Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hire a Travel Companion

Hate the scrum at the airport? Want someone to help you navigate check-in, security lines and getting to that gate at the end of the concourse? You can always hire a travel companion to accompany you or a family member who is travel-challenged by way of a health condition or disability, or who just can't tolerate the airport chaos.

A company called Flying Companions will provide a friendly person to accompany you on your next trip and handle all the boring details. They will also, if required, stay with you during your visit and return with you. Of course, this service is fairly pricey--for a trip within the United States costs are in the low four figures, usually $2,000 to $4,000 in addition to the cost of tickets.

If you prefer the assistance of a nurse, another company called Your Flight Nurse could be just the ticket. They offer the assistance of a nurse specifically trained to handle medical problems. Again, expect to pay a reasonable fee.

I can see possibly paying these fees to bring an elderly relative over from some distant country. The cost of a companion would probably be less than the cost of taking a large family to visit the person abroad.

For those who love to travel, a gig as a flying companion could be attractive. I suspect that the supply of these people probably far exceeds the demand, as it tends to for all travel-related jobs.

I am indebted to the New York Times for the above information.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Montreal Restaurant Deals

This post is a lot shorter than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago, when this city had lots of good, inexpensive places to eat. Now, unfortunately, most restaurants are pricey and noisy and the portions leave something to be desired.

Still, Montreal's multi-ethnic character ensures that a few bargains remain. One of my favourites is the Vietnamese restaurant called Au 14 Prince Arthur ouest, near the corner of St. Laurent Boulevard. Their spring plates are a refreshing mixture of sprouts, rice noodles and your choice of beef, pork or shrimp, starting at just $11. The ginger chicken is also the best of that dish I have ever tasted.

If you prefer Greek fare, check out Kalimera in the Cote des Neiges area near the University of Montreal. It offers a pleasant terrace in summer, and good traditional Greek dishes at reasonable cost. In addition, you can bring your own wine for savings.

A little farther north in Cote des Neiges across from the Jewish General Hospital is a place everybody raves about for its pho soup. Look for the line-ups outside at lunch time.

Should you happen to be in Montreal on Canadian Thanksgiving and in search of a turkey dinner, B & M Restaurant on Somerled Avenue is a good choice. The price last year for turkey and all the trimmings was $25. I haven't been able to locate any places downtown that still serve turkey for the holiday.

Westmount is an leafy area with few restaurants, and those there are tend to be pricey. Bistro on the Avenue on Greene Avenue has a pleasant atmosphere and prices that are not exorbitant. Portions, though, are getting mingy. Another option for budget dining nearby is the 5 Saisons grocery store at the corner of Greene and de Maisonneuve. There is an extensive take-out section and places for customers to sit and eat. I'm looking forward to the opening soon of a Greek bring-your-own-wine restaurant at the corner of Grosvenor and Sherbrooke.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Work Overseas after Retirement

Some people never retire, most people retire and stay home or travel as tourists, and some people take advantage of their retirement years to work abroad. Now unless you are a medical professional or highly-paid management consultant you probably won't earn much in this type of work, but it is a great opportunity to try something new, to stretch yourself in a different culture.

There are government or quasi government programs available in some countries, such as the Peace Corps in the United States, which accepts volunteers of all ages for stints of a year or more. In Canada, a group called CESO uses volunteer help for various assignments that usually last two to four weeks but can be up to six months. The emphasis in the latter group is on business skills, while the Peace Corps has a lot of openings for English teachers, community workers and others.

If you are really adventurous and hard-working, you may be able to piece together volunteer gigs overseas on your own. I know a woman who is a semi-retired psychologist and spends about half the year offering psycho-spiritual workshops to underserved populations in some of the world's most remote and impoverished regions. She works in places such as Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, South Africa and the Philippines.

It helps that she is able to offer her services in English, French, Spanish,  and Afrikaans, and that she works mainly with religious or other non-governmental organisations abroad and in Canada.It's even more impressive that she manages it without the assistance of a big pension..

So, if work at home has dried up or become stale, consider taking your show on the road. As they say, a rolling stone gathers no moss.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Saving $ in Costly Countries

If you are a fan of Youtube videos as I am, you can discover various lists of the most expensive and least expensive countries in the world, as well as numerous tips on travel savings.

Unfortunately, many of the most expensive places such as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxembourg and so forth are also among the most attractive and easiest to visit in terms of safety, cleanliness and developed tourist infrastructure, So what can you do to minimise costs while seeing these places?

One possibility is to choose a tour or cruise which includes them, since these options are usually less expensive than a do-it-yourself holiday. The buying power of tour companies ensures they get better rates on hotels and attractions than you can. For example, a bus tour of Central Europe with stops in Luxembourg and Switzerland would give you a chance to see something of these places, and a cruise to the Norwegian fjords could be relatively cheap compared with land travel.

If you are driving yourself, you could stay at a hotel or apartment near the border of Switzerland in France of Germany, and make day trips into the Alpine country. The same applies to Luxembourg, a very scenic but small place.

Another way to save is to downgrade your accommodations. If you usually stay in hotels, choose a hostel for a few nights. Take local buses to get around, or do as a friend of mine did and rent a bicycle to travel through the Swiss countryside. Buy most of your meals at grocery stores, not restaurants. Or seek out programs that include more than sight-seeing in your desired destination--language-learning programs, academic seminars, etc.

This topic is of interest to me, since many of the places I prefer to visit are pretty expensive. Norway is a place I'd love to see, but its remoteness and high prices have kept me from getting there. Maybe next year. And I want to return to Switzerland and stay again at the Hotel Hottingen in Zurich, a charming place run by nuns where a shared room (four beds) is still a relative bargain.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Air Bnb Advice

If you are considering using the home-sharing Website, there is a useful article in the Frugal Traveler column of the New York Times

It suggests being realistic with your expectations, being honest and if you believe you might be discriminated against, opting for the site's instant booking feature. There have apparently been a lot of complaints from people who think they were discriminated against because of race, age, gender, etc.

One of the selling points of this Website is that usually the offerings are cheaper than decent hotel rooms. However, if this is the case, don't expect hotel-like amenities such as easy check-out and mini-bars. Also, don't expect breakfast--the writer of the column said he had not received breakfast at any of the places where he stayed.

However, he had met some interesting people and said he would recommend it to the informed traveller.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Baikal Amur Mainline

You have probably heard of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the line that connects western Russia with the Pacific Ocean and points in-between. But are you familiar with the more recently-built Baikal Amur Mainline, which takes a similar but more northerly route above Lake Baikal?

It was finished in the 1970s, and passes through even more remote territory than its older rival. According to books by Irish writer Dervla Murphy, who travelled on it twice (winter and summer,) it is also better-maintained and more interesting, and carries very few tourists.

I haven't had the pleasure of travelling on either of these trains, though I have seen the Trans-Siberian in Irkutsk and ridden over some of its tracks around the southern end of Lake Baikal, a beautiful region. If this part of the world interests you, check out the schedules and prices on the site of Russian Railways or with a travel agency that specialises in this part of the world.

 One such agency I came across recently is called Baikal Complex,,  based in Irkutsk. It provides reasonably-priced tours and homestays at the towns along the routes of both these railway lines. This is a pretty remote part of the world, and it can be tricky leaving it to the last minute to book a place to stay. The tour company also owns an attractive guest house in Listvyanka on Lake Baikal, pictured below. The guys shown here are enjoying the spring sun near Listvyanka's small market. I was actually trying to take a picture of the dog, but as you see it only partially worked.