Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Free Tours with a Local

An organisation called Global Greeter Network http://www.globalgreeternetwork.info provides free tours with a local guide in cities around the world. Not every city offers the service yet, but many including New York, Calcutta, Moscow, Florence and a large number of lesser-known cities do.

The concept originated in New York, and is spreading throughout the world. It is purely non-commercial, and gives you a chance to meet a friendly local and see the locale through their eyes. They may take you to visit their favourite pastry shop, tell you about little known sights of interest, or offer you a walking tour of their neighbourhood.

This sounds like a fabulous idea to me. I checked and it is not yet available in Montreal. If it interests you and your city does not have a group yet, you can apply to organise one provided you have four friends willing to participate. If a group already exists, you can apply to be a greeter.

It is definitely something I will look into the next time I am in an unfamiliar city. I learned about the group through a story in my old newspaper, The Globe and Mail http://www.globeandmail.com.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Beware Extra Charges with Tour Deals

I actually booked one of the deals I mentioned in a recent post about http://www.travelzoo.com, only to discover that some additional costs may raise the price quite a lot. It's probably still a deal, but I'm paying about one-third more than the advertised price.

The tour is a nine-day one to Italy in winter, from New York, advertised for $999. Most of the increased cost is for a better air fare that doesn't entail at least a full day in transit, another $100 is for all-risk insurance. Now if I decide to stay overnight in New York on either leg of the trip (very likely,) that will probably run to at least another $250.

There is always the sleep in the terminal option, one I have yet to try, but there's a first for everything. This is just another example of how advertised deals are often not as good as they sound initially--this is especially true with some cheap air fares, which often have you travelling far longer than is good for anybody.

Now I'm tempted by another cheap deal, roundtrip flights from Montreal to Bucharest, Romania in May from http://www.airfarewatchdog.com. The quoted fare was in the high $500 range, but when I checked it seemed to be at least $100 higher, still an amazing bargain. The carrier is http://www.lufthansa.com, one of my favourite airlines, so this is a definite attraction, and transit time is reasonable.

Too many deals, too little money.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Visit Ecuador to Help Quake Victims

One way to help victims of the recent large earthquake on the coast of Ecuador is to visit the rest of the country, according to Quito mayor Mauricio Rodas. Quito suffered only minor damage, and most other parts of the country are unaffected, says an article in http://www.breakingtravelnews.com.

Quito is Ecuador's almost two mile high capital, and the entry point for most visitors. It is also an appealing city with plenty of colonial buildings, a pleasant climate and welcoming people. I visited Ecuador too long ago to have any accurate information on prices, but I suspect they are generally a lot lower than in North America or Western Europe.

The main attractions of Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands, worth the expense and hassle of getting there. These islands, whose non-human inhabitants were the inspiration for Charles Darwin's famous book "On the Origin of Species," are one of the natural wonders of the world. The reptiles, birds and marine mammals who live there display little or no fear of humans, because they have lived mostly unmolested for centuries.

The Amazon and interior colonial cities such as Cuenca, where my friend Paul Glassman recently spent some time, are other important attractions. Tourism is one of the country's main industries, so if you have any interest in visiting Ecuador this would be a good time to do so to help make up for people who will probably cancel their trips.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Try Travelzoo for Big Discounts

Whether for hotels, tours, or cruises, Travelzoo http://www.travelzoo.com offers some amazing deals. At the moment in the tour category you can book a 9-day trip to Venice, Florence and Rome for as low as $999, including train tickets between the cities, 4-star hotels and air fare from New York. This package is available on certain dates between November and March.

Another possibility is a 6-night visit to Madrid and Barcelona, with air and accommodation, from just $1029. If North Africa appeals, there is a 4-city guided tour of Morocco, with seven nights divided between Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Marrakesh. Air fare, accommodation in four or five-star hotels is included, along with most meals, all for $1125.

The major downside to this site is that, even just to browse offers, you need to sign up and provide your zip or postal code. The company also offers bargains on its UK site for European travellers. I have heard the site recommended by people I know and trust.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Get a New Car and a Vacation

If you plan to buy a new European car, you can take advantage of overseas delivery offered by most of the top brands. For example, you can fly to Gothenburg, Sweden for free and stay in a hotel for one night, take delivery of your new Volvo and drive it around Europe, then ship it home.

You can do that, at least if you live in the United States. These programs do not seem to operate in other countries such as Canada.

You need to order the car through a local dealer three to four months ahead, and be prepared for the fact that delivery of the car once you have shipped it can take up to two months. Still, this sounds like a great way to combine a driving holiday in Europe with a new car, and without haggling on price.

Volkswagen is the only major brand that does not offer this program. However, you may be able to purchase a new VW the way I did, through a German dealer. I bought an original Beetle at Mahag http://www.mahag.de, a big car dealer in Munich, drove it back to Italy where I was living then and around the continent for six weeks after my university term was over. My German wasn`t up to figuring out from the Website whether this program still exists.

One of the great advantages of touring Europe by car is the chance to get out into the country and explore less-discovered parts of the continent.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Beware the Ides of April

If you are an American living abroad, or considering doing so, you should be aware of your obligation under U.S. law to file tax forms, even if you owe no tax in the U.S. The usual deadline for filing is today, April 15, though this year it is extended to April 18 because of an Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia.

Those who live outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico can take an additional two months to file taxes without sending in a form requesting an extension. However, if you owe any tax, interest on what you owe starts accumulating as of the April filing date.

For those with regular employment income only, an earned income exemption often means they owe no U.S. tax. Those with other types of income may not be so lucky. The foreign tax credit also allows some people to escape double taxation. However, if you have substantial investments in the U.S., you are likely to end up owing U.S. tax in addition to tax in the country where you live.

In recent years the U.S. has begun enforcing provisions of the tax code that add to the filing burden of overseas Americans. Now we are required to report foreign bank and investment accounts above a certain dollar amount, and banks in some countries are refusing to do business with American citizens because they too are being asked to supply information on their clients to the U.S. goverment. For those with investments abroad that exceed a fairly modest level, there is an additional requirement to file an online form with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury.

Young people considering moving overseas seldom have enough money to worry about considerations like these. However, if this is your situation, I would advise you to consider your options very carefully. And if you already live abroad, contact your Congressional representatives or the local chapter of Republicans Abroad or Democrats Abroad, which can supply you with more information. The latter organisations are active in trying to get this legislation amended in order to ease the regulatory burden on Americans who happen to live abroad.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Daily Deals on Travelocity

Travelocityhttp://www.travelocity.com, the discount travel site, is now offering daily deals on hotels. Some of the prices are amazing, such as the Hooters Casino Hotel in Las Vegas for only $27 a night for a double room, and hotels in Orlando, Florida starting at just $50 per night for certain dates in May.

While these are great prices, I was curious about what they had to offer abroad and was also able to discover what appear to be good deals in Paris and Moscow. Searching for May 5 to May 9, a hotel near the Bastille in Paris is available for $83 per night, while one near the Opera goes for $160. These are low rates for a notoriously costly city.

There are even better deals in Moscow for the same dates. The Mercure Arbat costs just $75 per night, while the luxury Metropol is a bargain at $140--this is just about the lowest price I have ever seen for the Metropol. Another good option might be the Garden Ring Hotel at $81 a night. Travelocity kindly told me that the dates I was searching for were popular, and I might find even lower rates for both Paris and Moscow on different dates.

The international destinations don't seem to feature in daily deals yet. For domestic U.S. travel, you can receive daily deal alerts on mobile devices.