Friday, August 30, 2013

Flight Attendants Required

If you have ever dreamed of life as a flight attendant, you should check out the jobs offered by American Airlines at bit:ly/WorkWithAA, or To qualify, you need to be able to work legally in the United States and to speak one of several foreign languages fluently--French, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Italian or Korean.

This sounds like a good opportunity if you want to fly internationally. Candidates are required to spend eight and a half weeks being trained in Dallas (8 and a half--wasn't that a Fellini movie?) and then be able to move immediately to the city that will be their home base.

Flight attendant is one of the many careers I have considered. I actually applied a few years ago when Air Canada had openings--passed the premilinary interviews and language test, but no job offer. Earlier this week I ran into a woman who is a flight attendant flying between Montreal and Rome, and felt a twinge of envy--that sounds like a nice route.

The best chance to gain one of these coveted jobs probably is to be able to speak several common foreign languages fluently, and of course to have extensive customer service experience, a lot of patience and impeccable references.

Working for a large airline is one of the best way to qualify for travel perks while at the same time earning decent money.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Flights from $39

For as little as $39 one way, you can fly from Tampa-St. Petersburg airport in Florida to the Tri-Cities in Tennessee. This amazing fare is being offered by Allegiant Airlines (,) a low-cost carrier.

Fares from Tampa to Niagara Falls NY start at $68 one way, and to Plattsburgh NY at $89. These airports attract a lot of Canadians who are willing to cross the border to enjoy much lower air fares.

I have flown once with Allegiant and found the flight was fine. I did encounter some problems once on the ground in Plattsburgh, NY but they were not related to the airline.

 However, the airports Allegiant uses are not the largest ones, and it may cost more to get there. In addition, if there is any problem with a flight it may take a long time to get a replacement aircraft.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Travel Memories

What are your favourite travel memories? Why do some events and some trips stick in our minds, while others are soon forgotten? That's a question for a psychologist, I suppose. I suspect it has something to do with a positive or negative emotional charge associated with different things that have happened to us.

One thing I do know is that it has little or nothing to do with how much a trip costs. Some of my fondest travel memories are from trips where I was living on a strict budget. For instance, one summer I was able to stay in Europe for more than two months on a budget of about $500

. I had paid for my travel to and from Europe in advance, and for some of my lodging. Still, I had to economise and one of the ways I did so was by not eating much. I was the thinnest I have ever been as an adult. Losing weight wasn't my goal, but cutting back on food helped me spend a long time abroad. Of course, this happened a while ago, when $500 was still a fair amount of money.

One of my most vivid recent travel memories is of a trip I took to Berlin with an older friend who had never been there. It only lasted a week, but we made the most of the time packing in lots of museums, an opera at the Staatsoper and a concert at the Philharmonie. Still, my most vivid recollection is of the first night we were there, when we strolled along Unter den Linden enjoying the scenery and cold, crisp air.

You may find, as I have, that what you remember best has little relation to the amount of money it cost. But by building up travel memories, you will have something nice to think about if you ever reach a stage where you can no longer travel.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New York to Istanbul for $630 Return

Air France ( is offering some great fares this fall from its hubs in the U.S. The best seems to be the one between New York and Istanbul for $630 round trip, but some other fares to European destinations are also good.

For instance, Chicago to Prague goes for $982, New York to Paris for $978. You must book two weeks ahead, stay for at least 10 days, and book by September 12.

Don't ask me why it is cheaper to fly to Istanbul than to Paris, since Istanbul is about three hours longer in flying time. It all has to do with competition, or lack of it, I suppose, or perhaps just the popularity of certain destinations.

In any case, the Istanbul fare is quite tempting, and fall is a better time to visit the city on the Bosporus than summer, when the weather can be unpleasantly hot.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sail TransAtlantic for $799

You can experience the elegancee of a transAtlantic crossing with Cunard ( for as little as $799 per person, based on double occupancy in an inside cabin. The trick is that you have to book by September 1, and travel in January 2014.

Cunard is offering two for one pricing on many of its 2014 sailings in different parts of the world with the same September deadline. The line sails pretty much everywhere you might want to go--through the Panama or Suez canal, to South America, South Africa, Asia or the Mediterranean.

Cunard, now owned by Carnival, is the successor to the White Star Line of Titanic fame. It probably provides the closest you can get to a feeling of stepping back in time on board, with afternoon tea, lectures and a sense of leisure. I haven't sailed with Cunard for about a dozen years, but I would still choose them over most other cruise lines. .

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teach English in Ukraine

No teaching experience? No CELTA or TEFL certificate? No problem if you meet a few other requirements and are prepared to teach at the American English Center ( in Ukraine. To be eligible to teach there, you must be a North American with a university degree in any subject.

The school runs its own free 10-day training program before you have to face your first class. Teaching hours are mainly in the evening, in buildings that serve as elementary schools during the day, so facilities are not luxurious. Teachers are asked to sign a contract for eight or 12 months.

In addition to Kiev, the school has centres in a number of other cities in central and eastern Ukraine, so you can experience life in smaller cities.

For an account from a teacher who was there for 19 months, check out for a relatively positive account of teaching at this institution. Some other accounts on the internet are less positive.

Still, how bad could it be? An opportunity to spend time in the beautiful Ukraine, have a job and get paid for it. The Ukraine is Russia light--the same culture, the same or (in western Ukraine) a very similar language, no visa requirements for North Americans, lower prices. In addition, wonderful scenery and gorgeous churches, good food, friendly people should contribute to a pleasant experience.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ports d'Attache

If you are looking for inspiration to travel, and if you can understand some French, consider checking out the program Ports d'Attache ( You can watch at least one episode, about Lima, Peru online.

It is a series about port cities around the world, and it is not just the usual tourist television show about major attractions, hotels and restaurants. Host Heidi Hollinger, who is also a noted photographer, interviews many different types of people to uncover various aspects of a city. Hollinger is at least trilingual (English, French and Russian) and so some of the interviews are in those languages, helpful if your French is rusty.

So far I have seen only the episode about St.Petersburg, Russia, and part of one on Copenhagen, as well as part of the one about Lima. I was especially impressed with the St. Petersburg show, since Hollinger interviewed, among others, a woman who still lives in a communal apartment in the centre city, an American woman who has been running a restaurant for many years, and a local artist.

 The woman who still chose to live in the communalka had to bring her own toilet seat every time she wanted to use the bathroom, but still considered she was better off than she would have been moving to a smaller place in the distant suburbs. Fascinating. Since I have stayed on one of those small apartments far from the centre, I have some sympathy for her choice.

Hollinger is particularly knowledgeable about Russia, where she lived for many years after the fall of the Soviet Union and snagged a job as a photographer for the newspaper Pravda. Today she has returned to her home in Westmount, QC but still manages to get around a lot.

In any case, the shows are well worth watching. Below is a picture of the Russian battleship Aurora, now at permanent anchor in St. Petersburg. A shot from this ship signalled the start of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Advice for Potential Expats

International Living ( is an organization that has been providing information to expats and potential expats for a long time. They research subjects such as the cheapest places to live, work or retire abroad, and the pluses and drawbacks of each.

Their Website claims it is possible to live well in some locations overseas for as little as $1,000 per month. Unfortunately, to find out more you need to supply an email address. They do have a quiz on the site that is supposed to tell you the best destination for you, depending on your answers to a few questions.

I tried the quiz and my country turned out to be Brazil, not a place I have ever considered living, and one which I understand is fairly expensive now. In any case, it's fun to take the quiz.

I wonder why the destinations most recommended for expats usually tend to be in very warm climates--perhaps because they are cheapest? I have lived in two European countries for under a year each--Ireland and Italy, and while they are nice places the cost of living is similar to that in North America.

The country where I would most like to spend a considerable amount of time now is Russia, a place not generally on the expat hit list. I am also attracted to Finland, but the language there is even more difficult than Russian, and the cost of living is fairly high in both places. Guess I'll be staying put for the moment.
The Cathedral of the Epiphany in Siberian baroque style. It is in Irkutsk, Russia, an interesting city but not a big expat destination.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Airline News

The proposed merger between U.S. Airways ( and American Airlines ( may be blocked by a lawsuit that has been filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department claims that the merger would "substantially lessen the competition" for air travel.

As we know, less competition tends to mean higher prices, so mergers can be bad news for consumers. Two other large airline mergers have already taken place in the U.S., between United and Continental and Northwest and Delta, so even now there is a lot less competition than there used to be. And I saw recently that Southwest Airlines (,) which made its reputation as a budget carrier, is now chasing the more lucrative business class market.

The airline business is a difficult one, but from the point of view of travellers, the more airlines, the better usually.

Passengers who survived the crash of an Asiana Airlines ( plane in San Francisco recently have been offered compensation of $10,000. According to reports, accepting this money does not affect the ability of the 288 surviving passengers to file lawsuits in the hope of recovering more compensation. Many passengers suffered serious injuries in the crash of the South Korean based plane and several died.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Most and Least Expensive Destinations

According to a mid-year report by Expatulator (,) Switzerland continues to be the most expensive country in Europe for expatriates, and Zurich and Geneva are Europe's most costly cities. So it may not be just Oprah Winfrey who will want to avoid this country for a while. Norway is the second most expensive country, followed by Liechtenstein, Denmark and humble Jersey (ancestral home of your correspondent.)

Among the best bets for inexpensive living in Europe are Sofia, Bulgaria and Budapest, Hungary.

In the Middle East the country with the lowest cost of living is also one where foreigners may have the best chance of being kidnapped or blown up, Yemen. This country and its capital, Sana'a, rank lowest in this region for price. It is unfortunate that the country is so dangerous, because it is also home to some amazing architecture, tall houses built entirely out of mud brick.

 The priciest countries in the Middle East are mainly the oil states, Qatar, the Untied Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, along with Israel and Lebanon.

Tax haven islands such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Aruba are among the most expensive destinations in the Americas, and New York is the city with the highest prices. The best bet for a low-cost expat lifestyle is Managua, Nicaragua.

Tourist costs do not correlate exactly with the cost of living in a city, but they tend to be similar in terms of most and least expensive places to go.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Savings on Flights to Cancun

American Airlines ( if offering savings on flights to Cancun, the big Mexican resort, from a number of U.S. gateways. The return air fare inlcuding taxes is as lwo as $318 from Miami, $466 from New York's La Guardia airport.

To get these fares, you have to book by August 19. American also offers cut rates on weekend getaways, with varying destinations. They can be a good hoice for a quick holiday.

I have never been to Cancun, but it is located quite close to some interesting archeological sites of the Yucatan peninsula, and is noted for its beaches.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Tours Good for Singles

If you travel alone and are tired of paying high single supplements, consider the offerings of On the Go Tours ( of Britain. The company specializes in tours to exotic destinations, and its voyages offer the possiblity of avoiding an extra charge for travelling alone if you are willing to share a room with another person of the same gender.

Their tours cover a lot of territory--Asia and Central Asia, Russia, Africa, etc. They have tours on the TransSiberian train that permit some stopovers at fairly reasonable prices. On the Go Tours was named the best medium tours operator in Britain in 2012. I'm not sure what this means, but presume medium refers to price, not quality.

Some people are relucatnt to share rooms with strangers. I have done it several times, once on a safari where I shared a room with a pleasant British girl, several times on Atlantic crossings where I shared with older women, and once at a  Club Med in the Caribbean. I never had a bad experience, and found it a useful way to save money while travelling.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Political Tours

If you are looking for more than the usual organized tour and really want to learn about the destination you visit, consider the offerings of Political Tours (

Founded by Nicholas Wood, a former New York Times correspondent, these tours are all led by top experts in the country and include meetings with local experts and academics. They are not cheap, but some of the destinations are fascinating--Libya, China, North Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, South Africa, Northern Ireland.

These itineraries are not a day at the beach--they are intended for travellers with a serious interest in their destinations. I am particularly attracted by the tour to North Korea, a destination that is little known and hard to access. It is also one of the few remaining socialist societies in the world, and something of a pariah state. Only about 2,000 Westerners are admitted per year, according to Lonely Planet (

In a world that is becoming more and more homogeneous, these tours seem to offer something a little different.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Mexico Remembered

Mexico was the first really foreign country I ever visited. (I was in Ontario briefly, but it didn't seem sufficiently different from my Ohio home to count as foreign.)

I had heard about the country all my life, since my parents both liked it. My  mother had visited Mexico a couple of times before she married, and my dad made frequent business trips there. He admired the business men he met there, and became quite friendly with one industrialist, Anwar Canavati, who lived in Monterey. A Mexican of Arabic descent, Canavati was a bit of a cowboy when it came to driving, my dad said, sometimes forcing oncoming cars off the road while piloting his big Cadillac.

Canavati had been a member of Mexic's equestrian team, and loved all sports. He died as a result of injuries suffered during a polo match in Texas. His death was untimely, but it always struck me as a rather elegant way to go.  I still have some of the gifts he sent my mother and me, and I sometimes wear the sequin-decorated, Aztec motif skirt to costume parties.

My frist visit to Mexico was with my parents. It was a great introduction to the country, partly because there were photographers to meet us at the plane in Mexico City. My dad was in town with a big convention, and so we got royal treatment, including a large suite at the Maria Isabel Hotel on the Reforma. Our balcony was almost at eye level with the gold angel monument, and we ate breakfasts of delicious local fruits and breads there, along with fragrant cafe con leche.

I remember visiting Sanborn's House of Tiles, where I especially enjoyed the lime sherbert. We toured the sights including the zocalo and the massive Cathedral, the Aztec ruins at Teotihuacan, and the shrine at Guadalupe. My mother spoke of having visited the floating gardens of Xochimilco earlier, but we didn't do that on this trip, perhaps because it was no loonger possible. We also explored Chapultepec Park and the stunningly modern National Archeological Museum.

In later years I explored other parts of Mexico on my own, or on press trips. The ancient monuments were my special interest, so I travelled to the Yucatan peninsula and the region of Oaxaco. I also visited some of the wonderful colonial cities, such as San Cristobal de las Casas and San Miguel Allende. The only Mexican resort I visited was Puerto Vallarts on the west coast. Unlike my mother, I have never seen the cliff divers in Acapulco--perhaps one day. I also saw Guaymas before it became a tourist destination, and Ciudad Obregon in the northwest of Mexico.

Most of my travel in Mexico was before certain parts of the country became dangerous. I never had a bad experience, and always found the locals helpful despite my very poor Spanish. .It is a destination I would recommend highly, so long as you heed travel warnings about difficult areas.

If you are interested in reading about a time when Mexico was more dangerous than it is now, Graham Greene's book "The Lawless Roads" tells a most interesting story of his adventures there in the 1930s.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Medical Tourism

Going abroad for medical procedures is probably not anyone's idea of a good time, but for residents of countries like the United States where medical costs can be very high, it may be a money saver. According to the Website Patients Beyond Borders (www.patients beyond,) going abroad for medical care can result in savings of 30 to 70 per cent over what you would pay in the U.S.

It is even possible to find packages that combine tourism with medical procedures, such as safaris with plastic surgery (on you, not the animals.)

I have not had much experience with medical procedures abroad, though I did spend a night in a hospital in Gerona, Spain following a riding accident and received good care at a small price, but that was quite a few years ago. I know that many doctors abroad are trained in U.S., Canadian and British medical schools and hospitals, so there is no reason to believe that care abroad is inferior.

According to an article on, the top countries for those seeking medical care at cut rates are Thailand, Mexico, Singapore, India and Brazil.

One useful thing to remember if you are ill or injured abroad is that local pharmacies often dispense medications that require a doctor's prescription in North America.