Sunday, November 28, 2010

Intercity bus travel has long been a favourite of those of us who like to save money on our voyages. However, Megabus ( has taken savings to a new level, with fares as low as $1 for online booking.
Megabus operates in the eastern United States and eastern Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom, and uses double-decker buses. They have adopted the yield management system long popular with airlines.
Yield management is a system of variable pricing that often ensures that early booking means getting a lower price, and last minute booking is usually (but not always) penalized. It is common now for all types of travel, including hotels and railroads, so it is often hard to tell in advance what a trip will cost.
Megabus operates on many popular North American routes including New York to Washington and New York to Boston, as well as Toronto to Montreal. In the U.K. they serve a number of cities in England and Scotland.
I took a Megabus earlier in the year between Montreal and Toronto. A friend told me I could save a lot of money by booking online, but I chose to buy my ticket at the bus station. Big mistake. I sat across from a woman who paid $10 for a one-way fare, whereas I had paid five or six times that much. Next time I will know better.
Earlier this year one of the Megabuses was involved in a fatal accident in upstate New York when a driver mistakenly took a road where the clearance under bridges was not sufficient for a tall bus. For a time I wondered whether the company would weather this storm, but it seems to have done so, expanding and adding new routes in North America.
Many Torontonians like to travel to Buffalo airport to catch low-cost flights within the U.S. or abroad. Now Megabus offers service to the Buffalo airport from Toronto for as little as $1 plus a 50 cent booking fee.
Megabuses in the U.S. are all equipped with WiFi and power outlets.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I recently discovered the travel Website and checked out its budget travel recommendations. The site currently has useful articles on 10 budget firendly destinations in Europe and in the Caribbean. The article on Europe seemed worthwhile-- Bulgaria, Brno, Berlin, Lisbon, Greece, and the South Tyrol were among the destinations featured. A friend who visited Bulgaria this past summer gave it high marks for interesting sights and low prices. I would also choose Ukraine in the same category. Berlin is definitely an excellent big city budget locale, with wonderful museums and cultural attractions as well as an active nightlife.
The Caribbean destinations Gadling chose included only one I have visited, the French island of Guadeloupe. That is indeed a very interesting place, and now there are a number of bed and breakfast type places called gites that are relatively inexpensive. The French islands of the West Indies are a good place to sample a blend of French and Caribbean culture togehter with beautiful scenery and warm temperatures.
The site also has articles about budget travel to a number of cities, so far mainly in North America. I checked their take on the city I know best, Montreal. The story suggests visiting Montreal at a time when few other tourists are there, namely winter, and promotes the city as a closer, less costly version of Europe. I don't quite see Montreal as a European city, but perhaps that's because I've lived there too long.
I also quarreled with the writer's choice of "budget" hotels, both boutique hotels in Old Montreal that charge more than $100 per night even in January and including discounts. There are plenty of less costly places to stay in Montreal-- lists nice downtown hotels for as low as $79 a room in mid-January. For those who choose the hostel route, beds are available downtown for as little as $20 a night at Montreal Central on St.Denis in the student-friendly Latin Quarter.
The writer's other tips were good, especially the one about spending a lot of time in the underground city connected to Metro stations to escape the winter cold.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mad about Monasteries

Ever since they were founded in the Middle Ages, some monasteries have made it part of their mission to offer lodging and meals to travellers. Today, many still do so. Costs vary, but are usually cheaper than commercial accommodation. In addition, visitors have the advantage of spending time in a quiet, clean environment that lends itself to contemplation.
Robert J. Regalbuto has written a guide to monasteries across North America called "A Guide to Monastic Guest Houses." It lists monasteries that accept guests in every U.S. state and Canadian province. Even in expensive destinations like New York City, it is possible to find shelter in a convent or monastery. The book is available from
Staying in a monastery is a good way to keep expenses down in places like Italy, France, Britain and Spain as well. Eileen Barish is the author of a book called "The Guide to Lodging in Italy's Monasteries" which lists this type of accommodation throughout the Italian peninsula. Rates start at about $30 a night, with meals for a few dollars more. Her Website is, and it gives information about monasteries in several European countries.
Finally, the Website actually allows you to book rooms in monasteries. An example of one of the places listed is a monastery near Rimini on Italy's Adriatic Coast, where a single room costs about $50.
The majority of monasteries that accept guests are Roman Catholic, but there are also some belonging to the Anglican and Orthodox traditions where guests are welcome. Even some Buddhist monasteries take visitors. In all cases, guests or all faiths and of no faith are welcome.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Travelling Alone

Whatever its joys and merits, and they are considerable, travelling alone is usually more expensive than travelling with a companion with whom you share a room. While it is possible to keep these extra costs down, it is seldom possible to eliminate them. One good way to save is to patronize only those tours and cruises that eliminate the single supplement, usually by putting you in a room with a stranger of the same gender. I have done this on several occasions and never had a really bad experience.
Staying at hostels where the charge is per bed is another possibility, but it is usually not my thing. However, I have enjoyed hostel stays at the Foyer Hottingen, a super clean and pleasant hotel and hostel for women in Zurich, a very expensive city. Older hotels in French and German-speaking countries sometimes still offer single rooms at not much more than half the price of a double.
University residences, mentioned before, are also a good choice during school holidays for the lone voyager. They provide accommodation in many different countries, but unfortunately I do not know any comprehensive Website for them.
Some cruise lines are starting to cater to lone travellers. The new mega-ship Norwegian Epic has some single cabins and a lounge for passengers travelling alone. Its freestyle dining policy, however, is not so good for singles who want to meet people. When I have taken cruises alone I usually made friends with the people who sat at my table for dinner every night.
There is a Website,, where the writer provides tips on travelling alone. Like me, she often adds a stay alone to the end or beginning of an organized tour. It provides a good combination of sociability and privacy.
One of the big hassles of travelling alone is dining out at night. I sometimes handle this by having a big breakfast, a late lunch and just a snack for dinner. With many hotels now giving you a minibar, it is easy to stock it with healthy foods like vegetables and cheese instead of the over-processed snacks usually on tap, and to buy your own drinks rather than succumbing to the over-priced drinks in the bar.
Finding a companion who wants to go where you do is another option for the adventurous. In a future pose I will give some suggestions on this.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Embroidery in Ukraine

This friendly young woman was offering exquisite embroidered shirts and other items for sale at the main park in Zaporozhye. The tradition of embroidery in this part of the world goes back to ancient times. Greek historian Herodotus mentioned fine embroidery in the Balkans and Dacia in 513 BC, and the tradition continues strong today. One of the 11th century frescoes in St. Sophia's in Kiev shows a saint wearing an embroidered belt.

This craft is almost entirely the purview of women. The woman above said she and her mother produced these items, and that it is their main work. The usual motifs combine themes with both Christian and pre-Christian themes, and embroidery is used mainly on clothing, towels and items for religious ceremonies. If you see a troupe of Ukrainian folk dancers, they are almost certain to be wearing lots of embroidery. Red seems to be the most popular color.

Quality embroidery like that above is not cheap, but buying it is a good way to support women in this region and contribute to the continuation of a proud cultural tradition. To distinguish quality embroidery from the rest, check the back. There should not be many knots or long threads.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Khmelnytskyi Statue and Square, Kiev

From a book by Andrew Wilson, The Ukranians: Unexpected Nation, I finally learned the identity of this statue on a very prominent square in Kiev. The square lies between St. Sophia's and the reconstructed St. Mikhail's Cathedral in the upper town, and honours the Cossack hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, who drove the Poles and Polish-affiliated Ruthenians out of the government in Kiev in the mid-17th century.
Wilson's book traces how the idea of Ukraine and Ukrainians evolved over the centuries, culminating in the independent state that grew out of the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has few natural borders and has suffered invasions for centuries, but somehow has retained and recently further developed a sense of being a nation separate from Russia and its other powerful neighbours.
Ukraine, like most nations, bases itself on various national myths, and the Cossacks are among the most powerful of these ideas. While it is somewhat academic, Wilson's book is intended for the general reader and provides a good overview of Ukrainian history and development. Books in English on modern Ukraine are not numerous, and this one could be a valuable starting point for further study of the country.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Couchsurfing ( is a worldwide phenomenon that allows members to meet and stay with other members in more than 238 countries and territories. The group has more than 2 million members, and claims more than 2 million successful experiences of hosting or surfing. Membership is free.
The group attracts mostly young people, but there are also plenty of older members. Members may be hosts or guests, or both. Hosts are able to specify when and how many guests they can accommodate, even whether they prefer male or female guests. As the name implies, hosts do not need to provide a separate room for guests.
Couchsurfing's mission, according to their Website, is to "create inspiring experiences." There are numerous testimonials from members who have enjoyed either hosting or visiting other members.
The economic advantages of this type of organization are obvious, and for those who are very open and trusting it could be a good choice.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Writing about Weekend Deals on Trazzler

The Website provides information on good deals on hotels and interesting things to do near major American cities and Toronto. For example, this weekend the site features a three-star hotel in Bedford, Texas (near Dallas) for $46 a night.The cheapest hotel featured in or near Toronto, the Strathcona, is $92 a night.
Trazzler is expanding and should soon cover more cities, and they are looking for writers to help them grow. If you've ever dreamed of being a travel writer, check their writing contests. And if you love Vermont in winter, they are seeking someone to visit and write up attractions in that state in January.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Kids in Kremenchuk

Kremenchuk on the Dnieper hardly rates a mention in the guidebook, but this pleasant town on the river has lots of big, leafy parks where the kids enjoy skating. This particular one still has a hammer and sickle insignia overlooking it, and a raffish air.
The dam in Kremenchuk creates the enormous Kremenchutsky Reservoir, the largest body of water in Ukraine. (The Black Sea is bigger, but bordered by many countries, not just Ukraine.)
There is an old-fashioned department store downtown in Kremenchuk, where well-made sheepskin coats were available in the range of 400 euros. A good deal, but unfortunately not on a blazing summer day. While Kremenchuk is an industrial city, there are still some wooden pre-revolutionary small houses with gardens on the outskirts.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cheap London Lodgings

In London, one of the world's most expensive cities, cheap is relative. In recent years, however, more options have appeared for low-cost stays.
It used to be that student residences associated with the University of London, the London School of Economics and other institutions of higher learning offered some of the best deals around, for those visiting when they were open to short-term visitors. That is generally during the long summer vacation and at Christmas and Easter break.
In 2001 I stayed for a few days at the High Holborn residence of LSE. It was clean and wonderfully situated for West End theatres, the British Museum and Library, Soho and shopping. It is still fairly cheap, but for next year the price for a single room will rise to around $72 at today's exchange rate. This includes a continental breakfast buffet, but rooms have shared baths, and I have never seen such tiny bathrooms. Some other LSE residences are less expensive. The Website is The Website lists contacts for some other student residences.
Budget hotels are another good choice. These are new, modern places that appear to have very small rooms for low prices. I checked the rate for the Easy Hotel in Victoria for a date in January and came up with $51. The Website is
The Tune Hotel Westminster, which is actually not in Westminster but south of the river in Lambeth, offers rooms for as little as $15 if you book far ahead on their Website, A review warns that there may be a lot of extra charges, but the basic price is amazing.
London is a fascinating city, and with lodging prices like this it is almost affordable.