All that poet John Masefield asked for his tall ship was "a star to steer her by."

World travelers these days need more than a star; they need guidelines on where to go, what to see, where to stay, where to eat. There are plenty of specialized publishers willing to provide direction.Some, far from all, of the newer travel guidebooks:

Fodor's "London Companion," by Louise Nicholson, a revised and updated version originally published as "London: Louise Nicholson's Definitive Guide." Walking tours, shopping and dining advice and "how to stay dry and have fun on rain-drenched days" - including "shop for the anti-rain kit" and spend the day at the British Museum.

Fodor's guide of "Europe's Great Cities," keyed to 1990, is a basic look at 20 cities, from Amsterdam to Zurich. In addition to specific information on the cities, it lists government tourist offices for each of the countries, as well as some tour groups and package deals for independent travelers.

The travel company also has published "Great Britain: England, Scotland and Wales" and specific guides for Maui and Washington, D.C.

Fodor's new "The Himalayan Countries" offers information on planning the trip ("what to pack," "passports and visas") and getting there as well as specifics on the countries: Bhutan, Nepal, North India, North Pakistan, Tibet.

Chronicle Books published the fifth edition of guides to less expensive places, "Cheap Sleeps in Paris" (not the cheapest, but the best values for a variety of tastes, and in which ones is English spoken) and "Cheap Eats in Paris" (125 cafes, bistros, brasseries and restaurants), both by Sandra A. Gustafson.

Handy "city travel kits" from Doubleday include "Seven Days in London" and "Seven Days in Paris," and "Four Days in Venice," illustrated guides to the major sights, with pull-out maps.

Perhaps the best guides to Ireland come from the Irish Tourist Board, which offers a booklet of "approved" guest accommodations (bed-and-breakfasts listed by region) and a similar guide to hotels and guest houses.

Bantam's "France: 1990," broken down by regions, including Paris itself, Normandy, Brittany and the North, the Alps, the Mediterranean. Appropriate maps accompany each section, which emphasize the sights.

A similar guide to Canada 1990 joins the Bantam series, which includes Spain, Australia, Great Britain, Hawaii, Italy and Mexico.

Bantam had added San Francisco, Hong Kong and Paris to its city guides series, which includes London and New York.

The City by the Bay, apparently still among the favorites in the nation, is also the subject of a revised "The Best of San Francisco" (Chronicle) by Don and Betty Martin.

More thematic travel guides recently published include:

- Pamela Lanier's revised edition of "Condo Vacations," a listing of vacation condominiums in the United States, Hawaii and the Caribbean.

- Eleanor Berman's "Traveling on Your Own," ideas for group and solo vacations.