I will be in London for graduate school next year and was planning on coming back to the U.S. for Christmas and New Year's. However, courses begin in the first week of January -- should I risk getting stuck in the U.S.? Will the Y2K bug affect travel between the U.S. and U.K.?
Turn-of-the-calendar air travelers worldwide are pondering this vexing question, for which there is no firm answer at this point. However, you're fortunate in that both the United States and the United Kingdom are being judged among the top-ranked countries for Y2K preparedness.
It's a fair bet that if your airline can't deliver because of some Y2K-related problem, you're not going to get stuck holding the ticket, though you might be delayed or otherwise inconvenienced. You might ask yourself where you'd rather be if chaos breaks out -- sipping warm Courage ale or swilling warm Miller -- but I suspect it's merely a theoretical question.
The May 1999 issue of Consumer Reports offered a balanced look at what could go wrong in various sectors, and it recommended that travelers avoid connecting flights and have hard-copy documentation for hotel and other reservations. For those who don't have to return to classes, it recommended trying to leave at least a week before New Year's Eve and returning at least a week after.
The U.S. State Department plans to report on each country's preparedness and by September include an assessment in each consular information sheet. Monitor the site for the United Kingdom as well as the Federal Aviation Administration site.
The U.S. Consumer Gateway has links to the Y2K sites of U.S. airlines, British Airways and other transportation modes.
Another site to monitor is the International Civil Aviation Organization's Year 2000 home page.
Among British sites to watch is one that reports on Infrastructure Sectors, including airlines and other modes of transportation.
One other tip. When traveling during that critical period, carry your own food and water -- good advice even on routine flights.
I will have a stop in Rome for five to six days before heading to Sweden. I have never stayed in Rome before, and particularly as a woman traveler, I am a bit nervous to be traveling alone in Italy before I meet up with family in Sweden. Any tips for low- to moderate-priced lodging in Rome?
A little trepidation before a trip is quite common, especially when going to a destination for the first time. Soothe those nerves by reading the accounts of women travelers who have gone before you. There's been a genuine surge in the past decade in books devoted to traveling women, not to mention a handful of periodicals that revolve around the same subject.
There also are many more how-to primers, including "Safety and Security for Women Who Travel," by Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer (Travelers' Tales Guides, 1998).
Other books by and for women travelers can be found through Maiden Voyages, the online supplement to the magazine of the same name.
As for reasonably-priced lodging, a book worth seeking out is "An Insider's Guide to Italian Hotels $50-$99 a Night for Two," by Margo Classe (Wilson Publishing, 2d edition 1999; phone (888) 663-9269). The author visited 26 Italian cities to research the book, and 69 of the hotels are in Rome. It's especially useful because it describes the hotels' neighborhoods and gives you the pros and cons. Not all the hotels described are under $100 all the time; some say such rates apply only off-season or in rooms without private bathrooms. Still, the intelligence is firsthand and tells it like it is -- just what you need to make an informed decision.
A fine site for leads on lodging, as well as for descriptions of the Italian lifestyle, is In Italy Online.
I live in Kansas, and this summer am looking for a getaway destination that's cool and uncrowded, far from a metropolitan area. Ideas?
Cool, wide-open spaces abound even during peak vacation periods. Obviously, you'll want to head west to the mountains, steering clear of Rocky Mountain National Park and the other mega-magnets for summer revelers.
But even places that attract a steady tourist crowd, such as Durango and Telluride, Colo., can be refreshingly spare of crowds just beyond the city limits.
Two years ago I spent five days on a mountain biking trip west of Sun Valley, Idaho, and saw exactly one RV once we left the pavement for Bureau of Land Management roads, even though it was the second week in August.
You can get the line on such places in a book called "America's Secret Recreation Areas: Your Travel Guide to the Forgotten Wild Lands of the Bureau of Land Management," by Michael Hodgson (Foghorn Press, 2nd edition 1995). You can also order a copy through (800) 364-4676.
There's a newly polished government site called Recreation.gov that offers a multi-agency search for recreational sites. You designate a state and the types of activities you're most interested in, and the site lists matching properties drawn from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Federal Highway Administration.
Update: Private island getaways in the Bahamas
In an earlier column, a reader asked about arranging a getaway on a deserted Bahamas island.
Thanks to Salon reader J.G., who tipped us that she and her husband spent a week on a deserted Bahamas island several years ago for a "Robinson Crusoe" honeymoon.
"We were dropped off and then picked up a week later. We were the only ones on the 200-plus-acre island." They were deposited on Bowe Cay, in the Exumas, about 30 miles south of Nassau, after a 45-minute boat ride from Great Exuma.
"The entire trip was very rugged and I don't recommend it for anyone who doesn't like to camp," advised our correspondent. "Accommodations were extremely rustic, which I expected. Also, everything was a little more run-down and less clean than I expected. But it was a fun trip overall."
The company that arranged their trip seems to have disappeared -- perhaps it's moved to one of the hundreds of empty islands in the group. But here's an Exuma site with numerous links.