Thursday, October 23, 2014

Budget Airlines

One of the problems with budget airlines is that they have even more fees than the legacy carriers, and the fees can quickly add up to make a fare a lot less affordable. At least one of these airlines, Peach (www.flypeach.com) which operates out of Osaka, Japan, has an answer to these costs with its Happy Peach plus fare. This higher fare covers the cost of one checked bag in addition to a carry-on, seat selection and unlimited free changes of travel date and time. Peach serves a number of destinations in Japan, as well as others in Asia--South Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Closer to home, Allegiant Air (www.allegiantair.com) has some unusually low fares on its routes to Florida, provided you book by October 27. For instance, you can fly between Tampa-St. Petersburg and Asheville, NC for as little as $40. Tampa to Belleville, IL goes for $55, the Hudson Valley can cost as little as $58. For a flight from Plattsburgh, NY near the Canadian border to Tampa the lowest fare is $67, and from Niagara Falls, NY near Toronto the tariff to Tampa starts at $77.

These prices are based on paying by debit card and booking online. Paying by credit or booking over the phone will set you back a little more. One of the good effects of the recent drop in oil prices should be lower air fares, or at least no big increases.

It's not related to travel (although Ottawa is an interesting place to visit,) but I feel compelled to remark on the very sad events that transpired in that city yesterday. I worked as a reporter on Parliament Hill, and used to enter the building through the stairs in Centre Block and walk along the corridor that became a shooting gallery. The Hill had a friendly, collegial atmosphere that is bound to suffer in light of tougher security measures.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Adventurous Miriam

That is the name of a Website (www.adventurousmiriam.com) managed by a young Danish woman who loves to travel, and shares some useful advice on how to do so inexpensively. She travels mostly with her husband, and the majority of her tours seem to be to Latin America or Asia.

Miriam has some good recommendations on how to travel at moderate cost in Costa Rica, which she says is the most expensive country in Central America. First of all, go off-season, in the period May to November when it rains a lot and prices are lower. Take local buses whenever possible--a local bus from the capital San Jose to the Monteverde Cloud Forest cost just $5, compared with $50 for the same trip by minibus. The local water is perfectly safe to drink, so save on bottled water.

Buy beer at the supermarket rather than in bars, and make your own meals or eat at modest local restaurants, places such as the local chain called Soda where meals go for $3 to $6. It is a long time since I was in Costa Rica, so I'm afraid I can't offer any further useful tips. My favourite tour when I was there was to the Poas Volcano.

Miriam also offers tips on how to travel in the Phillipines cheaply, $1155 per person for two weeks visiting several different islands. Boracay is considerably more costly than most of the other islands, she says.

If you subscribe to the email alerts supplied by Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) you can discover some amazing deals. For example, a round-trip between Chicago and Kansas City for just $81 on American Airlines (www.aa.com,) provided you travel on Nov. 12 and return on Nov. 15.

However, you should be aware that in a post on one of the forums on Flyer Talk (www.flyertalk.com,) a woman writes of being on an American domestic flight where another woman was forced to spend the entire trip in the washroom because she had the bad luck to vomit. (This report is unconfirmed.) Ebola over-reaction, perhaps?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Rail Journeys for Less

If you happen to be a fan of rail travel (and who isn't?) you have probably got an iconic rail trip of two on your wish list. Whether it is the Orient Express in Europe, the trans-Siberian across Russia, or the scenically gorgeous trip through the Canadian Rockies, there is a good chance that you can make the trip at moderate cost.

There is a very useful article in Britain's Telegraph about less expensive ways to do 10 of these journeys in different parts of the world. The link is www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/journeysbyrail/11165085/Great-luxury-train-journeys-and-their-budget-alternatives.html.

For example, if you yearn for Czarist-era luxury, there is a train that will take you across Russia or through Mongolia to China for close to $16,000 per person. It is called the Golden Eagle Luxury Train (www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com.) Or you can do basically the same trip on a regular trans-Siberian or trans-Mongolian train operated by Russian Railways for about one-twentieth of that price. Of course, it isn't so fancy, and you will be sharing a four-berth cabin with strangers. However, by opting for the latter, you will get to meet a lot of ordinary Russians, who are scarce to non-existant on the pricier rolling stock.

Similarly, the trip through the Canadian Rockies costs about $123 if you book a seat on Via Rail (www.viarail.com,) compared with almost 10 times that much for the Rocky Mountaineer (www.rockymountaineer.com.) The Via train runs between Jasper, Alberta and Vancouver, whereas the Mountaineer operates between Banff. Alberta and Vancouver.

These are just two of the train trips mentioned in the article. In general, the journeys by rail section of this newspaper looks to be a very good source for up-to-date information on this type of traditional travel, which must be a favourite for Brits, or at least for those Brits who read the Telegraph.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Argentina Cheap Again

According to a post on Tim Leffel's blog, www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com, because of its economic crisis Argentina is once more a good deal for budget travellers. The way things are going this week, world markets are in crisis in Europe and North America, so perhaps there will soon be more places where travel is cheap.

In Argentina a secondary market has developed for the peso, with an exchange rate almost double the official rate of 8 pesos to the dollar. The only way to take advantage of this discrepancy is to exchange cash (new U.S. dollars preferably) for pesos, which will nearly double the buying power of your money. The unofficial rate is called the blue rate.

Argentina is a terrific place to visit, with many natural wonders and for those who enjoy tango and nightlife, the buzz of Buenos Aires. I found Buenos Aires too crowded and noisy for my taste, but even there the people were friendly and courteous. I felt welcome despite my very poor Spanish.

That was back in 2001 when the peso was worth $1 U.S., so prices were relatively high and I only stayed for 10 days, taking day trips in Buenos Aires and an excursion by plane to the amazing Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Argentina is so large and diverse that I would happily return to see parts of the country I did not visit then, and it sounds as if this could be a good time to do so.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crimea Chronicles

For anyone curious about how Crimea has changed since the Russian take-over in the spring, a blog that includes extensive information on a recent trip to Crimea suggests that much remains the same. This is not the writer's opinion, but it appears from the post that in general life goes on as usual for locals and summer tourists alike.

Check the site http://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/crimeachronicles/ for an account on an 18-day trip a young woman took to the fabled peninsula this past summer. There are a lot of gorgeous pictures, but there is woefully little information on costs. However, the writer promises to provide details on practical matters to anyone who emails her, and she herself is a budget traveller.

She seems to have spent a lot of time in a small cabin in the woods that lacked private facilities, and  is upfront about the inadequacy of many toilets in this region of the world. However, the beauty of the scenery and the climate and history go a long ways to make up for Crimea's shortcomings. She was particularly impressed with Taigan Safari Park, where you can get up close and personal with young lions and tigers (and pretend you are a certain Russian politician.)

The writer is a Russo-American, so she had no difficulty with language or visas. I wonder how easy it would be for a typical non-Russian speaker to travel through more remote parts of Crimea, especially now.

For my report of travels in Crimea, scroll back to the fall of 2010, when I spent a few days there as part of a Viking River Cruise (www.vrc.com.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Free University Tuition in Germany

If you are considering study abroad, or know someone who is, think about studying in Germany. German universities are tuition-free, not just for Germans but for everybody. Yes, that is correct. The cost of getting your degree in Germany is zero.

You too can study at the same places where luminaries such as Goethe, Max Planck and Albert Einstein cracked the books, and all for free. Of course, you will need to pass an exam first to demonstrate that you have a working knowledge of the language. And while tuition is free, the cost of living in Germany can be fairly high depending on the place you choose.

For Americans, who often go into tens of thousands of dollars debt in order to acquire an undergraduate degree, this sounds like an idea worth exploring. The same is true to a lesser extent for Canadians, and quite possibly for citizens of other countries.

There is a post on www.slate.com about the differences between German and American universities, which are considerable. At a German university you are expected to determine your major before you start, and there is little or no hand-holding if you get into trouble. Nor are there fancy dorms, nice gyms or other amenities common in North America. Students mostly live with their families or share off-campus housing.

I have not found a good source for information foreign students need to access this opportunity. I suggest contacting the nearest German embassy or consulate, or Goethe Institut to brush up on your vocabulary. For the right student, this sounds like a tremendous chance to study abroad at minimal cost and acquire fluency in a second language at the same time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Budget Leaf-Peeping

Today is the start of the long Thanksgiving weekend in Canada (Columbus Day weekend in the U.S.) and close to the peak of leaf colour in southern Quebec and northern New England. While there are a lot of people crowding into the mountains and along the seashore to view the spectacular annual display, it is possible to enjoy it without spending a lot of money.

For the best rates on hotels, travel during the week if you can. Seek out lesser-known places to stay, such as monasteries or smaller hotels and motels. I recently learned from an ad in my local newspaper of a monastery guest house on the Maine coast, at Kennebunk Beach. Rooms with private bath and breakfast start at $69 a night during the week at the Franciscan Guest House Hotel (www.franciscanguesthouse.com.) Kennebunk Beach is right beside Kennebunkport, summer home of the Bush family.

Another good place to enjoy the fall foliage is along the shore of Lake Champlain, the large body of water which connects Quebec to New York state and Vermont. In Plattsburgh, NY you can stay at the Best Value Inn for only $120 Canadian cash for two nights. You don't even have to be Canadian, and by paying in Canuck bucks you save about 10 per cent now. Across the water in Burlington, VT you can stay at the Smart Suites for as low as $92.95 U.S. for an efficiency.

Both Plattsburgh and Burlington are charming towns, but Burlington is larger and boasts such attractions as the Church Street mall, a pedestrian shopping right area downtown that has a view of the lake and a lot of independent shops.