Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Month in Mexico – The Bottom Line

  Lake Chapala, Mexico, Sunset - photo by Mike D'Cruze
As usual on a trip, I kept a small spiral notepad in my purse to record each day's expenditures, but I think I prefer David's approach. He looks at his bank statements to see how much money he withdrew from ATMs, subtracts any left-over money from that total, and, finally, adds pre-paid expenses (airline tickets, for example) to arrive at a final figure.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Excellent Low-Cost Airline

David and I stretched out in our exit row leather seats, readied our headsets for the TV shows that were about to begin, opened a huge complimentary bag of snacks, sipped a free beer, and congratulated ourselves on having found this luxurious airline that offers the best fares to Mexico. 

Not only is Volaris about a third of the price of other airlines, but its service is excellent.  They guarantee you will leave and arrive on-time and promise that your luggage will, too. (We did and it did.) In this company that is ranked one of the best 100 companies in Mexico to work for, everyone from the pilot to the gate crew was pleasant. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cheap Short-Term European Apartment Rental Services

From the New York Times comes another article about a recent phenomenon, short-term vacation rentals in private homes.  These cheaper accommodations fill a niche for the budget traveler.

Europe Without Hotels - New York Times
12 July 2010  By BENJI LANYADO

IN the middle of a cool, cloudless Parisian afternoon, light was pouring into my guest room from a turn-of-the-century courtyard in the 10th Arrondissement. I clambered up to the loft bed, suspended above dark oak floors, and stared at the textiles shop sign swinging in the courtyard through the large, almost floor-to-ceiling windows.

A bottle of Bordeaux was breathing; other amenities included a pantry stocked with cereal, milk and yogurt. I also had a phone number to call if I needed dinner recommendations or, perhaps, extra shower gel. But I was happy sitting at the window, nodding at my new neighbors as they wheeled their bikes onto the street and headed into the cafe-lined Marais.

Hotel guests pay handsomely for such perks, but I wasn’t in a hotel. Nor was I in some vacation rental. I was in the home of Julien Szeps, a 26-year-old chef whom I met through a new kind of short-term rental service called And the studio apartment was only 65 euros a night, about $80 at $1.23 to the euro. Not bad for an entire apartment with a full kitchen and bathroom, less than 10 minutes by foot from the Louvre.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Month in Mexico - How to Choose a Hotel Room

If you want low price and unbeatable convenience while on vacation, an apartment rental is your best bet.  But there are times--if you're only in town a day or two--when you have to rent a hotel room.  If so, you will certainly want to make the best choice.  I've been playing with the new "Trust You" site recommended in today's Budget Travel e-mail newsletter, and I think it can definitely help you make the right choice.   - Dru

TrustYou may be the best travel site you've never heard of
Posted by: Sean O'Neill, Friday, Jul 9, 2010, 11:57 AM on Budget Travel Newsletter

Before booking a hotel, most travelers look it up on TripAdvisor or on another travel site with reviews from regular people. But some hotels have been reviewed dozens of times. Add up all of the hotels and reviews, and trip planning can feel like you're researching a PhD thesis.

Enter, TrustYou. This free site aims to save you time by doing the homework for you. It pinpoints only the hotel reviews that are relevant to you. It's more comprehensive than TripAdvisor, too, because it searches all of TripAdvisor's reviews as well as all of the reviews of other major user review sites, such as Expedia, TravelPost, and Venere.

Searching is easy. Type in what you're looking for ("a family-friendly B&B in Philadelphia" or "cheap hotel in downtown Amsterdam"), and TrustYou will fetch a list of properties that are a good fit.

The hotels you'll see at the top of the list will have two things in common: They'll be the highest rated properties overall, and they'll be hotels where the reviewers have most often commented on things pertinent to you. If you asked for "family friendly B&Bs in Philly," then the first hotels retrieved will be ones praised by the most number of travelers who wrote comments such as "excellent amenities for families" and "a great B&B for families."
Examples of these key phrases are listed. Positive comments are printed in a green font, negative comments in red. Click to see any given review in full, putting quotations in context. Another click will show you the hotel's location on a map.

One aggravation is that TrustYou doesn't link up directly to hotel sites, such as the specific site of the Omni in downtown Chicago. You either have to book a room through one of the partner sites (like Expedia) or you have to use a search engine like Google or Bing to find the hotel's site. That's annoying, but TrustYou is hoping to making money off of you making a booking through one of its partner sites.

Overall, TrustYou is a handy new arrow to have in your quiver when hunting for the perfect hotel for your needs. If you try it, let us know what you think.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Enfermo....Still

The medicine at top, Bactocin, is an antibiotic.  The two others soothe the gut.

This is what I thought a few weeks ago when I was convinced I had amoebic dysentery:

If the number of bathroom visits exceeds the number of hours in a day; if your stomach is distended so the shorts, which were too loose yesterday, cannot be buttoned; if it takes five minutes of sitting on the bed to work up the energy to look for your sandals and another five minutes to gather the stamina to slip into them; and if you feel ravenous but the thought of eating makes you nauseous -- then you probably have amoebic dysentery.

I was wrong.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Mazamitla

We finished up our last week in Mexico by traveling on newly improved roads to what appears to be the cleanest town in the country--Mazamitla.  David and I were amazed to see easy-to-walk streets, charming Swiss architecture, and a delightfully cool plaza in this mountain (7500 feet above sea level) town.
Mazamitla's streets are lined with buildings that appear to be transplanted from Switzerland.
     The pine-tree studded plaza contains the requisite gazebo bandstand.
              But it is the church that dominates the view.
              The inside of the church is as charming as the town itself.

Practicalities -

If you make the day-trip from Ajijic, be sure to stop at El Troje for lunch.  As you approach the outskirts of town, you will come to a stoplight and see a Pemex station directly in front of you.  Turn left and you will see the restaurant/hotel on your left.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Wal-Mart

Although it rattled the expatriates who hate to see changes in their little village, Wal-Mart has come to Ajijic.  But it's not like any Wal-Mart I've ever seen in the States, so there's still enough "foreign-ness" to make shopping an interesting experience.

For only 40 pesos, this man will use his portable washer to give your car a bath while you shop.

Inside, there is a row of little shops selling ice cream--complete with sprinkles--cookies, and coffee.

Or, if you have a hankering for a variety of pastries, rolls, bread or pizza, you can grab a tray and tongs and select your own from the rows and rows of delectable offerings.
Expatriates may decry the addition of this mega-store in sleepy little Ajijic, but David and I noticed that their shopping carts were clogging the aisles of the store that has brought so many conveniences to Mexico.