If you like to travel, you're probably familiar with Rick Steves, Arthur Frommer and other guidebook authors who have built national reputations by offering practical advice and tips on how to find good travel values.
Now meet Don and Linda Freedman in Toronto, Canada; Ed and Julie Gehrlein in Liberty, Mo.; Peter Geiser in Zurich, Switzerland; Mike Shaefer in Evansville, Ind.; and Dave Thompson in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Their names aren't household words, but if you're an independent traveler, you'll want to log onto your computer and get acquainted.
All run noncommercial or "hobby" travel Web sites — Internet guides combining firsthand information and impressions with resource links and access to bulletin boards and discussion groups where travelers exchange tips and insights.
There are thousands of travel-related sites on the Web. What sets these apart is that the people who run them are not in it to sell tour packages or book hotels but rather to share what they know and create outlets for others to do the same.
This information is especially timely as many of you are rethinking travel plans for 2002. If you are planning some travel, especially overseas, you might find it reassuring to hear what others have to say about their recent experiences.
If you're staying put for a while, these sites offer a great way to "armchair" travel and research new destinations.
Don Freedman, a retired marketing executive, and his wife, Linda, pursue their passion for travel on their Web site, www.thetravelzine.com. It contains travelogues of their trips from Slovenia to Portugal and a link to their online Yahoo discussion group at groups.yahoo.com/group/thetravelzine.
Members lately have been using the Yahoo group to share their feelings about traveling post-Sept. 11. Some have been writing about their favorite travel memories as a way of keeping each other in touch with the spirit of travel at a time when some are staying home.
"I'm not going to do something foolish and go somewhere where Americans are obviously not welcome right now," said one writer in her posting. "But I'm not going to just say home, afraid to venture out, either." She has shelved plans for Morocco next spring and is now considering Russia, Italy or Peru.
"Ziners" also ask and answer questions on practical matters such as finding a good budget hotel in Paris or how to find the best software program for downloading subway-system maps into a Palm Pilot.
Traveling with Ed and Julie
Ed and Julie Gehrlein of Liberty, Mo., have been publishing "Traveling with Ed and Julie" at www.twenj.com for five years. They describe themselves as "middle-aged Americans," who after 80 trips to Europe in 40 years, "know the difference between excellent, good and forgettable."
Their site includes useful sections on travel basics such as packing, money, budgeting, what to wear, etc., and comprehensive information and links on their favorite destinations: Rome, Switzerland and Bavaria.
Tired of long plane trips, they've been relaxing in the mountains close to their home in the past few years, the result being a set of articles on Colorado.
What I like best about their site are the more than 30 articles written by others on subjects ranging from doing Rome in a wheelchair to exploring Switzerland's Jungfrau region with kids. Every article is dated so you can tell when it was written, and much of the general information is updated.
Mike Shaefer, a 38-year-old part-time pharmacist in Evansville, Ind., describes himself as a "travel fanatic." His Web site, www.footloosetravel.com, contains a Travel Café with postings from travelers on Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North and South America, but its real strength is a set of more than 300 links that together make up one of the most comprehensive online travel-resource guides I've seen.
Shaefer's site is a one-stop guide to links on accommodations, transportation, sightseeing, general travel planning, banking, publications, health and safety and dining.
Shaefer has been traveling to Europe since 1990 and guided his first small group tour there in 1998. He sells rail passes and continues to lead tours, so his efforts are not all noncommercial, but his emphasis is on sharing information rather than selling his services.
Dave's Travel Corner
Dave Thompson, a 27-year-old Internet service provider in Santa Rosa, Calif., began Dave's Travel Corner (www.davestravelcorner.com) in 1997 after a trip to Nepal.
"I became deathly ill from food poisoning and altitude sickness and when I returned to the states I had a newfound appreciation for life and for travel," Thompson says.
He wrote about his climb to Everest Base Camp and continues to post articles by himself and others on destinations including California, Florida, Mexico and Africa.
I recently used his site to plan a trip to Guadalajara and found his and others' impressions more useful than guidebook information.
Peter M. Geiser, 34, a financial-services consultant in Zurich, started the Peter M. Geiser Internet Travel Guide (www.pmgeiser.com) to Asia in 1995 in the Internet news group rec.travel.asia, as a summary of his experiences.
Geiser's guides cover Cambodia, China, Laos, Tibet, Vietnam and Myanmar. This is the place to look for information on everything from visa requirements to where to sample Vin Lao, a special wine from Laos made with black rice and lime. Geiser continues as the official overseer for questions posted on rec.travel.asia (www.faqs.org/faqs/by-newsgroup/rec/rec.travel.asia.html).
Like Ed and Julie Gehrlein, he earns a commission on books sold through his links to Amazon.com. The income is used to maintain their sites.
Carol Pucci's Travel Wise column runs in the Travel Section on the last Sunday of each month. Comments are welcome. Contact her at 206-464-3701 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.