If you're a seasoned traveler you'll probably know most of these travel websites - but read on, because you might still find a few surprises. On the other hand, if you're new to the road you need to know about these sites: they'll help smooth your travel, stay connected with the world (if that's what you want), travel more cheaply, see everything there is to see, and stay safe and healthy along the way.

Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #34

The Top 10 Travel Websites You Shouldn't Travel Without

You have heard about couchsurfing, right? If that's the case, then just skip forward. In case you haven't, couchsurfing and similar clubs help you meet people in other countries who can put you up for a few nights for free. There are so many members in so many places that you can travel around the world for years just by staying at people's houses. My friend, TV producer Lisa Lubin traveled for 18 months around the world, mostly by couchsurfing, and she called the experience 'amazing'!

National Geographic
That's right. The familiar yellow frame is alive and kicking on the web, and provides a different slant on destinations by focusing on culture and nature, as well as politics and history. Wherever you're headed, your knowledge will be deepened by a browse through NatGeo. There's much more to this site than meets the eye so look around a bit, and don't miss the photography - it's one of their strengths and will make your mouth water when it comes to getting to know a destination.

Seat 61
If you love train travel, this site is made for you. It's a hobby site started by someone who loves train travel, and you can tell it's a labor of love. Beyond trains the site also touches on overland and long-distance travel. If you'd like to travel from the UK to Australia without stepping on a plane, for example, you'll find out here. Or why not one of the great routes like the Trans-Siberian?

Transitions Abroad
The Transitions Abroad magazine has been around for more than 30 years, with a web version since 1999. It has hundreds of articles on working, studying, living or volunteering abroad. You'll also find in-depth destination information, but the real gems will emerge slowly once you start working your way through the site. A little heads up: don't even start browsing unless you have several hours to spare, because the articles are so packed with useful information you'll be hopping from one to the next. TA has a great women's travel section, with plenty of information on solo travel.

BootsNAll is the quintessential independent travel guide, packed with everything from destination guides to travel blogs to an excellent RTW ticket planner. I've been a fan since BNA first started in the late 1990s and the best thing on the site is it's fantastic travel forum. It's a bit smaller than Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree but the tone here is overwhelmingly polite and helpful - to its credit it lacks some of the wise-guy and smart-aleck comments that pepper some of the other forums, possibly because of the BNA moderators. You'll find thoughtful answers from readers to almost any question, from whether to take jeans abroad to traveling while pregnant. This is always one of my first stops when travel planning.

iGoogle is a great way to centralize all your information when you travel. You can use it to track weather at your destination, get your email, subscribe to news feeds, manage your bookmarks, and best of all, Gadgets. It's easy to get addicted to these little bits of software that can help you keep a calendar (so you don't miss your flight home), play games on those long bus rides, or translate easy phrases in foreign languages. Most of all you'll just have to open a single page to have everything at your fingertips. If you have issues with Google, Yahoo hosts a similar homepage.

CDC Travelers' Health
Staying safe and healthy on the road is something we're all concerned about and the CDC's travel website packs it up nicely on a single site - vaccinations, health precautions, travel warnings and outbreaks of disease, as well as plenty of information designed to keep you from getting ill overseas. It also has plenty of advice on what to do if you do get sick while you travel.

If you don't have your own Facebook page, consider getting one before you go: it's the easiest way to keep in touch with your friends and family. Travel usually means we don't have time to write to everyone individually, so Facebook allows you to send people things they'll find interesting - like web links or photos of things you've seen. You can use it to talk to your friends as a group or to a friend individually - both are equally easy. I use it to share photos with friends and family as I travel. The captions become my journal, and my friends reach out by leaving comments. If I ever get lonely, I don't feel I've left them that far behind. And if you object to Facebook, you could try Diaspora, the new open-source social media platform set to launch on 15 September.

Welcome to the quintessential destination guide, prepared for you, and - if you want - by you. It's a collaborative effort that provides clear, unadorned information about pretty much every destination on earth. Rather than buying dozens of guidebooks, start your research here. It's especially useful if you're headed off the beaten path. I used it last month for Brazzaville in the Congo, definitely not a major tourist destination. An entire guidebook would have been wasted, but Wikitravel covered all the bases.

If you follow world affairs and are interested in knowing more about humanitarian and development issues, there's no better source than ReliefWeb. It's the ideal way to find out what's going on where you're going, especially if you're headed into an emergency, whether conflict or natural disaster. This is where you'll find the latest on the Pakistan floods, Haiti's earthquake, or the eruption of Sinabung in Indonesia - raw information from the ground, often from aid workers who are the first to arrive at the scene. An added bonus: plenty of job ads and training opportunities.

What's New This Month on women-on-the-road.com

Helen Tirebuck: she clears landmines for a living
Cold Weather Clothes: what to wear when the temperature drops
How to Cope with Cultural Differences

Are you a woman on the road with a travel question?

Are you wondering...
- how safe it is to travel solo?
- the best places to go on your own?
- how much it might cost?
- what to pack?
- how to meet people and ward off loneliness?
- about the most unusual destinations?

If you're a woman on the road - or about to hit the road - and have a question which could be of interest to other readers, post it here and I'll answer it online. Please don't ask me for job leads or recommendations for hotels or restaurants - plenty of sites out there do that far better than I ever could!

If you need to get in touch with me personally for any of the following reasons, please either Reply to this email or use this form (and don't forget to include your email!)
- to exchange links
- to approach me with a business proposal
- or anything else that might require a personal answer from me.

My free travel writing course is still going strong!

More than 30 of you signed up for the course last month, and thank you to those who wrote and sent in comments about how it had helped you.

If you've ever thought of writing to pay for your travels, you may be like thousands of others who love the road, need the money, and would be thrilled to see their name in print.

I've paid for my own travel as a writer so I've learned a trick or two about what kind of writing sells and how to make a living at it. To share some of these travel writing tips with you I've developed a free online course called the The Travel Writing Magician, available exclusively to readers of this ezine.

Just sign up and get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!

What Were Last Month's 10 Most Visited Pages on www.women-on-the-road.com?

1. Travel Packing List
2. Cheap Ways to Travel
3. Travel Accessories for Women
4. Women's Travel Clothing
5. Solo Travel
6. How to Avoid Crime Abroad
7. Volunteer Work Overseas
8. Travel Destinations
9. Travel Money Belt
10.Unusual Travel Destinations

Travel News from across the Web

6 Indisputable Reasons to Teach English Abroad
10 Ways to Take Better Travel Photographs
Review of the iPad for Traveling
10 Ways to Stick to your Budget when Backpacking
Why Some Countries Drive on the Right and Others on the Left
Managing Day-to-Day Spending on the Road
The Cost of Traveling in Western Europe
Great Destinations for Women Traveling Alone - Part II

For food lovers...

Seafood at Chiringuito in Spain
Foodie's Guide to the Best of Quebec
Argentine Food: Steak, Empanadas, Pizza, Pasta, Repeat
Colombia's Love Affair with Arepas
Splurge Japanese Cuisine
Saigon Seductions

...and lovers of other arts

Freya Stark: Classic Travel Book
7 Travel Books Not to Read Before you Travel
And the World’s Most Prolific Pop-Music-Producing Nation Is...
Victory at the Louvre

Destination Travel

Hiking Through Capri's History
Kyoto for Free: Japan on a Budget
Turkmenistan: Turkmenbashi’s Land of Fairy Tales
Impressions of Tirana, Albania
Another Sunny Day in Dubai
My 5 Worst Bus Rides in Burma
Top 10 Things to Do in South Africa
Most Remote and Spectacular Places - Rarely Visited
East of Europe, West of the Sun
Delightful Delft

And finally...

The Worst of the Worst

Cause of the Month

Why Do We Kill Whales?

Whales were once important for their products. The fat was used as oil for fuel and lamps, and as a component of makeup, particularly lipstick. Whalebone was even used to make corsets in the bad old days. Technology has found substitutes for these products so they're no longer needed.

When whaling first started whales were captured and killed with hand-held harpoons from small boats powered by men. With the advent of steam and motors, whaling ships traveled worldwide and weapons were vastly improved, so killing increased dramatically. Nearly 1.5 million whales have been killed since commercial whaling started more than 100 years ago and about 80% of all great whale species are nearing extinction.

In 1986 the International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling, which was defied by Iceland, Japan and Norway. Japan says it kills whales for 'scientific' reasons - but it's widely accepted that the same research could be done without killing whales. Moreover the whale meat tends to end up on the plates of expensive Japanese restaurants. All in the name of science, of course. Norway and Iceland, for their part, refused to abide by the ban and continued whaling.

Between them, these countries have killed 33,000 whales since the moratorium. Just two months ago, in June 2010, the IWC nearly ended the moratorium in a compromise that would have brought the hunt under its jurisdiction. The decision was hailed by some as a boon to whale survival, and chastised by others as a missed opportunity to exert greater control over whale hunting. Either way, the decision is now on ice but only for a year.

What will happen next year? Will whales continue to be killed indiscriminately, or will some kind of agreement be reached ending this slaughter?

The anti-whaling community is an active one and there are many campaigns. Nor is there a shortage of celebrity power backing a solid and enforceable whaling ban. Here are some of the most illustrious: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Paul McCartney, Pierce Brosnan, Michelle Rodriguez, Bryan Adams, Hayden Panettiere...

Greed, while the greatest threat to whales, is not the only threat - there are others:

  • pollution is blamed for a range of illnesses among whales and other marine mammals, from reproductive malformations to liver disease
  • ship strikes are responsible for half the North Atlantic right whale deaths
  • climate change is making seas warmer and saltier, while killing off whales' traditional foods
  • overfishing also threatens whales' traditional fish food supply
  • noise from sonars, propellers and drilling disorients whales, who use their fine hearing to navigate and find food
  • entanglement in fishing nets can either kill whales outright or slowly tighten, cutting into and injuring them

Adding insult to injury, whale meat and fat are actually harmful to human health. Because whales are near the top of the food chain, their products now contain PCBs, pesticides and dangerously high levels of mercury and other toxins. Campaigners are calling for strict international health guidelines for their consumption.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that those who make money from killing whales would probably make a lot more from encouraging tourism and whalewatching.

To help the fight against whaling or to find out more:

International Fund for Animal Welfare
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Campaign Whale
Sea Shepherd
The Whaleman Foundation
WWF International

Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS?

Slow Travel

(c) 2007-2010, Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.