Monday, April 29, 2013 for Travel Tips

The Website ( has a useful section on budget travel. It includes information on most parts of the world, and up to date information on subjects such as budget travel in Mexico or free things to do in London.
I was surprised to see the section on low cost travel in Mexico, which used to be generally a very affordable destination. However, I haven't been there since the 90s and I gather things have changed, especially in the big purpose-built resorts like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Generally in Mexico you are better off avoiding the resort areas and visiting the old colonial cities in the interior, or the country's many archeological ruins.
A section on budget travel in Europe was somewhat out of date, but it included some good ideas, such as taking a cruise to visit a number of European ports at modest cost. This would be especially good for Scandinavia, which tends to be expensive. On Baltic cruises you usually visit ports such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn and St. Petersburg, or the Norwegian fjords. Most of the big cities in Scandinavia and Russia are relatively costly, and Norway, from what I have read, is extremely expensive.
If you pick the right cruise, you can explore this area for $100 per person per day or less.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Learn Russian in Latvia

One of the hassles of studying Russian in Russia is the visa and registration system, which turns any trip to Russia into something of a nightmare. However, there is no substitute in terms of really learning a language, for studying it where it is actually spoken. There, you are forced to use the languaget to get around on a daily basis.
By studying Russian in Daugapils, a city of about 100,000 very close to the border of Belarus, you are immersed in a Russian environment but with all the advantages of being in the European Union. About 80 per cent of the residents have Russian as a first language, and it is spoken by almost every body, apparently.
The program Learn Russian in the EU ( provides language training for university students and adults hoping to use Russian for professional purposes. For adults, the courses are private, which means they give you one-on-one interaction with an instructor. This makes them somewhat more costly than some other programs, at 380 euros for 20 lessons a week. Homestays with breakfast ate offered for 90 euros a week, or cheaper hostel options are also available.
This sounds like a very interesting option, especially for adults looking for personal instruction.
In general, speaking Russian in the Baltic Republics is not a good idea, since the Russian occupiers were not popular in the Communist era. But many Russians continue to live in these and other ex-Soviet countries, and often suffer discrimination.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sequester Hits Air Travel

If you are in North America, you have probably already heard that the furloughing of some air traffic controllers in the U.S. is causing problems for air travellers. Just as warm weather is arriving and holiday travel season is not far away, travellers are facing even more hassles and delays at U.S. airports.
Allegiant Air ( recently advised people flying with them to be sure to arrive at the airport at least two hours ahead of flight time and to be prepared for delays clearing security and getting on the plane. Allegiant flies only in the U.S.--for international flights, it is good to arrive three hours ahead of departure.
Pack a lot of patience and some snacks to hold you over. There isn't a lot an individual can do about the situation (other than not travel in the U.S.) Air fares in Canada tend to be high because of high government taxes and fees, but this could be one summer when you might prefer to pay them rather than subject yourself to still more flying problems in the U.S.
Lately a number of Canadians have been crossing the border to take advantage of lower fares from airports in the northern U.S., but perhaps that flow will reverse if people get too fed up with conditions at American airports.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More on Cruise Sale Week

As mentioned in the previous post, late October can be a good time to book a cruise because it is when a number of cruise lines cut prices and add goodies to book their ships for the coming year. At least that is what happened last year, during what was billed as the World's Largest Cruise Sale, sponsored by
The latter site has been mentioned here previously as a good source for last minute and other cruise discounts, especially on luxury vessels. The goodies that the lines tend to add include reduced or sometimes free air fare, cabin upgrades and various shipboard credits.
Last year the cruise sale took place during the final full week of October, from the 21st to the 28th. Apparently there was a cruise sale day in 2011, also during October, but volume of demand was so high that they decided to expand it to a complete week.
Will the sale be held again this year? There are no guarantees, but the reductions can be so good that if you are considering a cruise for late in 2013 or any time in 2014, it would probably pay you to check with your travel agent or keep checking the Website of Vacations to Go for more information.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Cruises late in October

Last night I enjoyed dinner with some well-travelled friends  at the Cafe Cherrier ( in downtown Montreal. This pleasant French-style bistro on the corner of St. Denis and Cherrier is a favourite haunt of Parti Quebecois types and, more importantly, serves good food at moderate prices.
My friends, who were visiting from Ottawa, mentioned that the last week of October is normally when cruise lines offer special deals on the coming year's sailings. They have recently returned from a Danube River cruise between Budapest and Regensburg, and earlier this year enjoyed both a Galapagos cruise and a visit to Macchu Pichu, the ancient Inca site in Peru. By booking last October, they were able to secure big savings on both these adventures.
They promised to forward to me information on exactly how to secure these savings, and as soon as I learn more I will pass the information along.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lufthansa Lowers Fares to India

Today is the last day to take advantage of some good fares between the U.S. and India on the German carrier Lufthansa ( For as little as $1,299 you can travel round trip between Washington DC and Mumbai, India in late summer or fall.
For a little more, you can travel from other Lufthansa gateways in the U.S. to Mumbai or any of the four other Indian cities they serve (Bangalore, Chennai, Pune or Delhi.) This sounds like an amazing deal, considering that it is easy to pay this much or more to travel to destinations a lot closer than India.
Lufthansa is one of my favourite airlines, combining German efficiency with friendly service.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spring Deals

Low-cost carrier Allegiant Air has announced a number of special deals in honour of the end of tax season (at least in the U.S.) You can check them out at by inputting the name of the Allegiant airport closest to you.
Using Plattsburgh, NY as my base, I could get a one way fare to Las Vegas, NV for as little as $110, or air plus hotel deals that seem quite reasonable for short stays. For example, $119 per person per night includes roung trip air fare and three nights at the five star Trump International Hotel.
Leaving from other airports, you can get deals to Hawaii and other sun destinations.
Orbitz ( also is advertising reduced hotel prices, and some of them sound very good. For as little as $74 a night you can stay at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Washington, DC, an expensive city particularly in spring and summer. The same price will also get you a room at the Days Hotel, Hotel Circle in San Diego CA, while for $91 a night you can visit the Verdanza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A "Cheap" Visit to Dubai

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is not most people's idea of a cheap destination, but Craig Hickson of found a way to visit the playground of the super rich at moderate cost and writes about it in his blog posts of April 10 and April 14.
He found a nice apartment hotel for about $80 a night, and a lot of places to see for little or no cost. In addition, he made use of the public transit system and taxis to get around. I have not been to the Gulf, but was pleasantly surprised to read that the taxi driver used a meter and there was no hassle, unlike the case in some Arab countries I have visited.
It's good to know that if you are determined, it is usually possible to visit even pricey and exotic places without breaking the bank.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Craigslist for Travel Savings

Craigslist ( may not spring to mind quickly as a travel resource, but in fact the large free site can be very useful for travellers.
There are craigslists for most of the world's large cities, and I often consult this site when trying to find alternatives to pricey hotels. Under the housing section, the housing swap may be good if you can find someone with whom to exchange your home or apartment. It is also worth checking the sublets/temporary listings and the vacation rentals for deals on short stays. Remember, though, there are no guarantees with this site, so be sure before sending any money to verify that the lister is the person they say they are and that the property really exists.
Another section that may be useful is the rideshare section under community listings, if you want to find someone driving to your destination or are willing to drive others in exchange for company and gas money.
Craigslist has received a lot of criticism because it includes listings for sexual services, usually disguised as companionship or massage, and because a few of the people who offer or use these services have come to untimely ends. I'm not keen on this typoe of advertising myself, but most of the major newspapers now also include similar ads. I suspect what people mostly don't like about Craigslist is the fact that it is free for most categories of ads.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hotel Deals in Munich

Visitors to Munich can check out the site for extensive information on places to stay and savings, according to the site, of up to 75 per cent.
You can search for lodging by number of stars or by proximity to points of interest. However, be prepared for the fact that prices are likely to be higher than in the German capital, Berlin. Munich is one of the country's business hubs and is generally more prosperous than its northern rival, which for more than 40 years was stuck inside the Communist German Democratic Republic.
The Bavarian city has a lot to offer, and the short stay Website provides rundowns on many of its points of interest. Every fall beer lovers from all over the world crowd into Munich for Oktoberfest, and a party atmosphere prevails at other times of year too.
There are many famous museums in Munich, and the Nymphenberg Palace, former home of the kings of Bavaria including Ludwig II, known to some as Mad King Ludwig. He was the builder of the lovely medieval-themed Neuschwanstein a couple of hours south of Munich, model for Disney's fantasy castle, and also a patron of the noted composer Richard Wagner.
I checked a couple of hotel prices for a date later this month and was able to find a single with shared bath at the Alfa Economy Hotel near the Hauptbahnhof for $51, or a double, also with shared bath, at the Bed and Breakfast Zeewal farther our of the center for $65.
My last trip to Munich in 2010 was very short, just a couple of hours in fact while I was waiting for a flight. I stowed my carry on bag at the airport for a couple of euros, then got a round trip ticket on the airport bus for 18 euros. My brief visit enabled me to see a little of the city at least, and to marvel at a new sports stadium which resembles a pleated leather white Chanel purse, minus the hardware.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

European Tours under $1000

Bus tours tend to have a bad reputation as being just for unsophisticated travellers, usually those of middle age or above. However, they can sometimes offer very good value and in my opinion, seeing a place under almost any conditions is better than not seeing it.
Cosmos Tours offers many tours of varying duration around the world, and by booking through the site you can take a number of their European tours this summer for less than $1000. Most of the tours at this price last eight days, but there is a 13-day tour of Turkey including Cappadocia that sounds especially appealing. A visit to Vienna, Prague and Budapest is also attractive, because these cities are all quite close together and you wouldn't lose much time travelling on your eight day tour.
Prices include accommodation, breakfasts and usually some dinners. There are single supplements, but at least for the Turkey trip the supplement appeared to be reasonable, giving you a total cost of around $100 per day. You could probably better this cost on your own by staying in hostels or cheaper hotels, but it would take a lot more work to arrange the transportation, tours and lodging.
I haven't been to Turkey for a long time, but it struck me as a fairly difficult country for single female visitors, so I would be tempted by a tour on a future visit.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Kiev among European Bargain Cities

According to the Website, Kiev is one of Europe's 10 best bargain cities. Apparently Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, is undervalued by as much as 50 per cent compared with the U.S. dollar, which means good deals for foreigners.
I visited Kiev in the summer of 2010 (the above picture of St. Sophia's Cathedral is from that trip,) and even then it was relatively cheap by standards of most large cities in Western Europe and in Russia. I paid around $70 a night for a room with enormous breakfast at the Rossiya Hotel, and food and public transit fares were reasonable.
Best of all, Kiev has yet to be discovered by hordes of tourists, so you can see its many attractions without being besieged by fellow travellers. The language can be a problem unless you speak Russian, but I found some English speakers and many people who tried to be helpful. Admission costs to attractions, which means mainly churches like the above which is now a museum, are modest by standards of Western cities. Kiev is a pleasant place to walk around, but be warned that it is built on hills.
If you happen to be interested, as I am, in the events surrounding the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, I am reading a very good book on the subject, Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish writer. He was favourably impressed by Ukraine's chances of building prosperity and democracy at that time. It hasn't worked out as well as he hoped, but the country and its capital are still well worth a visit.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Fast Food for Travel

Many people tend to avoid fast food for reasons of health or just plain snobbery. I am usually among them for health reasons, but not always when I travel. Sometimes there is little or no choice, for example at rest stops along the 401 in Ontario or the New York Thruway.
However, fast food can also be a good choice abroad. The very things that make it unhealthy as a steady diet (high fat and sugar content of many items, for instance) are, I believe, okay when you are travelling and need a lot of quick energy for sight-seeing and getting around. The fact that fast food places abroad often have the only clean restrooms around are another big point in their favour.
I find fast food especially comforting where my grasp of the local language is minimal. When I arrived in Buenos Aires or a Sunday afternoon after a long flight, I headed to a food court near my hotel where by the use of [ointing and sign language I was able to get a filling meal. At that time I was too tired to attempt dealing with a restaurant menu in Spanish. And in Russia and Ukraine I found myself in fast food places quite often.
It is true that fast food restaurants are among the factors that have increased homogenization of the world, one of the reasons that it is sometimes hard to tell one city from another. Trying some of the local food is one of the joys of travel. But fast food can be comforting sometimes when you are in a very foreign environment.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Expert Beacon for Travel Ideas

The site Expert Beacon ( is a good source for ideas on interesting places to travel and how to save once you are there. Travel is just one of the areas it covers, so there may be other articles of interest also.
Full disclosure--I just wrote an article on the dos and dont's of educational travel for the site--the link is If you are a faithful reader of this blog most of the tips will be familiar to you, but it's a good summary. Also check out the article on visiting Luxor, Egypt like a local (and saving big by staying on the west bank of the Nile with the locals, not in the big tourist hotels,) and, if you are in the market, the one on destination weddings.
The Web is crowded with travel blogs and publications, but this site seems to be a good source for relatively unbiased information.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Electronic Visas

It had to happen sooner or later, and it appears that the time has come for electronic visas. I was looking into a trip to one of the countries in the Caucuses region, and found that they and a number of other countries have outsourced their visa processing to a company called Travisa (
Sounds like a great idea in theory, but I understand there can be a lot of glitches in the actual execution. One problem is that the Website seems to require you to reside in the same country that issues your passport, and that makes it tough if you are an expat.
Apparently there can be a lot of other hassles in the online application, but I am not likely to find out right now because I decided that because of other pressing issues (mainly tax returns due soon,)
I don't have the time right now to find out what they are. Unfortunately, the trip I was considering will not be happening.
On the bright side, if you want to travel one-way from Montreal to Baku, Azerbaijan on May 22, the price on Qatar Airways ( has fallen by more than $50 in the last week or so, to $901 on Expedia (

Monday, April 01, 2013

Qatar Airways

I'm considering booking my first ever flight on Qatar Airways, which recently introduced nonstop service from Montreal to Qatar. Since Montreal has few long distance nonstop flights, this is a big plus for us.
My proposed destination is one of the republics in the Caucuses, and the routing via Doha is by far the cheapest, about 50 per cent of the next lowest fare. Also, I've never been to the Persian Gulf states, so that could be interesting. Unfortunately my layover will be all night, so I am unlikely to be able to leave the airport.
In fact, I may spring for airport lounge access, since the transit time is pretty daunting. The online reviews I've read of Qatar Airways are generally favourable, some very favourable. I know Qatar is one of the world's richest countries, so I expect airport shopping in Doha is pretty upscale.
If you are familiar with this airline or with Qatar, I'd appreciate knowing about them.