8 ways to stretch vacation dollars

Written by admin on May 26, 2009 – 5:40 pm -

The Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and the travel industry is going all out for your business and travel dollars.

Many people are feeling nervous about the economy and whether or not their jobs may be cut. Will they be asked to work fewer hours, accept less pay or lose their jobs? Getting away may be out of the question.

Here are some bargain options that should stretch anyone’s traveling budget this summer.

With a family, drive
Many families are taking vacations closer to home so they can drive.  Gas prices are lower than they were last year — even though the cost has been gradually on the climb in the past month. Some experts are predicting that filling your car’s tank will continue to rise.

All-inclusive deals
Other people are renting cabins or spending a few days at resorts where everything is included. If you’re able to be flexible and don’t have your heart set on a specific destination, you can snag a last minute special that will minimize your feeling guilty about the cost.

Cruises are a bargain
Cruises are hotter than hot on this year’s vacation list. Many companies are practically giving away cabins and this may be the time to go to Alaska. Yes, there may be supplemental charges (e.g., liquor, off-shore excursions) but you can factor them into your budget. Again being flexible and having the ability to go at the last moment is a plus. Travel agents who specialize in cruises will know which cruise lines are discounting and which ships are floating bathtubs. Cheap may be cheap. But do your due diligence.

Bargain cities
The agents ranked the top U.S. cities for the value as: Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; New York and Los Angeles.

Use frequent flier and credit card points, take shorter vacations
A recent survey of 600 American Express travel discovered that clients are finding ways to offset costs by using credit card reward points, booking last-minute trips and traveling mid-week when air prices are lower and they are taking shorter vacations

Go where the dollar is strong — Central and South America
They’re picking destinations where the dollar goes further such as Costa Rica and other Central American countries. Mexican tourism is suffering. But for people who feel the swine flu was greatly exaggerated, there are incredible deep-discounted deals begging to be booked.

Europe looked good, but be wary of the exchange rate
Many people have been showing interest in Europe because of the dollar’s strength. Unfortunately during the past month, that’s taken a hit and no one is quite sure why. In the meantime, travelers may have booked (in dollars) an incredibly reasonable package get-away to the EU.

More friends than ever
If you own or rent a summer retreat, some acquaintances become new and dear friends and, “May we come stay with you for a few days? We won’t be any trouble.” If you happen to live in Europe as I do, you assemble a list of house rules and email them to your guests before their arrival. You may consider moving into smaller digs. Another option is to say no – which may sound heartless – but can save one’s sanity.

Well June is here. Although the economy is tentative at best, are you succumbing and signing up and on for vacations? If so, let’s hear where and how you’re intending to stretch your budget. People can learn from others various ways to beat the system. For some, it’s become a science.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

9 rules for very senior travelers planning vacations

Written by admin on May 5, 2009 – 5:51 pm -

Just because you may not be running as fast as you used to, or possibly never did, that’s no reason not to travel. Here are nine rules for travelers who might need more time or assistance when traveling.

Check with your doctor
Before booking your trip, sit down with your doctor and discuss what you should and shouldn’t be doing. In addition, you may need extra inoculations plus copies of your prescriptions (generic please) and a summary of your medical records. He or she can contribute valuable advice as to where you should and shouldn’t go.

Use a travel agent
Many people opt to use travel agents whose specialty is planning trips for very senior citizens and those with disabilities. They know which places are more appropriate than others and have the contacts to make your trip less fraught with anxiety.

For example, there are numerous cruise companies that have boats with rooms specifically designed to accommodate people who are less mobile. More than likely, they offer land excursions where the disabled traveler will be able to participate.

If you’re making your own plans, make advanced preparations and think out every possible contingency. Leave as little as possible to chance.

Depending on your situation, there are some countries where you’ll do better than others in the event you encounter problems. There are some cities that are more senior-citizen-friendly than others. Even Paris is trying to retrofit many of its ancient buildings and public spaces to accommodate wheelchairs and those with mobility problems.

You aren’t going to want to book biking, hiking or a trip that’s physically taxing. But there are many other places to go and things to do. Don’t confine your travels to sitting on a porch in a rocking chair.

Inform your airline
If flying, inform the airline of wheelchair needs for departing and upon arrival. Some people don’t think they need this service but airline terminals and connecting ramps feel as if they are expanding every year. Don’t let a false sense of pride cause you to board the plane tired and frazzled.

And there’s a plus. You’ll be ferried through security and if you’re traveling internationally, you won’t have to wait forever to clear customs because the escort will take you to the front of the line. I realized this one time when I was accompanying a friend who had a broken leg. That’s when the bonus of being expedited through the security process dawned on me. I considered faking an infirmity the next time I was traveling alone. How I hate waiting in lines. But, who doesn’t?

Use a porter
When traveling by train, always reserve a porter. For the few extra dollars (and do tip), he can make your life easier by escorting you to your seat and doing battle with your luggage. Do not expect to necessarily find roving porters in the station. In many European cities (and elsewhere to be sure) they must be reserved in advance.

Request accessible rooms at hotels
When making hotel reservations, specify you need a room that’s easily accessible from the main floor and if there are stairs, there’s an alternative way of getting from here to there. Not every facility has elevators (or big enough ones to accommodate a wheelchair) and it’s up to the traveler to do the homework. Many older properties don’t have ramps or places without stairs. Better to know before you arrive than find yourself trapped. It’s no sin to decide to stay at a different hotel because of its layout. If you use a wheelchair, make sure the doorways are wide enough to accommodate it and there are appropriate bathing facilities

Think before you dine
Restaurants may or may not present a challenge. In Europe, it’s amazing how many of them have restroom facilities on another floor. As they’re renovated, restaurants are required in many places to install WCs on the main floor — but it’s prudent to check before sitting down to eat.

Carefully plan public transportation
Check your destination’s public transportation system. In some cities such as Washington, D.C., the subways are required to have elevators so seniors and the disabled may may more easily use the metro trains.

In Paris, it’s illegal for taxis not to stop for a passenger who is wheelchair bound. Not only that, the driver is responsible for folding up the wheelchair and not charging to transport it in the cab’s trunk without charging a supplement.

Many cities have buses with ramps that can be lowered or that “kneel” to make entry easier. They many not be on every route but are being added as vehicles are being replaced.

Bring an special items
Pack needed items such as special pillows, bandages and anything that will make you more comfortable during your trip. You may need to check and pay for an extra suitcase. But the additional cost is comparatively nothing compared to searching for something specific in a foreign place — even if it’s a two-hour flight away from you live. Don’t expect drug stores to have what you need or necessarily even be open.

Buy travel insurance
Travel insurance is generally a good investment, especially if you have any type of disability. Better to spend the extra money and be able to be repatriated to the medical facility of your choice. You’ll travel with increased peace of mind as will family members left behind.

Other considerations: Are you comfortable traveling to a destination where you don’t speak the language? Some people are, while others aren’t. Know your limitations and comfort level.

These are a few suggestions and certainly the tip of the iceberg. Please add yours. People learn from each others experiences, mistakes and oversights.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How to take a cheap vacation and not feel cheated

Written by admin on February 10, 2009 – 9:06 pm -

OK  — if you’re not feeling the economic pinch, you’re in a minority. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to put a kibosh on traveling.

You simply have to be more creative and unearth the travel deals to be had.

If you’re a cruise person, your plate is full of choices. If you’re able to be flexible, depart from a port where there are lots of ships (e.g. Miami or Fort Lauderdale), leave on short notice, don’t insist on a state room and forgo cancellation insurance; there are plenty of cruises that cost less than $100 per day.

Travel agents are often your best resource. They have access to deals (and know which ones are worth it) that many travelers don’t. There’s no reason a cheap trip has to be a bad one.

There are plenty of great bargains if Hawaii is your cup of tea. Rather than reducing room rates, hotels and travel suppliers are offering free nights, free breakfasts, room credits, airfare credits and more.

Condo hotels offer kitchenettes so you can have breakfast in the room, prepare lunch to go when you are off exploring and only eat dinner out. Some units have barbecue grills for guests’ use. Invest in a supermarket Styrofoam cooler and pack sandwiches and drinks to tide you over during your days’ explorations.

Now’s the time to cash in accrued credit card hotel points and air miles and use them to get discounts on your stays and flights. Who knows what they’ll be worth next week and why let them go to waste?

All-inclusive packages are good if you want to pay for everything before departure and know what to expect regarding costs. Even if you splurge and eat a dinner or two out, you’re bound to be ahead financially. But factor those expenses into your budget.

Another idea: Take a walking or cycling holiday. Pitch a tent, stay in campgrounds or in inexpensive bed and breakfasts. Pack your own lunch before setting off. There’s nothing wrong in most places with tap water and the price is right. At the end of the day, you’ll be so tired you’ll only want to eat and go to bed. Find places that serve cheap pizza or pasta.

You’ll return home fitter, healthier and less stressed and will have experienced natural beauty close up as you walk or cycle each day. You’ll also realize you don’t need a lot of money to really have a good time.

These are just a few ideas. Sure, there are home exchanges and other ways to stretch travel dollars. I have friends who live in Paris and are playing tourists and exploring different neighborhoods each day this week. Plus, they are taking daylong excursions and returning each evening to their apartment to eat and sleep.

I am eying last-minute package deals that come flying across my computer screen. There are some trips to Morocco and Tunisia that are increasingly appealing as Paris’s winter drags on.

For those of you with travel fever, what are you doing to get up and go without breaking the bank?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Do swinging cruises shock you? Then stay out of clubs échangistes

Written by admin on September 9, 2008 – 2:52 pm -

So Yolo Cruises is launching its virgin cruise for “swingers” on April 26, 2009. The week-long charter aboard a Carnival Cruise ship, will set sail from Tampa and head to the Western Caribbean with stops in the Caymans, Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Honduras.

Shocked? Don’t be.

In France, there are more than 400 clubs échangistes — and don’t assume that a door marked Club Privé in one of Paris’s tonier neighborhoods is reserved for members who want to discuss philosophy. Natives and tourists mix … without a language barrier.

By comparison, the swinging cruise will be relatively tame. Nudity will be restricted to pools, spa tub areas, and special themed parties. Similarly, Acts of Oneness (or twoness or eightness) must remain in staterooms or designated “playrooms.”

“It’s not simply about sex,” says Marlene Brustle, president of YOLO (You Only Live Once). “Some people want to watch.”

The group hopes to book 2000 passengers for the maiden voyage and anticipates there will be a market (albeit niche) for three to four cruises each year. Prices range from $949 for an inside cabin to $3,499 for a penthouse suite.

Stéphane Julienne, a journalist who has written extensively on swinging in France, says Europeans are the king of swing.

“The European, and probably the world Mecca for swinging, is Cap d’Agde,” he says, referring to a naturalist resort on France’s Mediterranean coast. These clubs are perfectly legal since there’s no prostitution and it’s consensual.

People from every stratum of social and economic life participate and don’t feel the need to hide. “It’s become a leisure activity, like going to the theatre or the cinema,” says Alain Plumey, curator of Paris’s Musée de l’Érotisme.

There are clubs in every big American and European city. People just aren’t as open about them. In France, people accept them as reality and at the end of an evening, always say goodnight and shake hands. You might even run into one another the following day but no one will even acknowledge the evening before.

For many, c’est normale.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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