Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tightwad Travel Tip - Advice About Rome

Don't leave home for Rome without checking these two blogs. 

You can visit Ron in Rome's website or sign up for free delivery of such timely tips as where to find public bathrooms in the city, how to use the bus system, and what passes should be booked ahead of time.  David and I have found his information invaluable.

Revealed Rome, written by an expat American woman in her 20s, is also chock full of helpful information.  Amanda Ruggeri says her site will help you discover, "Tips, tricks and things not to miss," about Rome.  I now know never to ask for Parmesan cheese in a restaurant!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Europe on $85 a Day - Lodging

A corner of the kitchen in our Paris apartment.

David and I are planning a five-week trip to Italy, Spain, and (maybe) Morocco for $85 a day per person based on shared accommodations. This is the second in a series of articles telling you how to travel as cheaply--and comfortably--as we do., Trip, and list the IQ Hotel among their top five, one of the best hotels in Rome.

And it does sound lovely. The hotel, located close to Termini Train Station near central Rome, boasts a 15-meter double room with a king size bed, wi-fi, satellite TV, a mini-fridge, desk, telephone and in-room safe. There's a large communal terrace available day or night where you can get a snack or simply relax with a drink from the self-service bar. Should it be too chilly to sit on the terrace, the bar in the lobby, which overlooks the square of the Opera House, is staffed at all times. If you have any energy left after a day of sightseeing, there's a gym and sauna available free for your use. Sounds great, doesn't it? What more could you want?

But, as good as it sounds, David and I won't be staying there.

We found a place five times the size for less than half the price!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Europe on $85 a Day - Flight

David and I are planning a five-week trip to Italy, Spain, and (maybe) Morocco for $85 a day per person based on shared accommodations. This is the first in a series of articles telling you how to travel as cheaply--and comfortably--as we do.

I usually do not include airline ticket costs in my price calculations because there is one uncontrollable variable that no amount of frugality can overcome. If you live in New York City, rather than San Diego, your fare to Europe will undoubtedly be cheaper than mine no matter what cost-cutting measures I use. Location is the key to flight cost.

Still, having said that, I c a n make sure that my cost is the lowest possible by tracking my flight over a period of several months and buying when the price is right. If you use a tracking service like Kayak, you can receive a daily or weekly e-mail notifying you of the day's price for your flight.  (When you reach the website, click on "More" in the left-hand column to reach the "Flight Alert" or tracking tool.)

I used Kayak for the flight David and I will be taking this spring to Rome. Kayak sent us daily e-mails for three months until we discovered a $750 flight ($850 with tax) one morning in January.

Using ITA software, I just checked the same flight and discovered that our flight, today, would cost us $1384 plus tax. We saved at least $600 by planning ahead and taking advantage of a tracking system.

Of course, today, with the turmoil in the world raising the price of gasoline on a daily basis, it's difficult to know when to buy an airline ticket. It seems as though prices may never come down. While my advice about planning far ahead and using a tracking service to find the cheapest flight works under normal circumstances, if you are in quandary right now about whether to buy your ticket to Rome now or in June, here's the latest advice from the New York Times writer Michelle Higgins.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Italy, Spain and (maybe) Morocco on $85 a Day

Duomo in Florence, Italy

I've been sitting here adding numbers and shaking my head in disbelief. Surely I must be wrong. Math and I have never gotten along very well, despite my best efforts at conviviality, so perhaps I simply miscalculated.

But no. I've checked five times now, and I'm confident I'm correct. The numbers are accurate. As astonishing as it sounds, some people are evidently willing to pay two, three, or even five times the amount David and I pay for a vacation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Safeguard Against Pickpockets

(This article by Sean O'Neill appeared this morning in Frommer's newsletter.  Since nothing ruins a vacation like being pickpocketed, here are the ways to foil a thief.) 
How to Avoid Being Pickpocketed  by Sean O'Neill

Think You Won't Be Pickpocketed? Think again. You may be in more danger while traveling abroad than you suspect. In a typical major city, more than 100 people may be pickpocketed on any given day.

We've interviewed law enforcement officials and other experts about common fleecing techniques. If you watch out for these five scenarios while traveling, you may be able to beat a pickpocket at his own game.

Where: Front pocket of your pants

Pickability: Low

What to Watch Out For: The human eye has a weakness in how it perceives motion; it has trouble watching an object that arcs rather than moves straight. This means a talented thief can easily distract you by arcing one of his hands in the air. Looking away, you won't notice his free hand robbing you. Even a man who knows he's about to be robbed can be fooled with this technique, according to a 2008 article in the prestigious scientific publication Nature Reviews.

What the Experts Say: Having your wallet in your front pocket is a good defense. It's a relatively difficult spot for someone else to fish objects out of.

Tip: Dunhill has invented a "virtually indestructible" wallet. To open it, you need to press a finger against a digital reader to recognize your fingerprint. The cost? About $825, give or take a few bucks. But putting your wallet in the front pocket of your pants is a good enough security measure. And free.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Trip Is Born!

David and I didn't intend to make it complicated. Last November, we decided to go to Italy in the spring because, after touring the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, California, David hankered to see Pompeii and Herculaneum, and I wanted to return to the place where poetry, not wealth or power, had shaped a country's language.
Grounds of Villa dei Papiri replica at Getty Museum

It all happened centuries ago, according to the account in Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love, but, to me, that doesn't make the story any less romantic. It began when Latin, changing as it went, spread from country to country to spawn the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages. There were so many dialects, though, in each country, that a carpenter in southern France could not understand a woodworker from Paris. In Italy, consisting of dozens of city-states, people from one town could not understand the people two towns away.

When it came time to choose one dialect so that countries could be united by a single language, the largest, most powerful cities in each country dictated the language choice. The French dialect spoken in Paris became the only acceptable dialect as did the Portuguese used in Lisbon and the Spanish spoken in Madrid. It is only in Italy that the most powerful city did not determine the spoken language.

In Italy, the intellectuals rejected the dialects of their largest cities, Rome and Venice, and turned instead to the lyrical beauty of a poet's language. Unlike all the other countries in Europe, it was literature, not power or wealth, that determined the choice. And it was Florence's dialect, home of the Renaissance and Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, that served as the basis for the Italian we know today.

You've got to love a land that became united by adopting the beautiful language of a poet. No wonder I never tire of it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Oddly Named Travel Booking Site

(Arthur Frommer notes in his blog today that there's a new travel website with a hotel search service he finds impressive.) 

Post by Arthur Frommer

If you haven't yet made use of a travel booking site called Hipmunk, you're missing out on a smartly imaginative, thoroughly practical, new means of finding the lodgings that best satisfy your needs. The people who devised Hipmunk have brought an element of fun to the job of choosing accommodations, while at the same time maintaining a laser-like focus on the reason why we prefer certain hotels over others.

(Hipmunk is also an airfare search engine, a function that impresses me less than its hotel services.)

To begin with, Hipmunk is an aggregator of other hotel aggregators. It uses the excellent hotel-finding website called HotelsCombined, Airbnb, and several other popular surveys of hotel prices to find the best current rates for hotels. And it boldly prints those rates at the top of every listing.

But after listing the prices available to you in a particular city, setting them forth in ascending order of price if cost is your main criterion, it then re-orders the listing to take account of other desired goals.

Let's say you're a family traveling together, and you want to far removed from those areas of the city where inappropriate activities -- porn shops, strip bars, and the like -- are clustered. You click on the word "vice" and are immediately shown the hotels that are located a fair distance away from those undesirable activities.

But that's only one way that Hipmunk sets forth its information. You first click either "cheap," "average," or "pricey" -- and the website lists only the hotels that satisfy those descriptions. Then you click an "overlay," the words "food" or "tourism" or "shopping" or "nightlife," and depending on what you click, the website lists those hotels that are closest to a great many restaurants, attractions, shopping, or nightlife. It also identifies the location of each hotel on a large map occupying a fair portion of the site.

To focus your search even more, you can click on the words "ecstasy" (listing hotels according to a combination of good price, good reviews by hotel commentators, and good amenities), or the words "price" (cost alone), or amenities (possession of various helpful services in the hotel).

[Link to Frommer's blog.]

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Avoid Rip-Off in Currency Conversion Abroad

(This article by Melinda Page was originally published in Budget Travel's November, 2010, newsletter.)

Traveling abroad isn't cheap to begin with, so it's doubly painful when converting currency starts to add up—if you're not careful, you could lose up to 22¢ for every dollar. Here's what you need to know to protect your purse.

When it comes to navigating exchange rates, it pays to know all your options. From buying money online to grabbing it on the go at the airport, we've assembled a handy guide to the seven most common methods for foreign exchange. Each has its pros and cons (some of which can feel like legal swindling), so we've evaluated the options for you with the euro as our base tender, using an Exchange Rate Rip-off Meter from 1 to 5. After all, we can think of far more fun ways for you to spend your money.

Exchange Rate Rip-off Meter

1 Go for it!

2 Watch closely for fees.

3 Depends on your situation.

4 Avoid if possible.

5 Run away! Far, far away!

Swipe a Credit Card
Exchange Rate Rip-off Meter 1
How it works You can use your credit card just as you would at home; card issuers typically tack on currency-conversion fees of 2 to 3 percent for international transactions, you'll get the best exchange rate and fees that are lower than those associated with exchanging cash. If you want to get the best rate, sign up for a Capital One card, which levies no fees for international transactions. *$100 buys €74.24.

Best for The majority of your big purchases, hotel bills, and restaurant tabs. Basically, it's convenient enough to use instead of cash wherever possible.

Exception! Don't use it to take money out of an ATM—ever. You'll be hit with hefty fees (up to $20 in transaction fees or 4 percent of the amount of the advance, along with any local ATM fees), plus you'll be charged interest starting on the day you withdraw the money.