Thursday, June 28, 2012

Caveat Traveller

I was musing on the difficulty of making definitive statements about budget travel today. I began by looking at a Website ( that was brought to my attention as offering some good deals on travel. I checked out their offerings for Montreal and was disappointed to find that not only did they not list any hostels, they also did not mention places like the YM-YWCA residences, or, for summer visitors, the residences of McGill University. These non-commercial places offer considerably lower rates than most hotels.
Then I decided to check into New York City to see what was available in that notoriously expensive place in terms of monastery accommodation. It does exist, but it is not always a bargain. For example, I checked two random dates in October at the Desmond Tutu Centre Hote l( in Chelsea, which is operated by the Episcopal Church. I found an average single room rate of $329, hardly inexpensive. But at the House of the Redeemer, on the Upper East Side, single rooms are offered for as little as $100 per night, and this place too is an Episcopal property. Leo House, a Catholic guest house in Chelsea does not post rates, but refers to modest lodging, so prices should be relatively low. At the Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights near Columbia University, single rooms with breakfast go for $135 per night.
So it is hard to generalize about ways to save money on lodging. In most cases non-commercial is the way to go, but not always. And it is also difficult to predict what the cost will be an any particular hotel because most hotels practice yield management that can make their prices almost as unpredictable as airline rates.
The only solution seems to be to determine a maximum price you will pay, and book accordingly, even if it is not the absolute best deal. Otherwise, you can go crazy and spend far too much time trying to save a few bucks.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Old Broads Abroad

Just for the record, when I am overseas I consider myself one of the above, in case anyone takes this post's title as a slur. It makes sense that women of a certain age would be offering some of the best tips on budget travel. After all, women still earn a lot less than men do on average, and older women tend to be more adventurous than older men, at least in my experience.
Dru Pearson writes an interesting blog ( about her voyages and recently about how to travel in Western Europe at reasonable cost by renting apartments in expensive cities such as London and Paris. She is also the author of a book on retiring in Mexico, and another on travelling in Europe on a budget. I haven't read them, but based on the blog and a brief look through their tables of contents (courtesy of,) they look worthwhile.
Rita Golden Gelman, whom I have mentioned before in this blog, is now travelling in Turkey and blogging about it. Check out her Website and scroll to the bottom for a no holds barred account of her experiences there. What I like about her writing is her willingness to let it all hang out, the bad as well as the good. She writes of the extreme heat and limited air conditioning, and of nearly panicking when she missed a connection with a woman who was to be her host.
In my experience Muslim countries like Turkey are among the most difficult for women travelling alone, especially those of us who don't speak the local language. That doesn't mean they are to be avoided--I've loved my trips to Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Morocco. But it does mean you need to be prepared for more than an average degree of hassle. In the case of Egypt it seems to me prudent to avoid this fascinating country until the political situation stabilizes.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Global Freeloaders

If you are a fan of low-cost lodging, there is no better price than free. That's what you get if you qualify to be a member of an online community called Global Freeloaders (
Qualifying is relatively easy--all you have to do is sign up for a period of 12 months, during which you agree to host guests yourself as well as being a guest. Hosts are supposed to be willing to accommodate guests in any way they can, completely free of charge, at the host's convenience. In other words, you don't need to accept guests if you don't like their approach, if you yourself will be travelling, hosting family, etc. And the lodging need not be elaborate--a mattress on the floor will do, or a room, or a separate apartment or cottage.
The community was started and is still run by Adam Staines, a 24 year old Australian who has already travelled widely and enjoyed meeting people all over the world. I like the layout of the site--minimal ads, lots of text, no distracting photos or videos. It is also filled with testimonials from people who have used the site successfully in their travels.
It is somewhat similar to Couchsurfing ( except that Couchsurfing allows you to be either a guest, a host, or both. I also notice that Couchsurfing has become more elaborate, and that it now links to a number of social media sites. If I wanted to become a member, it looks as if I would have to do so through my Facebook account.
If you are up for the challenge of staying with strangers, GF may be for you. I never thought I would like staying with people I had never met, but after a trip last year with Friendship Force ( I am a convert. Whatever else, it is always an adventure.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Montreal to Toronto by Megabus

Last weekend I had my second experience with Megabus, ( the company that operates double decker buses in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The price was very reasonable, just $80 return including tax, about one-third of what a train trip would have cost. It is possible to get even lower fares if you book farther ahead or at less popular times.
However, I noticed some changes from my previous trip. There was no rest stop in Kingston on the way down, as there used to be. (I managed one but only by getting off the bus quickly and running fast, since the bus does pick up and discharge passengers in Kingston, about half way between the two cities.) There is a rest room on board the bus, but please, airplane restrooms are bad enough.That also meant no time to buy food, so if you hadn't brought anything to eat you were out of luck, with nothing to eat for a trip of more than six hours.
On the return there was a rest stop at Kingston, so I'm not sure whether there usually is.
As it happened I arrived in Toronto last Friday during a torrential rainstorm which flooded part of Union Station and shut down the subway system for a while, so I was glad I was not travelling by rail on that occasion. However, there is no question that rail travel is usually more comfortable. But it's hard to beat the bus for price--even the gas to drive your own car would cost close to $80.
I was in Toronto to attend Bloody Words XII, a very good conference for mystery writers. Met an agent who expressed some interest in my Russian mystery, so here's hoping.

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