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Archive for the Category "General"

Interlude… Nov 08

Here’s a little interlude on traveling while you’re traveling. Specifically, in taxis.

Rule of thumb 1: Most drivers are competent, honest, and interesting people. Be friendly and don’t be afraid to carry on a conversation. They are typically good sources of “inside” info about their town. At least that has been my experience.

Rule of thumb 2: You don’t have to be paranoid, but not all of them are, that that’s what makes for this article.

Rule of thumb 3: (And this is a good business practice in general). Make sure everything is agreed on before you get into the vehicle. Once you’re inside, you’re committed to whatever you agreed on, and whatever you didn’t agree on, you’re stuck with whatever the driver decides: Is the fare for you only, or for you and your bags? Is the fare for the whole group or for each of you? Trust, but verify.

Rule of thumb 4: A word about the vehicle. Before you get in, make sure the meter works, and be sure he turns it on. If you put your luggage in the trunk, don’t pay him until everything is unloaded. In some areas taxis without meters are legal. If this is the case (common in the Caribbean, in my experience–not a lot of possible destinations, so they have standard rates for standard destinations), agree on a price for the whole trip before you get in.

Cute taxi in Indonesia

Rule of thumb 5: Unless you want him to take a round-about route, specify that he take the shortest (or fastest) route. This applies mainly to metered rides. When I was young and naive, I got the grand tour on my first visit to Nashville from a fellow who did an excellent job of distracting me by pointing out the sights as he tooled along.

Remember, people enjoy showing off their knowledge. Be an eager student of your teacher, your driver.

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My final general principles—for now Oct 26

Number 7: Don’t make your itinerary tight. I think one of the best things about travel is finding things you didn’t plan for. These are often time-consuming from the perspective of an itinerary, but they tend to be free or cheap, and they add unforgettable uniqueness to your trip. That interesting store or cafe across the street, that smaller path not on the main tour. Something someone tells you about that they just discovered themselves. Follow that lead! Remember, free stuff is cheaper than the expensive stuff.

I took a side trail on a scooter ride once, and found a spectacular view of a harbor that none of the other tourists got to see.

Nelson's Bay in Barbados

I could give you a million examples. When you have a choice, the more adventuresome one is usually better.

Numbah 8, dahling: Luxury and cheap don’t usually go hand in hand. Some locations, such as Southeast Asia, are known for being inexpensive, and we’ll get into some of that later, but the general rule is that fancy costs money. Luxuriasts make their living creating luxury. They gotta eat, y’know, and you’re the one paying their wages. Luxury is artificial. It’s fantasy. Somebody else does the dishes (okay, maybe that’s a meaningful luxury) but do you really need a chocolate on your pillow? Your spouse could put one on your sleeping bag for maybe 1% of the one in the fancy, sterile bedroom. And a chocolate on the sleeping bag is a surprise and delight. (Spouses, take note.)

What you get for your money is reduced risk. The food at that interesting cafe might be terrible. The small path might lead to a dump (I took one once and it led to a large pile of conch shells. No guarantees. But with the risk are the unexpected delights.

Just don't let something unforeseen happen to your chocolates

Actual cheap places coming up!

A little interruption to the cheap travel series Oct 22

I have another general rule of thumb or two about cheap travel coming up, but this is too interesting to pass up. Here’s a link to the original post:

…and here’s a map of Africa, the US, and a lot of other places to scale.

Click to show at full size

If you plan to visit Africa, better plan for a long trip.

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Travel on the cheap take one Oct 16

So I’m sitting here in the exotic 896 Diner just south of faraway Newark, Delaware, enjoying a huge meat-lover’s omelet made from three of my own hens’ eggs, and I realized I had left my notes at home. My notes for this post. It was to be the beginning of a series on general principles for traveling cheaply before I got into the places to go to travel cheaply.

Well, I like to travel cheaply, so I remember some principles without needing my notes. I’m not going to tell you to sleep next to your motorcycle, though I have done that. Part of the adventure, dontcha know.

Principle 1: Get out of town. Especially the town containing the airport you flew in on. These urban centers get a lot of tourists, and the folks there tend to capitalize on the tendency of tourists to spend money. The farther off the beaten track you get, the more you will be offered prices that the locals pay.

A corollary of this is: Stay away from things aimed at tourists—shopping areas, tours, chains, and other tourists. For example, suppose you’re taking a simple trip down the interstate. You can pull off at a truck stop near the highway and get a decent meal (it’s a good idea to pick the place with the most tractor-trailers in the lot), but if you go a couple miles into the local farm community, you can eat at Kitty’s Koffie Kup, that has absolutely no atmosphere, but it’s where all the locals eat, you get a really good meal, and pick up some local color to boot.In fact, you might find out about something nearby that’s worth checking out. The county park, town museum, a nice antique store, some local geological feature.

This isn't the Koffie Kup, but you get the idea

And that leads to

Principle 2: The slower you travel , the cheaper the trip. Most of the best foreign really good deals will be noticed and experienced by the backpackers—people who pack lightly enough that they can carry everything with them. They get off the big commercial tour bus and rent a bike so they can explore the countryside. We’ll cover this in more detail later. The idea is like that visit to the farm community. Sure, you’re not making highway speed, but the trip itself is better. And the local sights are generally free.

Next time: a few more principles for cheap travel.

Category: Adventure, General  | One Comment
A new series Oct 07

A while back I wrote about the cities that hosted the Winter Olympics. More recently I wrote a preponderance of posts about either unconventional places or about places that you might have reason to avoid. Now I feel like posting about places that are cheap.

I’ll still throw in the occasional out-of-series post, and you should remember that (ahem) you can always get a really good deal from your Serenity agent. But these posts will mostly be about places that are cheap all by themselves, at least for someone from the US.

Now, I’m not really giving you advice about how or where to travel. I’ll merely tell you about places where you are likely to be able to really stretch your travel dollar if you go there.

Another caveat: The values of currencies and stability of governments change constantly, sometimes dramatically in a short time. Rule of thumb: places that are good bargains generally stay that way, even though the details might change. New York city will pretty much always be more expensive than Upper coffepot, Montana. (Yes, there is such a place.) You won’t see a Broadway play in Upper Coffeepot, but you won’t be able to go camping or see much wildlife (or peace and quiet) in NYC, either. Don’t expect my info to be as accurate as a surgeon’s scalpel. It should be good enough to chop wood with, though.

So hold onto your seat, and get ready for some adventures!