Monday, March 31, 2014

Africa on a Shoestring

In Kenya, that country's first budget carrier Jambojet will begin operations soon. "Jambo" means hello in Swahili, and the airline is wholly owned by Kenya Airways. It aims to have fares low enough that they will challenge those charged by buses.

Jambojet will operate three Boeing 737s between Nairobi and Mombasa, and between Kisumu and Eldoret. The lowest fare for the Nairobi to Mombasa run is expected to be $33 including tax. On a continent where air travel is notoriously expensive and often inefficient, this should be a big boon for budget travellers.

It's a long time since I was in Kenya, but at that time most of the roads were so bad that the option of travelling by air would be welcome.

If you prefer to travel to South Africa, check out the frugal traveler column by Seth Kugel titled DIY AFrica. He writes well about travelling through Kruger National Park in a self-drive Fiat that cost only $23 a day, and staying in camps rather than luxury lodges. By doing this, he estimates that a couple can enjoy a safari with up-close viewing of big game for about $120 per day.

He also chose to visit Durban on the East Coast rather than Cape Town, because the former is a more diverse city with a large Asian population. In Swaziland, he was able to find a place to stay at a mountain camp that cost only $14 per night.

You can read the entire report of his very interesting trip by going to and typing Safari March 2014 into the search function.  While I have been to South Africa, it was on a press trip organized by the government to celebrate the end of apartheid in 1994, and I wasn't able to glean much information about budget travel in that country that would still be relevant. I did learn, however, that the long flight is worth the trouble in order to visit a fascinating country.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Budget Hotel Site for India

If you are seeking reasonably-priced lodging in India, check, which lists nearly 9,000 budget and value hotels and guesthouses in more than 1,000 cities and towns across the country.

I was, however, somewhat surprised to see what qualifies as value pricing in a large city such as Mumbai. Checking dates early in April, I found a hotel near the central railway station that charges about $95 per night, or another that charges around $77. There were also listings of hotels costing about three times that much, too. I guess I had assumed that since India is a developing country. prices would be quite low. Probably lodgings in smaller towns and cities are a lot cheaper, and on the stayzilla site you can save considerably by booking ahead.

According to an article on, stayzilla has recently done a study of its recent bookings and found that women travellers constituted 13 per cent of their business, and that the number of women making reservations has doubled in the past year. Here in the West we mostly hear horror stories about violence against women in India, so it is good to know that there are other types of news about women in that country.

I have stayed in an Indian-managed hotel, the Mena House near the pyramids at Giza, and found the service and food exquisite. It was managed then by the Oberoi chain, an Indian luxury brand.  I am hesitant about visiting India because of concerns over health and culture shock, but someone I know was there recently on a tour and seemed to enjoy it, so perhaps I should re-think my qualms.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learn German in Germany

There is nothing better for improving your language skills than studying the language where it is actually spoken. And few organisations are as serious about their work of spreading the German language and an appreciation of German culture than the Goethe Institute (

Goethe used to be heavily subsidised by the German government, but in these days of austerity that is no longer the case. I have taken courses at Goethe in Montreal and several years ago spent two weeks in Berlin on a langauge and culture program

. The latter was a good experience, though I could have worked harder at immersing myself in the culture by reading German, watching German television etc. While the course itself was valuable, the best part was being able to spend two weeks in Berlin, one of my favourite cities, at a reasonable cost. I had a nice room in an apartment building very close to Ka DeWe, the wonderful Berlin department store, for 15 euros per night, and I shared the apartment with a pleasant young Russian girl who was studying at a different school..

Goethe offers a variety of programs to suit virutally any demand for the language, and you can study in many different cities. The Berlin location is still available, but without room, and a language and culture program costs 785 euros for two weeks.  In a smaller place such as Schwaebisch Hall, a two week longauge only course with a single room costs just a little more, at 805 euros.

The courses aren't cheap, but costs compare favourably with spending time on your own, trying to pick up the language just by travelling. A course gives you a ready-made social circle as well as instruction, so it is a good option for the lone traveller. And don't worry if you are beyond the usual student age, since many of your classmates will probably also be older, possibly even retired.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tips for Job Hunting Abroad

A lot of people dream of working abroad, but few ever really make the effort to do so. The prospect is intimidating--work visas, probably a different language, unknown legal and financial systems, etc., plus all the usual angst of job-hunting.

So an article by Alexandra Talty on the Website of is useful resource for those hoping to find work in a foreign country. It is addressed mainly to recent university graduates, but a lot of the tips apply to people of all ages. (However, older job seekers should be aware that some countries do have an upper limit, usually 60, for the employment of foreigners.)

Talty suggests committing fully to the project of working abroad, and not worrying about what you will be missing at home. Also, spread the word among all the people you know both personally and online that you are seeking work in a specific country. You may be surprised to find that your doorman has family living in your target country, or your cab driver knows someone there.

For non-English-speaking countries, build your language skills in advance, preferably through total immersion programs or homestays, not just university or language school courses. Talty also recommends not waiting to go until you get a job offer--have the chutzpah to just go and look around. If you have business skills, pick a specific company in your target area and use resources such as or your alumni association to find contacts. Finally, reap the rewards of actually living in an exotic destination, not just visiting it as a tourist.

The reference to the article is

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Russia Travel News

I recently discovered a Website with a lot of travel ideas for Russia-- The site also has blogs from Russia, and stories about politics, business, the arts, and more.

Yachts, budget travel and Russia are not usually words that you would see together, but there is even an article that tells you how to travel from Moscow to the White Sea and beyond by yacht, provided you already have the yacht and quite a lot of patience. The route takes you through Tver, the Beloye Lake where you can visit the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum Reserve, an ancient religious site, and other points of interest. It's not the Mediterranean, but it does sound unusual, and the trip can take about a week.

Another story is about the top five museums in Moscow, though you might disagree with their choices. None of the Kremlin museums make the cut, and neither does the Pushkin, but a Jewish museum opened only in 2012 is on the list. I wonder whether the opening of this museum was connected in any way with the recent Sochi Olympic Games.

There is even a box on the site where you can ask travel questions about Russia and get an answer. My big question for this year would be how difficult is it going to be for Westerners to get tourist visas? It is never easy, and with tensions rising the process could get even more difficult.

In any case, there is a lot to read on the site, including a blog by the recent U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, who has been on television a lot lately commenting on Ukraine and Russia.

I have noticed over the past few days that I now have some readers in India, and just wanted to say welcome to those of you in the subcontinent.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Jewel in Crimea

The Livadia Palace pictured above is one of the points of interest near Yalta. Built originally for Czar Nicholas II and his family, it is small by palace standards, much smaller than Downtown Abbey of television fame. The Czar's family enjoyed summers there for just a few years, before they were overtaken by the events of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In February, 1945 the palace was the site of meetings between an ailing Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian leader Joseph Stalin that helped determine the fate of Europe after World War II. Just about a year later, Churchill declared in a famous speech given in Missouri that an Iron Curtain had descended over Eastern Europe, and experts generally agree that the Cold War between Russia and the West began about a year after that.

Today Livadia is a pleasant place to visit, with spectacular views of the Black Sea and memorabilia of Nicholas II and his family. Now that Crimea has been annexed to Russia, I suppose the entrance fee will be in rubles, not the beleagured Ukrainian hyrivnia.

It would be nice if leaders of Russia and the Western powers could once again sit down, perhaps in a place like Livadia, to work out some accommodation over the Ukraine situation before it gets out of hand. Ukraine too should be represented, but it is hard to know at present who really speaks for the majority of Ukraine's population. Ukraine has not had a long history of independence, and nation-building can take quite a while.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Travel Website for Seniors

AARP ( is an American seniors advocacy group that has recently launched a travel portal designed to make online travel planning easier. You can choose the activities that interest you most, and let the portal point you to appropriate destinations.

As we all know, it is possible to waste a lot of time trying to plan a trip online, particularly if you want to get good deals. The idea of a portal that makes it easier is a good one. I checked into this portal, and found that apparently it only applies to U.S. destinations. I chose three activities--sightseeing, msueums and music and theatre, and was directed to Chicago. Now Chicago is a great city, but what about London, Vienna, or Moscow?

In addition, to be able to see the recommendations clearly, you apparently have to sign in--the page I saw was blurred. So while the idea is interesting, something in the execution in lacking. Still, if you are willing to sign in and especially if you are looking for U.S. travel, this site could be worth a look.
Senior travel is a big market--U.S. seniors are estimated to spend $120 billion a year on personal travel.

Incidentally, I noticed that with this post I have surpassed 100,000 page views. Most readers seem to be in the U.S., a number are in Europe, and recently there are some in China. Wherever you are, thanks guys--it's great to be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

FlyDubai to Serve Moscow in September

Starting in September, the budget carrier FlyDubai ( will begin daily flights to Moscow. This airline already serves eight other cities in Russia at what seem to be reasonable prices.

For example, I checked into flights form Dubai to Kazan next month, and discovered that a one-way flight early in April costs $297. Kazan is southeast of Moscow and is capital of the autonomous region known as the Republic of Tatarstan (yes, those same Tatars who form a significant minority of the population of Crimea.) The other Russian cities Fly Dubai now serves are Ufa, Samara, Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, and Mineralnye Vody.

FlyDubai also offers flights to a number of destinations in the Middle East, and at present they have a special offer on flights between Dubai and Doha, Qatar. If you buy one business class ticket, you get another free.

As I said in a recent post, I was surprised to learn about the existence of budget carriers in the Gulf states, but that just shows that I have a lot to learn about this part of the world

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kherson in More Peaceful Times

The above is an image of St. Catherine's Cathedral in Kherson, Ukraine, a pleasant, non-touristy town just north of the Crimean peninsula where according to news reports, there was some kind of standoff between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces yesterday. Today is the vote in Crimea on whether to join the Russian Federation or return to the status quo ante of 1992 when Crimea became an autonomous region of Ukraine.

I remember going to an Internet cafe in Kherson a few years ago, and finding it reasonably-priced and user-friendly. Unfortunately it looks as if it will be some time before Ukraine is again attracting regular travellers in large numbers.

Checking the blog, written from Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine where there have been clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups, I learned that citizens had been asked to donate food for the animals in the local zoo, and response had been overwhelming. Apparently the economic situation is so unsettled in that part of Ukraine that they are trouble keeping basic services going.

I'm hoping and praying for a quick and peaceful resolution of this situation, but it doesn't look good.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scenic Rail Travel for $4 per Hour

One of North America's most scenic and least appreciated rail journeys is on The Adirondack, the Amtrak ( train which links two great cities, New York and Montreal. It travels along the majestic Hudson River, then north of Albany parts of the trip are right on the shore of scenic Lake Champlain. The tracks are so close to the lake in some places that you have the sensation of almost falling in.

This spring Amtrak is offering special weekend fares of $89 U.S. roundtrip on the Adirondack. Given that the train makes a lot of stops, the return journey takes about 22 hours, which works out to $4 per hour. The trip both ways is in daytime, so you get a good view out the window. This fare is valid for travel between Thursdays and Mondays only, and all travel must be completed within five days.

Advance booking is required, travel must be completed by April 24 and there are some blackout days. But given that the trip is hardly more costly than gas for your own car for this route, it is a very good deal. And since you arrive downtown in both cities, you save on transportation from the airport or parking fees.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Budget Middle Eastern Airline

The Arabian Gulf states are not ones that you would normally associate with budget travel, but the United Arab Emirates is home base for Air Arabia (,) which boasts of being the first budget airline in the region.

Air Arabia has hubs in Sharjah, UAE, in Alexandria, Egypt and Casablanca, Morocco and serves not just the Middle East and North Africa but India, several cities in Russia and Central Asia, and several in Western Europe.

I wish I could provide some sample air fares offered by Air Arabia, but I could not get their Website to work well enough to find any. I am not sure what the problem is--perhaps you have to sign in to have access to fare information. If so, that doesn't seem to be a very user-friendly approach to market development.

If you travel in this region or wish to do so, this airline may offer cheaper fares than the legacy carriers. The Middle East is an area well worth exploring, but unfortunately political problems make much of it a difficult region for Westerners at the moment, and cultural differences make it particularly hard for Western women.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reduced Fares to Eastern Europe, West Africa

Today is the last opportunity to take advantage of reduced fares being offered by KLM to some destinations in Eastern Europe and West Africa. You have to fly from Canada, and travel must take place by May 6. The reference is

Sample fares are Montreal or Toronto to Budapest, Hungary or Bucharest, Romania for $829 roundtrip including taxes, or Montreal or Toronto to Lagos, Nigeria for $1355 or Accra, Ghana for $1389. To fly from Vancouver or Calgary, add $100 to each fare.

I wish I had seen this offer earlier, since Bucharest, Romania is on my list of most desirable destinations for this year, and these prices are very good.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Travel May Require Sacrifice

Regardless of how good a budget traveller you are, travel is almost never free. It is going to cost money, usually on top of the cost of maintaining a home in your place of residence. That may mean that in order to afford the travel you want, you may have to do without certain other things--perhaps a car, new clothes, new furniture, a second home, etc.

There is an interesting blogpost today at where she discusses some of the ways she manages to travel extensively on a limited budget. I too, because I have made travel a priority in my life, have spent long periods without some of the trappings of the normal North American lifestyle.

When I was travelling the most, sometimes flying overseas twice in a month, I lived without a car. I also had a comfortable but non-luxury condo in downtown Montreal with low maintenance fees. (Those were the days, when real estate prices in Montreal were low.) Most of my furniture came from my parents' home, a few pieces were bought second hand, a few even came from the street.

Today my financial situation is better, but I still economise on a lot of items in order to afford travel. I have a car, but one that was purchased second -hand and that will turn 18 in July. My furniture is still second-hand, but some of it is newer second-hand.

There are lots of ways to economise when you travel, including perhaps not visiting the best-known attractions in a particular place. Jane writes about having decided to skip Macchu Pichu during a visit to Peru because the excursion was so costly. Not everybody would do this, but it is worth considering.

Jane recommends making a list of travel destinations for the next five years or so, doing some research and attaching a price tag to each trip. That way, when you are tempted by a designer purse, a pricey meal or some other indulgence, you can decide in favour of your trip to Kenya instead. It's all a matter of priorities.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Old Tactic, New Tactic

One of the prominent sights in Sebastopol, Crimea is the monument to the scuttled ships in the harbour. It commemorates ships scuttled by the Russians during the Crimean War (1853-56) to try to prevent the Allied forces of Britain and France landing. It delayed them for a time, but Russia ended up losing that war.

Russian forces, which the Allies believed to be formidable, proved to be less fearsome than expected, but it took a lot of suffering for that to be discovered. Perhaps the best-known event of the war, at least in the English-speaking world, is the Charge of the Light Brigade against Russian guns on a field near Balaclava. It was memorialised in a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

What is interesting is that the scuttled ships tactic seems to have been revived. I saw on CNN yesterday a shot of a Russian ship that had been scuttled somewhere near Sebastopol in an effort to contain Ukrainian naval forces.

Today if you visit Sebastopol (well, maybe not today but hopefully soon,) you can visit a museum called the Sebastopol Panorama that reproduces a specific day during the war when Sebastopol was besieged. It depicts the some of the troops and equipment on both sides, and gives you a good idea of the horrors of 19th century warfare. The admission fee is very reasonable, and English-speaking guides are available at extra cost.

One of the regrettable effects of the present turmoil in Ukraine is that it will probably discourage tourism to what is one of the most appealing and reasonably-priced destinations in Europe. Below is an image of the monument to the scuttled ships.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Cruise for $30 a Day

Check out the suggestions posted by Nomadic Matt ( on how to enjoy a cruise for as little as $30 a day. You seldom see cruises mentioned without the addition of the word "luxury," but with care they can actually be a pretty good deal.

Generally you get the best rates by waiting to book until the last minute. This can be a good tip if you live near a major port such as New York City, Los Angeles, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, and don't have to fly to get there.

Websites with reduced cruise rates include and Generally you will get better rates in low season such as fall, on smaller, older ships, and on repositioning cruises when a ship is sailing for example from Europe to the Caribbean.

Once aboard, you can save by minimizing your purchases of soft drinks in favour of juice or water, and of alcoholic drinks. Take your own photos rather than buying from the ship;s photographer. Book excursions through an organization such as the Shore Excursions Group rather than on the ship, or do your own research and look around the port on your own. Of course, you need to get back to the ship on time or you will be left behind.

There is no rule that says you must leave the ship while it is in port. If you've been to the port before, you can just relax on board. Skip the restaurants on board that charge extra, avoid the casino and the spa and wash out your own clothes. All these options permit you to enjoy a "luxury" cruise at minimal cost.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Have a Canadian Affair

The various meanings of the word "affair" are interesting. Best known, probably, is a romantic affair, followed by a social affair. In railway parlance, the euphemism for an accident is "an affair."

In this case, however, Canadian Affair ( refers to low-cost flights that are offered by the company between various cities in Canada and various cities in the U.K. and Ireland during the summer months. I know someone who has travelled on a number of these flights and recommends them for good accommodations and service.

Flights to London land at Gatwick Airpost, which is also the hub for Easyjet (,) another budget airline with service to many destinations in Europe and North Africa. If you time your travel right, you might be able to go from a Canadian Affair flight to an Easyjet flight without having to spend a night in pricey London. Ryanair ( and Wizzair ( are other budget airlines with hubs at different London airports.

A sample price on Canadian Affair for travel  roundtrip between Montreal and London in May is $899. Remember, this is in Canadian dollars, so it comes out to about.$810 U.S. at the current exchange rate.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Ryanair Bargains

Ryanair (,) one of the original budget airlines in Europe, is offering some very good fares from its hub at Stansted Airport near London to various destinations in Europe. The trick is you need to book by Monday, March 3 to secure fares as low as 20 pounds to places such as Basel, Oslo, Strasbourg, Warsaw and Bremen. You also need to travel between April 1 and May 29 on flights from Monday through Thursday and reserve 14 days in advance.

Many other destinations are included in this promotion, but at somewhat higher prices. I saw on that theey will also be offering fares as low as $14 between Europe and the U.S., but was unable to find anything about this on their Website.

Ryanair has the reputation of nickel and diming passengers with fees for virtually everything, but with prices like these it may be worth the hassle.

On another topic, I was thinking for a time that my recent post comparing developments in Ukraine to the start of World War I was perhaps alarmist. However, last night on CNN I saw David Remnick, New Yorker editor and author of a highly regarded book on Russia, say that he considers the current situation very dangerous. At the moment it appears that the Western powers are not planning any intervention in the country, and that Russia may have a free hand in Crimea, one of its traditional strongholds in Ukraine where its Black Sea fleet is stationed.

For an interesting perspective on the current situation from a young woman who teaches English in Kharkiv, a large city in northeastern Ukraine, check out The image below is of one of the installations of the Black Sea fleet in Sebastopol, Crimea in calmer days.