Sunday, December 20, 2009

Free Accommodations in Exotic Locales

Would you like to spend the summer on an Alaskan island with only orcas, sea otters and caribou for company? Or how about two weeks in Turkey where tree branches whisper your nightly lullaby? If you're the right person for those caretaking positions, either lodging could be yours for free!

Gary Dunn's Caretaker Gazette has been serving the public for 27 years by connecting caretakers with owners who need their help. The website states that positions are offered, “...on estates, mansions, farms, ranches, resort homes, retreat centers, camps, hunting and fishing lodges, vacation homes, private islands, and any other kind of property imaginable...” in the United States, Mexico, Canada and other countries. Tasks might be caring for a few livestock on a ranch in Arizona, performing light carpentry on a farm in California, or taking a dog for a walk twice a day in Pennsylvania. Typically there's no salary offered unless the position is long-term, but, because these situations provide free accommodations, they are an ideal opportunity for the tightwad traveler to fully experience life at a desirable location for a price that can't be beat.

While the Caretaker Gazette offers a variety of job possibilities, the British-based Mind My House site exists solely to connect pet/house sitters with potential clients. Since pet sitters cost anywhere from $50-75 a day, it is thriftier for owners to engage a sitter who trades pet care for accommodations in the owners' home. The owners are assured that their house and pet are well-cared for while they're on vacation, and the sitter has the chance to live like a native for a week or a month in a desirable location. Mind My House currently has 129 listings in 27 countries with the UK and the US having the greatest number of opportunities.

I'm a firm believer in renting a home or apartment for your vacation, but a situation that allows you to stay-for-free while performing minimal chores is an an even better option!

Practicalities -
For more information about Gary Dunn and articles about the Caretaker Gazette, see his blog.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Attention Anglophiles

Want to experience the London Eye—the third tallest Ferris wheel in the world—without leaving the ground? Britain's national tourism agency's website will let you do that—and a whole lot more. There's no need to mind-the-gap here, because there is no gap. I cannot imagine a question that could not be answered by this site. The plethora of information will satisfy the most curious Anglophile.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sleep in a Bath House, Chapel, Medieval Tower or Hospital

The Landmark Trust UK organization gives you a lot of options if you're craving a unique lodging experience. Founded as a building preservation charity by Sir John Smith and Lady Smith, the trust states that, “All landmarks are remarkable in some way for their architecture, history or setting.”

They aren't kidding. Beamsley Hospital in North Yorkshire, England, is Elizabethan architecture at its finest, but you can also experience modern architecture in the Anderton House built by Peter Aldington in 1969. If you rent a former inn called Collegehill House in Scotland, you can gaze over the garden wall at the Rosslyn Chapel which was featured in The Da Vinci Code book and film. If the inn isn't close enough, you can make reservations at the Rosslyn Castle itself. For solitude and communing with nature, try the three-mile long Lundy (Puffin Island) preserve in the Bristol Channel which is a pristine island with sweeping sea views and endless birding possibilities. There's a tiny village with a tavern and a shop or two, but most visitors are there for the natural beauty. You can only reach Lundy one way--by boat or by helicopter in the winter--but your twenty or so varied lodging choices, once you get there, range from a castle to camping.

My favorite choices, though, are the literary offerings. Imagine spending a few nights in the Piazza S. Felice in Florence, Italy, which was the home of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. In Rome, the flat in the Keats-Shelley house flanking the Spanish Steps would be sufficient inspiration to have me pulling out my manuscript. And is there a wordsmith who could resist the inspiration to be found at the bucolic Tivoli retreat in Italy believed to have been owned by the poet Horace?

While the UK Landmark Trust has, by far, the greatest number of properties offering 180 accommodations in the Channel Islands, England, Italy, Scotland and Wales, other organizations offer choices in other countries.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One Trip—or Three—for the Same Price?

Sacre Coeur

Brian, an employee of the Untours company which specializes in renting apartments to people who want to travel independently with a bit of support from a local expert, and I (as well as a couple other people) have been debating the advantages and disadvantages of a trip planned completely independently and one offered by Untours. You can read the thread here.

Brian's point is that novice travelers may be hesitant to plan their own trips because they fear the unexpected. The Untours company tries to ensure no unpleasantness occurs during the entire vacation experience. An Untours representative personally inspects the apartments on its list so there are no unwelcome surprises when tourists unlock the front door, and an English-speaking guide is on-site to handle—via telephone—any emergency that might arise from a lost passport, unforeseen medical problem, or an apartment key code snafu. I suppose Brian has a valid point if someone is extraordinarily nervous about traveling or is so busy he doesn't have time to do research on his own.

But Untour trips can only be had at a hefty price.

If you want to get the most for your travel dollars, planning your own trip is much more economical and rewarding. All you have to invest is a bit of time for research. And it is possible, I promise you, to have all those assurances Untours offers at a fraction of the Untours' price.

Let's look at a week in Paris during early September, 2010. Untours will pick you up at the airport, take you to your apartment, provide a printed guide written by their staff and a Paris street guide, an orientation lecture, and one group dinner at a restaurant. They will also supply each couple (Prices are listed per person but two people must share each apartment.) with forty metro tickets and two-day museum passes. They offer three small—as most apartments are in Paris—places in the 15th arrondisement and two apartment rentals in the Latin Quarter to choose from. The costs vary only slightly for each apartment, but let's say you choose the first apartment in the 15th arrondisement.  The total for this Untours trip is $3668.

Now, let's assume you make the same trip to Paris in early September, 2010, but do all the planning on your own.

There are several options for traveling from the airport to your apartment, some costing less than $20, but, let's do what Untours does and have a car service waiting for you, with a man holding a sign with your name on it, as you leave customs. The cost, for the round-trip, (This same company will return you to the airport at week's end for this one price.) is roughly $147. Let's assume you also picked up a $25 guidebook before leaving home so you could do some preliminary research. When you go to the metro the next day or to a tourist bureau, you will pick up a Paris street guide for free. You do not need an orientation lecture because you have already done considerable reading and Internet researching before you left home. Besides, you know you can ask any questions you might have at the tourist office. You will also buy two 2-day museum passes and four carnets (ten tickets in each carnet) of metro tickets for a total of $166. Being the cautious type, you've also bought traveler's insurance for both of you for $120 that will cover any cancellations in your lodging arrangements and pay for any medical costs you might have including being air-lifted back to the United States. You have also, after thoroughly checking the reviews left in the guest book and after many informative and reassuring e-mails from the owner, reserved a lovely one-bedroom apartment in the 10th arrondisement, a lovely and safe neighborhood with lots of cafes and shops and just steps away from a metro stop.  The apartment is also equipped with a telephone, computer, international-channels TV, a washer, dryer, and dishwasher.  All this for $662.

The total for the trip you plan yourselves will cost only $1120. Compare that to the Untours' price of $3668. Doing a bit of the legwork and research saves you a whopping $2548!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tightwad Travel Tip – How Much Extra for the Suitcase?

Want to know the latest airline charges for checked luggage? The charge for two suitcases? Three or more? Wondering about the fee you'll pay if your bag is overweight? What about carry-on? Find the answers to all your questions at luggage limits.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tightwad Travel Tip - Ferrying Around

Ever since I rode the Staten Island Ferry with its singer/guitar players and jewelry saleswomen in the restrooms, I've been intrigued by this mode of transportation. Rather than spend an hour and a half fighting traffic to get into Manhattan, my cousins and I simply boarded a ferry, enjoyed some music, bought some earrings, and got off twenty minutes later near Wall Street. I was convinced then that a ferry is often the best and most economical way to travel from Point A to Point B. Now, after many more ferry rides in several countries, I'm certain that my initial impression was correct.  I can't promise you entertainment or shopping possibilities on all ferries, but I can assure you that this mode of public transportation may solve some of your navigational problems.