NEITHER SNOW, NOR rain, nor heat nor gloom of night -- nor inflation and international agitation -- can stop the guidebook writers from telling travelers where to go and how. So let's look at a few recent publications.
"Planetalk: The Consumer's Air Travel Guide," by Richard C. Levy and Sheryl Levy (Ace, 272 pp., paperback, $2.95).
The title tells it all. If you've ever been overbooked, overcharged, had a bad experience with charters or lost baggage, or simply felt confused and baffled by air travel regulations or by officials you've dealth with, take this pocket-size volume with you. And read it.
It doesn't guarantee you'll avoid a before-flight, in-flight or after-flight problem, or promise to solve one if it should develop. But it will definitely tell you just about everything you may need to know to understand the game and help you to play it intelligently. And if you follow the authors' suggestions in exercising your rights, I doubt that anyone in the industry will ignore you!
Fortunately, the majority of travelers usually have the good fortune to avoid major hassles. I do not agree with all the conclusions in this book, nor am I necessarily convinced of the efficacy of all the ploys outlined -- and I imagine some airlines named will be less than charmed by the mentions.
But the authors are certainly not anti-airline or anti-flying. Their aim is to help the little consumer deal more effectively with the big corporation. And sometimes we can all use help.
"The Traveling Woman," by Dena Kaye (Doubleday, 317 pp., $13.95).
It is not absolutely necessary to be a woman to enjoy reading and to profit from this engagingly written, practical guide by the well-traveled daughter of comedian Danny Kaye and writer-lyricist Sylvia Fine.
But, of course, it is written for women and subtitled "An indispensable guide to the pleasures and perils of traveling alone, with husbands, friends, lovers, kids, for business, enlightmight, sheer joy, etc . . ." (Danny could do a great job with that in dialect/doubletalk.)
Obviously, the authors enjoys traveling. And, as she points out in her introduction, her purpose is "to help you feel more comfortable, confident, curious, daring, flexible and enthusiastic about any trip . . . This book addresses the specifics that can make traveling different for a woman than a man." It is not "a destination guide," she warns, but rather "a personal recipe for an approach to travel . . ."
She clearly likes people, and relishes personal encounters and adventures, handled with level-headed maturity. But she points out that "It's important to distinguish loneliness from being alone . . . There are many times I am content to choose my own company." In chapters on planning, budgeting, packing, transportation, hotels, traveling with children, etc., she offers helpful tips based on her personal experience. In the section on food, she tells how her father used his comedic skill to put a "snooty sommelier" in Paris in his place.
"Egon Ronay's Raleigh Pub Guide 1980," (British Tourist Authority, 328 pp., paperback, $4.95).
This immensely useful little book is certain to further enhance the reputation of the Egon Ronay Organization whose guides to hotels and restaurants in the British Isles are without serious competition.
Ronay sends out "full-time professional inspectors" whose identities are not disclosed until they pay their bills, and though "sponsorship and advertising" are accepted to help pay costs, no advertising or hospitality are taken "from any of the establishments we cover." ("Raleigh" in the title refers to the bike manufacturer.)
What this guide does is to list 1,000 pubs (after rejecting 3,500) in England, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands, with primary emphasis on the quality and price of the food served ("there are well over 70,000 pubs in Britain!" Ronay points out). Information is also given on accommodations where available, public transport and -- of course -- the beer and ale. A map section locates each pub, and there are some charming black and white sketches.
Atmosphere is also carefully noted: The Seven Stars in London, a "cosy little 17th century pub" has a "village" atmosphere . . . and one room is dedicated to Charles Dickens, who not only frequented this pub but also mentioned it in one of his novels . . ." The Sherlock Holmes, also in London, was "frequented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle . . . [and] is now a veritable Sherlock Holmes museum. There's even a detailed reconstruction of the great detective's own sitting room upstairs." And in Ledbury, at Ye Olde Talbot, "bullet holes in the oak paneled dining room are relics of a skirmish between Prince Rupert's and Cromwell's men. Bedrooms 1 and 2 are not for the squeamish -- things go bump in the night . . ."
Ronay has pointed out that "For travelers who want to tour Britain economically, pubs provide excellent food and comfortable lodging at a fraction of the cost of hotels and inns."
In his "Summing Up" preface, Ronay says "Breakfast, declining in British hotels, is a gastronomical treat at pubs . . . For breakfast alone, it's worth spending the night at a pub." But he adds: "Too many pub meals are, alas, a tale of woe . . ." Which is reason enough to pack this book if you're headed overseas this summer.
"Eurail Guide, How To Travel Europe And All The World By Train," by Marvin L. Saltzman and Kathryn Saltzman Muileman (Eurail Guide Annual, 816 pp., paperback, $9.95).
This 10th edition, which covers 131 countries, provides a wealth of information for anyone planning to travel by train while abroad. It's easy to use and to carry. Included are 628 one-day rail excursions in Europe; conditions governing more than 50 money-saving rail passes of 37 countries, with prices; departure/arrival time for more than 9,000 journeys, thumbnail sightseeing facts; assorted tourist tips and more.
For the outdoor types, one new volume and two revised editions offer a breath of fresh air here and overseas.
"The Complete Outfitting & Source Book for Bicycle Touring," by Gail Heilman (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 246 pp., paperback, $7.95).
"The bicycle tourist establishes an intimacy with his environment to a greater extent than does any other traveler except perhaps the hiker," notes Heilman. "Colors are clearer, undistorted by tinted glass. He can stop and marvel at any time, not deterred by lack of a roadside pullout."
This is a book of facts, a reference guide with chapters on biking history, equipment, accessories (including backpacking and camping gear), publications (including repair manuals), touring routes, etc. No prices are given for any of the products "because they are subject to frequent change" and would "make the book outdated before the next edition . . ." That was an unfortunate editing decision, I think, since it prevents the reader from making any kind of useful price comparison.
"Bicycle Touring in Europe," by Karen & Gary Hawkins (Pantheon, 346 pp., paperback, $4.95).
Although it lists tours and where to rent bikes in Europe, this is much more than a compilation of information. It is a well-written, enjoyable guide based on personal experience, covering everything from planning and costs to food and itineraries.
Before the authors made "the first of many European bicycle trips," they had "done" the major cities by auto, train or tour bus. "But like many tourists, we felt a lingering sense of wanting more. Beyond the facades of an architectural monument, the statuary; the geometry of a rose window at Notre Dame or Chartres, there always seemed to be another land out there, eluding us."
If you feel the same yearning and share the same sense of adventure, the Hawkinses will tell you how to get to know "the Europe of Europeans" -- on two wheels.
"A Runner's Guide to Europe, Where to Run, Swim, and Play Squash and Tennis in 24 Major Cities," By Aden Hayes and Jere Van Dyk Penguin Books, 283 pp., paperback, $5.95).
Hayes has a Ph.D. from Princeton, teachers literature at Wesleyan University, and runs "in both road and track races in New England." Van Dyk, a commentator on Public TV, ran on the U.S.-Pan American Team and in the U.S. Russian meet while at the University of Oregon, and "in many other foreign races."
Together they've produced an authoritative guide that shows "You can run as well in Europe as you can at home; the setting is new, your senses are heightened, and the rewards of running can be greater than usual. But it is not enough to decide to keep fit no matter where you are, disregarding local customs and conditions . . ."
So the authors give specific information "to help you orient yourself in European cities . . .," locating and describing the courses, listing special features and other appropriate facts, and adding special tips for female runners.
Finally, a word about one of my favorite travel references for the United States, which is actually a set of regional editions.
Mobil Travel Guide 1980 (Rand McNally, paperback, each $5.95).
First published in 1958, when it covered only the Southwest, this is now described by the editors as "the most comprehensive touring directory in the United States." There are now seven regional volumes, and all of the Canadian provinces bordering this country are included with listings for more than 20,000 motels, hotels, resorts and restaurants in 4,000 towns and cities.
The separate editions are: California and the West; the Great Lakes Area; Middle Atlantic States; Northeastern States; Northwest and the Great Plains States; Southeastern States and the Southwest and South Central States. Each rates (one to five stars) and describes each property listed with current prices, and covers sightseeing attractions, scenic drives and mileage with road maps. They are produced in collaboration with the Mobil Oil Company.
No advertising is accepted and listings cannot be obtained by payment of a fee. Field inspectors "personally visit and then rate each establishment, following a stringent checklist of more than 100 items, including quality of service, decor, landscaping, atmosphere, food and hospitality . . ." Letters from readers "also influence the ratings," which are updated annually.