Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 16, 2017
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36 websites every traveller should know about

At this very moment, answers to all of your travel questions are floating around in cyberspace. Want to know the location of an ATM in Anguilla, a Metro station in Montreal or a coffeehouse in Copenhagen? It's all out there. The problem is actually pulling the information you need up on your computer screen.

Popular sites like Expedia and Travelocity don't cover all the nuts and bolts. But when you rely on search engines it's awfully easy to get tangled in the World Wide Web: after all, Google alone spits out a whopping 52 million trip-related pages. We've solved the dot.com dilemma by doing the sifting and sorting for you. To get the straight goods, click on these little-known links.

The Plane Truth
These days finding a decent airfare is relatively easy. The real challenge is finding your way through those labyrinthine airports. Fortunately, www.worldairportguide.com simplifies matters with fast facts on parking, ground transportation, duty-free shops, business centres and more at over 200 airports. Whether you're dashing between terminals in Toronto or looking for the lost luggage desk in Dar es Salaam, this tool will help.

Tired of cramped plane seats with restricted recline and zero legroom? www.seatguru.com has annotated charts outlining the best and worst seats on 27 carriers. Details about onboard amenities (including the movies being shown) are also available. All you have to do is choose the type of aircraft from the scroll-down menu. Globetrotting gourmets can even check out the meals being served on over 300 airlines at www.airlinemeals.net.

www.flightarrivals.com is the ultimate resource for flyers who want real-time arrival, departure and cancellation information. Every four minutes, this easy-to-navigate site updates the status of flights going in to and out of most commercial airports in North America, plus select ones elsewhere. If you discover your plane has (gulp) been grounded, you can always surf over to www.sleepinginairports.net which ranks the top spots for a snooze.

Way To Go
Automobile association web pages are loaded with info that even non-members can access. The "Travel" page at www.caa.ca has the scoop on Canadian road conditions and wait times at border crossings. Snowbirds can use the handy tool at www.fuelcostcalculator.com, a site designed by America's AAA. Drivers abroad can learn about seatbelt laws, speed limits and the like for 44 European countries by looking under "Advice and Information" at Britain's www.theaa.com.

Need help planning a train trek? www.seat61.com is just the ticket. Named for creator Mark Smith's favourite seat on the Eurostar, this site delivers details on an international array of railways and routes. It's also chock-full of personal recommendations. For instance, Mr. Smith contends that there's no better way to reach Alice Springs, Australia than by the famous Ghan Train from Adelaide -- he offers up pictures and sample prices to prove it!

Devotees of the Paris métro, London's Tube, Hong Kong's MTR or Buenos Aires' subterráneo can unearth maps of the world's subway systems at www.subwaynavigator.com.

Meanwhile, vacationing fitness buffs can get insider info on jogging tracks and urban walking paths at www.runtheplanet.com. The site covers cities from Halifax to Haifa and can hook you up with fellow runners in case you want some company.

On Location
Whatever your special interest is, www.planetware.com has a spot to match it. Just pick the type of attraction you'd like to see (alphabetically organized options range from armament collections to zoos), then click on a country and up pops a customized list. Each entry is accompanied by a descriptive blurb that includes opening hours and admission prices. Contact info for individual attractions is typically given, too, so users can go straight to the source to learn more.

With an à la carte menu of tours, tastings, adventures and outings in over 400 locations, www.viatour.com provides the perfect compromise for tourists who disdain packaged trips but can't bear another day of independent museum-hopping. Visitors to Munich, for example, can book a three-hour bus tour, an evening of Bavarian entertainment or a full-day excursion to King Ludwig's castles -- and there's no service fee attached. In fact, if the local supplier charges less, Viatour will refund the difference.

Holidaymakers more interested in events than tours or attractions will love www.whatsonwhen.com: a global database of festivals, spectacles and celebrations that encompasses both the sublime and the ridiculous. (Fijian fire walking, anyone?). Search by destination and date or browse through themed categories like Family, Adventure, Performing Arts, Sports, Religion, and Natural Phenomena.

Bed, Board and Beyond
Hotel hunters looking for a second opinion often turn to the rants and raves that former guests post at www.tripadvisor.com. The let-it-all-hang-out reviews -- billed as "real advice from real travellers" -- are curiously compelling, but TripAdvisor's most useful feature is the time-saving Quick Check tool which allows you to instantly compare the rates and available rooms being quoted on those big-name booking engines.

 

When a conventional hotel won't cut it, www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com comes to the rescue. The UK-based site lives up to its name by specializing in one-of-a-kind properties in every imaginable category. A treehouse, a lighthouse and an underwater "clubhouse" are only a few of the possibilities. For something that is still truly unusual in many parts of the planet -- a non-smoking hotel room -- try www.smokefreeworld.com.

For more options in Canada that are anything but cookie-cutter, www.bbcanada.com highlights affordable, smoke-free places to stay from Newfoundland to Nunavut.

Food aficionados can peruse upscale restaurant reviews from Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazines at www.epicurious.com. But those with eclectic tastes may prefer www.chowhound.com, where message board topics run from street food in Pakistan to the perfect pizza in Italy. If dinner doesn't settle well, you might want to scan www.thebathroomdiaries.com before skipping to the loo. Discerning travellers dish the dirt on, or award coveted Golden Plunger to, public restrooms on all seven continents.

Over the Wires
Anyone anxious to stay online while they're off the beaten path should scope out www.cybercaptive.com or www.cybercafes.com before leaving home. The former, listing almost 6000 public Internet access points in 161 countries, is by far the largest. However, the latter, with breakdowns on rates and operating hours, is more thorough. For tips on using your own computer while visiting foreign countries, log on to www.kropla.com/phones.htm.

Can't figure out how to phone home from Cambodia? No problem. Making direct-dial international calls is a breeze with www.countrycallingcodes.com. It not only provides the required country and city codes in an easy-to-read format: it also displays the time of day at the receiving end, so conscientious callers will know if it's a good time to ring through. Simply enter where you are telephoning from and to.

At some point you'll probably need money fast. So www.visa.com/atms and www.mastercard.com/atmlocator are worth bookmarking. Designed for users of the PLUS and Cirrus networks respectively, these sites enable the cash-strapped to hunt for a bank machine by city or intersection. To determine exactly how many dinars or dirhams you can expect to get for your dollar, pay a visit to www.oanda.com. It will convert 164 different currencies and, as an added bonus, create a wallet-sized cheat sheet.

The Low-down on Downloads
The British Broadcasting Corporation gives the linguistically-challenged a leg up with printer-friendly Quick Fix phrase guides in 36 languages at www.bbc.co.uk/languages. All cover tourist basics like "Thanks" and "How much is that?" Better yet, all of them feature companion audio files that can be listened to online or downloaded to an MP3 player. www.travlang.com/languages, meanwhile, has essentials in dozens more languages (including Arabic and Japanese) minus the bells and whistles.

Established publishers have opened up a brave new world by introducing Pod Guides: free MP3-compatible audio tours for specific destinations. Currently the selection is limited. The Rough Guides series, for instance, has launched only four free iToors (see RG Mobile at www.roughguides.com) in addition to the eBooks and digital maps which are available for purchase; Budget Travel magazine has entered the field with eight Snap Guides at www.budgettravelonline.com, and more will follow.

Some people love getting lost on vacation. Some don't. Luckily, those who fall into the latter category can rely on the Web-based route planner found at www.mapquest.com. Just plug in starting and end points for journeys in 14 countries to receive customized maps and step-by-step directions (along with estimated driving times), which you can print or send to your PDA. A convenient service locator will even help you pinpoint hotels and restaurants along the route.

Safety First
Mother Nature has been playing some nasty tricks on travellers lately, and there is no iron-clad way to avoid bad weather. Nevertheless, you can better the odds by consulting www.wunderground.com. The site boasts comprehensive seven-day weather forecasts and assorted "storm watch" features. The real gem, however, is a handy Trip Planner that uses historical averages to predict the weather you'll get at a given locale during any two-week period.

When heading beyond our borders, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Be sure to check out www.travelhealth.gc.ca before you depart. Operated by the Public Health Agency of Canada, it offers relevant health advisories, updates on disease outbreaks, plus treatment and prevention guidelines for everything from African Trypanosomiasis to Yellow Fever. For vacationers needing risk assessments or immunizations, a round-up of provincial travel clinics is also included.

www.voyage.gc.ca, the federal government's Foreign Affairs website, is the place to go for brass-tacks advice on travel conditions abroad. Want a general country-by-country breakdown? How about news on specific safety concerns -- like electoral demonstrations in Nepal or volcanic activity in Mexico? This site sets it all out in layman's terms. It even contains an on-line SOS form that lets you contact the department's Operations Centre 24-7 in a worst-case scenario.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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