Month: February 2018

5 Ways To Stretch Your Travel Budget

The economic stimulus package set to reach 130 million households this spring may cause a surge in travelers looking for fun ways to spend their money. If you’re one of them, make the most of your money by considering destinations offering the most bang for your buck. Following are travel tips for those seeking an escape on a tight budget:

1. Think seasonal. An effective strategy for stretching your travel dollar is to keep an eye on high-season versus low-season rates. For example, with warmer weather in the spring and summer, we tend to forget about the popular wintertime vacation spots like Mexico. Traveling to the beach between April and June provides an ideal time to take advantage of the off-season rates.

2. Think quiet. Another travel tip for the budget-minded is to consider destinations that are hot spots in the wintertime yet slow down to an easy going speed as the weather warms up, such as Lake Tahoe and Jackson Hole. These well-known ski areas offer an abundance of outdoor activities once the snow melts. You’ll find hiking, biking, fishing and more without contending with the ski season crowd.

3. Think local. The hefty price per gallon of gas may create a barrier when considering a road trip, but short road trips can offer an affordable travel alternative. Consider checking out an area within a few hours drive that is known for a particular attraction, or head off the beaten path and try some camping, or head to a spa for a weekend of relaxation.

4. Think global. Wait a minute. Did we just move from thinking locally to thinking globally? Yes, international travel is not top-of-mind for a lot of U.S. citizens for a host of reasons, one being the struggling U.S. dollar. It hurts to think of exchanging a dollar bill in Europe only to receive half the value back in Euros. One way to avoid the exchange rate is to consider a European cruise since most travel costs are purchased in U.S. dollars up-front, thus minimizing the exchange rate loss.

5. Think out-of-the-box. Instead of spending hours in front of your computer drooling over exotic photos of that fancy Hawaiian resort only to want to vomit at the site of the hotel rates, consider alternative lodging options. For instance, check out rentals – whether it be a house, condo or an apartment. Spending less on lodging may mean you could stay longer…hmmm…Also, check airfare costs for varying routes that will get you to your desired destination. Instead of flying direct, you may find that booking two separate flights to reach your travel destination will save a lot of money.

Tips on Saving Money on the Road

With everyone pinching pennies and tightening their belts in the face of higher oil and gas prices these days, vacationing seems like a luxury most of us simply can’t afford. But if you choose your destinations carefully and take advantage of a few tricks, you can still make traveling the joy it’s supposed to be.

Tip 1: Overnight trains and buses
This is one way to kill 2 birds with one stone, save time AND money. By opting for a train or bus you save one night’s accommodation and cover distance at the same time.

India, and Thailand’s overnight trains are quite comfortable and not much more than a night’s accommodation. Waking up to a fantastic sunrise in Northern Thailand while speeding along to the rhythm of the tracks is one of this writer’s most cherished travel memories.

In Spain, however, the overnight train can be quite costly, so check the prices carefully.

As for overnight buses, none compare to Turkey. Coffee, tea, cakes, clean rest stops, and lemon cologne put Turkey’s bus system in a league of it’s own.

Tip 2: Pick a hotel that delivers the extras
Some hotels offer a place to sleep. Other hotels offer a place to sleep, plus complimentary breakfast (and maybe dinner), airport pickup, Internet, walking tours, tea and coffee, and other creative extras. Usually small budget and boutique hotels are eager to please as they survive on word of mouth referrals and recommendations.

Tip 3: Pick a hotel that isn’t in a guidebook
A hotel owner in a popular destination in Turkey once shared a story about his first years in the hotel business. Every person who arrived in town was headed to the same competing hotel because it was given a glowing review in one of the “Travel Bibles”. Try as he might, he could not break the cycle of people flocking to his competitor. Finally, he started offering the first night free and unbelievable cheap beer to lure customers to his hotel. It worked, and ironically, today he is given glowing reviews in all the “Travel Bibles”.

Another seasoned traveler once related that as she looked back over her six-week trip to Rajasthan, India, she realized she had not once spent a night in any of the recommended hotels in her guidebook. She was perfectly happy with each and every one. So take a chance and spread your business around, you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tip 4: Day trips
If you check carefully, you’ll find some day trips are definitely worth their money, especially if you are paying in the local currency. Some places just can’t be visited on your own, or if you could, it would be such a hassle it would take the enjoyment out of visiting altogether.

The floating market in Bangkok and the underground cities in Cappadocia, Turkey spring to mind. Considering that many of these day trips include lunch and entrance fees on top of transportation it doesn’t take superior math skills to figure out that some are a good deal.

Tip 5: Look online and book locally
Not the huge, well-known, Internet booking monsters out there; think smaller, local agents. A travel agent based in Bali can recommend a reputable hotel in Ubud that will suit your honeymoon or family needs, compared to a huge booking site that lists overbooked hotels in every country on the planet. If you run into unexpected trouble, (missed flights, delays), or just want to spend more time somewhere, a travel agent will be able to shift your reservation at no cost to you. With a booking site, you will have just lost your hotel deposit.

Tip 6: Pick an off the beaten path destination
Get off the “banana pancake highway”. Every country has a “route”, take a few days to step off track and you’ll notice the people are friendlier, the experience is richer, and the prices are lower. How do you find these places? Continue to the next tip.

Tip 7: Get help
Although budget travelers are often reluctant to get professional help, often an agent working on your behalf will save you time and money. Local agents know of great places that are under-visited, new hotels that offer specials and ways to make connections that will save you time and money. Generally, agents don’t make their commissions from the customer, but from the hotel or ticket company you have booked with. Again, you’re spreading your money around and reaping the benefits.

How to Choose the Right Camping Stove

In this article, I go over the different things that you have to look for in a camping/backpacking stove. I look at what is important and what is not, why you should care about getting the best camping stove there is.

Camping and backpacking can be wonderful, but after a long trek through the wilderness, you might feel like having a warm meal. Of course you can light a fire to keep you warm and boil water, but a warm meal might be nice. There is no quicker and easier way than using a camping/backpacking stove.

When it comes to choosing the right camping/backpacking stove you need to consider several factors like where you’ll be using the stove, how far you have to carry it as well as other factors like the kind of fuel you may need to use to light the stove. Now, I will show you 3 main factors to pick a good one.

1. Main Fuel Types

Canister – For short overnight stays, propane camping stove or isobutane fuel systems are good.

– Pro: They are compact units and easy to use as well.
– Con: On the downside, they cost a lot and the fuel is hard to gauge.

Liquid Fuel – White gas, also known as naphtha, which is highly refined, works well in high altitudes and extremely cold temperature.

– Pro: Ideal for cold temperatures and at high altitudes
– Con: Liquid fuel systems are a heavier option and they require priming

Wood (as an alternative fuel source) – Wood as an option is ideal for long-distance hikes and very light

– Pro: Wood is easy to source even if you are on the go.
– Con: Need constant attention; tricky to control especially in windy situations

Alcohol (as an alternative fuel source) – You can find alcohol in most remote parts where hiking or backpacking is common. Look for denatured alcohol, preferably high ethanol content alcohol. Never use methanol, it is toxic.

– Pro: commonly available in various countries and it also fits a wide range of systems
– Con: If the alcohol is not pure enough, it can produce heavy soot.

Solid Fuel (as alternative fuel source) – These are compact fuel tablets made of hexamine. They are lightweight and great for emergency situations.

– Pro: Light and easy to light
– Con: They burn for a short time and tend to be more expensive than other systems
When you’ve decided on the fuel you can now consider other factors that will make your stove ideal.

2. How big should your camping/backpacking stove be?

The size of your camping backpacking stove will depend on the number of people you’ll be cooking for. Generally there are two sizes to choose from: A two-burner that sits on a tabletop or a freestanding stove

– Group of 4 or less

For small groups of people just camping or backpacking for a few days, a compact two burner will work just fine. Look for a camping stove that is light, will easily fit into the trunk of your car and has enough cooking power to suit a small group. With a Coleman Chef Everest you can use a 16-ounce canister or use a larger propane tank. Space is limited with this model so be sure that the usable cooking space fits your pot. Some products can only accommodate a 12″ skillet and others can accommodate the same size skillet with the wind flaps removed. There are models that can fit two 12″ sized skillet so before you buy a camping stove, pay heed to the dimensions but remember that they can only help you in deciding if the stove has enough cooking space. The size and placement of the burner are a good indication of the usable cooking space on the stove.

– Group of 8 and more

Eight is a large number and you may need more than a standard two burner stove. Freestanding models are great for large groups. The advantage is that they don’t need a tabletop. Check out camping stoves that have more powerful burners and prep trays, which give you more cooking, space. You need to keep in mind that freestanding stoves take time to pack and unpack and they take up a lot of space. If space is an issue you might want to get two compact two-burner stoves.

– Groups of seven or less

If you have a mid-sized group of say, seven, choosing the right camping stove can be hard. It might help to know what you’ll be cooking, or how long you expect to be out in the wilderness. Start off with a two-burner stove and include one more if the demands increase. A freestanding burner might be too bulky and too much of a hassle to lug around and assemble. With a two-burner stove you can cook meals that you’d typically cook at home like a Pasta and Sauce meal.

Coleman and other brands offer different versions of two-burners stove. The difference with these versions is the space for the pots. Standard versions work well for small families or groups but with a little creativity these can be used to even cook for as much as ten people. A campfire can always be used to heat up some dishes.

3. BTU & Power

The power of a camping stove is measured by how many BTU (British Thermal Units) it. BTU is a measure of the amount of energy required to heat or cool one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. So the more BTU a camping stove has, the more power it has. This should not be the only factor that you consider when buying a camping stove, you should also consider the cooking space it has.

– Look at the time it takes to boil water

All stoves should be able to boil if the temperature is ideal, wind conditions are moderate and the group size is fairly manageable. However, before you choose a camping stove you should know how fast it could boil water. This is crucial if you have a big group and time is of the essence. Boiling water for your morning coffee should not be a two-hour event. The number of BTU should be an adequate indicator, but it is not always the case.

– Simmering capability and wind resistance

Most products that are tested can boil water relatively fast but they are unable to keep a small flame to simmer down. You should look for a model that can boil water fast but also keep a small flame without turning off when the burner is lowered. The fact that you are using a camping stove should not mean you should expect it to perform any less than your stove at home.

When it comes to wind resistance things are more straightforward. You can buy a camping stove with a windscreen or you can forego the windscreen and create your own by putting your stove in a protected area. If you camp in extremely windy places then its best to invest in a camp stove with a powerful burner and a windscreen.

If you enjoy camping and enjoy food and cooking then you should choose a product that really meets your requirements. Remember also to maintain your stove so that it can last for as long as you need it to.

Tips for Family Flying

Flying can be an exciting and enjoyable experience, especially if you are heading out on a family vacation. Here are some airline travel tips to make your trip as smooth as possible.

Getting a good seat is important, especially if you are going to be traveling on a long flight. When booking your ticket, you can often get a copy of the seating plan for your particular aircraft. Take a look at it before deciding on your seats. You’ll need to make your decision on whether you’d like an aisle seat, a window seat, or perhaps you’d like to sit on the exit row which has more leg room but may have non-reclining seats on some planes. Keep in mind that children will not be allowed to sit on the exit rows, so don’t select these seats if you have young children flying with you. If you don’t get lucky on the seating when you book your flight, you can ask for better seats when you check in. This doesn’t always work but it’s worth a try. As a last resort, if the flight is not full, the flight attendants will often allow you to switch seats if you ask them once you board the flight.

How can you avoid flight delays? Well, most of the time there is nothing much you can do about this as you are at the whim of the weather, traffic, and other uncontrollable reasons for delay. However, booking a non-stop flight can lessen the likelihood that you will be delayed since there will be no airports to stop at in between which is the usual cause of going off schedule.

Watch for thieves in the airports. Happy-go-lucky vacation-going people are easy prey for thieves in the airport because they often, in the excitement of a trip. don’t pay attention as well as they should. Keep a careful eye on your purse or carry-on.

Check to see how early you need to arrive and make sure you allow time for traffic in order to get there on time. Due to all the security, lines can be very long so better to arrive early and have extra time than be rushing to the gate.

Make sure you have all the paperwork you will need such as boarding ticket, passport if you need one, birth certificate if that may be needed, and photo ID.

Get a list of what can and cannot be brought on board in your carry-ons. These rules change periodically so get an up-to-date list from your airline.

Since airlines routinely overbook, assuming some people will not show up, you will want to reduce the possibility of getting bumped by either checking in online before you leave home, or arriving early to check in. This ensures the best chance of keeping your seat. The good news is if do happen to be bumped off your flight, the airline is required to pay you compensation. This could be tickets, seat upgrades, or frequent flyer miles, and other bonuses.