Best of friends, worst of travelers Organization: A few precautions can help avoid disaster when friends go on a trip together.; STRATEGIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An icy wind was whistling across the Sea of Cortes, whipping up frothy whitecaps where I'd told my friends we'd find glassy-still, bathtub-warm water. As we huddled for warmth in the lee of a sand dune, I understood on some irrational yet unshakable level that it was all my fault.

That's the problem with planning trips with your friends: If you're the instigator, as my wife, Jeri, and I were in this case, you feel responsible for everything. If your friends aren't having a good time, it's hard not to feel you led them astray.

None of this is meant to suggest that any of my friends on that Baja California trip were complaining. In fact, they were heroically upbeat. (And, to my profound relief, the weather improved dramatically the next day and stayed that way.)

Some of the best trips I've ever been on have been ones we've organized for friends ' some of the worst ones, too. For a painless experience, consider some of the lessons I've learned over the years:

* When inviting friends, think hard about their ability to function within a group. Some people are wonderful in one-on-one situations but become short-tempered or mutinous when confronted by the constraints of group travel.

In our experience, groups in which men and women are balanced tend to behave better than those that are exclusively, or dominantly, one sex.

* Make sure you're all heading into the vacation with the same expectations. If, for example, some of you like to stay up partying into the wee hours and others want everyone to be up at dawn for the first ski run of the day, you're bound to have trouble.

* Particularly on trips built around activities ' backpacking, kayaking, bicycling, etc. ' someone needs to be clearly identified, and respected, as the leader. Otherwise you'll waste an astonishing amount of time consensus-building over everything from when to stop for lunch to where to pitch your tents.

Consider hiring an adventure-travel company to arrange your trip and supply an experienced leader; most will organize custom trips for private groups.

* Cruises and Club Med-style vacations are the easiest to arrange with friends. Just agree on a date and a venue, and let everyone do their own booking. If someone drops out at the last minute, the rest of you can still go ahead with the trip. And once on vacation, you can operate with as much or as little togetherness as you desire.

* Appoint the most organized, trusted, detail-oriented person in the group to be treasurer. As money is collected for deposits, food kitties or other expenses, it's important to have someone who can account for every penny.

* Write down the financial ground rules and send everyone a copy. If there is a nonrefundable deposit, make sure everyone understands they'll lose their money if they drop out, unless someone takes their place.

* Make sure your friends realize that this is your vacation, too.

Trips conceived over dinner with friends after the third bottle of wine almost never come off. Trust me.

Business

Laptop Lane Ltd., a privately held Seattle-based company, opened its first suite of 12 private, high-technology offices for business travelers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport last week, followed by a second suite at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport opening on June 1.

Staffed by "cyber concierges" (individuals who can help with computer-related problems), each office will be equipped with a Micron desktop computer with high-speed Internet access; computer connections to a laser printer; plain-paper fax machine; and multiline phone for conference calling. The suites will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and rent for $8.95 a half-hour, plus long-distance phone and fax fees.

Laptop Lane's chief executive officer, Bruce Merrell, said the company was pursuing other airport locations in the United States and overseas.

Fast solutions

Vacationers headed for Grand Canyon and Smoky Mountains national parks and about two dozen other federal park properties can make toll-free camping and tour reservations using a new central system, the National Park Service has announced.

The system replaces one discontinued late last year after the company providing the service ran into difficulties.

The new system is operated by Biospherics Inc. of Beltsville, a company specializing in call-information systems. It already is available to vacation planners. For camping reservations at most of the parks, the number to call is 800-365-2267.

Among the parks are some of the country's most popular, including Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Zion National Park in Utah, and Everglades National Park in Florida. Others are Acadia National Park in Maine; Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia; Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina; Death Valley National Park in California; Glacier National Park in Montana; and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.

Campground reservations for Yosemite National Park can be made through another number, 800-436-7275. Tour reservations for Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, can be made through 800-967-2283.

Kids

Because most family vacations involve a car trip, the Baylor College of Medicine offers a tip on using car seats to help children who are prone to motion sickness. Motion sickness can be caused by the difference between what the eyes see and what the body senses, says Dr. Ellen M. Friedman of Baylor. "By elevating car seats so that children can look out the window, they can see the direction of travel their bodies are experiencing." Traveling at night can also help reduce motion sickness because there is less visual stimulation at night, she says.

Offbeat

Navigate 188 miles down the Colorado River for six days on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon June 28-July 4. The tour traces much of the route of the John Wesley Powell expedition 127 years ago. The group will also travel through geologic time with a university geology professor and explore Redwall Cavern, Nautiloid Canyon, the Anasazi granary, Deer Creek Falls and the travertine pools of Havasupai Creek.

Participants ride in 30-foot motorized rafts driven by river guides. White-water rapids are interspersed with quiet, flat stretches of river. All camping gear is provided, and the guide prepares three meals a day.

Cost: $1,750 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip flight from Las Vegas to Page, Ariz.; one night motel in Page; all meals on the river; equipment; and helicopter ride out of the canyon. Transportation to Las Vegas is not included. Contact: Carolyn Edwards, Your Travel Center, 1005 Casitas Pass Road, Carpinteria, Calif. 93013; telephone 805-684-6601.

Online

Take a look at Best Beaches in the USA (www.petrix.com/beaches/index.html).

Hawaii's Hulopoe Beach has been measured, graded, sifted, smelled and otherwise put under inspection by Stephen Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at the University of Maryland, College Park. He chose it last year as the nation's best. Also ranked: Best Wild (Jasper Beach, Maine) and Most Romantic (East Hampton, N.Y. -sorry, Hawaii). All in all, it's a fun list, and the grading chart that measures everything from the size of breaking waves to the amount of "suspended human material" is one of a kind.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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