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Archive for October, 2010

The cheapest place to vacation. I think Oct 31

Unfortunately, the best deals are for Aussies. They’re closer. But once you get there, Asia seems to have the most bang for your buck, and you can get some unbelievable deals even for luxury accommodations in some areas.

A word of warning: The communist countries are superficially friendly, but their universal philosophy is “soak the Rich American Tourist.” You have been warned.

Our general rule that the farther from the Big City, the lower the prices, but even the famous tourist spots are usually pretty reasonable. Just be aware that you’re doing tourist locations, not the real, authentic native culture. Of course, if you’re spending the bucks to fly clear to Indonesia or Thailand, you probably can feel justified to stick with the safe, public, touristy areas. They’ll be plenty exotic even if they are “tuned” for the tourist trade.

Here’s what I mean by luxury bargain: A top-of-the-line hotel in Bankok can be under $200 a night. This is for the kind of room (and hotel accouterments) that would cost you several times as much in, say Europe. Go to the bookstore and page through a fancy travel magazine for pictures of these places. By the way, I found a place in Thailand that charges $5000 per night, so you can definitely go expensive if you want. (It was for groups—3 fancy rooms, 6 less fancy rooms, and breakfast)

Get out of town, though, and visit the villages. You can find a clean room to rent for ten bucks.

These folks will even let you help feed the pigs if you want

Another tip: You’ll find lots of folks with some English, but it’s a good idea to bring a phrasebook.

Speaking of feeding livestock, one of our hens hatched out seven chicks last Sunday. You can stop by and feed them if you like. Visit my personal blog, Mushrooms to Motorcycles, for a picture and the story.

More on Asia next time.

Category: Adventure  | Leave a Comment
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.

Category: General  | Leave a Comment
Principles of cheap travel, part three Oct 20

This one’s a tip:

Consider renting out your house while you are gone. To someone in, say, Sweden, a visit to the town that hosts the Kalmar Nykel (sailing ship that brought Swedish immigrants to Delaware, where this blog originates) and is so close to DC and NYC might make a pretty attractive vacation. Subtract the rent from the cost of your vacation.

The Kalmar Nykel in Wilmington. Click to enlarge.

Organizations are out there that broker house exchanges. Or just plain rent it short-term to a doctoral student and family for the spring term. Figure out your own creative solution. (And share your idea in the comments.)

Principle six: Natural wonders tend to be less expensive than man-made attractions. For example, there’s a fee to go see the Mt. Rushmore sculptures, but you can drive through the badlands all day for the price of a tank of gas, which you’d have to spend anyway to get to Rushmore.Let’s don’t even mention theme parks.

Everybody sees Mt. Rushmore from the front; here's a profile view. Don't forget to buy a made-in-China souvenir at the sucker gift shop.

Free, and you can go exploring

Okay, maybe I come across a bit cynical here, but the principle remains. Anything made with tourists in mind is expensive, anything that’s already there is cheap.

By the way—I forgot to mention last time that you don’t have to volunteer, you can go somewhere for education, a seminar, or maybe secure a temporary transfer or go to a convention for work. Add a day or two on your own and you have a discounted vacation.

More travel on the cheap Oct 18

This principle isn’t exactly a “how to spend less” rule, but it makes a good rule of thumb:

The less you spend, the more you will interact with the locals. Tourist attractions tend to be set up to isolate tourists from “furriners” and make it easy for the “guests” to spend money. Take a bus tour. You’re with the other tourists. When they stop, where do they do it? At places to buy stuff, where the locals are people whose livelihood is selling to tourists. Those beautiful luxury resorts, to be truly luxurious, are isolated from the (often poor) people of the country. People spending money on themselves don’t want to be bothered by beggars.

Exotic Zanzibar. Tourists are on the beautiful beaches, not here

Of course, this locale would disturb anyone’s vacation (but see the next principle). But if you get out into the countryside, away from the slums, in a lot of countries the people are making a living and getting by. They’re a pretty interesting place to visit, and you’re more likely to pay the local rates. Yes, you won’t have a liveried waiter at your every beck and call, but you’ll have real life experiences that you’ll never forget. All this suggests the next principle.

Principle 4: What if you volunteer instead of vacation? I never heard of a missionary of any flavor who wouldn’t love to have some folks come and help out. What skills do you have? Someone in an exotic locale can use them. There are lots of quasi- and non-governmental organizations out there, too, if something like that is more your style. Here’s another view of Zanzibar:

This guy is helping out in a school

Seriously—consider doing some good instead of just spending money on yourself.

More next time. What ideas do you have to share?