Monday, November 10, 2014

Unclaimed Luggage Bargains

If you are searching for good deals on items ranging from clothing to fine jewelry or electronics, the Unclaimed Baggage store (www.unclaimedbaggage.com) in Alabama may have what you are seeking. Everything in the store is recycled from luggage passengers fail to claim from airlines or other modes of transportation.

Most of the bags we check or carry on planes are eventually reunited with their owners, but about half of one per cent are never picked up. These are the ones that after several months will make their way to the store, the only one of its kind in the United States.

Not everything gets sold--some items are in too poor condition and so are donated or put in the trash. Electronic goods are wiped of identifying data before being sold, and jewelry is appraised.

The store is a popular destination for bargain-hunters. It covers more than a square block and welcomes more than one million visitors a year. Clothing for men, women and children makes up the bulk of the merchandise.

I don't know whether the deals are good enough to warrant a special trip, but if you happen to be in northern Alabama or Atlanta, it certainly sounds interesting and worth a visit.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Self-Promotion for Housesitters

I have never either been a housesitter or used a housesitter, but I suspect the supply of willing housesitters often far exceeds the demand, somewhat like the case with travel writers. One way to make yourself stand out as a housesitter is through online self-promotion, such as the Website http://globalhousesittingpros.com/ owned by an American couple.

The site tells of their various house- and pet-sitting adventures, and quite a lot about their background in the management levels of corporate America. This same couple has another site, http://justabackpackandarollie.com, about their travels and retirement planning. My only quarrel with this site is the title, since I thought from the use of the word "rollie" that they were British.

In any case, their site would certainly make me more likely to contact them if I needed someone to take care of a house or animals. Like many people I guess, I would be reluctant to have strangers stay in my place while I was away. I wouldn't mind staying in someone else's place, though.

 With more and more stuff moving online, you seem to need a Website for just about any business or personal venture. One of my long-time friends met her husband online, and another friend has also spent a lot of time (and money) in an effort to connect with guys online.

But for travel, it cannot hurt to have a significant online presence whether you want to Couchsurf, use Airbnb, housesit or exchange houses with others. Of course, your online presence should not include pictures at drunken revels, nude shots or other questionable material.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Cheapo Japan

If you are interested in visiting Japan on a budget, check out the Website of Cheapo Japan (www.cheapojapan.com.) This very useful source contains information on inexpensive places to stay, how to get around, where to eat and even a survival guide to the Japanese language.

Japan is on a lot of traveller's wish lists, but has the reputation of being expensive and hard to navigate. With the information on Cheapo Japan, getting around should be a lot easier. There are several unusual options for places to stay besides the common hotels and hostels. For example, you could consider bedding down at an Internet cafe for as little as about $7 a night. Or stay at a hot spring.

 Capsule hotels, where you sleep in a coffin-like room that contains a TV, light, clock and radio, are another possibility, though they are not for the claustrophobic or for very tall people. Love hotels are also less costly than normal hotels. Probably none of these options would suit older travellers, but they could work for the young and adventurous.

People who can stay in one Japanese city for a month or longer might consider renting a room in a guesthouse at reasonable cost. Cheapo Japan lists a number of these places in the major cities. There are lots of ways to save on travel in Japan, and the country's record of cleanliness and personal safety certainly makes it attractive.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Low-Cost Choices in Mexico City

Mexico City is a fascinating place, and it is one of the most affordable very large cities in the world. A story in The Guardian lists the author's choice of the 10 best budget hotels in Mexico City, many of which have central locations.

One that did not make the list was one of my favourites, the Majestic Hotel overlooking the zocalo and stunning cathedral right in the historic centre. According to www.hotels.com, rates start at $82 per night. It is an older place built in colonial style, with a very attractive roof terrace. One reason I chose it was that it features in a book by an author I enjoy, Len Deighton, who had his British spies stay at that hotel.

Another good choice, this one in the Zona Rosa, is the Hotel de Geneve, where prices are a little higher. For rock-bottom rates and a chance to interact with people from all over, the Casa de Amigos run by the Society of Friends is a very affordable option.

Mexico has lots of interesting sights including the zocalo, cathedral and the Aztec temple on whose site the church was built. Another must see is the National Museum of Anthropology near Chapultepec Park at the top of the Reforma. The park itself is also well worth a visit. I don't know if the food is as good as it was last time I was there, but a restaurant I really liked for its decor is Sanborn's House of Tiles in the historic centre.

I have visited Mexico City four or five times, but the first visit was the best. I was in college and my dad had a business convention there. When we arrived there were actually photographers to greet us, and we stayed in a large hotel suite overlooking the golden angel monument on the Reforma. It was  a magical visit, particularly since it was my first trip outside the United States.

To read the entire Guardian article, the link is www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/0ct/31/top-budget-hotels-bed-breakfast-mexico-city.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Foreign Phrases to Save Money

EuroCheapo (www.eurocheapo.com) has a story about phrases that can save you money while travelling in France. It is true that knowing even a smattering of the local language can make a big difference in your comfort level while travelling, and can sometimes result in savings.

I won't attempt to better their list of French phrases, particularly because it's been a while since I travelled in France. French is widely spoken where I live too, but this is North America and so you can generally get by with English in a pinch. That might not be the case in what is sometimes called "le Quebec profond," but it applies in Montreal and, to a lesser extent, in Quebec City.

Phrases that I have found useful in German include "Wieviel kostet dass?"--how much is it? and
"Dass is zu teuer."--that is too expensive. Since German-speaking countries are not places where bargaining is common, the latter phrase may only get you a lower price in a flea market or similar establishment.

Look for items that are "kostenlos" or free, and be on the prowl for the word "billig" or cheap. I once found an inexpensive cafeteria called a Billigteria near the Stefansdom in Vienna. In German restaurants, you may be charged for each piece of bread.  On the bright side, your hotel cost will probably include a large and tasty breakfast buffet.

In Italy, say "quanto costa?" to ask the price of something. "E molto caro" indicates that you find the price high. Italian restaurants often have a charge called "pane e coperto" for bread and water. Order "vino di tavola" for table wine, "rosso" for red or "bianco" for white. Beer is "birra," while "acqua di tavola" will procure tap water. Don't expect much in the way of breakfast at an Italian hotel. If it costs extra, it could be worthwhile to seek out a nearby cafe instead.

In Russia, say "stolko sto-it?" to ask a price, and "Eta ochin doroga" to indicate it is too much. Bargaining is possible in Russia, especially at the outdoor markets found near many Metro stations. "Pivo" will procure a beer, while "vina" with the accent on the last syllable is the word for wine, "krasnava" (with the accent on the first syllable) for red and "byelava," also with an accented first syllable, for white. "Voda" should procure water, not to be confused with "vodka." If you order vodka in Russia, you may be asked which variety you like, since there are many.

 Of course, all these foreign phrases work best if you can actually understand the answers to questions such as "How much is it?" That means learning your numbers, and practicing listening to native speakers of the language. Listening skills are the part of language learning that I have always found most difficult.

It may not save you money, but if you often find that people ask you for directions, it is worthwhile learning the words for "I don't know" or "I am a tourist" or your particular nationality in the local language. In Russia, "Ne znay you" or "I don't know" said with a shrug covers a lot of situations. The same in French is "Je ne say pa," in German "Ich vice es nicht," and in Italian "No lo so."

If you don't know how to say even this, as I didn't in Sweden and Finland when asked how to get somewhere, an apologetic shrug and "English" may have to serve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cheap Fares to Europe

Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) is offering some unusually low prices on fares to Europe this fall and winter, provided you book by November 3 at the latest.

The lowest is for a return ticket from Montreal to Dublin, at $678. Montreal to Paris goes for $768. or Montreal to Milan for $776. Even Montreal to Copenhagen is low-priced, starting at $793 return. Prices from other gateways such as Toronto or Halifax are similarly low. Travel can take place between November 5 and December 10, or between December 24 and May 6.

The prices quoted are round-trip, including taxes and fees, and the charges are in Canadian dollars. This means that it may be worthwhile even for Americans who live near the border to drive to a Canadian airport, since the Canadian dollar is now worth about 10 per cent less than a U.S. dollar. This would be a reversal of the usual trend, where Canadians often cross the border to get cheaper flights in the U.S.

On a less happy note, I was recently unpleasantly surprised when I went to use a travel credit for a flight I had booked with United Airlines (www.united.com)  through Travelocity (www.travelocity.com.) In order to use the credit, I had to pay a $200 U.S. change fee upfront, which is actually more than the cost of the ticket I bought. There is still considerable remaining credit, but this is an extremely annoying practice.

I have read for years that United is not a customer-friendly airline, but up to now I have never had any reason to believe it. All my experiences with United had been good. According to the representative at Travelocity, many other airlines allow you to deduct the cost of the change fee from the credit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sex in Exchange for Travel

According to an article in www.wantchinatimes.com, a young woman who appears to be Oriental is seeking  temporary "boyfriends" to fund her travels around China. She has apparently already been able to find some in certain parts of the country.

Not just any sugar daddy will qualify. The applicants must be at least 1.75 metres tall, under 30 years old, affluent and generous. The girl describes herself as pretty, and from the picture seem to be quite thin --her face is obscured.

This gives a whole new meaning to the idea of budger travel. It is of course nothing new--women and men have been exchanging sex for various benefits from time immemorial. Even famed British travel writer Lesley Blanch admitted in one of her books to taking a ticket for a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from an admirer, and I suspect there are many other people who have done similar things.

Some critics claim that journalists who accept press trips (or bloggers who accept partnerships and sponsorships) are prostituting themselves, but it is usually not so blatant. As a journalist who has taken press trips, I believe they have a point. However, with the cost of travel being what it is, this is often the only way for journalists (and even more for bloggers, who tend to be unpaid) to make ends meet.

The girl who wants to travel around China has apparently generated a lot of comment in that country. It's just my opinion, but I think she is taking too many of chances. Better to wait until she is a little older and can afford to pay her own way. I'm all in favour of saving money on travel, but not at any cost.