. . . geography and they'll grow up to be world-class travelers

What to do with kids who crave more travel adventures than you could possibly provide?Give them virtual trips in the form of CD-ROM's. Here we rate five popular titles-- all available for Windows or Mac-- on a scale of one to four stars.

Explore Yellowstone turns players ages eight and up into forest rangers as they drive through the national park, listening to a guided tour on the "radio," seeing the sights through the car window. Knowledge is acquired almost unconsciously: children will identify animals, hear a few expert opinions along with a host of natural sounds, and earn badges as they make their way up the ranger ranks. There's even a 3-D computer-animated aerial tour, for those who like their nature super-size. MECC; 800/227-5609; $29.95. ****

Maps N Facts is billed as a comprehensive world atlas for the entire family, and it achieves that goal admirably. The fun here, though, is purely educational: you can print out and copy maps, hear national anthems, and design a customized map for a real or imagined trip. Brøderbund; 800/548-1798; $34.95. ***

Africa Trail re-creates an actual 12,000-mile record-setting bike trek. Kids ages 10 to 16 choose bikes, team members, and routes, then pedal to the sound of drums, seeing remarkably good photos of people along the route. Atmospheric, well-intentioned-- but, alas, kind of a snooze. MECC; 800/227-5609; $29.95. *

World Discovery Deluxe offers a dozen games that teach geography and history to children as young as eight. In one game, you drop the continents on the world map as the clock ticks down, and then get a grade. It's rather addictive, if a little hard to navigate. Great Wave Software; 800/423-1144; $49.95. ***

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?has won more than 50 awards and deserves them all. Players ages nine and up travel to solve crimes and catch thieves (no violence; the detectives merely issue warrants), learning tidbits about the places they visit. It's loaded with photos and video from the National Geographic Society and-- radical thought-- comes with a book: The World Almanac. Brøderbund; 800/548-1798; $29.95. ****

Free Travel Advice
Need an inexpensive hotel in Hong Kong?The recipe for that pea soup you remember from Amsterdam?Ask the oracle known as Travel-L. This "listserv"-- an on-line bulletin board of sorts-- was started seven years ago by someone in Izmir, Turkey, as a way for travelers to share stories and tips. It's free and fast (you can get an answer within hours); just keep in mind that the advice is from other travelers, not professionals. In a recent week, people discussed getting to Cuba, avoiding pickpockets in Rome, and snorkeling off Kauai. When Tom Levitan, of Claremont, California, needed a cheap place to stay in Helsinki, a fellow Travel-L-er forwarded his request to a Finnish family, who offered Levitan their guesthouse. Reports Levitan: "They also cooked a potluck dinner, invited friends over, and held a welcome party!"

How it works: Send an E-mail with the words "subscribe Travel-L" in the message text to listserv@vm.ege.edu.tr. You'll get Travel-L E-mails with others' questions, comments, and tips; send in your own queries and you'll see answers in future E-mails.
—Laurel Touby

Sign up for International Gourmet's cheese-of-the-month club (www.igourmet.com) and get 500 TWA miles.