Friday, October 31, 2014

Foreign Phrases to Save Money

EuroCheapo ( has a story about phrases that can save you money while travelling in France. It is true that knowing even a smattering of the local language can make a big difference in your comfort level while travelling, and can sometimes result in savings.

I won't attempt to better their list of French phrases, particularly because it's been a while since I travelled in France. French is widely spoken where I live too, but this is North America and so you can generally get by with English in a pinch. That might not be the case in what is sometimes called "le Quebec profond," but it applies in Montreal and, to a lesser extent, in Quebec City.

Phrases that I have found useful in German include "Wieviel kostet dass?"--how much is it? and
"Dass is zu teuer."--that is too expensive. Since German-speaking countries are not places where bargaining is common, the latter phrase may only get you a lower price in a flea market or similar establishment.

Look for items that are "kostenlos" or free, and be on the prowl for the word "billig" or cheap. I once found an inexpensive cafeteria called a Billigteria near the Stefansdom in Vienna. In German restaurants, you may be charged for each piece of bread.  On the bright side, your hotel cost will probably include a large and tasty breakfast buffet.

In Italy, say "quanto costa?" to ask the price of something. "E molto caro" indicates that you find the price high. Italian restaurants often have a charge called "pane e coperto" for bread and water. Order "vino di tavola" for table wine, "rosso" for red or "bianco" for white. Beer is "birra," while "acqua di tavola" will procure tap water. Don't expect much in the way of breakfast at an Italian hotel. If it costs extra, it could be worthwhile to seek out a nearby cafe instead.

In Russia, say "stolko sto-it?" to ask a price, and "Eta ochin doroga" to indicate it is too much. Bargaining is possible in Russia, especially at the outdoor markets found near many Metro stations. "Pivo" will procure a beer, while "vina" with the accent on the last syllable is the word for wine, "krasnava" (with the accent on the first syllable) for red and "byelava," also with an accented first syllable, for white. "Voda" should procure water, not to be confused with "vodka." If you order vodka in Russia, you may be asked which variety you like, since there are many.

 Of course, all these foreign phrases work best if you can actually understand the answers to questions such as "How much is it?" That means learning your numbers, and practicing listening to native speakers of the language. Listening skills are the part of language learning that I have always found most difficult.

It may not save you money, but if you often find that people ask you for directions, it is worthwhile learning the words for "I don't know" or "I am a tourist" or your particular nationality in the local language. In Russia, "Ne znay you" or "I don't know" said with a shrug covers a lot of situations. The same in French is "Je ne say pa," in German "Ich vice es nicht," and in Italian "No lo so."

If you don't know how to say even this, as I didn't in Sweden and Finland when asked how to get somewhere, an apologetic shrug and "English" may have to serve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cheap Fares to Europe

Air Canada ( is offering some unusually low prices on fares to Europe this fall and winter, provided you book by November 3 at the latest.

The lowest is for a return ticket from Montreal to Dublin, at $678. Montreal to Paris goes for $768. or Montreal to Milan for $776. Even Montreal to Copenhagen is low-priced, starting at $793 return. Prices from other gateways such as Toronto or Halifax are similarly low. Travel can take place between November 5 and December 10, or between December 24 and May 6.

The prices quoted are round-trip, including taxes and fees, and the charges are in Canadian dollars. This means that it may be worthwhile even for Americans who live near the border to drive to a Canadian airport, since the Canadian dollar is now worth about 10 per cent less than a U.S. dollar. This would be a reversal of the usual trend, where Canadians often cross the border to get cheaper flights in the U.S.

On a less happy note, I was recently unpleasantly surprised when I went to use a travel credit for a flight I had booked with United Airlines (  through Travelocity ( In order to use the credit, I had to pay a $200 U.S. change fee upfront, which is actually more than the cost of the ticket I bought. There is still considerable remaining credit, but this is an extremely annoying practice.

I have read for years that United is not a customer-friendly airline, but up to now I have never had any reason to believe it. All my experiences with United had been good. According to the representative at Travelocity, many other airlines allow you to deduct the cost of the change fee from the credit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sex in Exchange for Travel

According to an article in, a young woman who appears to be Oriental is seeking  temporary "boyfriends" to fund her travels around China. She has apparently already been able to find some in certain parts of the country.

Not just any sugar daddy will qualify. The applicants must be at least 1.75 metres tall, under 30 years old, affluent and generous. The girl describes herself as pretty, and from the picture seem to be quite thin --her face is obscured.

This gives a whole new meaning to the idea of budger travel. It is of course nothing new--women and men have been exchanging sex for various benefits from time immemorial. Even famed British travel writer Lesley Blanch admitted in one of her books to taking a ticket for a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from an admirer, and I suspect there are many other people who have done similar things.

Some critics claim that journalists who accept press trips (or bloggers who accept partnerships and sponsorships) are prostituting themselves, but it is usually not so blatant. As a journalist who has taken press trips, I believe they have a point. However, with the cost of travel being what it is, this is often the only way for journalists (and even more for bloggers, who tend to be unpaid) to make ends meet.

The girl who wants to travel around China has apparently generated a lot of comment in that country. It's just my opinion, but I think she is taking too many of chances. Better to wait until she is a little older and can afford to pay her own way. I'm all in favour of saving money on travel, but not at any cost.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Moscow Lodging Bargains

I never thought I would be able to write the above headline, but it is true. Hotels and apartments in Moscow are cheaper this winter than I have ever seen them, at least in this millenium. In many cases they are cheaper than hotels in North America or Western Europe, quite a turnaround from 2007 when Moscow was one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit.

If you are seeking an apartment for a short stay, Trip Advisor ( has a number of listings for under $150 per night. A one-bedroom, one-bath place within walking distance of Red Square called the Kremlin Suite Apartment goes for $128 per night. A two-bedroom, one-bath place called the Rezident Hotel Timirzskaya can be rented for as little as $106 a night. Unfortunately, the description is in Russian only, though the agent supposedly speaks English.

Willing to share an apartment with the owner to save money? Then a listing near Tverskaya Street in central Moscow may be of interest. A bedroom that can sleep two goes for $57 per night, and the place gets a good review written in Italian.  One thing about the reviews on Trip Advisor, you get to practice different languages.

Some hotels are also amazingly inexpensive. I checked random dates in early November and found that a room at the five-star Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya costs as little as $108 Canadian, just under $100 U.S. This hotel is next to the Garden Ring and is one of the famous Seven Sisters, the Stalinist Gothic buildings that stand out in Moscow. The interior, however, is totally modern.

Even cheaper are the Courtyard by Marriott Moscow City Centre at $69 Cdn., about $60 U.S., and the Vega Hotel near the Izmailovo Park and market at the same price. The Vega is one of a group of hotels in this area, all built for the 1980 Olympics. I stayed in the Alfa a few years ago and enjoyed the retro vibe--the rate then was about $100 U.S. per night.

This is also a good time if you want to splash out on a beautiful, amazingly well-located hotel like the historic Metropol, right on Red Square. The rate is about $210 U.S., considerably lower than normal.

The ruble has dropped by about a third in the past three years, which means prices for food, meals and tours are also likely to be cheaper. The drop in the currency's value is attributed to falling oil prices, sanctions, and the unpopularity among foreigners of the Russian government.

Pictured above is a building whose colour I liked--it's right next to Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Budget Airlines

One of the problems with budget airlines is that they have even more fees than the legacy carriers, and the fees can quickly add up to make a fare a lot less affordable. At least one of these airlines, Peach ( which operates out of Osaka, Japan, has an answer to these costs with its Happy Peach plus fare. This higher fare covers the cost of one checked bag in addition to a carry-on, seat selection and unlimited free changes of travel date and time. Peach serves a number of destinations in Japan, as well as others in Asia--South Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Closer to home, Allegiant Air ( has some unusually low fares on its routes to Florida, provided you book by October 27. For instance, you can fly between Tampa-St. Petersburg and Asheville, NC for as little as $40. Tampa to Belleville, IL goes for $55, the Hudson Valley can cost as little as $58. For a flight from Plattsburgh, NY near the Canadian border to Tampa the lowest fare is $67, and from Niagara Falls, NY near Toronto the tariff to Tampa starts at $77.

These prices are based on paying by debit card and booking online. Paying by credit or booking over the phone will set you back a little more. One of the good effects of the recent drop in oil prices should be lower air fares, or at least no big increases.

It's not related to travel (although Ottawa is an interesting place to visit,) but I feel compelled to remark on the very sad events that transpired in that city yesterday. I worked as a reporter on Parliament Hill, and used to enter the building through the stairs in Centre Block and walk along the corridor that became a shooting gallery. The Hill had a friendly, collegial atmosphere that is bound to suffer in light of tougher security measures.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Adventurous Miriam

That is the name of a Website ( managed by a young Danish woman who loves to travel, and shares some useful advice on how to do so inexpensively. She travels mostly with her husband, and the majority of her tours seem to be to Latin America or Asia.

Miriam has some good recommendations on how to travel at moderate cost in Costa Rica, which she says is the most expensive country in Central America. First of all, go off-season, in the period May to November when it rains a lot and prices are lower. Take local buses whenever possible--a local bus from the capital San Jose to the Monteverde Cloud Forest cost just $5, compared with $50 for the same trip by minibus. The local water is perfectly safe to drink, so save on bottled water.

Buy beer at the supermarket rather than in bars, and make your own meals or eat at modest local restaurants, places such as the local chain called Soda where meals go for $3 to $6. It is a long time since I was in Costa Rica, so I'm afraid I can't offer any further useful tips. My favourite tour when I was there was to the Poas Volcano.

Miriam also offers tips on how to travel in the Phillipines cheaply, $1155 per person for two weeks visiting several different islands. Boracay is considerably more costly than most of the other islands, she says.

If you subscribe to the email alerts supplied by Travelocity ( you can discover some amazing deals. For example, a round-trip between Chicago and Kansas City for just $81 on American Airlines (,) provided you travel on Nov. 12 and return on Nov. 15.

However, you should be aware that in a post on one of the forums on Flyer Talk (,) a woman writes of being on an American domestic flight where another woman was forced to spend the entire trip in the washroom because she had the bad luck to vomit. (This report is unconfirmed.) Ebola over-reaction, perhaps?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Rail Journeys for Less

If you happen to be a fan of rail travel (and who isn't?) you have probably got an iconic rail trip of two on your wish list. Whether it is the Orient Express in Europe, the trans-Siberian across Russia, or the scenically gorgeous trip through the Canadian Rockies, there is a good chance that you can make the trip at moderate cost.

There is a very useful article in Britain's Telegraph about less expensive ways to do 10 of these journeys in different parts of the world. The link is

For example, if you yearn for Czarist-era luxury, there is a train that will take you across Russia or through Mongolia to China for close to $16,000 per person. It is called the Golden Eagle Luxury Train ( Or you can do basically the same trip on a regular trans-Siberian or trans-Mongolian train operated by Russian Railways for about one-twentieth of that price. Of course, it isn't so fancy, and you will be sharing a four-berth cabin with strangers. However, by opting for the latter, you will get to meet a lot of ordinary Russians, who are scarce to non-existant on the pricier rolling stock.

Similarly, the trip through the Canadian Rockies costs about $123 if you book a seat on Via Rail (,) compared with almost 10 times that much for the Rocky Mountaineer ( The Via train runs between Jasper, Alberta and Vancouver, whereas the Mountaineer operates between Banff. Alberta and Vancouver.

These are just two of the train trips mentioned in the article. In general, the journeys by rail section of this newspaper looks to be a very good source for up-to-date information on this type of traditional travel, which must be a favourite for Brits, or at least for those Brits who read the Telegraph.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Argentina Cheap Again

According to a post on Tim Leffel's blog,, because of its economic crisis Argentina is once more a good deal for budget travellers. The way things are going this week, world markets are in crisis in Europe and North America, so perhaps there will soon be more places where travel is cheap.

In Argentina a secondary market has developed for the peso, with an exchange rate almost double the official rate of 8 pesos to the dollar. The only way to take advantage of this discrepancy is to exchange cash (new U.S. dollars preferably) for pesos, which will nearly double the buying power of your money. The unofficial rate is called the blue rate.

Argentina is a terrific place to visit, with many natural wonders and for those who enjoy tango and nightlife, the buzz of Buenos Aires. I found Buenos Aires too crowded and noisy for my taste, but even there the people were friendly and courteous. I felt welcome despite my very poor Spanish.

That was back in 2001 when the peso was worth $1 U.S., so prices were relatively high and I only stayed for 10 days, taking day trips in Buenos Aires and an excursion by plane to the amazing Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Argentina is so large and diverse that I would happily return to see parts of the country I did not visit then, and it sounds as if this could be a good time to do so.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crimea Chronicles

For anyone curious about how Crimea has changed since the Russian take-over in the spring, a blog that includes extensive information on a recent trip to Crimea suggests that much remains the same. This is not the writer's opinion, but it appears from the post that in general life goes on as usual for locals and summer tourists alike.

Check the site for an account on an 18-day trip a young woman took to the fabled peninsula this past summer. There are a lot of gorgeous pictures, but there is woefully little information on costs. However, the writer promises to provide details on practical matters to anyone who emails her, and she herself is a budget traveller.

She seems to have spent a lot of time in a small cabin in the woods that lacked private facilities, and  is upfront about the inadequacy of many toilets in this region of the world. However, the beauty of the scenery and the climate and history go a long ways to make up for Crimea's shortcomings. She was particularly impressed with Taigan Safari Park, where you can get up close and personal with young lions and tigers (and pretend you are a certain Russian politician.)

The writer is a Russo-American, so she had no difficulty with language or visas. I wonder how easy it would be for a typical non-Russian speaker to travel through more remote parts of Crimea, especially now.

For my report of travels in Crimea, scroll back to the fall of 2010, when I spent a few days there as part of a Viking River Cruise (

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Free University Tuition in Germany

If you are considering study abroad, or know someone who is, think about studying in Germany. German universities are tuition-free, not just for Germans but for everybody. Yes, that is correct. The cost of getting your degree in Germany is zero.

You too can study at the same places where luminaries such as Goethe, Max Planck and Albert Einstein cracked the books, and all for free. Of course, you will need to pass an exam first to demonstrate that you have a working knowledge of the language. And while tuition is free, the cost of living in Germany can be fairly high depending on the place you choose.

For Americans, who often go into tens of thousands of dollars debt in order to acquire an undergraduate degree, this sounds like an idea worth exploring. The same is true to a lesser extent for Canadians, and quite possibly for citizens of other countries.

There is a post on about the differences between German and American universities, which are considerable. At a German university you are expected to determine your major before you start, and there is little or no hand-holding if you get into trouble. Nor are there fancy dorms, nice gyms or other amenities common in North America. Students mostly live with their families or share off-campus housing.

I have not found a good source for information foreign students need to access this opportunity. I suggest contacting the nearest German embassy or consulate, or Goethe Institut to brush up on your vocabulary. For the right student, this sounds like a tremendous chance to study abroad at minimal cost and acquire fluency in a second language at the same time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Budget Leaf-Peeping

Today is the start of the long Thanksgiving weekend in Canada (Columbus Day weekend in the U.S.) and close to the peak of leaf colour in southern Quebec and northern New England. While there are a lot of people crowding into the mountains and along the seashore to view the spectacular annual display, it is possible to enjoy it without spending a lot of money.

For the best rates on hotels, travel during the week if you can. Seek out lesser-known places to stay, such as monasteries or smaller hotels and motels. I recently learned from an ad in my local newspaper of a monastery guest house on the Maine coast, at Kennebunk Beach. Rooms with private bath and breakfast start at $69 a night during the week at the Franciscan Guest House Hotel ( Kennebunk Beach is right beside Kennebunkport, summer home of the Bush family.

Another good place to enjoy the fall foliage is along the shore of Lake Champlain, the large body of water which connects Quebec to New York state and Vermont. In Plattsburgh, NY you can stay at the Best Value Inn for only $120 Canadian cash for two nights. You don't even have to be Canadian, and by paying in Canuck bucks you save about 10 per cent now. Across the water in Burlington, VT you can stay at the Smart Suites for as low as $92.95 U.S. for an efficiency.

Both Plattsburgh and Burlington are charming towns, but Burlington is larger and boasts such attractions as the Church Street mall, a pedestrian shopping right area downtown that has a view of the lake and a lot of independent shops.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Lower-Priced River Cruises

 River cruises are a delightful way to travel but unfortunately most of them tend to be quite expensive. However, if you live in the United Kingdom or are willing to depart from there, a couple of lines offer somewhat lower prices on sailings.

Shearings ( has a number of cruise sailings as well as other holidays, and some seem quite reasonably-priced considering that the cost includes transport from the U.K. For example, a nine day autumn colours cruise on the Rhine costs about $1760 for two people, and a tour of the Christmas markets in Belgium and Holland comes in at $1670 for two. Prices vary depending on date of departure.

Another possibility is the River Cruise Line (,) though costs seem higher here. One cruise that looks especially attractive to me is 17 days on the Danube, travelling all the way to the Black Sea. The price, including transportation from London, is about $3200 per person.

River cruises commonly are pretty much all-inclusive, with extensive touring, wine and sometimes other drinks, sometimes tips. The lower-cost cruises may not include quite so much, but if you prefer to get around on your own or if you don't drink alcohol, this may not be a problem.

If you happen to be driving in the U.K., there is a free service known as Frixo ( that can save you time and gas money by providing information on current road and traffic conditions. In this very densely populated country, traffic jams are a common reality and it is good to be forewarned. Frixo covers motorways and other major highways in England, part of Wales and southern Scotland.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Moscow on the Cheap

If you are interested in Russia, you have no doubt heard stories about how expensive Moscow is. The Russian capital recently was known as the world city with the most billionaires, and it doesn't take long in the city centre to realise that the rich are indeed numerous. Luxury cars, designer boutiques and fashionable people are everywhere.

But in fact most Muscovites are not rich, and they manage to enjoy their city's attractions without spending much money. An article in the Los Angeles Times from 2010 tells how the writer, a Russian expat, spent three weeks in the city on an entertainment budget of less than $20 per day.

He took the Metro everywhere and spent a lot of time in the city's public gardens and parks, so I suspect the trip must have been in summer. He managed to find inexpensive places to eat in these locations, and a theatre ticket for $15. He was especially fond of the Patriarshy Pond near the Mayakovsky Metro station, named for a Stalin-era poet.

At Winzovod, a huge art complex behind the Kursky Metro station, he wandered through the galleries and enjoyed the music for free. He bought inexpensive gifts at farmer's markets, and with friends visited a place where you are guaranteed to catch a fish. He visited a lot of churches.

Of course, he had advantages over the average tourist. Russian is his native language and he is used to the Metro and the geography of the city. To read the whole story, go to

I used to recommend a Website called, but when I tried to access it today I was unable to do so. I knew the site's founder had moved out of the city, but it still contained a lot of useful listings and information, so I hope it will re-appear. For more information on ways to save in the Russian capital, please consult my small e-book, "Budget Travel Tips for Russia."

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Interesting, Inexpensive Home Hospitality

I recently checked the offerings of home hospitality exchanges available with Friendship Force ( There are a number that sound interesting, and many are reasonably priced.

A week staying with hosts in their home in Guzelbahce, Turkey costs just $565 starting October 30, though of course the rate does not include transportation to Turkey. Two weeks of hospitality in Santiago and La Serena, Chile is more expensive at $2536, but this rate includes air from Miami. The home hospitality normally includes most meals and some tours, and your hosts are certain to be welcoming.

If winter sports are your thing, consider a ten-day trip to Tiblisi, Georgia and nearby mountains. This exchange in January costs $999 for a home stay in the capital followed by time at a ski lodge to try skiing, snowboarding or other cold-weather pursuits. Transportation is extra.

There is also an option if you prefer the warm waters of the Caribbean. Consider a home hospitality/French immersion trip to the island of Guadeloupe in February --two weeks cost just $930 without air fare. Friendship Force has previously featured other language immersion tours, for Spanish and German. This could be a great way to combine language practice with seeing a new destination and making new friends.

These are just some of the offerings available. It is impossible to generalise much about the home hospitality you are likely to experience, since each host and residence is different. You can find yourself dealing with conditions that are quite different from those at home. Your hosts may be of modest means, middle class or quite rich. However, since Friendship Force exists to promote understanding among citizens or different lands, you can be sure they will go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

I travelled to Russia with Friendship Force in the early summer of 2011, and there are several posts from that trip if you scroll back. It was truly one of the best trips among the many I have taken.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

World Nomads

If you are looking for travel insurance, the site World Nomads ( may be of interest to you. They apparently offer travel health and other insurance for unusual destinations and long-term travel at competitive rates. I say apparently because when I tried to get a sample quote, I failed because I live in Quebec, and at present they don't offer insurance to residents of my province.

According to a note on the site, they hope to do so soon. At least they are better than the New Yorker (  which does not allow residents of Quebec to enter its cartoon caption contests and apparently has no plans to change this policy. I guess we would be treated better if we lived in Afghanistan, the Marshall Islands or some other remote place.

In any case, the World Nomads site also includes some advice on travelling safely and on a budget. One details the author's account of arriving in Nice, France without a hostel reservation and discovering that there was no place for him to stay. (Been there, done that, slept in the car.) He opted to join a group of fellow backpackers sleeping in front of the train station, and awoke to find that his pack and most of his belongings had been stolen. Luckily he had his passport and some other important documents in his pockets, and by searching the neighbourhood was able to find some of the rest of his stuff, including a Eurailpass.

He also offers advice on surviving the U.K. on a budget, surviving Amtrak and the cross-Canada rail trip, and surviving night bus trips. You will notice there is a considerable emphasis on survival in many of these posts, but then I guess insurance and survival are related topics.