What should I do first -- book my airfare or my hotel?
Don't book either until you check out both or have a travel agent check them for you. If you're planning to attend a major event, such as Louisville's Kentucky Derby or New Orleans' Mardi Gras, finding a suitable hotel room at a price you can afford is usually the more difficult task. But that's not always the case: If you'd like to attend the Indian Market in Santa Fe, N.M., for instance, scoring an airline ticket is often the most difficult feat because air service is limited. The same is true of flying to French Polynesia during the popular summer high season. Even if your journey isn't connected to a special celebration or popular season, do some homework before you buy. You never can tell when a giant convention may unexpectedly suck up all the hotel rooms in town.
Where can I get good sources of free information?
Tourist boards and bureaus are the most reliable sources of free information. They'll send you a brochure or you can go online to check out places to go, things to do and where to stay. Look for wording that indicates you've accessed the official state or national tourist board, though. Some websites are nothing more than paid advertisements that hype merchants who have paid for a listing. Another good place to find reliable information is in the Times Resource Guide's online files: We list names of numbers of hotel groups, cruise lines, railway companies and other free sources of information. Access these at latimes.com/sourcebook2008.
What about tour books or guides?
Guidebooks are an easily transportableway to keep a lot of information close at hand. Browse your nearest bookstore and find a guidebook that works for you. Don't load yourself down with too many books. That's weight you don't need in your suitcase or carry-on bag. If you're a super-organized traveler, you might consider copying the relevant pages in advance and leaving the books at home.
Speaking of organization, how do I sort out my travel info?
Label a file folder for the planned trip (such as "Yosemite Vacation"), then stash information in it as you compile it. Everything will be in the same place. Fill it with maps, tourist information, airline, hotel and car rental information. Be sure to include contact names and numbers in case something goes wrong along the way. Or you can use one of the new programs for smart phones, downloadable from www.pocketexpress.com or www.worldmatelive.com, to keep your contact info, confirmation numbers and flight schedules for you.
What about a road trip? Any special tips?
Unless you're a spur-of-the-moment traveler, you'll probably want to map out your route in advance. This is particularly important during summer, the Christmas holidays and spring break, when hotel rooms may be at a premium. Members of AAA can request a TourBook for their destination, as well as a TripTik that maps out the best routes and warns of construction and detours. Mapquest.com offers a helpful website for mapping out your route and estimating travel time under normal driving conditions.
-- Rosemary McClure