Plan next year's travel with free programs at Seattle-area travel bookstores.

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Where will it be next? The ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru? The wilds of Costa Rica? Bicycling the back roads of Italy?

Whatever your travel plans, real or armchair, free is always a nice price to pay for advice and the chance to compare notes with fellow travelers.

I think about this when I’m tempted to buy or download a guidebook online. Then I close the laptop and go to my local travel bookstore.

Several in the Puget Sound area double as cultural resource centers, bringing in authors and travel experts for free talks, slide shows and language classes. The hope, of course, is that you’ll buy something, or sign up for a trip with one of the speakers. Fair enough. At a time when much of the country seems to be turning inward, these shops are doing their part to bring the world to Seattle.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

So mark your calendars, then call a friend and make a date to meet for dinner and a travel talk. Here’s a preview of what’s ahead for fall and winter:

Wide World Books & Maps, 4411 Wallingford Ave., Seattle. Julie Hunt bought 35-year-old Wide World Books in 2009 from longtime owner Simone Andrus and has kept up the tradition of inviting customers in for slide shows and talks by visiting authors, tour operators and well-traveled locals.

Moon Handbook author Wayne Bernhardson talks about Patagonia on Tuesday. Craig Romano, author of “Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge,” speaks in November. Hunt continues the store’s Saturday morning “Gutsy Women” and “Solo Travelers” gatherings. Details at

The Traveler, 265 Winslow Way. E., Bainbridge Island. Walk on the Bainbridge Island ferry from Seattle’s waterfront and pop in at The Traveler, owned by Susan Taylor, who grew up in Colombia, and Barbara Tolliver, a former librarian who lived in England.

Local painter Pam Christiansen organizes the shop’s travelogues on the third Wednesday of the month at the Bainbridge Island Public Library. Fall programs will focus on the South of France, India and Central Asia. Speaking in November is Seattle artist and author Marcia Shaver, who’s twice walked the Camino de Santiago. Details at

Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Backdoor, 130 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds. Not just a bookstore, but a complete go-to resource center for European travel.

Guidebook author and public-television host Rick Steves started his career lecturing on travel at the University of Washington’s Experimental College. The weekly classes he and his employees offer no doubt boost business. But who can argue with free, considering the useful topics: digital photography, European cooking, packing light, and slide shows on popular destinations such as Paris, Venice and Florence. Register at

The Savvy Traveler, 112 Fifth Ave. S., Edmonds. This well-stocked store complements Steves’ Europe-focused classes with Saturday programs on Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South and Central America. Coming up are seminars on India, Peru, Thailand and Ecuador, as well as Italian and French language classes ($85 for five weeks). Reserve a space at

Hostelling International Washington State Council: Not a bookstore, but worth a mention for its Tuesday evening talks at the HI Seattle American Hotel, 510 King St. Coming up in February is its annual Winter Wanderlust series of Sunday afternoon travel programs. See

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