Making Tracks

If you are planning to visit a far-off land this summer, there's a good chance Rudy Maxa has been there. One of the most prolific travel commentators and writers working today, Maxa is known as the original host of "The Savvy Traveler," a weekly public radio program that combines travel essays with practical tips. Earlier this month, he ended his four-year stint as host but continues to do weekly commentaries on the show.

His new television series, "Smart Travels in Europe With Rudy Maxa," runs on public stations across the country, including KOCE-TV Channel 50 in Orange County. And he writes regularly for MSNBC.com, Expedia.com and magazines such as National Geographic Traveler and Worth.

Maxa, 51, is a former Washington Post reporter and columnist. This interview was conducted by cell phone while he was taking a stroll along the Mediterranean Sea in Barcelona, Spain.

DESKTOP: It's a Dell, but don't ask me what model it is. I also have a couple of employees back in Washington and they have Dells too. We use them for e-mail and getting out the monthly subscription newsletter I do.

Q. Do you run your travel Web site (http://www.rudymaxa.com) out of the office?

I love computers, but I can't program them or anything like that. I have a consultant who maintains the site.

LAPTOP: A Dell Inspiron at about 5 pounds that I carry everywhere. It's pretty new. I used to have one that was heavier, and it just killed me. I don't think I could do what I do for a living without a laptop. When I was a young reporter, I remember having to find a typewriter when I was out on assignment and then figuring out how to turn in my story. I would sometimes have to go looking for a telex operator in the middle of the night.

I use the laptop for my writing and then e-mailing the stories in. I'm here now with one of my best friends, Daisuke Utagawa, who is the owner of a restaurant in Washington. They are on a food-tasting trip, and I am following them around for an article--it's not the toughest of assignments. From here, we will be going to the Turkish coast for a bicycle tour.

I also use the laptop for my e-mail on the road. This morning, I sent an e-mail to my 17-year-old son, whom I will be meeting in Paris. I wanted to make sure he is getting his flight.

Q. How do you take care of the laptop on the road?

I have a canvas computer carrier, made by Tumi, that has stiff material to protect the laptop, and I've never had any problems.

I have six different plugs and adapters that I can use in Europe and Asia. To carry them, I use one of those amenity bags they give you when you fly first or business class on an international flight. I emptied it out, and it was perfect for all my plugs.

HAND-HELD: An HP Jornada that's in color. It's fabulous. At least, I think it is. I never really figured out how to sync it up to my computer.

Q. Why not?

I am just so dumb at this stuff. It should be something I can do--I figured out how to program numbers into my cell phone and to use the various codes to get voicemail. But there is only so much an old guy's brain can take when he comes to technology.

If I ever get the Jornada to work, I'm sure I'll love it. After 30 years of being a reporter, I have about 2,000 names in my Rolodex.

BOOKMARKED SITES: I go to Expedia to check travel prices and sometimes purchase tickets. I use its currency converter--I was in five countries in the last seven days and filling out an expense report is a lot easier with that.

I love to look for deals on hotel rooms. I go to Quikbook.com to find discounts on rooms in the U.S. I also use Priceline, sometimes, for rooms but never for flights because you can't book for a specific time and my schedule is too full for that.

The Department of Transportation has reports on which airlines have the best and worst on-time performances (http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/index1.htm).

Q. Do you research travel destinations online?

I use the Google search engine. I might put in "Tuscany" and "villas," something like that. But that's about it. As far as the Internet goes, I'm on AOL, so that will show you my measure of sophistication.

CELL PHONE: The phone I'm talking on now is Paris-based--it's a very slim Nokia that I always carry with me in Europe. I encourage editors and others trying to reach me to call me on that number because in Europe, incoming calls don't cost me anything. I also have a Motorola with me that works off a number in Washington, but it costs me a $1 a minute if someone calls me on it. I give that number to my kids.

Here's a tip for someone who wants a European mobile phone: It's not easy to buy. I wanted to get one because I am here all the time, but I was told I couldn't unless I had a local address and bank account. Luckily, I have a friend in Paris who has an apartment and I could use that as my address. Otherwise, if you are coming here for short periods of time, it makes much more sense to rent.

The Nokia has an infrared link but my laptop does not, which is too bad. If it did, I would be able to send in my stories from anywhere. My friend Daisuke uses the infrared, and it works great--a little slow but very convenient. My next laptop will have that for sure.

FAVORITE TECH DEVICE: I rely on my answering machine and cell phone because I am self-employed. If someone calls me and wants me to write an article, lead a tour to Cuba or give a lecture, they expect to hear back from me. If they don't within 24 hours, they might go somewhere else.

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