Thursday, October 27, 2016

Out of Eden Walk

Anyone with an interest in slow travel will enjoy the dispatches of Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is walking around the world as part of a project sponsored by National Geographic. He stays right on the ground and generally avoids tourists and big cities. The project is designed to trace the steps of early humans from their original home in Africa, and to last seven years.

Salopek is not travelling alone, but with a substantial amount of equipment, a local guide and sometimes pack animals such as donkeys or camels. His reports are immediate, and through his guide/translators he is able to interview locals he meets en route. At present he is in Uzbekistan.

His reports are quite erudite, with on the ground observations supplemented by a deep knowledge of history and culture. So for example in reporting on Khiva, one of the most famous stops on the Silk Road, he goes into a lot of background on the museums and libraries of early Islamic scholars and scientists who lived there.

His trip is designed to take seven years. It is accompanied by an international learning component, available online to students and educators around the world. This seems to me like a great way to learn about history and foreign cultures.

As for replicating parts of his trip on your own, I suspect it would take an enormous amount of planning, guts and money. But what a trip it could be.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bargain in the Heartland

It's good to know that some things don't change much. I just got a note from my cousin Pat written on the back of a rate sheet for a hotel in Canistota, South Dakota. There, you can get an economy room for one person for just $28, or for two for $33. That's for room with bath but no shower, no air conditioning and no phone.

Even if you splurge on a room with all the trimmings including a queen bed, fridge and microwave, its own whirlpool bath,cable TV, air conditioning and phone, the charge is only $47 single, $52 double. So, there are still bargains to be found off the beaten track in the centre of North America. It's a part of the continent I have yet to explore, but at these prices the prospect is tempting.

Another part of the world that doesn't get much coverage in terms of tourism is Belarus and the Caucuses Republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. I was pleased to see that the Campbells, a couple behind a blog called, which I have written about before, are now exploring this relatively unknown area.

They are a senior couple who are travelling full time and staying mainly at places they find through AirBnB. Their reports are long on photos and sadly a little short on specifics about prices, but they give you a good feel about what it is like to actually visit the places they stay and explore. They do say that they are finding prices in Eastern Europe a lot cheaper than those farther west, although accommodations are also quirky by their standards. However, they do not fault the hospitality of the people in these countries.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fall Savings on Lufthansa

If you book by Oct. 31, you may be able to save a lot on flights with Lufthansa to Germany and various destinations beyond that country. For example, round-trip flights between either Boston or Denver and Munich start at just $489 U.S., while Washington to Frankfurt is as little as $509 U.S.

Similar savings apply to flights from Canada, such as $789 Canadian for round-trip travel between Montreal and Dubai. Departure must be between Oct. 28 and December 10, but return can be between Oct. 28 and June 10, 2017. There are some blackout dates on the return, for holidays.

Lufthansa is one of my favourite airlines, and I always fly it when I have the opportunity.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Travel Warnings from State

If you are an American citizen planning to travel abroad, you may want to check the travel warnings issued by the State Department for 41 countries around the world. This does not include weather-related alerts, or the worldwide travel warning issued by the same government department.

There is a feature where you can sign up to be notified if State issues a warning for a country you intend to visit. Most of the countries with warnings are places that are not high on most tourist's wish lists, but there are also some surprises. While you would have to live in a cave to not know that visiting Syria or Yemen right now can be dangerous (because, in part of carpet bombing of certain areas undertaken or financed by Russia or the U.S.,) you may not be aware that places closer to home such as Mexico also merit a warning, mainly because of crime and kidnapping, not terrorism.

Many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia merit warnings, as do some in Europe (Ukraine) and Latin America. Diplomatic departments tend to err on the side of caution, so you may be tempted to disregard these warnings. Still, they can contain some useful information about particular things to watch out for.

Other governments issue similar travel warnings for their own citizens. It does make one wonder why the world has, over the last few years, become a much more dangerous place. Could it have anything to do with the foreign policies pursued by the major powers?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Budget Travel News from an Australian

I recently discovered a Website called Aerohaveno, maintained by Australian travel writer Tim Richards. It's not primarily about budget travel, but contains some valuable posts from time to time. Recent ones include detailed information on how to get to the airport in Melbourne cheaply, and where to find inexpensive eats in downtown Los Angeles.

What I like about this site is the fact that Richards is up-front about when he is hosted by a hotel or government tourist office, or when he gets a discounted rate. Freebies have always been an element of travel journalism, but from what I have heard, today it can go even further, with writers charging for covering a destination. Obviously, this means the information you are getting is not exactly unbiased.

Richards does allow advertising and sponsored posts on his site, too. He includes too many pictures for my taste, as do many travel blogs. However, if you can ignore these, you can find some useful tips from an experienced travel writer about how to get around cheaply today.

Just for the record, I have taken sponsored press trips in the past, but not since I started writing this blog. If I take such a trip again, I will be sure to let you know. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Good News on Airbnb

I have recently heard from two trusted sources that they have used the lodging sharing site Airbnb with no problems. One person has actually used it three times, once in Paris and twice in the U.S. The other recently used it in New York City.

It's good to have personal references about relatively new lodging options like this. I may be too conservative, but I generally feel more comfortable sticking with the tried and true when it comes to such important things as where to stay when you travel. However, sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing can certainly lower the cost of travel and make it easier to meet people.

In other news, October is a good month for off-season travel, particularly to sun destinations. The Caribbean and southeastern U.S. are under a severe hurricane warning and in some cases, evacuation orders, at the moment, but later in the month there will probably be big bargains. For travel within the U.S., Allegiant Air still offers some remarkably good fares, with one-way flights for as little as $34.

It is also a good time to visit Europe. The summer crowds are gone, but weather remains above freezing almost everywhere. You may have to deal with clouds and rain, but that is a lot more pleasant than blazing sunshine and broiling temperatures, or snow and ice.

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.