Are you hesitant about traveling to Europe alone, and seeking advice and encouragement? If out-of-town friends ask for the name of a good, inexpensive hotel in Washington, are you stumped for a recommendation? Do you yearn to explore the far reaches of the Greek isles -- but don't know where to turn for information?
Help in resolving these and other travel concerns is provided by a variety of unusual travel services available in the Washington area, several of them quite new. Among these local services are:
* Travel Talks. Vicky Foxworth, a 24-year-old Washington saleswoman, spent eight months last year traveling alone in Australia, New Zealand and several Asian countries. Being by herself in foreign lands, she says, was never any problem.
Since she has returned, she's been holding occasional seminars on the pleasures and the techniques of solitary travel (on a tight budget). As much as informational, they are confidence boosters for people considering similar trips.
Her discussion groups are sponsored by Open University, a free-spirited organization offering a wide range of informal classes of a self-improvement nature.
The biggest advantage of traveling alone, Foxworth says, is "flexibility." At any point, "you can make a totally spontaneous change" in plans if new opportunities arise. There's no need to consult with traveling companions. Nor do you have to restrict your itinerary to the limits of their budget, available time or interests.
Among those who have joined her group so far, the greatest anxiety seems to be the fear of loneliness. But "loneliness comes and goes wherever you are," she advises.
On her trip, she met many people -- travelers like herself and residents -- and seldom was without company when she wanted it. On a dozen occasions, she stayed for a few days in private homes. These were visits arranged through Servas, an international home-stay organization with a U.S. office in New York. Other times she stopped in youth hostels -- open to travelers of all ages -- and met foreigners from a number of countries.
She never feared for her safety, she says. Rather, she returned home impressed about how helpful most people had been.
The next sessions of her seminar, "Traveling Alone," are scheduled for Sunday, March 24, from 6 to 8:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 17, from 7:30 to 10 p.m.; and Monday, June 10, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at a central Washington location. The fee is $15.
Also: Twice a year, Arthur Frommer, creator of the famous "Europe on $5 a Day" guidebook series -- it's now "Europe on $25 a Day" -- presents a weekend series of talks on budget travel for Open University. It is an opportunity to hear and question an expert on the subject.
Coming up on Sunday, March 31, are "Around the World on $15 a Day," from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and "Preparing for Your European Trip," from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. A third offering is "Careers in Travel," Saturday, March 30, from 2 to 5 p.m. Each of the sessions is $18.
For reservations, class location and other information: Open University, 3333 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, (202) 966-9606.
* Central Reservations. Washington residents may think they know their home town until an out-of-town friend phones for the name of a hotel here that offers a family budget plan. Rather than stammer for a possibly inaccurate answer, consider suggesting a toll-free call to the Washington, D.C. Central Reservation Center, (800) 554-2220.
The local office of this growing national franchise was opened in January by two Washington residents, Nancy Riker and Marilyn Matthews. They and their staff can recommend hotels based on the traveler's budget and the location desired, and they will make the reservation.
"You're talking to a local expert who lives in the place you're coming to," the firm tells prospective Washington visitors. It's "like having your best friend living there."
In addition, the center can help local residents who want to check into a downtown hotel for a weekend getaway. It has information on special weekend package rates. Business organizations, seeking rooms for visiting clients, can also turn to the central reservation number for help in finding a vacancy.
The firm currently represents 23 area hotels, from the elegant Hay-Adams Hotel across from the White House, where double rooms during the week go for $195 a night and up, to the small, convenient St. Charles Hotel on New Hampshire Avenue near Dupont Circle, where weekday doubles are about $59. For families, the firm suggests the Quality Inn at Scott Circle, because the rooms are large and the weekend rates are inexpensive.
The traveler pays no additional cost by booking through the reservation center. The firm's income is earned from commissions paid by the participating hotels. The hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The advantage of using the reservations center, says Matthews, is that the traveler can determine prices, facilities and availability of rooms with just one call. And since the partners have toured all of the hotels, "we can even tell them the color of the rug."
Other Central Reservation offices: Orlando, Fla., (800) 322-2220; Smoky Mountains, Tenn., (800) 231-2220; Hilton Head Island, S.C., (800) 845-7018.
Washington, D.C. Central Reservation Center, 1737 DeSales St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 289-2220 and (800) 554-2220.
* Tourist Center. Another aid for out-of-town guests -- or locals giving them a tour of the city -- is the Washington Tourist Information Center, located in a huge hall of the Commerce Building on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th streets NW.
It is a source of free advice and brochures on what to do and see in the area and maps to get you there. Among the brochures is one describing a "Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk," a guide to seven museums and a number of art galleries in one of the city's most charming neighborhoods.
The center faces Pershing Park, just across the street from the Willard Hotel renovation project. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From April through October, it is also open on Sunday.
For Washington tourist information: (202) 789-7000.
* First Class. Like Open University, First Class Inc., in the words of its president Debra G. Leopold, is "an adult learning center." Begun last September, it, too, offers informal seminars on travel topics at its Dupont Circle offices.
An example is "The Islands of Greece," a budget traveler's guide to one of Europe's most romantic destinations. The next session -- Saturday, April 13, from 10 a.m. to noon -- will be led by Johanna Brewer, a Washington travel agent with Travelogue Inc. who was captivated by an extended visit to the country and has since begun to learn the language.
She will provide information about many of the individual islands and how to travel between them using the low-cost ferry system. She also promises details on how to stay on an island for as cheaply as $7 a day.
Other upcoming sessions for travelers: "Japan Unmasked" and "The Specialness of Italy."
For reservations and information: First Class Inc.,1522 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 797-5102.
* Travel Mart. "One-stop travel shopping" -- that's the idea behind the newly opened Travel Merchandise Mart at 1425 K St. NW, says merchandise manager Mike Ackard.
The mart is a combination travel agency (an outlet of the Washington-based Omega chain); a shop for travel-related items, such as lightweight irons and electrical voltage converters; and a travel bookstore, stocked with a large collection of both the standard guidebook series and the newer offbeat ones to Asia and Africa.
The whole operation is located, not just coincidentally, next door to the U.S. Passport Office.
A similar travel shopping center was opened earlier this month in Alexandria by Ober United Travel, a longtime Washington agency. The newest store is Ober Travel Center at 2836 Duke St.
The travel agency will stock guidebooks and maps, travel accessories and even cruise wear.
* PELOPONNESIAN ODYSSEY: Cruise for 12 days to some of the lesser-known parts of Greece aboard a small motor yacht, the Aquarius, with a Washington scholar of Greek philosophy.
Leader of the tour group will be Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, associate professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and director of its Greece program, who is fluent in modern Greek. He will lead discussions on the mythology and history of Greece.
Participants, limited to 18, will circle the Peloponnesus peninsula from Athens by sea. Day trips will be taken by bus from ports of call to visit the classical cities of Mycenae, Pylos, Delphi and Corinth.
The ship also will make frequent stops at what are described as the captain's "favorite spots for swimming and relaxing."
The tour departs from New York on June 29, returning July 13. The land and sea portion of the trip, including an arrival night in Athens, is $1,274 per person (double occupancy). Air fare is an additional $799.
For information: Amphitryon Travel (USA) Inc., 1807 Belmont Rd. NW, Suite 207, Washington, D.C. 20009, (202) 483-2730.
* PASSOVER IN SARAJEVO: The Yugoslavian city of Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Winter Olympics, has a strong Jewish community with an ancient history. That heritage is the subject of a one-week tour, April 2 to 9.
The "Passover Package" is offered by Yugotours of New York and KIA, a Washington business development firm that represents Sarajevo in its efforts to attract tourists.
The per person price of $898 ($798 for students) includes round-trip air fare from New York City, hotel accommodations, two kosher meals daily, a guided tour of Sarajevo and seder dinners in the Jewish community. Optional excursions to the cities of Mostar and Dubrovnik are available. Immediate reservations are necessary.
Each traveler will also receive a replica of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illustrated manuscript of local religious rituals.
For more information: KIA, 2100 M St. NW, Suite 603, Washington, D.C. 20007, (202) 296-0230 or Yugotours, (212) 563-2400.