Monday, February 28, 2011

Charity Begins Abroad

If you have ever travelled in really poor countries, you have probably wondered how you as a tourist can help out, other than by spending money for food, lodging, admissions and entertainment. Now there's a Website that can help, if you have extra room in your luggage to bring supplies to charities. It's a UK-based organization at, and it has suggestions for travellers to many countries
Most of the places are in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but there are a few in developed countries as well. For example, if you are travelling to Canada, the Salvation Army welcomes (surprise, surprise) donations of warm clothes, mainly for homeless people who sleep outside in the frigid winter and often cold fall and spring. The only European charity listed is in Latvia, where they request a number of items to pass on to poor people who live mostly outside the capital of Riga.
To my surprise there were no charities listed in Russia, which is known among other things for the large number of children who live in orphanages. But the poverty of many of its citizens is a sensitive topic in this proud, powerful country. And with the current economic downturn there is great need also in many areas of the United States, but no charities requesting donations of goods were listed.
It may not be practical for many people to carry extra weight when travelling overseas, but it is a good idea to offer them information on places that can use their gifts. And giving something back is one way to ease the distress that some may experience when travelling in disadvantaged countries.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Everything Everywhere

Another interesting entrant in the growing list of blogs by people who are on the road long term is by Gary Arndt. Gary is an American who has been travelling continuously since 2007 and who previously worked in IT. The photos on his blog are especially good.
I read somewhere recently that there are more than 1 million Americans who are permanent travellers. If you add in those from other countries, there must be many millions who are constantly in motion. Trends such as technology, early retirement, the difficulty of finding and keeping jobs are all adding to this number.
While some of these so-called nomads may just be upscale homeless people similar to those who rode the rails in search of work during the 1930s, many others adopt the lifestyle by choice. Of course there are still some traditional nomads--some Bedouin in the Middle East, some Mongolians, some Laplanders and so forth, but their numbers are declining. In addition, these traditional nomads usually travel known paths for grazing of animals, trade, etc. They certainly do not flit around the world on jets.
Is 21st century nomadism among people from affluent countries good or bad? I suspect it depends on the individual nomad and his or her motivations. Certainly it is good to explore other countries and cultures, to learn languages, to test oneself in unfamiliar situations. Many religions consider that all of life is a journey back to God, however one may conceive of him, her or it.
However, community is also important, and while we may be evolving toward a world community, we are far from there yet. I would welcome comments from anyone who has tried or been tempted to try the nomadic lifestyle.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Caretaker Jobs

One way to travel at minimal cost is to work along the way. Caretaking jobs (for homes, ranches, kennels, farms, inns etc.) are the option some people choose. These jobs usually offer a place to stay, sometimes board as well, in exchange for various amounts and types of work.
Some people just want someone to be in their place to keep an eye on things, others require large amounts of work--gardening, cleaning, housekeeping, sometimes even handling reservations or driving. There are quite a few of these jobs, but finding them isn't easy. That is where a publication called the Caretaker Gazette ( comes in. It is available either online or in print. The cost is $29.95 a year for the online version, $34.95 for the print edition.
From the Website it looks as if most of these jobs are in the United States, but some are inter-national. There was an ad for a stint of several months in England, for example.
The newsletter has been around for years and has been featured in many news programs, so it is not fly-by-night. There are samples of previous issues on the site, and testimonials from customers. One I checked (because the person is a writer) was by a woman who has been caretaking for most of her life. She enjoys it because it gives her a nice place to live and enough time to write, and she finds the physical work a welcome break from working at a computer.
Combining travel and work is a great way to travel more or minimize costs. This could be worth a look.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Packing Light

We all know that packing light is one of the keys to travelling well on a budget. Usually I do a pretty good job of it, but I always have to check a suitcase. I just don't understand these people who claim they can travel around the world with just a carry-on bag. They are almost invariably guys, but still. I have lost too many precious items to over-zealous security personnel to consider it. And what do you do if they change the rules while you're travelling, as seems to happen a lot?
I try to apply the budget concept to luggage as well as other travel costs. For about 15 years I have been travelling with a big sturdy turquoise tote bag that cost $10 at Macy's. I use it as a carry-on bag. Ir is almost infinitely expandable, a virtue if you want to bring anything new home with you. The problem is that with the length of airport corridors now and the often tight schedules, it can be hard to carry this bag when it is fully loaded. I almost fell over on my side when running between planes in Toronto last summer. A computer plus all the important papers one needs along with essential cosmetics etc. made it too heavy and bulky for easy carrying, so the time has come for its replacement.
The replacement, I have decided, will need wheels. People zipping around airports with their wheeled carry-ons usually look quite relaxed and unburdened. I checked a couple of Website for recommendations for the best wheeled carry-ons, but most were $50 or more, sometimes much more.
. I think I will go with my usual luggage supplier, a dollar-type store run by Chinese people in my meighborhood. I have bought two wheeled bags that I check there for about $25 each, and they have stood up well to years of wear. In fact, I may convert the smaller of them to a wheeled carry-on, thus getting still more use out of it. I'll probably fold up the turquoise tote bag and carry it inside one of the other bags in case I buy more than I can carry in the wheeled bags.
And if I do need to ship more than one bag, I will check with companies like FedEx or UPS, who will ship bags door to door often for less than the airlines charge.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Park, Sleep, Fly

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. I've heard a lot of people complaining lately about the difficulties of air travel. Planes are overbooked, weather problems abound, security people are overzealous, thousands of people get stranded at airports around the world. While it is true that flying isn't as much fun as it used to be, there are ways to reduce stress and increase your chances of having a good trip.
One way is to get to the airport early, even the night before a flight, and stay over at a hotel. The Website offers combinations of hotel stays and extended parking for those who have very early departures. Given that airport parking rates can be very steep (the airport parking at Montreal's main airport is $25 a day,) this can provide significant savings. The deals include transport to and from the airport after you have parked your car.
Rates vary depending on the city of origin--in Montreal they start at $75 at EconoLodge with 3 days of free parking. In Toronto, the Quality Inn charges $85 with 7 days of parking, while in Albany NY the lowest rate is at the Best Western, $98 with parking for 7 days.
Because taxis to airports can be very pricey, these deals could be worthwhile. Driving to the airport, staying overnight and parking your car for a few days could work to be less costly than two taxi fares. The plans are available in many cities in the United States and some in Canada, and Europe.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cruise Savings with Affordable Tours

This is a good time of year to save on cruises. Affrordable Tours ( offers some Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Cruise Line and on NCL for less than $100 a day.
Even on the deluxe Queen Mary 2 of Cunard, the minimum rate for a 21-day North Atlantic cruise with stops in Southampton, Hamburg and Oslo, is $2852, or about $135 per day. The cruise leaves from and returns to Brooklyn NY, making it very convenient for people in the northeastern US and eastern Canada. There are a lot of days at sea on this cruise, which could be very relaxing.
I haven't sailed on the Queen Mary 2, but my most recent crossing on the QE2 in 2001 was a far cry from a similar earlier voyage. Cunard is now owned by Carnival, and while some of the fine British naval tradition has been preserved, there is a lot more commercialism on board. Instead of lectures by noted actors and academics, we had people like Lord Wedgewood trying to flog his china. I have not sailed with NCL or Carnival, but from what I have read those lines are even worse. There are a lot of extra charges, and constant attempts to get passengers to part with their hard earned cash.
So be warned that while the basic fare may be low, there will be a lot of extra costs. And don't think you can avoid some of them by, for instance, taking your own booze aboard. At least one of these lines x-rays passenger luggage and confiscates any bottles of wine or spirits for the duration of the voyage.
Affordable Tours also provides discounts on a number of package land tours. It's worth checking with them before booking this type of trip.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Budget Travel in Tokyo

The February-March print edition of Money Sense,( a Canadian magazine, has a short but useful article on how to visit one of the world's most costly cities on a budget, and without staying in a capsule hotel. A capsule hotel, for the uninitiated, has rooms that resemble train berths or coffins more than they do conventional hotel rooms. The bath, naturally, is down the hall and the capsule places offer rock-bottom prices (for Tokyo) of around $40 or $50 a night.
The writer has found some budget hotels where actual rooms, sometimes with breakfast, start at about $65 a night. He also recommends buying a pass for the city's extensive train and public transit system for about $19 a day, and an attraction and museum pass for $24 a day. High prices, yes, but this is Tokyo. Best of all, he suggests places in the Japanese capital where you can get a filling meal or snack for between $5 and $10.
If you always thought a trip to Japan was out of reach financially, this article proves that it is not. I did not find the article in the online edition, unfortunately. Money Sense doesn't publish many travel articles, but the ones it does have are generally good, as are many of their more general articles on investments and financial planning. (Full disclosure--I have written for Money Sense.)

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Making the Most of Winter

Now that the 95th major winter storm of the season has hit the eastern U.S. and Canada, a lot of people's thoughts turn to a vacation in the sunny South. That can be a good idea, but there's also a lot to be said for capitalizing on winter where you live or even taking a trip to a destination known for winter, such as Russia.
My first trip to Russia was in winter, and I was happy to see something of the weather which has done so much to forge the tenacious character of the Russian people. Russians really know how to enjoy themselves in the cold, with outdoor swimming, ice fishing, skating, skiing, troika rides and other amusements. The site of Christ the Saviour Cathedral (pictured above) in Moscow used to be an enormous outdoor heated swimming pool that was open and used year around. I have read that since the end of Communism older Russians have taken to getting together in parks on weekends to dance to recorded music, and of course, sip or gulp a little vodka.
Downhill skiing is the traditional winter holiday sport, but it can be expensive. Cross-country skiing is the poor man's preferred sport, and it can be fun. I have recently returned to ice skating, something I had abandoned as a child. It's very cheap or free, good exercise and less injury-prone than skiing. I live in Canada where hockey is a religion, and aside from the outlay for equipment it is a reasonably-priced pasttime with a lot of benefits in terms of exercise. It is high-risk for injuries, unfortunately. Curling is another alternative for the less athletic among us.
Winter hiking and snow-shoeing are other possibilities.
Don't let winter get you down, get out there and enjoy the weather whatever it is.