Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The True North, Strong and Cheap

Unless you are Canadian, you may not have noticed that over the last few months the value of the Canadian dollar known as the loonie has been slip-sliding away. At the moment it is trading at around 70 cents U.S.

While this is bad news for Canadians planning to travel abroad, it is great for their neighbours in the U.S. who hanker to visit the great white north. Canada is still not a really low-cost destination, but it is definitely a bargain compared with a lot of places in the U.S.

By checking on for hotels for the last weekend of February, I was able to unearth some pretty good deals. In Vancouver, a room at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver goes for about $115 U.S. per night. The Hotel Vancouver is one of Canada's signature railway hotels built in Scottish baronial style, with vast and luxurious public rooms and a downtown location. Nearby in Gastown, the budget Victorian Hotel receives good reviews and charges only $42 U.S. for bed and breakfast.

In Montreal, the Omni Hotel on Sherbrooke Street is charging $80 U.S. per night for the same weekend, while the nearby Hilton Garden Inn offers rooms for $63 U.S. nightly on the same dates.

If you prefer to visit in summer (something I would recommend,) there are even better prices available at the residence halls of various educational institutions. For example, at McGill University's Royal Victoria College (which actually has a statue of Queen Victoria in front) at the corner of Sherbrooke and University, rooms go for about $32 U.S. single, $46 U.S. double except for Grand Prix weekend in June. The reference for this and other McGill dorms is, and the prices are from 2015.

In Toronto, the University of Toronto boasts a downtown location, a leafy campus and a vast assortment of lodging for the public during the summer. Check out
Many other educational institutions across Canada offer similar deals in the summer only--search for your preferred destination and you can probably find something. Unfortunately, there are no central booking places for these alternative accommodations.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hospitality Clubs for Low-cost Travel

If you enjoy meeting locals and staying in their homes, two hospitality clubs based in Washington state may be of interest. Both are geared to somewhat older travellers, and have similar designs and membership and travel costs.

For international travel, the Affordable Travel Club ( is the choice. It includes mainly American hosts, but also has members in countries as diverse as Australia, Israel and Kazakhstan. To join you must be over 40, and must be able to host guests yourself occasionally. This group boasts 2400 hosts, and membership costs $65 a year if you want an online directory of fellow members, $80 if you require a paper copy.

 The cost to stay with a member is $15 single and $20 double per night in North America. Overseas hosts may charge $10 per night more.

If you are over 50 and looking to travel only in North America, the Evergreen Club ( may be for you. It operates on similar principles, joining willing hosts and guests who pay a small fee for bed and breakfast in someone's home. The rate is $15 single, $20 double. Membership costs $75 a year, and members are expected to be both hosts and guests.
Evergreen has 2000 hosts in the United States and Canada.

For both clubs, members must arrange their own lodging by contacting fellow members-- the organisations do not match them up.

This sounds like a great way to meet people and save money on lodging at the same time. And I like the fact that, unlike competitor AirBnB (,) these groups are non-commercial, so there is no concern about local laws or tax regulations for hosts.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Air Canada Flash Sale to the Sun

Today only, save 20 per cent on Air Canada's low Tango fares to  the sun destinations of Florida, Hawaii and Las Vegas. Travel from now to the end of June or in September with the promotion code SUN24H.

You must book by midnight tonight Eastern time at The sale does not apply to codeshare flights.

Appina Travel Offers Low-Cost Tours in Europe

A German tour company called Appina Travel ( has an interesting assortment of tours in Europe, and some seem to be quite reasonable. I found a seven night tour from Berlin of sights connected with the life of the great reformer Martin Luther in Eastern Germany. It included middle class hotels, breakfast and dinner each day and a number of sightseeing tours. The cost for a single room was just $912, and for those sharing a room the price was even lower.

The Martin Luther tours were a feature of travel in East Germany in the days of the DDR, and although I'm not a Lutheran they always sounded appealing--for one thing, they get you out into smaller cities such as Eisleben and Wittenberg. And any tour that provides single rooms in decent hotels and most meals for not much more than $100 per day gets my vote.

The Appina Website is somewhat clunky, and I couldn't find prices for other tours, which mainly cover Central Europe and Italy. For example, one that sounded somewhat unusual was a 10-day voyage from Berlin to Vienna with stops at Warsaw, Krakow and Bratislava. It may be that these tours are aimed at travel agents rather than individuals, but if they are of interest, ask your travel agent about them.

The Website is bilingual, suggesting that the tours are offered in both German and English. Taking a tour in a language other than your native one can be a good way to practice a foreign tongue, provided you know at least the basics. I have taken both a Nile cruise and a day trip by bus in French, and another day trip in German. I didn't understand everything, but it was fun travelling with tourists who were not English-speaking, and it certainly forced me to use the language..

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Transitions Abroad for Inspiration

This time of year it's good to start thinking about future travel, especially if you live in a place where the weather is snowy and cold. An excellent source of inspiring articles for just about any aspect of travel is the online publication

TA is a portal for learning about things like budget travel, long-term travel, studying abroad, volunteering abroad, working abroad, language and cultural immersion and similar non-traditional ways of seeing the world. You won't find much coverage of traditional cruises or group tours--the emphasis is mostly on ways to combine travel with education.

There is a search function where you can put in the name of a country and see their recent articles about it. I find it a great way to get re-energised about travel, and a source of new ideas on places to go and things to do. For example, an article offers information on how you can volunteer to help animals abroad. Generally the articles are thoughtful, not promotional the way so many travel stories tend to be.

Full disclosure--I have written for Transitions Abroad, when they had a print publication. If you happen to be an aspiring travel writer this could be a good market.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Warm Showers for Cyclists

If two wheels is your preferred mode of transportation, there is a hospitality exchange just for you. It is called Warm Showers ( and it operates worldwide, with 73,865 active members and 27,188 active hosts at the moment.

Similar to Couchsurfing (,) it offers free accommodation to travellers who arrive on bicycles. The lodging can vary from a separate room or cottage to a couch in somebody's living room, to just a safe place to pitch a tent. You need to establish exactly what is being offered before you book. Since cyclists often need to repair their means of transportation, listings include the distance from each host's home to the nearest bicycle shop.

I've always admired people like the Irish writer Dervla Murphy who travel in foreign countries by bicycle. It certainly is an inexpensive way to go, and taking advantage of free lodging too would make it a huge bargain, possibly cheaper than staying home.

As with all aspects of the sharing economy, it pays to check reviews carefully before you travel.