Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Time and Money for Travel

Ask anyone who likes to travel why they don't travel as much as they would like, and the answer usually comes down to two factors: not enough time or not enough money. The time factor is very real, particularly for North Americans who are in conventional jobs. We tend to get far shorter vacations than, for instance, Western Europeans. And in these very difficult economic times, many people are afraid to take even the amount of vacation time to which they are entitled, for fear that they will be regarded as not being "team players."For older or retired people, the problem is usually money. Now they have the time to travel, but their pensions don't stretch that far. Health issues can also be a consideration for the senior crowd.I can't claim to have the solution for everyone, but I can tell you that if you are determined to travel there is usually a way. Don't put off that dream trip until you retire--find a way to take it now. Many things can happen in a period of 30 or 40 years that can make that trip impossible or less desirable--changes of government, health problems, environmental degradation, even climate shifts.When I was in my 20s I did what financial planners say you should never do, raided my retirement accounts to fund trips and education, and I don't regret it at all. Travelling when you are young is easier than it will be later on. Even if you are in a career path like medicine or law where you are required to keep your nost ot the grindstone for a number of years, there are often ways to combine travel with professional experience--medical volunteer opportunities, international law conferences, etc.In a business career it is very desirable now to have fluent command of a foreign language, and few employers will look askance at a year or more spent travelling if it allowed you to acquire fluent Mandarin, Arabic, or even the more usual Spanish, French or German. Even with the worldwide spread of English as a second language, those who can converse at a high level in one or more foreign languages can command a premium in the job market.Teaching has always offered plentiful opportunities for travel, via academic conferences, long bacations, and teaching English abroad, and for the most part that continues to be true.The lack of money problem is a little harder to solve, but with research and determination you should be able to keep travel costs under control. I will try in the next year to offer you some new and interesting ways to save money on travel, and I wish you all a Happy New Year.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Year End Review

We're heading into the holidays, time for a brief review of developments in budget travel this year. It's been a mixed picture. Widespread economic problems have tended to help keep prices down, but have also impacted the ability of many people to travel at all.
And the tendency in developed and developing countries alike toward a bifurcated society, with a few people at the top able to pay big bucks while the majority struggle, applies also to travel. I enjoy Peter Greenberg's travel expertise, and was interested when his blog mentioned new low-cost hotels in New York City. Unfortunately, his idea of low-cost starts at $250 per night.On the upside, there are always new hostels and real budget hotels opening around the world, even in pricey Moscow, and the options for low-cost nontraditional travel are many. In addition to lodgings run by religious organizations, groups such as http://couchsurfing.com and http://friendshipforce.org provide the opportunity to meet and stay with locals at little or no cost.I have yet to experience couchsurfing, and have perhaps written too much about Friendship Force. The latter deserves to be better known, since it is open to everyone regardless of age or ability to put up travellers. Even if you live where there is no chapter of the group, a lot of exchanges are open to non-members, or you may be able to join a nearby chapter. If you are really ambitious, you can get together with your friends are form a new chapter.
On the airline front things seem mostly to go from bad to worse. I have rarely had problems when travelling by air, but this was my year. I am still waiting to be paid $176 Continental Airlines owes me for a hotel stay nearly six months ago. They probably hope I will eventually give up, but that is not going to happen. On the plux side, I was very pleasantly surprised by my first experience in many years of service and equipment on Aeroflot Russian Airlines, even on routes within Russia. It's light years ahead of its Soviet-era predecessor, and of some Western airlines.
Finally, on a personal note I want to offer birthday wishes to one of my best friends, Dr. Valerie Broege.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cruising on the Yenisey

Several years ago I was fascinated by a traveller's account of a trip on the Yenisey River of eastern Siberia. This river runs from southern Siberia all the way to the Arctic Ocean, and along its upper reaches it is the main transportation artery for many remote towns. I never was able to find any information on how to travel on this river, but have now discovered a way, thanks to the Lonely Planet Russia guidebook.
Sib Tour Guide (http://sibtourguide.com/) is a Website run by a resident of Krasnoyarsk who offers booking for Yenisey River cruises, as well as a homestay with the site owner and his family, and an apartment for rent in Krasnoyarsk, a town on the TransSiberian Railway. Nature lovers can also stay at a typical Russian dacha in the area.
The cruises can last for several days, and the pictures of the ships are appealing. Some cruises run all the way to Norilsk, a major mining centre near the Arctic Ocean. However, Norilsk is closed to most foreigners expect by special invitation. Not a bad thing, perhaps, since it is also one of the most polluted cities in the world.
The chance to see such a remote part of the world in relative comfort sounds very intriguing, at least to me. Cruises run only in summer.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Montreal Budget Hotels-Centre West Area

Recently my friend Ewa Jarmicka of Toronto said she was visiting Montreal and wanted to locate a nice, inexpensive place to stay in the west central area of the city, home to some expensive hostelries like the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth, Chapeau Champlain, and the Sofitel. At first I was stumped, but then I remembered the hotel run by the YWCA at the corner of Rene Levesque Boulevard and Crescent Street. Back in the day, I stayed there when I first started working as a business reporter at The Gazette.
Ewa was able to get a single room with bath there through http://booking.com/ for $67 a night, and reported that the place was basic but very clean. She said she would be writing a detailed review on the booking.com Website.
Not far away, the YMCA near the corner of Stanley and de Maisonneuve and right opposite a Metro entrance also has rooms for rent, but they lack private bath, so rates should be even lower.
Closer to the YWCA is a new budget hotel in a renovated Victorian greystone called Hotel A2K, where rooms start as low as $67. This hotel is run by the same people who manage the popular Indian restaurant next door, the Buffet Maharajah, and based on the pictures looks quite nice.
Montreal has become a fairly expensive city in the last few years, so it is good to know that there are still options for budget travel even when the university residences are filled with students, not tourists.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Advice for Travelling Light

I have discovered a Website, www.onebag.com, that offers a lot of information on various types of luggage for those who want to travel with just one bag, thus avoiding checked bag charges and the hassles of dealing with luggage that is too heavy for comfort.
While I applaud the concept of travelling light, I did not find myself agreeing with all of this writer's advice. His concept of keeping a packing list is useful, and something I do for each trip. But I have never travelled without checking a small bag, and never expect to. With current restrictions on what can be put in carry-on bags, it is just too difficult. I find it essential to carry small scissors and relatively large quantities of various gel products, larger than the 3 ounce size allowed in carry-ons.
For me what works best is checking a small wheeled bag, small enough to be a carry-on, and taking a large very lightweight carry-on that I bought for $10 many years ago. The checked bags too are inexpensive, purchased at a dollar-type store near my home, and have stood up remarkably well.
If you are determined to travel with just a carry-on, the Website could be useful, since it includes reviews of a number of different types of bags. Surprisingly, the writer recommends not using wheeled bags. To each his own.
However you do it, though, do keep the weight of your luggage down. I recently travelled with a group where everyone except me was worrying about being over the limit, I think it was 50 pounds, for both checked and carry-on bags, and they didn't seem to be having much fun at the airports.
A disadvantage of travelling light is that you may have to buy items along the way, but that gives you a chance to interact with the locals and observe trends in retail around the world. For example, I had to buy a light weight blouse in Russia and the only place nearby was a Zara store. A wash and wear cotton blouse was nicely made, but cost about $70, more than twice what a similar item would probably cost at Zara in Montreal.

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