Monday, December 31, 2012

Info on Hostels Worldwide

The Website claims to provide complete information and uncensored reviews on hostels around the world. It also can compare prices from all hostel booking sites at once, apparently.
With the increasing number of various kinds of travel Websites, it's hard to know what claims to believe.
A check of the general search function on this site didn;t work very well--when I put Moscow, Russia into the search function it came up with just one option, a home hostel in the suburbs. However, using another part of the site I did find a list and reviews of a number of Moscow hostels.
Because of the cost of hotels in Moscow, this is one city where you might want to consider a hostel, especially if you want to be right downtown. Or perhaps a homestay would be more to your taste, since it can provide a chance to interact with locals and see how they live. For that, the Website is highly regarded.
For more ideas on visiting Russia without breaking the bank, consult my e book, Budget Travel Tips for Russia. You can order it at

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thanks for the Comments

I wanted to thank those of you who have sent comments to this blog--positive feedback, negative feedback, even (to me) incomprehensible feedback. Some people posted comments in an alphabet that I do not recognize--possibly Hindi or Mandarin.
At present for technical reasons I am not able to respond to most comments. I hope to remedy this problem in the new year. Meantime, if you require an answer, please indicate an email address or Website I can check.
It's always nice to hear from readers. When I used to write for a major Canadian newspaper with circulation in the hundreds of thousands, it was still interesting to get the occasional letter from a reader who appreciated a suggestion or wanted to call me to task on something. It makes you feel that someone out there is really reading what you write and taking it seriously.
If you want to reach me before the blog problems are resolved, try or my Website, And thanks for reading.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Norwegian Coastal Cruises

The Norwegian fjords are one of the premier cruise experiences in the world, and if you are willing to travel in winter they can be surprisingly affordable. Winter, you say? Yes, even during the coldest and darkest time of year daily freight ships connect Bergen in southern Norway with Kirkeness on the Russian border.
In January of 2012 a six day trip from south to north was offered for as little as $800 per person in an inside cabin, and even in summer the price is not exhorbitant. Single cabins are available, but there is a single supplement.
These are not fancy cruises, with cocktail parties and dressing for dinner. The ships of the Hurigruten are working ships designed to connect the people living on remote fjords with the rest of the country. Meals are included, but they are relatively basic, according to reports on Alcohol is served, but prices are high. It is much better to bring your own booze, preferably purchased in Germany or almost anywhere other than Norway where prices for drinks are, according to reports, astronomical.
On the plus side, there is no tipping on these ships and no need for anything other than casual clothing. Tourists are usually in a minority, so you have a chance to meet locals and converse with them.
Several companies offer booking for these unusual voyages. One is in the U.S., another is www.norwegianiancoastalcruises in the U.K.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Staying Fit on the Road

Travel isn't always broadening--some people actually lose weight when travelling. But for everyone, staying in shape while on the road can be a challenge. Unless you choose an upscale hotel, exercise facilities may be scanty or non-existent. Walking or running outside is not always possible or safe.
However, you can do some things to maintain at least a reasonable level of fitness. Practice exercises such as squats, pushups and jumping jacks that do not require equipment and that you can do in your room.. Run in place, or do yoga poses. Practice pulling yourself up on a heavy chair or bed to keep your triceps firm. If you have time, get a day pass for a local Y or other fitness facility.
The Website Travel Fitness ( has some tips for keeping healthy when away from home.. For example, try to arrive during the day, especially when travelling west to east to reduce jet lag. When you get there, go out into the fresh air and light for a while. I do find that this usually helps.They suggest exercising at least every third day, and doing strength trianing at least once a week.
I don't agree with all their recommendations. They say you should drink a lot of water when flying, but they don't mention how to cope with frequent bathroom trips on today's crowded planes. Likewise with their suggestion of getting up and walking the length of the plane every couple of hours on a long flight. Nice idea, but usually not practical when the aisles are crowded with service carts or the weather is bad.
One of the good things about travel is that you usually do get a fair amount of exercise just sightseeing, but it may not be the type of intense workout you do at home.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vietnamese Restaurants for Taste, Value

If you happen to live in or travel in an area with significant French influence, you probably already know how delicious Vietnamese food can be. In Montreal, Vietnamese restaurants are plentiful and usually both good and reasonably priced.
My long time favourite is Au 14 Prince Arthur, near the corner of St. Laurent Boulevard. This used to be my local restaurant, where I enjoyed many great meals of caramel ginger chicken or spring plate, and a friend raved about the asparagus and crabmeat soup. The price was right, too, under $15 with a beer and tip.
I haven't been back for a while, but from what I read it is still good. Another reasonably-priced choice is Chez Tung in Cote des Neiges, a little more upscale. At the corner of Cote des Neiges and Cote Ste. Catherine, Pho Lien is a popular place for its hearty pho soup. At lunchtime, workers from the nearby Jewish General Hospital line up to get in. I have eaten there, but wasn't impressed with my choice, which was not soup.
There are more than 20 other Vietnamese restaurants in Montreal, and most receive good online reviews at sites like
Vietnamese refugees tended to congregate in places like Montreal and Paris because Vioetnam was a French colony for many years, and they learned the language. Paris and other French cities also have many places serving Vietnamese food, and they are often a less expensive choice than traditional French restaurants. The Website has some reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in France.
More recently, Vietnamese immigrants flooded to places like Washington, DC, and southern California and many opened eating establishments. Two I have tried and liked in Washington are Miss Saigon and Viet Georgetown, both in historic Georgetown
If you have never tried this cuisine, I recommend it for its intricate blend of flavours and spices and its plentiful use of vegetables.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No Room at the Inn?

One of the touching aspects of the Christmas story is that there was "no room at the inn" for the Holy Family in Bethlehem, and therefore Christ was born in a manger.
For modern travellers, finding a place to stay is usually a lot easier. With toll-free numbers, sites like and as well as hotel Websites, making a reservation anywhere in the developed world is generally pretty simple. However, finding affordable accommodation can be more difficult.
It is important to remember, when reserving, that the price quoted for the first night may not apply to every night of a stay, and in fact if you do not reserve for the whole time you wish to stay you could be out on the street. In cities where accommodation is plentiful, it is sometimes worthwhile to reserve for just a night or two, then look around for a less expensive or more interesting hotel. Watch out, however, for conventions or sporting events that may fill up the entire city.
In recent years there have been many times when bad weather or labour strife have closed down airports, and stranded travellers have found themselves camping out in the airport, sometimes for many days. There isn't a lot you can do if this happens to you and all the nearby hotels are full, but at times like this membership in an organization like Couchsurfing ( or similar hospitality exchanges could be very helpful. It might be worth joining just for emergencies.
Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Where the Pavement Ends

That is the title of a fascinating book by Erika Warmbrunn, a young American who in 1993 decided to bicycle alone from Irkutsk, Russia to Saigon. Drawn by a need for adventure in remote areas but without much long-distance cycling experience, she set out across Mongolia shortly after the end of Communism there.
Warmbrunn did have the advantage of speaking Russian (in addition to German and French,) and of being well-organized and seemingly possessed of an indominatable will. Even that didn't help, though, when she tried to cross from Russia into Mongolia at a border that was not authorized for international visitors. (I heard about this border last year when I was in Irkutsk and would not have attempted it, but then I'm not much of a cyclist either.)
This was just the first of a number of adventures she had in Mongolia, where she realized that her original plan of cycling acorss the sparsely populated country was impractical, regardless of how hospitable the locals were. And generally they were very welcoming. Instead, she was invited to teach English to children in a small settlement, where her hosts built her an individual ger.
I have not read beyond the Mongolia section of the book yet, but I am riveted by her prose and her bravery, and eager to see how she fares as a teacher and in her later escapades in China and Vietnam.
Warmbrunn does not seem to have written any more books, but on her Website ( you can order this book and read her account of a more recent long trip where she worked with Doctors Without Borders in West Africa. She also writes of another cycling trip, this time from Denver to Montreal.
If you are looking for inspiration to travel for yourself or as a gift, I cannot think of a better book. And if you want more practical advice for travel in Russia, please consider my electronic book "Budget Travel Tips for Russia," available at

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wise Words on Finance

Its travel section is small, but the Website has a number of interesting ideas on personal finance and frugal living in general. By managing money well, you can have more cash available for travel or other aims like charity. And up until the end of tomorrow, December 24, you can share your tips on holiday travel savings with other readers of the site for a chance to win a small prize.
Most of the travel posts on this site are written by Norah Dunn, a long term traveller who also writes the travel site As a former certified financial planner, Dunn has more insight than most into what it takes to make travel a priority without going broke. She is also an advocate of trying to live a less materialistic life in general, a view I applaud.
At this time of year when we are inundated with buy, buy, buy messages, it is worthwhile to take some time away from the madness to consider other ways to give back and to organize your finances with the aim of living a more satisfying and meaningful life.
And thus endeth today's lesson

Friday, December 21, 2012

Volunteer in Armenia

If you are looking for a way to give back and explore an exotic location at the same time, consider volunteering in Armenia ( This group has many opportunities available, including professional ones if you are 32 or older with five years of experience in some profession. Placements can be in the capital, Yerevan, or elsewhere, and a minimum commitment of one month is required.
To be eligible for the general openings, you must be at least 21 years old, and there is no upper age limit. Projects range from manual work to teaching, medicine and various other types of openings such as working on women's issues.
Armenia was formerly part of the Soviet Union, so older members of the population are likely to speak Russian. Many volunteers seem to be of Armenian heritage, but of course this is not a requirement. Armenia is one of the poorer of the former Soviet states, noted for its mountainous scenery and its ancient Christian heritage.
The Armenian diaspora is widespread. Since the Armenian genocide by the Turks early in the 20th century, people from this part of the Caucasus Mountains have spread throughout the world. There is a big contingent in Montreal, many of whom lived in Alexandria, Egypt before Nasser took power in the 1950s. I have a soft spot for Armenians, since the place I take my aging Volvo for service (called, incidentally, Swedish Auto,) is run by Armenians. Someday I would like to see the country itself.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Interesting Excursion from B.A.

If you are visiting Buenos Aires and feel you have exhausted its somewhat meager sights, consider a trip across the river to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. The river crossing can easily be done in a day, and offers in addition to a view of a UNESCO World Heritage sight, the chance to travel on the Rio de la Plata, which looks almost like an ocean at this point.
Buquebus ( runs daily ferries from the Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires to Colonia at reasonable prices. The slow ferry costs as little as around $72 for a same day return. Add a scanty on-board lunch and a sightseeing tour of the historic district for an additional $10 or so.
The faster ferry is more expensive, with a basic day return for about $110, and a luxury day trip for around $135. The latter includes lunch at a restaurant and a longer sightseeing tour.
Colonia is a pleasant town dating from 1680, and boasts Uruguay's oldest church as well as a lot more buildings from the colonial period. It was originally a Portuguese settlement, and is now a favourite haunt of portenos looking to escape the heat, noise and traffic of the city.
I visited Colonia by Buquebus more than a decade ago, at a time when the regional economy was in dire straits and Colonia looked as it had changed little since its founding. Our tour included a trip to a nearby estancia, where it seemed that the inhabitants were bored silly. One of the collections of the owner of the estancia was of match books from various parts of the world.
The crossing was my first by hydrofoil, and I was disappointed to learn that this type of transportation meant not going outside to enjoy the breeze off the river.
From reports I have seen, things have picked up a lot since then in Colonia, as they have in Argentina. In any case, the trip is an easy way to add another country to your itinerary.
Inccidentally, I do not intend to slur B.A. by saying its sights are few. In fact the city is huge and appealing, but mostly modern and business-oriented.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Travel Spontaneity Becoming Scarcer

I had planned to write about the fun of spontaneous travel in North America, jumping on a bus or train to take you wherever you wished to go within a specified period of time. I used to love this in Europe, when the Eurailpass gave you the option of going anywhere in the network, usually without reservations. It made it possible to cahnge your mind at the last minute, as I once did when I discovered I would be arriving in Munich at the start of Oktoberfest, when rooms would be few and expensive.
Because I had a Eurailpass I was able to change my plan and head to Vienna instead. The unlimited travel pass still exists in Europe, but now most good trains require reservations unless you want to stand in the aisle.
In North America, Greyhound ( recently discontinued its Discover Pass, which allowed unlimited travel anywhere on its network in the U.S. during 30 days for a set price. And a North America Railpass, which used to provide similar travel on Via or Amtrak's networks, has not existed since 2008.
Via Rail ( still has a Canrail Pass for unlimited travel on any 12 days during a 30 day period on its network for $749, and a Corridor Pass for 10 dys unlimited travel within the Windsor, ON to Quebec City, QC corridor for $439.
Is it any wonder that people often prefer to travel by car? In the name, I suppose, of profitability the bus and train companies are limiting customers' choices unnecessarily and taking away some very appealing options. After all, half the fun of travel is being able to go when and where the mood takes you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Learn to Teach English Abroad

Teaching English is one of the most popular, if not one of the most lucrative, employment opportunities for those who yearn to spend considerable time overseas. If you are a native speaker of English, it is often possible to pick up work in a non-English speaking country.
You may think that just knowing English well gives you the ability to teach it, but think again. Facing a group of students can be pretty tough when you have no idea how to teach a language, and the minutes can seem like hours. (I know this from experience.)
Getting training in teaching English is essential if you are to be a good teacher and enjoy the experience. There are all kinds of training programs out there, but most good jobs require at least a course of 120 hours of classroom training such as the CELTA or TEFL. These courses are very intensive and not cheap--usually running over $2,000 for a four-week course.
If you have to travel to take a course, why not try to take it in the country where you want to teach? The teacher training courses are available in many different countries. A site that has list of locations where the CELTA is offered is, and the list is extensive, stretching from Austria and Belarus to Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Taking the course where you want to settle gives you a chance to check out the location and perhaps make some useful contacts.
Once you have your certificate, check out sites like for interesting job listings. (There are also some jobs, especially volunteer, that do not require a certificate or degree.)
English teaching is a good job for just about anybody who enjoys languages and people, but unfortunately there is considerable age discrimination in the field, especially abroad, so be prepared for this if you are over 50.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Flight Deals from Montreal

At last, some reduced fares on flights from Montreal, courtesy of Orbitz ( Most of them are for the period of late January into early February, but some run longer. Montreal to Paris round trip is available for as little as $763, while Montreal to New York's La Guardia return starts at $376.
Sun destinations are also on sale, with round trip fares to Las Vegas from $346 and to Miami from $379. Mexico City from Montreal return begins at $494. and this fare is valid from Jan. 25 to June 15.
I must admit I blanched at the idea of a fare of $763 to Paris in the middle of winter being a good deal, but prices for flights from North America to Europe have escalated a lot. Flights from Canadian cities are further handicapped by very high taxes and fees.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Be a Conversation Tutor Abroad

If you want to sample what it is like to be an ESL teacher abroad, why not start as a conversation tutor? The Website provides this option in a number of countries such as Argentina, France, China, and Russia.
It works like this: you choose a destination, and then the site finds you a family that wants to practice English conversation with you. You stay with the family, and tutor them up to 15 hours per week in English. The site provides teaching materials and suggestions, and puts you in touch with the family before you agree to the match.
I didn't check all the countries, but for the ones I did verify the minimum commitment was one month, extending up to three months if you wish. Naturally there is a charge for this service, but it is fairly reasonable. The countries I checked were in the range of $1300 per month, and extensions may be free.
This works out to close to $50 as day plus air fare, no great bargain but an interesting idea, and a good chance to see whether you might enjoy being an English teacher overseas. It could also work well for people who just want to experience living in a certain city or country for an extended period, with something specific to do at least part of the time and with local contacts.
In some cases participants can also take classes in the local language at extra cost, and Geovisions offers various other programs for medical volunteers, au pairs abroad, and foreign students who want to visit the United States..

Saturday, December 15, 2012

13 Months in the former Soviet Union

If you have ever dreamed of extended travel in the former Soviet Union, as I have, you'll want to check out the excellent account of a 13 month trip undertaken by a Chicago lawyer. It's at, and is filled with useful information.
Interestingly enough, Katie includes a complete breakdown of her expenses for this trip, and it comes to lees than $30,000, probably far less than many of us spend in a year at home. I have just started to plumb the riches of this site, but so far I have learned that at least in the Central Asian countries she visited, Katie stayed mainly in hotels and guesthouses, not hostels. She also took a long trip with multiple stops on the Trans Siberian Railway, starting at Vladivostok. In addition, she found volunteer opportunities in three places along the way, and they sound very interesting. One volunteer plan with the Great Baikal Trail in Irkutsk fell through, unfortunately.
I am amazed at the courage Katie displayed, and at her organization of the trip. It must have taken her a long time and a lot of research. But now she has put a lof ot it online for the rest of us to enjoy and perhaps imitate. Thanks, Katie.
The image above is of the Islamic mosque in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hotel Room Prices

According to a show I saw recently on CNBC (,) hotel room prices can vary enormously depending on when you book and who you are. And that is for basically the same room, on different floors.
In an examination of Marriott Hotels (,) the show revealed that on a recent day at the Marriott in New Orleans, LA, guests payed anything from $109 to $319 for the same basic room. Marriott caters to groups and business travellers, who may get special rates for frequent visits. For individauls, a hotel executive said the cheapest night is usually Sunday, leaving Monday.
Don't expect to be able to walk into a Marriott, even during slow periods, and get a price reduction on the spot, at least not in the U.S. I wonder whether this applies ascross the chain, which has a lot of nice properties in the Middle East, where bargaining is more acceptable.
And even if a Marriott is sold out, someone who is a very frequent guest may still be able to get a room there when you can't.
The program also emphasized that Marriott keeps track of every guest, and how much he or she spends in addition to the room cost. If you ever wondered what happened to the old fashioned hotel lobby where you could just sit around unbothered, the intorduction of lobby bars with wait staff is one way to maximize revenue on otherwise wasted space.
So if you manage to score a low room price and don't buy anything else at the hotel, when you go to make another reservation will you suddenly find the place is sold out, I wonder?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

$17.76 Air Fare Today Only

You can fly from Boston to Philadelphia or vice-versa for only $17.76 if you book today with Jet Blue ( Travel must be between May 28 and June 19, 2013, on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The special bargain fare is in celebration of this airlines startt of service between the two cities so famous in American history, thus the choice of an airfare of $17.76, the date of the Declaration of Independence.

Low Prices in Panajachel

A friend who is visiting Guatemala reported that he has found a house to rent in the lakeside town of Panajachel for only $310 a month, including internet service. From pictures, the town looks charming, with a view across Lake Atitlan to a large volcano. It is located in the southwestern highlands of the country.
If you don't want to stay for a month, there are plenty of low-priced hotels as well. The Hotel Tzutujel, which advertises itself as a good place for backpackers, charges just $10 per person but does not specify how many to a room.
Another place, the Hotel El Chaparral, has private rooms with bath, and the cost for a single is less than $20 a night, about $25 for a double. Both hotels are located very near the lake, not surprising considering that the town has less than 15,000 inhabitants.
My friend has noticed some changes in the town he doesn't like--more noisy scooters, higher walls around houses, but these may not be things a newcomer would remark upon.
Guatemala is one of the Latin American countries I have yet to visit, but it looks as if it should be high on my list. My mother visited long ago and was fascinated by the mountains, the small villages and the handmade textiles, some of which I still have.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ways to Save on Restaurant Bills

Eating in restaurants is one of the fun aspects of travel (or of staying home, for that matter.) However, food purchased away from home can take a big chunk out of a travel budget.
There are ways to minimize the damage, and a lot of them are pretty obvious. Concentrate on the main course and minimize other courses, especially dessert. While restaurant desserts can be yummy, they are also marked up a lot more than mains. And, generally, they are not good for the waistline.
Forgoing alcohol at meals is another way to save big. Wines in particular are often marked by a factor of three or more over what you would pay to buy the same bottle in a store. By sticking to a soft drink or beer, you can keep a bill in check. And coffee after a meal is another unnecessary expense. If you have the nerve, do what a lot of people in the U.S. do and just have tap water with your meal. (This won't generally work in Europe where they seldom serve tap water in restaurants.) In fact, continental Europe is one place where wine is often just as cheap as soft drinks, so why not indulge?
Another way to reduce costs is to share dishes with a companion. This works best in the U.S. where portions tend to be large, sometimes very large. There may be a small extra charge for sharing. Or have two appetizers rather than a main course, especially if the main courses are unappealing.
A trick that works pretty much everywhere I have been is having a big meal at lunch rather than dinner. Usually the same meal will cost less if eaten around noon, when a lot of locals eat out. Those who eat out for dinner are more often visitors or people out for a celebration, who supposedly don't mind paying more.
And if you are in a place where the so-called "early bird special" is offered, try it out. These are often very good deals with somewhat smaller portions but the same food for a lot less than during regular dinner hours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Various Retreats in the U.S.

If you feel the need to wind down before or after the holidays but can't afford a pricey spa, there are places where you can go for some quiet contemplation , religious or otherwise. At the Benedictine Center of Spirituality overlooking Lake Superior in Duluth MN you can spend time with the nuns in a private room with meals included. Best of all, the price is what you can afford, a very generous policy. For more information, check
Another retreat place with a Christian emphasis is Bethany Spring in New Haven, KY south of Louisville. The Merton Institute, named for the well-known Catholic writer Thomas Merton, provides accommodation starting at $70 a night.
If Buddhism is more your style, consider Kadampa Meditation Center in Glen Spey, NY. It is only 80 miles from Manhattan but is quite a different world, with 82 acres of wilderness.  Rates for a stay start at only $35 a night, and you can learn more at
In the Southwest, Ghost Ranch ( is a larger and more eclectic place north of Albuquerque, NM where a stay of six nights starts at $390.
I am indebted to The Magazine of AARP ( for the above listings.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Free Home Exchange Site

Home exchange is a great way to reduce travel expenses. By trading apartments or homes with someone in a place you want to visit, both of you get a free place to stay. There are a number of Websites offering exchanges, but most of them charge at least a nominal fee.
However, provides free home exchanges for members, and has members in more than 90 countries.The site's mission is to make it easier for more people to travel, and it was started by two travel fanatics with Web expertise who pledge to keep it free.
 Selections seem to be largest in major North American and European cities, but there are usually at least a few members virtually any place you would like to go. I checked a few of the places available in Berlin and noticed that many of the members seem to be relatively young and somewhat artistic, so the places are interesting-looking. If you can find someone who wants to visit your city at the same time, this could be a very good choice.
I have never tried home exchange myself, though I would be very tempted to give it a shot in an expensive city like Moscow, Tokyo or Paris.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Free Attractions in Rome

Rome is generally an expensive city, drawing tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. However, many of its attractions are free. St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in the world, offers free entrance to its main floor, where you can view Michaelangelo's famous statue the Pieta.
Another church you won't want to miss is the Pantheon, originally a Roman temple built in 27 B.C. It is remarkable for its classical architecture and for being built with an open circle in the ceiling. Masses are said here on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more antiquity, wander around the Roman Forum with its many remnants of the days when Rome ruled the ancient world, or check out the Arch of Constantine near the Colosseum. Constantine was the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity and moved his court to Byzantium, present day Istanbul. The Colosseum itself was the site of gladitorial combats and the execution of Christians, and while its size makes it hard to miss you must pay admission to view it from the inside.
The Spanish Steps leading up from Piazzza de Spagna are the widest and longest stairs in Europe, and a gathering place for Romans. Via Condotti, oof the city's premier shopping streets is nearby.
The Trevi Fountain at Piazza di Trevi is another popular outdoor attraction. Rome's many parks are naturally free, and one of the nicest is the garden of the Villa Borghese.
On the last Sunday of every month the world famous Vatican Museum is open for free in the morning.
For more information on free and family friendly attractions in this fascinating city, check

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Not Just for Frequent Flyers

A Website designed for frequent flyers and mileage accumulators,, can be useful for people who travel less often, too. They publish information on unusually low air fares, credit cards that offer good deals on mileage, and other helpful tips like an article on the best restaurants in American airports (that must have been a challenge to write.) Forums provide a chance for travellers to exchange information with each other.
Some of the fares strike me as amazingly good--for example, American is giving passengers from Houston or Chicago rates of not much more than $500 for round trips to Istanbul on some dates in April, 2013. This site attracts the kind of person who wonders whether it is possible to do a turnaround on this fare and return on the same plane without ever having seen Istanbul, not something I would recommend, since Istanbul is one of the world's great cities. (And I haven't been back for a long time, so this deal is of interest.)
Other deals mentioned on the site today are on United, Chicago to Tel Aviv return for $694 and Louisville to Sacramento for $166 return. Check the forums called "mileage runs" for similar bargains. A mileage run is a trip you take primarily for the purpose of accumulating frequent flyer miles.
A post by on the site suggests that while mileage is great, when accumulating it you should also factor in the value of your time, the opportunity cost of losing time with family, friends or hobbies. Like anything else, accumulating miles can be taken too far.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Nearly 3,000 Destinations on Sale

Four airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and Air Tran) have recently announced big sales on many U.S. destinations. Most of the sales start after Jan. 7, but American and Delta have some beginning Dec. 14. Fares are as low as $57 one-way, and you can travel any day but Sundays and certain blackout periods up to May 15.
Air Tran ( even includes some destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It's not too early to start planning post-holiday travel, if you want to save big.
Thanks to for this tip. Check their Website for more details on the sales.
Also, Delta ( is offering first-class upgrades during the holidays for as low as $39 one-way for many destinations in the U.S. and Canada.(Finally, a sale that applies to Canada too.) Dates are Dec. 15 to Jan. 5. Check their Website for more information.
For today only, Air Canada is offering special fares on Asian destinations. For example, Toronto to Beijing round trip is just $1045 including all taxes and fees if you book at The airline will be providing daily specials on their Website from now until Dec. 19. Who said the holidays were a bad time to travel, or at least to book travel?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Practice German with Friends

A great way to improve your knowledge of a language is to speak it with natives. This isn't always easy to do, especially with a language like German. Many Germans, Austrians and Swiss speak English, and rather than hear you massacre their language will try to "help" you by switching to English.
So a program where you stay with local families and take some language classes is an ideal way to improve your knowledge and fluency. Friendship Force ( is offering a German language learning exchange with homestays in Cottbus and Varel, Germany in June, 2013.
Barbara Stonebrink-Martin, who is organizing the program, said "All the hosts have been on similar programs to learn English, so they know what is expected." The two-week exchange costs $1300, plus air fare and insurance. Not cheap, but reasonable.
It is hard to generalize about Friendship Force trips, because each experience is different. All the hosts are unique, as are the travellers. You may find yourself staying in a small apartment or a mansion, in the city or the country.
I have only taken one Friendship Force trip so far, but enjoyed it very much and am tempted by this one. If they had one for learning Russian, I would definitely sign on.
I suspect this one will be good because it is taking place in smaller towns where knowledge of English is not so common. And Cottbus is near the border of Poland in the former East Germany, which adds a level of difference.
If you are interested, you need to pay a deposit by Feb.1.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cheap Flights to the Suncoast

It's not easy to find cheap flights or from Florida around the holidays, but sometimes you can. For instance, Frontier Airlines ( is offering a $29 fare on Dec. 31 or Jan. 2 for a flight from Tampa to Trenton-Princeton, New Jersey.You have to book on its Website.
I personally know someone who flew from Chicago O;Hare to Tampa recently for only $49 on Spirit Airlines ( The flight left at 6 a.m. and he stayed up all night to be sure he wouldn't miss it, but he did get a very good price. Often the lowest  priced flights are at inconvenient times.
Check out the airline Websites in addition to aggregators like Travelocity (
or Expedia ( to be sure of getting the best deals.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Volunteer on a Kibbutz

There are age restrictions, but if you are between 19 and 35 volunteering on an Israeli kibbutz could be an interesting  and low-cost opportunity. Kibbutzim are communal, economically self-sufficient organizations that have existed on Israeli territory since the early part of the 20th century, before the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
For a fee or only $635 you can spend between two and a half and six months working on a kibbutz. And that could mean some pretty hard work, since many kibbutzim are agricultural. I visited one kibbutz at Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea, and found it appealing as aplace and as a concept, though I'm not sure I would want to live on one.
The kibbutzim are founded on principles of communal ownership of property, social justice and equality, similar to the principles of Marxism and Socialism.
You can find out more about these programs at
As with Jordan, travel to Israel can be problematic because of the political situation in the region, but if you wait until peace prevails in the Middle East you may be too old for this opportunity. People of any or no religion are welcome on the program.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Two Views of Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, situated in the central highlands of Guatemala, was the country's third capital and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Spanish colonial buildings and churches. Anitgua was hit by an earthquake in the late 18th century, and the buildings that didn't crumble were preserved by the fact of the government moving away and by economic decline.
 It is also noted, as are many places in Guatemala, for its textiles and other handicrafts. In addition, many people travel to Antigua to learn Spanish by the immersion method offered in private language schools.
By chance, I know two people who have been there recently but have differing views of the place. One enjoyed it, partly because he got a very good deal on a resort hotel. The other, who visited early in 2012 on a cruise stop, thought the place was beautiful but said the persistent merchants almost spoiled her experience.
Both these friends are Baby Boomers who live in Canada, but otherwise they are quite different. The male is tall and an old Guatemala hand with native-level Spanish. The woman is short and speaks only a smattering of Spanish.
The man said he hardly noticed the hassle of merchants, compared to what he has experienced in southeast Asia, where people on scooters drove him crazy. But he said his command of the language probably helped too.
Just goes to show that different people can have very different experiences of the same place. I can relate to the merchant hassle, having experienced it myself, particularly in Egypt.
Incidentally, my recent post on Jordan may have been ill-timed, since that country has been experiencing some unrest in recent days, especially in Amman. I suspect several governments have warnings about travelling there.
When I visited in 2003 Jordan was also on the danger list, so much so that I was told my travel medical insurance would not be honoured if I were to be injured or fall ill. I went anyway, and had a very good time. It is wise to be cautious, but too much worry about travel can keep you glued to your chair.