Have you ever played around with Google Maps?

It's not difficult - or no more difficult than uploading pictures and stuff to your Facebook page.

If you haven't explored Google Maps, why not make this one of your New Year's resolutions?

Not only will you learn something new, but your travel experience will be that much more intense for having researched it in greater depth - and had some fun along the way.

And speaking of the New Year, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful 2009, filled with travel and discovery.

And remember - Women on the Road is your newsletter and your site. If there's anything special you'd like me to write about, just Reply to this email and I promise to do my best.

Happy New Year!

Women on the Road News: Contents for Issue #14

  • 8 Ways Google Maps Can Help Your Travels
  • What's New on the Website
  • Travel News from Across the Web
  • Cause of the Month: Zimbabwe's Dying Breath

8 Ways Google Maps Can Help Your Travels

This isn't designed to be a tutorial - just an introduction to whet your appetite if you like using the Internet while you travel. If you don't or if you'd rather wait, just save this newsletter for future reference!

To start using Google Maps, the first thing you have to do is sign in to your Google account - or create one if you don't have one yet. Then go to Maps in the upper navigation bar at www.google.com page. Once you're signed in - start having fun!

1. Explore your destination.
Once you're inside Google Maps you'll see a link called Search Maps. Just type in your destination, and click around. A great place to start is the "Explore this area" link in the left-hand pane. You'll find plenty of photos, videos and links to your chosen destination. Become familiar with your destination before you go.

2. Create a map of your itinerary.
Click on My Maps and then on Create New Map. Pretty straightforward: you can make your map public and share with everyone or just to those to whom you've given the URL (you'll see a little envelope icon at the top - it means you can email your map). Once you've created your map, you can add placemarks in each location you plan to visit, along with a short description of where you're going. What a great way to keep your friends and family in the loop!

3. Create a log of where you've been.
This builds on the step above. Each time you've visited a destination, why not change the description box so it contains your own information or impressions? Just rewrite the description of each place. This is especially helpful if you don't want to create a blog but you still want to share your journey with others.

4. Add your photos to your itinerary.
It's as simple as uploading photos to any other site. Look around for the Edit button in My Maps, then click on the placemark you want to fill with your photos. Click on Rich Text mode, and simply upload your photo. It really sounds harder than it is - when you try it you'll see it's quite straightforward.

5. Add your videos too.
You can view or add videos of where you're going - just embed the URL in your placemark. Do the same as above, except click on Edit HTML rather than Rich Text. How's that for sharing your journey instantaneously with people? If this is too complicated for now, just focus on putting up photographs. The videos can come later.

6. Get the weather.
Are you prevaricating between Bali and Penang? Maybe a quick check of the weather will help you decide - no point in heading into a tropical rainstorm. Just click on the Weather Channel in the left-hand pane.

7. Track your walking and calorie loss.
That's right - one of many content add-ons for Google Maps is an actual pedometer and calorie counter, for those of us who are tech-savvy but weight-challenged.

8. Playing Games.
This is one of the more fun ways of using Google Maps, but only if you carry a GPS with you when you travel and know how to use it. Geocaching is a treasure hunt - people hide things or markers (caching from the French word 'cacher', to hide) and post the GPS coordinates on the Geocaching site. You can search for a destination near you on Google Maps, and go hunt for the marker (you can even share your experiences in their online log). As I said - this is not for the beginner!

Still too complicated? Explore Google Maps with a virtual tour. If you'd rather read than watch your instructions, have a look at the Google Maps User Guide.

If nothing here tempts you, try the additional content Google Maps provides. You're bound to find something that enhances your trip!

Something wrong with Google Maps or any of my instructions? Sincere apologies but I can't really help you - I'm as much a beginner as you are! I've spent hours poring over the instructions to try to make your first approach to Google Maps hassle-free - but since I'm no expert you'll have to get your answers from the Google Maps Help Center, blogs about Google Maps, or the Google Maps section of the Google Community Forum.

What's New This Month on Women on the Road, the Website

Women's Travel Clothing
I'm not selling clothes on my site but this new section will help you know what to look for and what questions to ask when buying those all-important travel clothes.

Cooking Schools in Europe
If you're a food lover or budding chef, why not try out one of the many cooking schools in Europe for a day or two as you pass through Florence, Madrid or Paris?

Unusual Travel Destinations
You think you've been there, seen it all? Think again. There are certainly places you don't know - or that you could see with a different eye.

Putting Down Roots
Taking a long break from travel when you've been on the road too long.

Movie Tourism
Are you a film fan? If you're a movie buff, you too can travel the world visiting locations of your favorite blockbusters.

Travel News From Across the Web: As 2008 Ends and 2009 Begins

12 Resolutions for Travelers in 2009

American Express: Top Travel Trends for 2009

Epicurious: Top 10 Food Trends of 2009
9 Travel Movies to Watch For in 2009

ABC News: Top Ten Travel Stories of 2008

The Year in Eating

Travel Books of the Year

10 Cool Cities to Travel and Live

Dervla Murphy: 10 of the Best Ways to Travel

And a few destination-bound stories...

Incredible Boston Globe photos of Venice Under Water

Sikkim to Expand Tourism

Nepal's First Female-Run Trekking Company

10 Tips to Improve Any Trip to Brazil

New Zealand: Clean, Green and Extreme

Man-Made Plague of Jellyfish to Terrorize Beaches for Years to Come

Cause of the Month: Zimbabwe's Dying Breath

You can't have missed the crisis in Zimbabwe:

  • an undemocratic dictatorship that overturned elections which voted it out
  • nearly 800 cholera deaths, more than 16,400 cases reported and 1.4 million Zimbabweans at risk
  • a breakdown in water and sanitation infrastructure
  • the nation's health system has collapsed
  • cholera has spread to border areas of South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique
  • world's highest inflation rate (11.2 million per cent) and a shortage of basic goods like water, salt, sugar, which could help with oral rehydration
  • rapidly disappearing jobs
  • female life expectancy down to 43 years
  • prolonged drought and agricultural breakdown
  • nearly half the population malnourished
  • almost 9/10 of people living on less than $2 a day
  • political violence, kidnappings, murders

Zimbabwe faces a humanitarian crisis that threatens to starve and destroy a country that was once the continent's breadbasket. Each time something happens, there is worldwide conviction that things cannot get worse. Yet they do.

While regional powers debate whether they should intervene and President Mugabe clings to power, people die.

For more information on Zimbabwe, visit ReliefWeb, which has a wealth of documents from the UN, governments and NGOs on various aspects of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Want to help? Consider donating through one of many online charities such as Empowering Zimbabweans, HELP or Oxfam.

This excellent article in The Telegraph (UK) lists plenty of more ways you can help Zimbabweans survive their country's crisis.

Next Month?

How Travel Changes You.

Don't Miss Out!

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Happy travels! Leyla