Sunday, May 17, 2015

Iran, Egypt Offer Best Value for Tourists

According to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, this year the countries that offer the best value to tourists are topped by Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. A story in Cairo Scene (www.cairoscene.com) points out that Egypt is especially enticing, with hotels averaging just $73 per night per room, and many that are much cheaper.

In addition, Egypt boasts the longest river in the world, one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid of Cheops in a Cairo suburb, warm weather and friendly people. If you travel beyond Cairo you can explore many more ancient sites of interest such as the Valley of the Kings at Luxor and others along the Nile as far as the border of Sudan.

I agree that Egypt is a great place to visit, though it can be daunting for Westerners with its chaos, poverty and incessant requests for baksheesh (tips.) I last visited in the 1990s, so I cannot say anything useful about current conditions or safety in the country.

It is a sad fact that virtually all the top ten countries for value in tourism present significant challenges for Westerners. Some such as Iran are very difficult for female visitors or Americans of any gender, and the number four country on the list, Yemen, is so dangerous that U.S. special forces had to be evacuated from there recently.

Still, it is good to know that it is still possible to travel inexpensively, especially if you are willing to take some risks.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hovelstay for True Budget Travel

If you are tired of reading about "budget" travel places where a room may cost well over $100 a night, consider booking a stay through a new Website called www.hovelstay.com. This site offers three levels of accommodation, in locations all around the world.

For example, you can spend the night on a llama farm in Israel and niteract with the animals during the day. (That sounds lovely.) Of course, you may be sharing your spartan quarters with a number of strangers. Or in pricey Sydney, Australia you can sleep in someone's paved, covered back garden for $15 per night. Renting a tree house in Guatemala will set you back just $11 a night.

At the lowest level of lodging, toilets and bathing facilities are likely to be shared, and sleeping space may not include a real bed. There are two higher levels, but none of the properties listed costs more than $99 per night.

This is an interesting, fun concept, but as with all these sites where you are dealing with individuals and not established companies, be sure to nail down the details in advance. And if you happen to have a shed, barn or other building on your property that isn't earning its keep, consider listing it for penny-pinching travellers.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Staydu, a Travel Social Networking Site

There seem to be a lot of ways now to meet locals when you travel--through www.airbnb.com, www.couchsurfing.com and a number of others. Still another is www.staydu.com, which allows travellers to connect with hosts and hosts to meet travellers from around the world.

This site does not have a large number of members yet, and most seem from their pictures to be quite young. While you may be able to find a host for free, it is also possible to exchange work for a room if there is a match. Another option staydu provides is a way to find a travel companion.

As with all these sites, exercise due diligence before you decide to be either a host or a guest. But if there is a match and you feel comfortable about it, it could lead to a very interesting experience and provide an inexpensive way to travel.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Europe on the Cheap

Veteran travel writer and TV host Rick Steves shares some of his tips for visiting Europe at low cost on www.smartertravel.com. They include items such as buying ingredients for picnics rather than splurging on pricey restaurants, taking advantage of free museums and free days at museums that charge admission, substituting public transit for more costly hop on-hop off tourist buses. In Berlin, for example, public bus 100 passes many of the main points of interest in the city.

Steves also suggests passing time in places such as churches and parks, which are usually free. It helps that in Europe, churches and cathedrals are among the most magnificent buildings. Even the ones that charge admission are generally open free for services.

Another one of my favourite tips for moderate cost travel in Europe is to take a language course. By doing so, you will find it easier to get around in the chosen country, and will also learn something that may come in handy elsewhere. For example, you can spend two weeks studying German at the renowned Goethe Institut (www.goethe.de) in Bonn for just over $1000 including a single room.

Bonn is the former capital of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and was memorialised in the book "A Small Town in Germany" by John LeCarre. I've never been there, but it sounds very pleasant.

If German isn't your preferred language, an internet search should turn up similar programs in other countries for the major European languages.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Senior Nomads

If long-term travel is a retirement dream, as it is for a lot of people, the blog www.seniornomads.blogspot.com could be of interest. It tells the story of Michael and Debbie Campbell from Seattle who have been travelling around Europe and the Mediterranean area for some 20 months. They stay mostly at places they book through www.airbnb.com.

This blog is heavy on pictures, but also contains quite a lot of useful information. It actually was picked up for a story in the New York Times. If you want to get the nitty-gritty on costs and other practical matters, look at the post for March 15, 2015.

They try not to spend more than $90 per night for lodging, and also economise on sight-seeing and travel. They have rented their house in Seattle out, thereby reducing their fixed expenses at home. By renting apartments and houses they eat most meals at home, and enjoy the adventure of buying food at markets in Europe. They exercise with the free walking tours offered in many European cities, where the only cost is a tip to the guide. There are even free walking tours in Tel Aviv, Israel, where they are now.

Both members of the couple post to the blog, and Michael writes a lot about his adventures securing tickets to matches of his favourite sport, soccer (which is, of course, called football in Europe.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Back Blogging

My wonderful computer guru Bernie Landry has remedied the problem that kept me from contibuting to this blog for nearly six months. Thanks, Bernie. Of course, I have to go into deep cover and pretend to be another person, but what else is new?

Check out the recent New York Times story on why now is a good time to visit Russia, where budget hotel rooms in Moscow cost about $50 a night, less than you would pay in most places in North America. The devaluation of the ruble has cut prices for a lot of items in Russia, and has also cut into tourism so there is less competition for rooms and restaurants. The story didn't mention whether my favourite dining spot in Russia, McDonalds, is still operating. I read earlier that they shut down there because of sanctions.

Anyway, it's great to be back. Looking forward to bringing you lots of new information on how to save money while travelling. If you are looking for more reading material, please have a look at my review of Stephen Kotkin's book on Stalin at www.margaretpiton.wordpress.com.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015