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11th June 1999 at 01:00
Arnold Evans muses on the meritsof globe-trotters going online

Fings, as the late Lionel Bart once observed, ain't what they used to be. Never is this more apparent than at the holiday season. In the old days, everybody with a passport and the spirit of adventure seemed to end up in exactly the same place - a half-built high-rise development that we simply called Abroad. We dutifully spent our 14 days all inc, drinking too much, frying until we were as brown as tomatoes, and being assailed by a menagerie of mosquitoes, tummy bugs and time-share salespersons. Booking the holiday was a doddle. We left it to the travel agent who did the donkey work. All we had to do was remember to pack the Rennies and the rubber ring and turn up at the airport in time for the inevitable six-hour delay.

Nowadays, that kind of carefree attitude isn't good enough. You can't have a good time abroad unless you're confident that you've wangled a good deal. To be top dog, you have to produce the receipt proving that you paid less than anybody elseI you have no alternative but to shop around.

If you're online, you've got no excuse for not finding a bargain. The Internet hosts dozens of sites where you key in your requirements - preferred destination, date of departure and suchlike - and a search engine trawls through the databases of dozens of airlines and tour operators. Then all you have to do is provide your credit card details, sit back and wait for your tickets to arrive by registered mail. Mind you there are some disgruntled users who insist that despite the hours they spent online, they found better deals in the window of their local travel agent.

If you are one of those bargain-hunters who refuses to leave one stone unturned, you certainly won't part with a penny of your hard-earned until you've visited Deckchair.com, Expedia, Travelocity and the Net's other virtual travel agents. But the Net also has more to offer the traveller. Every country, town, museum, festival, gallery and theme park has its official site.

You'll find electronic brochures, gazetteers, sizzling photographs, timetables of the world's major airlines, ferries and railway companies which, unlike their printed counterparts, are far more likely to be bang up-to-date. There is a cornucopia of maps and city plans; weather forecasts for every charted centimetre of the globe, the low-down on the world's trouble spots, and enough sites devoted to the health hazards you might encounter on your journey to put you off travelling. You can even brush up on every language imaginable at sites which provide, not only lessons and vocabulary guides, but digitised sound files of useful phrases.

If you've got cold feet or the nagging feeling that perhaps you'd be better off spending your summer holidays redecorating the back bedroom, read a few of the "travelers tales" -note the spelling - which are easily accessible via Yahoo and other search engines. You'll soon find yourself itching to grab your mosquito net and water purifier to head off to faraway places. And, if you feel a compelling urge to wear something truly outlandish at the poolside, there are virtual boutiques for ordering beachwear online. But be warnedI thongs ain't what they used to be!

* To hunt for cheap flights and packages try: www.expedia.msn.co.uk

www.deckchair.com

www.travelselect.com

www.lastminute.com

* Find some brilliant holiday sites at: Internet Travel Services:

www.itsnet.co.uktime-zonehome.htm

Rec Travel Library:

www.travel-library.com

* For maps try:

www.nationalgeographic.comresourcesngomaps

www.maps.compymaps.py

* Check the weather at:

www.wunderground.com

* Health risks and other worries:

www.fco.gov.uktraveldefault.asp

www.lonelyplanet.comhealthhealth.htm

* To brush on on languages:

www.june29.comHLP

www.willamette.edutjonesLanguages-Page.html

www.netlingo.com

* Choose beachwear at:

www.bikini.com

More sites on page 36

Send your electronic postcards to arnoldevans@virgin.net

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