs between $900 and $2,200, plus airfare. Habitat can provide fundraising resources, such as a Web site to accept donations.

* Health Volunteers Overseas (202-296-0928, http://www.hvousa.org) runs more than 70 clinical education programs in 25 developing countries and places medical professionals in one-month teaching and training programs. Volunteers cover their transportation to and from the work site.

* The International Volunteer Programs Association (914-380-8322, http://www.volunteerinternational.org) site lists volunteer organizations and includes fundraising and scholarship information.

* Volunteer Match (415-241-6868, http://www.volunteermatch.org) pairs volunteers with the U.S.-based organizations seeking them. If you know what city you want to travel to, type it and your interests into the advanced search form and see if any opportunities pop up.

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