World ? Europe ? England

England: The 21st-Century Traveler

Surfing for Airfares

The "big three" online travel agencies, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, and Orbitz.com sell most of the air tickets bought on the Internet. (Canadian travelers should try expedia.ca and Travelocity.ca; U.K. residents can go to expedia.co.uk and opodo.co.uk.) Each has different business deals with the airlines and may offer different fares on the same flights, so it's wise to shop around. Expedia and Travelocity will also send you e-mail notification when a cheap fare becomes available to your favorite destination. Of the smaller travel agency websites, SideStep (www.sidestep.com) has gotten the best reviews from Frommer's authors. It's a browser add-on that purports to "search 140 sites at once," but in reality only beats competitors' fares as often as other sites do.

Also remember to check airline websites, especially those for low-fare carriers whose fares are often misreported or simply missing from travel agency websites. Even with major airlines, you can often shave a few bucks from a fare by booking directly through the airline and avoiding a travel agency's transaction fee. But you'll get these discounts only by booking online: Most airlines now offer online-only fares that even their phone agents know nothing about.

Great last-minute deals are available through free weekly e-mail services provided directly by the airlines. Most of these are announced on Tuesday or Wednesday and must be purchased online. Sign up for these alerts at airline websites or check mega-sites that compile comprehensive lists of last-minute specials, such as Smarter Living (smarterliving.com). For last-minute trips, lastminute.com in Europe often has better deals than the major-label sites.

If you're willing to give up some control over your flight details, use an opaque fare service like Priceline (www.priceline.com; www.priceline.co.uk for Europeans) or Hotwire (www.hotwire.com). Both offer rock-bottom prices in exchange for travel on a "mystery airline" at a mysterious time of day, often with a mysterious change of planes en route. The mystery airlines are all major, well-known carriers. But your chances of getting a 6am or 11pm flight are pretty high. Hotwire tells you flight prices before you buy; Priceline usually has better deals than Hotwire, but you have to play their "name our price" game. If you're new at this, the helpful folks at BiddingForTravel (www.biddingfortravel.com) do a good job of demystifying Priceline's prices. Priceline and Hotwire are great for flights between the U.S. and England.

For much more about airfares and savvy air-travel tips and advice, pick up a copy of Frommer's Fly Safe, Fly Smart (Wiley Publishing, Inc.).

Surfing for Hotels

Of the "big three" sites, Expedia may be the best choice, thanks to its long list of special deals. Travelocity runs a close second. Hotel specialist sites hotels.com and hoteldiscounts.com are also reliable. An excellent free program, TravelAxe (www.travelaxe.net), can help you search multiple hotel sites at once, even ones you may never have heard of.

Priceline and Hotwire are even better for hotels than for airfares; with both, you're allowed to pick the neighborhood and quality level of your hotel before offering up your money. Priceline's hotel product covers a good selection of U.K. hotels, though it's much better at getting five-star lodging for three-star prices than at finding anything at the bottom of the scale. Note: Hotwire overrates its hotels by one star -- what Hotwire calls a four-star is a three-star anywhere else.

Surfing for Rental Cars

For booking rental cars online, the best deals are usually found at rental-car company websites, although all the major online travel agencies also offer rental-car reservations services. Priceline and Hotwire work well for rental cars, too; the only "mystery" is which major rental company you get, and for most travelers the difference between Hertz, Avis, and Budget is negligible.

Internet Access

Travelers have any number of ways to check their e-mail and access the Internet on the road. Of course, using your own laptop -- or even a PDA (personal desk assistant) or electronic organizer with a modem -- gives you the most flexibility. But even if you don't have a computer, you can still access your e-mail and even your office computer from cybercafes.

Without your own computer -- It's hard nowadays to find a city that doesn't have a few cybercafes. Although there's no definitive directory for cybercafes -- these are independent businesses, after all -- three places to start looking are at www.cybercaptive.com, www.netcafeguide.com, and www.cybercafe.com.

Aside from formal cybercafes, most youth hostels nowadays have at least one computer you can get to the Internet on. And most public libraries across the world offer Internet access free or for a small charge. Avoid hotel business centers, which often charge exorbitant rates.

Most major airports now have Internet kiosks scattered throughout their gates. These kiosks, which you'll also see in shopping malls, hotel lobbies, and tourist information offices around the world, give you basic web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices. The kiosks' clunkiness and high price means they should be avoided whenever possible.

To retrieve your e-mail, ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) if it has a web-based interface tied to your existing e-mail account. If your ISP doesn't have such an interface, you can use the free mail2web service (www.mail2web.com) to view (but not reply to) your home e-mail. For more flexibility, you may want to open a free, web-based e-mail account with Yahoo! Mail (mail.yahoo.com). (Microsoft's Hotmail is another popular option, but Hotmail has severe spam problems.) Your home ISP may be able to forward your e-mail to the web-based account automatically.

If you need to access files on your office computer, look into a service called GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com). The service provides a web-based interface for you to access and manipulate a distant PC from anywhere -- even a cybercafe -- provided your "target" PC is on and has an always-on connection to the Internet (such as with Road Runner cable). The service offers top-quality security, but if you're worried about hackers, use your own laptop rather than a cybercafe to access the GoToMyPC system.

With Your Own Computer -- Major Internet Service Providers (ISP) have local access numbers around the world, allowing you to go online by simply placing a local call. Check your ISP's website or call its toll-free number and ask how you can use your current account away from home, and how much it will cost.

If you're traveling outside the reach of your ISP, the iPass network has dial-up numbers in most of the world's countries. You'll have to sign up with an iPass provider, who will then tell you how to set up your computer for your destination(s). For a list of iPass providers, go to www.ipass.com and click on "Reseller Locator." Under "Select a Country" pick the country that you're coming from, and under "Who is this service for?" pick "Individual". One solid provider is i2roam (www.i2roam.com; tel. 866/811-6209 or 920/235-0475).

Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable.

Most business-class hotels throughout the world offer dataports for laptop modems, and a few thousand hotels in the U.S. and Europe now offer high-speed Internet access using an Ethernet network cable. You'll have to bring your own cables either way, so call your hotel in advance to find out what the options are.

Using a Cell Phone in England

The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobiles), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. In the U.S., T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM, and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM.

If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable phone such as many (but not all) Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas on much of the globe, from Andorra to Uganda. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high -- usually $1 to $1.50 in Western Europe and up to $5 in places such as Russia and Indonesia.

World-phone owners can bring down their per-minute charges with a bit of trickery. Call up your cellular operator and say you'll be going abroad for several months and want to "unlock" your phone to use it with a local provider. Usually, they'll oblige. Then, in your destination country, pick up a cheap, prepaid phone chip at a mobile phone store and slip it into your phone. (Show your phone to the salesperson, as not all phones work on all networks.) You'll get a local phone number in your destination country -- and much, much lower calling rates.

Otherwise, renting a phone is a good idea. While you can rent a phone from any number of overseas sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, we suggest renting the phone before you leave home. That way you can give loved ones your new number, make sure the phone works, and take the phone wherever you go -- especially helpful when you rent overseas, where phone-rental agencies bill in local currency and may not let you take the phone to another country.

Phone rental isn't cheap. You'll usually pay $40 to $50 per week, plus airtime fees of at least a dollar a minute. If you're traveling to Europe, though, local rental companies often offer free incoming calls within their home country, which can save you big bucks. The bottom line: Shop around.

Two good wireless rental companies are InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) and RoadPost (www.roadpost.com; tel. 888-290-1606 or 905/272-5665). Give them your itinerary, and they'll tell you what wireless products you need. InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm ET, or go to http://intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.

For trips of more than a few weeks spent in one country, buying a phone becomes economically attractive, as many nations have cheap, no-questions-asked prepaid phone systems. Stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package; you'll probably pay less than $100 for a phone and a starter calling card. Local calls may be as low as 10 cents per minute, and in many countries incoming calls are free.

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