Monday, September 30, 2013

Last Day for Some Savings

Today is the last day to secure an early booking price on Viking River Cruise's ( offerings for 2014. With these discounts, some of the cruises are reasonably priced so long as you are travelling in twos. For instance, the Budapest to Bucharest 11 day Danube cruise starts at $2456 per person, not an outrageous amount when you consider it includes cabin, all meals, and a number of sightseeing tours as well as on-board entertainment.

If you book through, you can obtain per cabin onboard credits of up to $745 for the remaining Bahamas and Caribbeann cruises in 2013 of Roayl Caribbean Lines. Or, you can sail on some Carnival cruises for as little as $33 per person per day.

In addition, www.affordable has reduced prices for some of its remaining tours in 2013. For example, an eight day tour of the Italian Lakes has been reduced to $1003 from $1309, quite a savings. This is such a beautiful part of the world that it is worth visiting even if the weather is less than perfect.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Farm Stays for a Change

The chance to spend time on a working farm is becoming a popular vacation choice for city slickers. The Website offers information on such vacations in a number of states across the United States.

Generally farm stays are reasonably priced, $125 or less per couple. Sometimes meals and breakfast are included, but often you are expected to bring your own food and prepare your own meals. As you would expect, farm stays are particularly popular with families.

The types of farms that offer lodging vary from horse farms and cattle ranches to goat farms, market garden, dairy or mixed farms. Do not expect to find peasant farmers in the U.S., where farms tend to be large and farmers are often quite well-off. I met some of these, farmers from Iowa, on a recent trip to Russia.In addition to the latest vehicles and farm equipment, one of the farmers had two private airplanes.

It is fun to get out into the country and enjoy fresh air, farm animals and a break from the routine. even if it is just for a weekend. I have enjoyed stays at a Swiss-run farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, but unfortunately it is no longer open to visitors.

In Europe too, especially Alpine Europe, farm stays are a popular and usually reasonably-priced lodging option.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Low Cost Air Service to Moscow, Ukraine

The British-based low-cost airline Wizz Air (,) began service this week between Budapest, Hungary and Moscow, and also serves destinations in Ukraine.

The budget airlines are starting to make inroads in the Russian market, which is good news for flyers. According to an article in, several low cost carriers now have flights to Russia, including Easyjet ( Oslo-based Norwegian has flights to St. Petersburg.

Wizz Air currently flies to Kiev and Donetsk in Ukraine, and will begin flying to Lviv next year. Vueling, a Spanish budget airline, also flies to Russia. Apparently even Aeroflot (,) the major Russian airline, will soon have a low-cost subsidiary.

Now if Rusia would just ease up on its visa requirements, it might someday become a major tourist destination. It certainly deserves to be.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cheap Weekend Getaways

Even if you don't have the time and/or money to take a long vacation, with a long weekend getaway you can enjoy a new destination and a change of scene. Check out a blog at for some suggestions on how to keep costs under control  on a weekend break.

The author suggests flying on a Thursday rather than Friday if possible, and waiting until the last minute for the best air fares. Also, try to avoid major holidays or sports events in your destination city. Rather than burden yourself with a travel guidebook, he counsels, just look up the top 10 things to do in your destination city online.

I would also suggest that you may just want to sit around at a cafe when you reach your city, and if possible get suggestions from locals on the best things to see and do. You might also make new friends this way.

Of course it is far easier to travel to interesting cities for a weekend break from the UK than it is from most cities in North America. Budget airlines fly from the UK to places such as Riga, Latvia, Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Barcelona, Spain on a regular basis.

Still, it is possible in North America. The destinations may not be so exotic, but they can be equally fun. Sign up for air fare alerts from all the major carriers that serve your city, or your closest airport. Sometimes you can find some amazing last-minute deals.

And speaking of last-minute deals, Via Rail Canada ( recently offered a one-day only sale that reduced prices greatly on many of their routes, such as Toronto to Montreal for only $27 one way. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Rent Apartments for Savings

One way to beat the high cost of hotels when you travel is by renting apartments directly from their owners. An apartment gives you a place to stay, a place to cook and sometimes a place to park. Rates are per apartment, so they are especially well-suited to couples, families or groups. Even the smallest apartments usually accommodate at least three people.

One good source for rentals is www.tripadvisor.comé They list apartments in pricey cities such as Washington and Moscow for prices well under $100 per night. Some apartments have minimum stay requirements.

For example, in the central area of Dupont Circle in Washington, a one-bedroom condo goes for as little as $88. Farther out in the lovely Palisades neighborhood northwest of Georgetown, you can rent a studio for as little as $62 a night, a one-bedroom for as little as $74. Given all the free attractions in Washington, and the possiblity of cooking at home, a stay in one of these places could be a real budget vacation.

Similarly in Moscow, a centrally-located one-bedroom flat goes for as little as $74 per night. Depending on the season of the year, Moscow hotels can be quite pricey and this sounds like a real bargain.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Casino Moscow

That is the title of an excellent book on Russia and Eastern Europe during the 1990s, when the area was known as the Wild East. The subtitle is A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier, and it is indeed a good read.

The author is Matthew Brzezinski, a descendant of Polish landowners who found himself at loose ends in the early 90s after his Montreal construction business went bankrupt. Like many young people at that time, he headed east to see what was happening now that the Soviet Empire had collapsed.

He certainly found a lot of adventure. He barely survived a home invasion and beating in Kiev, and sometimes dining at Moscow's top restaurants was almost as dangerous. As a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Moscow he had access to many oligarchs and other top people. His girlfirend and now wife Roberta was even better connected, and he tells of how the size of his yacht dreams varied with her potential commissions on deals.

It all came crashing down in 1998 when Russia defaulted on its external obligations and its stock market collapsed. Then the foreign investors discovered that it was a lot easier to make money in the Wild East than it was to take that money out of the country.

I have long regretted that I did not visit Russia in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it was so exciting. Now it seems much tamer, but still always interesting. Through this book, though, I was able to get a good idea of what it must have been like. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Queen Mary 2 Deals

There are some great prices for Trans Atlantic crossings on Cunard's ( Mary 2 this fall and winter. Rates for the seven day crossing between New York and Southampton start at only $699 per day per person, or about $100 per day. Considering that this includes your cabin (probably inside) all your meals and lots of free entertainment, it is hard to beat.

These deals are available on sailings on October 27, November 19, and January 3. This could be a nice treat for Thanksgiving or to see in the New Year. The Atlantic can be rough in winter, but it can also be bad in summer--it's all part of the sailing experience.

While I have yet to sail on the Queen Mary 2, I have crossed twice on the Queen Elizabeth 2, her smaller sister, and enjoyed both voyages a lot.

If you prefer to sail along the coast of New England and Canada and down the St. Lawrence River with its great whale-watching opportunities, the Queen Mary 2 is offering even better rates for inside cabins on its Oct. 15 sailing from New York. The cost for a 12 day cruise starts at only $799 per person. Teh ship calls at Newport, Bar Harbor, Boston, St. John, Halifax, and stays overnight in Quebec City.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Motel 6 for Low-Cost Lodging

Motel 6 ( started out 50 years ago charging $6 a night for its rooms. The chain, which now has more than 1,100 properties throughout North America, advertises itself as the lowest-cost national chain.

Today, of course, prices are considerably higher than when the chain opened. The lowest room rate is $39.99, and rates can be considerably higher near big cities or on the East or West Coast. Motel 6s,do not charge extra for kids 17 or younger, and they are pet friendly. The room rate includes free morning coffee, but not the buffet breakfast many other chains provide.

It is a long time since I stayed in a Motel 6, but I found it perfectly adequate and would not hesitate to try one again. In some parts of the country you may find independent motels that are cheaper than Motel 6s, but you don't have the protection of a national franchise.

If you are driving in North America on a tight budget, you might consider trying out a Motel 6.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Travel News at In Transit

If you're looking for the latest news on airlines, hotels, special events and other travel-related topics, check out This blog offers detailed information that may be of use if you enjoy being on the leading edge of travel, among the first to try a new hotel, restaurant, or event.

The blog used to have a budget section, but that appears to have ended in 2010. The current edition of the blog includes information on the introduction of recking chairs to help passengers relax at several Finnish airports, not including Helsinki. I have tried the rocking chairs at the Charlotte NC airport, and enjoyed them.

You can also learn about the Berlin Jazz Festival later this fall, and about Best Western's new hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. According to the Times, Saudi is one country that is currently enjoying a tourist boom, particularly for religious pilgrimages. Unfortunately, Mecca is not on the list of cities in Saudi Arabia where non-Muslims can go.

Earlier posts on this blog referred to a free museum day held across the United States under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution in late September. I could not determine whether the day will be held again this year, but check the Smithsonian's Website at later this month.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Viking's Ukraine Cruise Goes Upscale

Viking River Cruises (www.vikingrivercruises.,com) is one of the largest river cruise companies in the world, with many interesting itineraries. Until recently, a few of their cruises, such as the one of Ukraine's Dnieper River and the Balck Sea, were also reasonably priced.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The Ukraine cruise, for which I paid about $2100 in 2010 for a single cabin, is now quoted as starting at $4638 per person. The current price is for 12 days, whereas the earlier cruise lasted 11 days. There may be reductions from the quoted price for early booking, repeat passengers, and so forth, but clearly this cruise has moved out of budget range.

The  Dnieper cruise is a great way to explore this fascinating and, at least to North Americans, little known part of the world. If you want to read more about it, refer to blog posts for the latter part of 2010. It was probably the most interesting cruise I have ever taken, out of a dozen or so. And it provides an easy way to see many of Ukraine's top attractions, even if you don't speak Russian.

Below is a picture of a statue in Kiev of one of the Cossack hetmen who ruled Ukraine in the old days.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

TSA Expands Pre-Screening

The U.S. Transportation Safety Agency has announced that pre-screening for airline passengers will be available soon at 60 more American airports. This is in addition ot the 40 airports that already have it.

If you pay for pre-screening, you do not have to remove shoes and belts or take your computer out of your carry-on baggage while going through security. The cost is $85 for five years, and you need to submit to a security check and fingerprinting. So far, the pre-screening registration is offered only at Washington Dulles and Indianapolis airport.

This sounds like a good deal, especially for frequent travellers. U.S. airport security is, in my view, the second most obnoxious in the world, after Israel. The need to remove shoes and take out computers adds a lot of time to screening, and rules on scissors and small pocket knives lead to the loss of a lot of these items.

I was in Argentina shortly after the rules about scissors came into effect, and I had a small pair in my luggage. Rather than confiscate them, as happens in the U.S., Canada and most other places, the security people wrapped them up and sent them as checked baggage, which was very nice.

Maybe some day they will just do away with all the airport security, and we will take our chances as we used to do.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Senior Travel Discounts

One of the few advantages of getting older is that you may be able to qualify for discounts on hotels, rental cars, air fare and other travel costs. The age required to qualify varies, usually no younger than 50 and no older than 65.

If you are willing to admit to your age, it never hurts to ask about senior discounts anytime you are travelling or buying anything, for that mattter. Sometimes you may have to show proof of age, or of membership in a group like the American Association for Retired Persons ( AARP advertises its senior discounts, which may amount to as much as 30 per cent on some rental cars.

If you are a fan of the national parks in the United States, there is a particularly good deal for seniors. My friend Paul was recently visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and found that a lifetime pass to the parks costs only $10 provided you are 62 or older and a U.S. citizen or green card holder. This compares to an annual rate for a park pass of $80.

In most developed countries seniors qualify for reduced fares on public transit and sometimes on trains. Museums, too, often charge lower rates for seniors. In the U.S. Sunbelt, seniors and others can benefit from the lower cost for early bird specials in many restaurants.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Volunteer in 40 Countries

United Planet (www, is an organization that offers volunteer placement in some 40 countries around the world. From one week to one year, the tasks include teaching, improving the environment, working with women, disabled people or animals, or working in orphanages.

The opportunities are not cheap, but for the longer placements they can be quite reasonable on a per day basis. A one-week placement starts at $995, while a six-month arrngement goes for $7965.  The six-month fee works out to about $45 a day.

These prices include food and lodging, airport transfers and medical insurance, but not air fare or visas. Program fees are tax deductible for U.S. taxpayers.

I checked out the possibilities in Russia, which require at least a six-month stay. You can work with people with disabilities, with veterans, the poor or the elderly, or in a cultutal centre. Based on the map shown, the placements seem to be in Novosibirsk, which would be a great place to work on your Russian language skills. It is far from Moscow (and just about everywhere else) and its suburb Akademgorodok was one of the jewels of  Soviet-era science.