Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Expat Option

With the economies in North America and Europe mired in seemingly permanent low growth or recessionary environments, some people are looking at leaving these high-cost areas of the world behind for a year or more or even permanently.
If you are among that number, check out the blog post by Tim Leffel on the cheapest places in the world to live at He talks about a number of countries where costs are between one-third and one-tenth as high as they are for various items in his reference country, the United States. His choices are centred mainly in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, and some of them sound pretty appealing. For example, he posts a picture of a modern kitchen in a two bedroom, two bath apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador. It rents for only $500 per month, about one-quarter to one-fifth or what a similar apartment would cost where I live.
For people with savings or guaranteed income from pensions or investments, tough times can be times of opportunity if they are willing to think outside the box. An international move can open up new vistas and provide low-cost opportunities for extensive travel.
I have lived overseas for extended periods twice, both times in connection with studies in Western Europe. The first time was in Bologna, Italy, and during that year I was able to travel throughout most of Western Europe on school and summer holidays and still graduate on time and with honours. During a shorter stay in Dublin, Ireland, I tacked on visits to France, a safari in Kenya and a Mediterranean cruise, by cashing in some retirement savings, a move I have never regretted.
Anyone considering becoming an expatriate needs to do some research, preferably on site. This can be costly, but it's a lot better than moving somewhere sight unseen and then deciding you don't like it.
Blogs written by other expats are a good source of information, and by connecting with bloggers online you may have some ready made friends when you decide to explore your possible new home.
For instance, the site lists a number of blogs written by foreigners living in Russia, my dream expat destination. Working in Moscow as a journalist is among the things I would really like to do--I'd also work as an English teacher under the right conditions.
But enough about me. Stop just dreaming about the expat lifestyle--if you are tempted, give it a whirl. If it doesn't work out, you can always go home enriched by your adventures abroad.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Inexpensive Getaways by Bus

If time and/or money for overseas or long distance travel are in short supply (a situation that is pretty common in our current economy,) consider the benefits of an inexpensive chartered bus excursion to lift your spirits. These trips, which usually last one to four days, are available leaving from most major cities and the cost is usually very modest.
Often you can take a bus trip for less than the cost of gasoline if you drive your own car, and you have the opportunity to meet new people. Most of them will be over 50, but if you are younger than that they will probably be very friendly. You also escape the stress of driving yourself.
From Montreal where I live, there are bus excursions most weekends and often even on weekdays. Many of them are to visit casinos or shopping malls, but you are not forced either to gamble or to shop. As long as you find out when the bus is leaving you can take off on your own for sightseeing, dining, or other excrusions.
For example, for just $25 you can enjoy fall foliage in the Laurentians and visit Mont Tremblant village and its casino. There's plenty to do in Mont Tremblant besides play the slots, with interesting boutiques, many good restaurants, hiking trails and chairlifts that operate even out of ski season. This trip also includes a free lunch at the casino. (Who said there is no such thing as a free lunch?)
For similar rates or a little more, you can enjoy a trip to a foreign country and a foreign cultuer, by visiting the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in northern New York. I haven't been to that casino, but I have often driven through the Mohawk reserve there and found it interesting. The same company that runs these trips also offers frequent shopping trips to Plattsburgh NY and Burlington VT, as well as some farther away such as Lake George NY. The number to call is 514 979-6277, and the operator is a nice woman named Claire.
I'm not usually a big fan of casinos, but a few years ago I did enjoy a visit to the Lac Leamy Casino north of Ottawa on one of these trips. I didn't spend much time in the casino, but persuaded an old friend who lives in Ottawa to come have a drink with me in the bar of the elegant hotel attached to the gambling place. That trip, as I recall, was run by another company, DMC Travel, whose phone number is 514 794-7884. I don't see any single day trips in their latest ad, but there are several two day or longer trips.
These short bus trips tend to be advertised in small neighbourhood newspapers rather than online. If you can't find any in your area, check with local clubs and places of worship which sometimes have similar excursions. And if there aren't any to your liking, this might be a good business opportunity with minimum investment.
The aging population in much of the world means that fewer people will be driving their own cars, but a lot of them will still want to travel at low cost. And from what I have read, many younger people too are eschweing car ownership and could be a new market for bus travel.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Southern Volga Cruises

One of the more pleasant ways to travel around Russia and the former Soviet Union is on river cruises. However, most of the cruises easily available to foreigners concentrate on a single area between St. Petersburg and Moscow, travelling along the upper Volga, part of the Golden Ring and Lake Ladoga. I suspect this must be a lovely trip, but if you want to venture farther afield a U.K.-based company called Just Go Russia ( also offers reasonably-priced cruises on the part of the mighty Volga between Moscow and Rostov on Don.
These are longer trips, lasting 19 or 20 days with prices starting as low as 1595 pounds, or about $2560 U.S. or about $125 per day. The single supplement on these cruises is also relatively low, at 495 pounds or about $790. These rates are moderate given that they cover all meals, many sightseeing tours and some on-board entertainment of the milder type--language lessons and dancing, lectures, etc.
Stops along the route include Volgagrad, known during World War II as Stalingrad, site of the battle that is regarded as a turning point in that war; Astrakan, a famed trading city and also the name given to a type of fur; Kazan, capital of the autonomous republic of Tatarstan and home to the historic enemies of the Russians; Yaroslavl and Uglich, ancient Russian cities that form part of the Golden Ring around Moscow.
The port on this voyage that intrigues me the most is Ulyanovsk, named for V.I. Ulyanov aka Lenin. From what I have read this town formerly known as Simbirsk is fairly sleepy now that Lenin worship is no longer the unofficial religion of Russia. However, it would be very interesting to see the home where Lenin grew up in a family of obscure minor aristocrats and formed his ideas, character and ascetic habits of life.
The Just Go Russia site also provides the more usual tours in this part of the world, such as Moscow and Petersburg, the Trans-Siberian train, cruises on the Dnieper River and  the Black Sea. But so far this is the only site I have found in English with cruises on the lower part of the Volga. I'm hoping I can make one of them next summer.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Money Matters

Being stuck overseas without easy access to money is not a pleasant prospect, but sometimes it happens. Experienced traveller Linda Brown writes in a recent blog post at about being in Australia when one of her bank cards started to be refused at bank macxhines. Because of the time difference and other hassles, she has had trouble reaching her U.S. bank to resolve the situation.
Luckily, she was carrying another bank card that still works. It makes sense to travel with at least two such cards, as well as plenty of emergency cash and, depending on your destination, traveller's cheques. In other parts of the world people can often use smart phones to make payments, but that technology is slow to reach North America.
In terms of cash, U.S. dollars are still the most widely accepted currency around the world. Make sure your dollars are crisp and new, though, or they may be refused abroad. If you are venturing into countries where civil unrest is possible, carry lots of recently minted $100 bills. In Europe, beleagured euros are still useful, and British pounds or Swiss francs can also be good.
As far as stashing the cash, money belts used to be handy, but with the proliferation of security check points everywhere they can be a problem, since you may be mistaken for a suicide bomber. I still tend to carry most of my cash and documents in a purse, but this may not be the smartest idea. Sewing some cash into the lining of a jacket or pants is another possibility.
If you are going overseas for an extended period, be sure to make advance arrangements with someone at home to send you money in an emergency. If all else fails, you can approach your embassy abroad for a sho9rt-term loan, but this will probably result in your being put on the next plane out. And you still have to repay the loan.