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Finding Your Niche, Anywhere in the World

Sunday, February 1, 2009

You want to travel, but you want to do it in a way that reflects you and your needs. To help, we have updated our library of niche resources covering 11 popular travel categories, such as dietary (vegan tours to Italy, anyone? Anyone?) and pet-friendly (including info on pet-friendly RV parks). 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 for a one-year subscription to the quarterly publication) also offers a free e-mail newsletter.

· Travel Professionals of Color (866-901-1259, http://www.tpoc.org) is a trade organization with several members in the region and an agent locator tool on its Web site.

· 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.

· 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.blackboaterssummit.com), an African American-owned events planner 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.

· The 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 publishes online city guides focused on African American culture and heritage around the world. The site includes a useful travel toolbox, photo galleries and special topics by city, such as the geography of black music.

Family

· Groople (888-447-6675, http://www.groople.com) specializes in hotel arrangements for group travel, ideal for family reunion planners.

· The Transportation Security Administration's Web site (http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/index.shtm) features a page with tips on air travel with children, including security advice.

· Single Parent Travel (http://www.singleparenttravel.net) covers all topics concerning kids and parents in transit. Also features a free monthly newsletter, organized trips and a blog.

· The Family Travel Network (703-905-9858, http://www.familytravelnetwork.com) offers family-friendly reviews of properties, tips for traveling with kids, deals, destination ideas, a free newsletter and more.

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 (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) tour operators, events worldwide, deals.

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

· PlanetOut.com (http://www.planetout.com/travel) offers gay-oriented travel ideas for destinations around the world, trip-planning and detailed excursions.

· GayTravel.com (http://www.gaytravel.com) helps travelers research and book their vacations in a variety of destinations worldwide. The site also offers a free monthly e-newsletter with tips and deals.

Health/Disability

· 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) caters to slow walkers and those in wheelchairs, offering tours and independent trips. Destinations include Egypt, South Africa and Alaska.

· 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 and travel activities (canoeing, horseback riding, etc.) across the country and abroad.

Among other resources we found:

· The Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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) offers advice on travel medicine and health risks, and maintains a worldwide membership of English-speaking doctors with medical training in North America and Europe.

· The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (212-447-7284, http://www.sath.org), a nonprofit membership organization, provides an impressive database of companies and resources that assist disabled folks in all facets of travel, such as scooter rentals, trains and museums.

Military/Government

· The Armed Forces Vacation Club (800-724-9988, http://www.afvclub.com) offers affordable condominium vacations at more than 3,500 resorts around the world. The Space-A rentals start at $329 a week, depending on availability.

· The Government and Armed Forces Travel Cooperative (http://www.govarm.com) provides 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 Center Resorts (Virginia, Florida, Hawaii, Germany and South Korea) and offers discounted lodging, tours and attractions through its travel service partners.

· The U.S. Central Command Rest & Recuperation Leave Program (http://www.armyg1.army.mil/WellBeing/RRLeave/index.htm), run by the Army G1 (Personnel) Office, provides information on R&R leave for deployed soldiers, as well as R&R hotel and travel deals.

· The U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Communications (http://www.usa.gov/Federal_Employees/Travel.shtml) has info on government room rates, including a search-and-book tool, as well as savings ideas and resources for federal workers.

· Military.com, a free membership organization that serves the military community, lists discounts and travel tips, and hosts a travel forum.

· 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.

Pets

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

· TripsWithPets.com (877-717-2964) features pet-friendly accommodations, airline pet policies and other tips.

· PetsWelcome.com lists pet-friendly lodgings, including B&Bs and cottages, and provides state-by-state searches for pet sitters, beaches and ski resorts.

· Pets on the Go (http://www.petsonthego.com) lists 30,000 properties that welcome pets, plus info on transportation for your furry friends. Become a member ($5 for 30 days, $15 for a year) and read independent reviews on properties, receive deals and more.

· Fido Friendly (888-881-5861 for subscriptions, 800-896-0976 for general questions, http://www.fidofriendly.com; $19.95 per year) describes itself as a "travel and lifestyle magazine for you and your dog." Web site features reader reviews of lodgings; a multi-city search engine for travel services, RV resorts, bakeries, etc.

· The Department of Agriculture's 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, plus helpful Web site links, such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's publication on pets.

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.

· Elderhostel (800-454-5768, http://www.elderhostel.org) is a nonprofit group that runs "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, but its trips are a bit higher-end.

· Eldertreks (800-741-7956, http://www.eldertreks.com) creates trips for travelers 50 and older who want a wild ride. The active adventures cover the map: Bhutan, Madagascar, even Iran.

· 50plus Expeditions (866-318-5050, http://www.50plusexpeditions.com) organizes trips for seniors with stamina. Choose from small-group adventures (only for travelers 50 and older), expedition and adventure cruises, and independent trips. Destinations lean toward the exotic, such as the Arctic and Borneo.

· Grand Circle Travel (800-959-0405, http://www.gct.com) and its sister company, Overseas Adventure Travel (800-493-6824, http://www.oattravel.com), specialize in river cruises and escorted small-group trips for those older than 50, covering all seven continents. Also has a flexible single-supplement policy.

· Over 50 and Overseas (http://www.over50andoverseas.com), run by a Peace Corps veteran, gives seniors a hand on volunteering overseas.

Single/Solo Travel

· Solo Travel (http://www.solotravel.org) is the go-to source for parties of one. The site's country guide focuses on the comfort level and needs of single adventurers in numerous destinations. To help plan a trip, scan the listings of solo-friendly cruises and packages, and to extend the holiday, check out the money-saving tips.

· Connecting: Solo Travel Network (604-886-9099, http://www.cstn.org) offers info on single-friendly trips; membership ($40 a year) includes an additional database, six issues a year of Solo Travel News and a discussion board where you can make friends and trade tips.

· Same-sex travelers room together, and avoid the single supplement, on tours through Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door (425-771-8303, http://www.ricksteves.com). Ditto for Eldertreks' land trips (see above, Seniors).

· Single and attached travelers can sign up for a trip buddy through Travel Chums (212-787-2621, http://www.travelchums.com), which matches travelers. Membership is free, and your privacy is protected.

· 2insteadof1 (http://www.2insteadof1.com) believes in "twosome not lonesome." Its Quickfinder function lets you search member postings by 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 eco-friendly tours, spring break specials and the STA Travelers Student Travel Community.

· 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 (younger than 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, 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) host forums and discussions about where to go and how to get there.

· 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 living and working abroad.

· The comprehensive Web site StudyAbroad.com offers info on educational opportunities worldwide.

Vegetarian/Dietary

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

· Vegan travelers compare notes on message boards http://www.veganforum.com and http://www.veganfreaks.net/forum/index.php.

· Maryland-based Green Earth Travel (888-246-8343, http://www.vegtravel.com) caters to travelers with vegetarian diets. Categories include vegetarian spas, B&Bs and vacations.

· 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:// 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 $15.95 VegDining Card.

· 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.

· For those who keep kosher, Shamash: The Jewish Network (http://www.shamash.org/kosher) offers a database of more than 2,700 kosher restaurants in 50-plus countries.

· For halal travelers, 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) allows volunteers to search its extensive database of member organizations by location, area of interest 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 volunteer vacations that focus on building and maintaining trails across the country and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

· 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 educational, social or medical projects.

· Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program (800-422-4828, http://www.habitat.org/gv) offers home-building placements around the globe.

· Health Volunteers Overseas (202-296-0928, http://www.hvousa.org) runs more than 70 projects in the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe and places medical professionals in two-week or one-month teaching and training programs.

· The International Volunteer Programs Association (646-505-8209, http://www.volunteerinternational.org) lists volunteer work in a variety of countries. For inspiration, read the personal stories.

· Volunteer Match (415-241-6868, http://www.volunteermatch.org) pairs volunteers with the U.S.-based organizations seeking them. With its search feature, type in a city and an interest and see what opportunities pop up.

-- Andrea Sachs

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