Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cheapest Destinations

Tim Leffel's cheapest destinations blog ( is a good source for ideas on places to visit without spending a fortune. His recent posts include information on Chetzalan, Mexico, a colonial town in the state of Puebla which he touts as a good backpacker place without the backpackers (yet.)

The marks of a town favoured by backpackers include budget lodging, cheap street food, cheap booze or drugs, walkability, and interesting nearby excursions. Some of the current favourites include Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria, Eger, Hungary and Antigua, Guatemala. Previous picks have included Prague, Czech Republic; Ubud, Bali; Chiang Mai, Thailand and Istanbul, Turkey.

With big cities around the world becoming more crowded, noisy and expensive, you can get a lot more for the money by spending most of your time in smaller places. I would not recommend avoiding bit cities entirely, since they are generally where you find the best cultural attractions. But it is a good idea to combine a few days in a city with a longer period in a smaller town with a slower pace.

Another post discusses the cost of living in Argentina (generally low) for those who might be interested in relocating there, and Leffel interviews several Americans who have moved there. However, the most interesting post for me was one about sources of travel information, and how it pays to check several sources. I was surprised to learn that Smarter Travel (,) Cruise Critic (,) and Airfrae Watchdog ( are all owned by Trip Addvisor ( So sites that seem to be independent may not actually be owned by much larger sites or corporations. Trip Advisor is a corporation listed on stock exchanges.

He also notes that publications such as Travel and Lesiure, owned by American Express, seldom or never run negative articles, and contain little information on money saving travel. Similarly, bloggers who cover many destinations quickly are usually writing about sponsored trips, so caveat emptor.

Leffel's blog contains, in addition to a lot of information, many interesting photos from his travels.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Global Entry Program

If you travel frequently ot the United States by air, you may want to consider enrolling in the Global Entry Program offered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service ( which will speed your entry at many major airports.

The program is good for five years and costs $100. If you qualify, you can go to an electronic kiosk rather than standing in often very long lines after a long flight from abroad. U.S. or Canadian citizens  also have access to the Transportation Security Agency's pre-check program, which makes security clearance at the airport a lot easier.

I benefitted from this pre-check program on a recent trip (I guess I looked harmless) and it was a big help. You don't need to remove liquids or computers from your carry-on luggage, or to take off your shoes. This can be a significant advantage when you have a short connection time between planes.

In order to qualify for Global Entry, you must pass a rigourous background check and be interviewed at a location in the U.S. Most interview locations are at airports, but there is also one downtown in Washington, DC. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen.

Check out an article on by Caroline Morse that appeared on Jan. 3 of this year on the pros and cons of this program. One of the cons is that you need to pay upfront, and if you don't qualify your fee is not refunded. Also, your status can be revoked for certain violations of customs laws such as not declaring that you are carrying prescription drugs or currency totalling more than $10,000 U.S.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Money Saving in Maui

Hawaii isn't a place you normally associate with budget travel. Just the cost of getting there makes it costly for many people. A friend recently booked a ticket there from Montreal, and even though she is booking nearly six months ahead she paid about $1,000.

However, once you are there there are a lot of ways to control costs. Kyle Ellison, author of the Moon Guide to Maui ( has found that there is a lot of free entertainment on the island--hula performances at the Lahaina Cannery Mall, live music at the Whalers Village in Ka'anapali, and Friday town parties along Front Street in Lahaina.

Taking the bus is also a bargain, with a day pass going for just $4. Routes serve most of the island including the airport, but you have to be able to hold your luggage on your lap. If you do need to rent a car, two wheel drive cars are cheaper than their four wheel drive counterparts.

Avoid the resort beaches and seek out those at Baldwin Beach or Makena State Park. If you are into camping, it costs only $10 per car at the Kipahulu section of Haleahula State Park. Happy hour is another bargain--at the Sea House Restaurant you can feast for $10 if you order before 5 p.m.

For a little culture, the whalers Village Museum charges just $3 per adult. Hiking trails are free across the island, and the cheapest times to visit are May, October and early November.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ride and Car Sharing

One good way to reduce the cost of travel is to share a car with someone who is going your way. If you do this on the side of the road while sticking out your thumb it is called hitch-hiking and it can be both difficult and, in some places, illegal.

A Website that allows you to find rides or passengers is called, and it operates in the United States. I tried to find rides between two cities I thought would be popular, New York and |Washington DC, but came up with a big zero regardless of the date. I was advised to list the ride I wanted, and the site would advise me when it found a match. There were some rides listed, but not many, so I'm not sure how well this site works.

Another possible source of rides or passengers is the Website Craigslist,

If you are like me and have a car you seldom use, you may be able to make some extra bucks by renting it out to other people through a site called, which also operates in the U.S. You control the price and the availability of the car, and the site enables you to check the driving record and employment history of potential renters.

It's all part of the so-called sharing economy. Sharing here does not mean charity, but it is a way to short-circuit corporations by dealing directly with other individuals. One of the most successful examples of this type of organizaation is, which allows you to rent rooms from individuals in other cities.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Inexpensive Hotels in Ukraine

Although Ukraine has been much in the news lately, it continues to be a place with reasonable prices for the budget traveller. This is particularly the case when it comes to lodging, a big component of the budget for most voyagers.

In the capital Kiev, a search on for two days late in May, after the scheduled presidential election, revealed that the Hotel Ukraine, a large Soviet-era hotel overlooking the city's famed Maidan is renting single rooms for just $43 a night. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a necessity for the city's hot summers.Even less costly is another large hotel that looks as if it were built in Soviet times, the Slavutych, where a room for these dates costs just $17. Be aware, though, that it is on the east bank of the Dnieper River, not downtown.

I was not able to find the Rus, a hotel similar to but less central than the Ukraine, where I stayed in 2010 on the Website this time. Then I payed about $65 a night for an air-conditioned room with minibar and a great breakfast buffet. The staff were helpful and English-speaking.

In Slovyansk in the far northeast of the country which has suffered some unrest, you can still get a room at the Taler Hotel downtown for just $23 Canadian a night, according to a report today in the Toronto Star ( The correspondent says the hotel boasts a brew pub with decent food and also, to his chagrin, a bowling alley right above his room.

On the other side of the country in Lviv, a city noted for its Hapsburg-era architecture and pro-western outlook, a room at the three star Leotel Hotel in late May goes for just $28 on

Below is an image taken from the balcony near my room at the Hotel Rus, of surrounding buildings in Kiev.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Earn Extra Miles with American

American Airlines ( has a special promotion in effect until May 23 that permits you to earn miles for playing games and for performing social actions, as well as for actually flying.  You can earn up to 700 miles by playing online games, up to 350 for social actions and thousands of bonus miles when you fly.Thanks to www.flyertalk for this tip. Flyertalk is the source for up to date information on the best frequent flyer deals, and its forums give you a place to sound off about airline experiences, good and bad.

One current forum thread concerns a passenger who was sitting next to someone who had a seizure and covered his seatmate with bodily fluids. The person so covered could not get up to use the washroom because the doctor said the patient could not be moved, and flight attendants offered no help. Another not so great airline experience is on the news shows here this weekend--the great Canadian luggage toss from an Air Canada ( plane. The airline has offered an apology in that case, and said offending employees will be fired if they are identified.

Incidentally, if you plan to travel soon in the U.S., be aware that the average daily cost for a business traveller is $255 U.S. This includes $105 for a hotel room, $57 for a rental car, and a whopping $93 for meals. You may not be able to do much about the hotel cost, but it does seem it should be possible to shave quite a bit off meal prices, by having breakfast at your hotel, and choosing fast food for at least one of your other meals. Many motels and hotels in North America now include breakfast buffets with your room price, a welcome development.

Happy Easter, everyone, and please remember our fellow Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria, and those in Ukraine who are in harm's way this holiday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Autoslash for Lower Rental Rates

Autoslash ( is a Website that promises to secure the best deal on car rentals by finding the best coupons, tracking rental rates constantly, and searching multiple vendors. You can also use it if you have already booked a rental car online.

From what I could tell on their Website, the service is confined to the United States, at least at present. Car rental is one of the most opaque areas of travel costs. There are all sorts of rates, and then there is the question of insurance. I often rent cars in the U.S., and have been surprised to find that the collision damage protection provided by my premium credit card is not acceptable at some rental companies. You must also have private insurance on your own vehicle if you wish to decline the often exorbitantly-priced rental car company insurance.

Buying the insurance offered by the rental car company can easily double or even triple in some cases the cost of a car. However, if you are not a car owner, you may have little other choice. Even if you decline to buy the insurance, laws in most U.S. states provide some liability coverage for third-party damages in event of an accident. But without insurance, you could be on the hook for the entire cost of your rental car and other charges if you are involved in a serious accident.

I have yet to book a car rental online (I prefer to prefer to check rates by phone,) but if I ever do I will consider booking through Autoslash for convenience and savings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Best Choices for 2014

According to Budget Travel magazine, the best value travel destinations for this year are spread around the globe. Their number one choice is South Africa, followed by Venice, Italy and the Dominican Republic.

Buenos Aires is fourth, then Orlando, Florida, Atlantic Canada, Philadelphia and Warsaw, Poland.he final two are Seoul, South Korea and Riga, Latvia.

As I mentioned in another recent post, South Africa is a fascinating country, but air fare to reach it can be costly. One of the bargains there is the entrance fee to Kruger National Park, only about $20 and all the wildlife you can spot. Hotel rates in the country are down about seven per cent from last year compared to the U.S. dollar.

Venice is a gorgeous city, but I have always found it kind of a rip-off for the average tourist. The baggage handlers at the port were, in my experience, very money-hungry and except for the public vaporettos plying the canals, bargains were very few.

Buenos Aires is worth a visit, and tickets for a concert at the beautiful Teatro Colon start at only about $10. Hotel prices are lower than last year by about 8 per cent. However, for my money the real beauty of Argentina is found in its natural wonders such as Iguassu Falls.

Atlantic Canada is a pleasant summer destination, much less crowded than most resort areas in nearby New England. Philadelphia is a good weekend escape, with lots of history, great museums and culture. Warsaw is another very interesting city--don't miss the free piano concerts on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer at Lazienki Park.

To read the whole story in Budget Travel, so to, 19628/.

Thanks for reading, guys. On two recent days the page view count surpassed 1,000, a record for this blog.

With regard to the last post on Brit in Ukraine, Phillips reports today that he was kidnapped by militia from the Donbass People's Army and forced to undergo a drug test, which luckily he passed. This type of independent reporting is valuable, but can be hazardous in a quasi-war zone.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Brit in Ukraine

For up to date video posts about developments in Ukraine by an independent journalist, check out He has been posting a lot lately, as things heat up again. Recent posts are from Sloviansk and Donetsk, and I saw some earlier ones from Odessa where he was asking passsers-by which they favoured, Russia or Ukraine. The answers seemed to be about equally divided.

Phillips is 35 and has worked for media such as ITN, Pravda and the Kyiv Post, among others. His Russian seems good to me, though I am certainly no expert. This is often not the case with network journalists who must usually rely on translators. It is interesting to see how much an independent reporter who is willing to tell and show us what is going on can discover in this part of the world.

Warning to the politically correct--some sentiments expressed by Russians and Ukrainians interviewed may be offensive. This is a different culture, and they do things differently there, including sometimes thinking and talking about politics in ways that would not be acceptable in the West..

Phillips says he will not accept advertisements on his site, a policy which I applaud and follow myself.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Which Side for the Cossacks?

I saw on the news that the unrest plaguing eastern Ukraine has now reached Zaporizhzhya, home of the Zaporizhzhyian Sich of Cossacks. The riders shown above are modern re-enactors of some of the extraordinary feats of horsemanship performed by Cossacks. I saww one guy who stood atop two galloping horses, another who rod underneath the horse.

Cossacks were originally sent by Russia to fight for and hold the territory of southeastern Ukraine against the Tatars in the 16th century, but they were later joined by escaped serfs, convicts and others who were not happy in Mother Russia. There were only two requirements to be a Cossack--you had to be male and Christian. According to the Bradt guidebook on Ukraine, modern Ukrainians regard them as the precursors of their first independent government.

Today I suspect Cossacks like the actors above find themselves divided between those who support Ukraine's current government and those who favour closer ties with Russia. In any case, I would definitely want these guys on my side.

If you happen to visit Zaporizhzhya, don't miss the Cossack Museum on Khortytsya Island in the Dnieper. It tells the story of this group of men and the surrounding area, and admission is very inexpensive, probably less than $1.

Cossacks were also noted for dancing, and you can view a modern day Cossack dance troupe at

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Boston More Costly than Budapest

According to a report in the Daily Mail (,) a weekend in Boston, Massachusetts will cost quite a lot more than a similar weekend for two in Budapest, Hungary. The Boston break comes to $647 U.S., compared with $184 U.S. in Budapest. (I have changed the original British pound figures at the rate of $1.57 U.S. equals one pound.)

The higher cost of hotels in Boston accounts for most of the difference, but meals too are inexpensive in Budapest. A three course meal with wine for a couple costs just about $41 in Hungary`s gracious capital. I haven`t been to Budapest since the bad old days of Communism, but even then the food was exceptionally good. And the price for a meal now sounds like a bargain, since last week at the Alpenhaus, a Swiss-themed restaurant in Montreal, a main course with wine came to about $40 U.S. for one.

Vilnius, Lithuania is only slightly more expensive than Budapest, while Warsaw, Poland and Prague, Czech Republic are also relatively cheap in this survey. The least costly place in Western Europe  for a weekend break turned out to be Lisbon, Portugal.

The prices do not include the cost of travel, unfortunately, or we could all nip over to Budapest next weekend for an inexpensive Easter meal.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cheap Bus Travel in Germany

Several bus lines in Germany are offering unusually inexpensive fares in that country. According to an article on it is possible to travel between some German cities with special offers for as little as one euro, about $1.50 U.S.

The lines include,, and They provide service mainly in the centre and north of Germany, but Mein Fern Bus also goes to south Germany and plans to travel to Austria in the summer. You can book tickets on their Websites, but for special deals you may have to become a fan on

Sample fares include Berlin to Hamburg from 9 euros, Dusseldorf to Erfurt from 26 euros, and Hamburg to Leipzig from 23 euros. Many of these buses leave from the bus station at Berlin Zoobahnhof right in the centre of the city, so you can also check there if you happen to be in Berlin and want to make a quick getaway.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

EasyHotels Expanding

The hotel brand is growing quickly, with hotels not just in its home market of the United Kingdom, but across Europe and into Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This year the chain is planning to open hotels in Croydon, a suburb of London, as well as in Prague, Czech Republic and Frankfurt, Germany.

The brand is somewhat opaque--the only way you can book a room is on their own Website, and I had to examine several hotel reviews to find out whether or not rooms included private toilets (they do.) However, rooms are very small and some lack windows--to get a window you have to pay more. The standard room size ranges from eight to 11 square metres, and some rooms are even smaller and less expensive.

The rate structure is based on saving by booking far ahead, and avoiding peak demand periods. I checked the rate for a room at the easyHotel in London near Victoria Station and discovered it would cost 79 pounds ($132 U.S.) for a date late in May. However, if you book far enough ahead you can find a central London room at an easyHotel for 35 pounds ($58 U.S.) or less.

Generally the reviews I read were positive, though readers were warned that you get what you pay for. In pricey cities such as London or Zurich, Switzerland (where rooms at the easyHotel start at 69 Swiss francs or $78 U.S.,) these hotels may be worth exploring, especially if you can book a number of months ahead.

When the new easyHotel in Croydon opens, you can pick up the makings of lunch or dinner downstairs at the new easyFoodstore, the first of its kind.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Dance Your Way Around the World

One way to travel for free, especially if you happen to be male, is to work as a host for single passengers aboard cruise ships. Hosts are required to be good dancers, with pleasant personalities and good grooming, and usually middle-aged.

Cruise ships usually have more single female passengers than single males, which means a lot of women who would like to dance lack partners. It is the job of the host to dance with the single ladies, and in general to be good company on board. The job does not include any work as a gigolo, and hosts are usually required to spread their attentions among a number of lone ladies.

One company that recruits cruise ship hosts is called It requires hosts to be single, and between 40 and 70 years old. The hosts receive no salary, but they get a free cabin and meals, sometimes air fare to the port, and sometimes free excursions while aboard. As you might expect, competition for these jobs is pretty tough.

If you want to explore this option, you can also appraoch individual cruise lines. One such company, Crystal Cruises, is now employing female as well as male dance hosts on certain cruises. For its transAtlantic crossings that are themed Ballroom at Sea voyages, there will be two female and eight male hosts with high level dance skills. It is good to see that this travel option is now available for both genders, even if the number of openings for females is miniscule at present.

I once tried to persuade a couple of gentlemen of my acquaintance to try being cruise hosts, but they demurred and so I have no first-hand experiences to report. However, if you are adventurous and meet the criteria, it sounds like an interesting travel experiment and a good way to see some of the world at minimal cost.

Friday, April 04, 2014

More Tips on Saving while Travelling

A Website that offers online tools to help people get out of debt,, has some tips in its blog this week on budget travel. Many of them may be familiar, but I learned a few new things. For instance, when travelling by air bring an empty water bottle with you through security, then fill it at the drinking fountain once you are through. In those benighted countries (much of the world) that lack drinking fountains, you may have to fill the bottle in the bathroom.

Also, whenever possible avoid eating at the airport. Even fast food places usually charge premium prices, so it's better to pack your own snacks--sandwiches, crackers, nuts, candy or protein bars, cut-up vegetables, bagels or rolls, hard-boiled eggs. Just don't take sandwishes with mayonnaise or with meats such as chicken, both of which may spoil readily.

They also mention the possibility of combining work with travel, and along with the usual jobs (teaching English, diplomatic service or the military, travel writing) there was one I had not previously considered, delivering vehicles of various types. These include automobiles, boats and even airplanes. In fact, there is a television show called "Dangerous Flights" about people who deliver used airplaces to customers around the world. Apparently there is quite a demand for people to do this, since it is perilous and often the pay isn't great. However, you do get to visit some very out-of-the-way places like Greenland, a frequent stop for small planes flying the Atlantic. Seeing Greenland from the air is spectacular, so exploring it up close should be interesting, too.

The tips about savings at the airport come from a Website called, which also includes a lot of tips on saving money on expenses other than travel. The reference for the readyforzero post is

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spring Hotel Deals

The weather is finally starting to warm up in eastern North America, just in time for Easter and Passover. If the long, cold winter got you down and you are looking for a quick getaway, has some very good prices on hotels in cities in the U.S. and Cancun, Mexico.

Las Vegas, NV has the greatest selection of really low-priced places to stay, starting at just $21 for the Riviera Hotel, $28 for the Excalibur Casino Hotel or $29 for the Stratosphere Casino Hotel. In New York City, rooms at the Chelsea Star Hotel go for as low as $65 per night, or at the Americana Inn starting at $80 per night. Sometime I would like to visit New York at Easter to see the Metropolitan Opera's production of Wagner's Parsifal.

In warm Orlando, FL the International Palms Resort is available for as little as $57 per night, while in Chicago the Inn of Chicago offers rooms from $79, and the Essex Inn will put you up for $84 on certain dates..

For Cancun, Mexico, renowned for its beaches and where it is almost always warm, you can stay at the Hotel Soberanis for as little as $32 a night, or at Kin Mayab by the Bus Station starting from $38.