Save Money When You Change Your Money

June 4, 2005
By choosing the wrong venue for your exchange transactions, you lose several percentage points on every transaction

With a fluctuating world economy and the U.S. dollar selling at varying rates against other currencies, it becomes more and more important to avoid or reduce the 10% loss that most of us incur on changing our currency or traveler's checks into foreign funds.

That statement--with its 10% reference--will come as a shock to many. Yep, whenever you exchange money, chances are you're giving away around 10% of its value during the transaction. The dollar is not doing so well nowadays, so it's silly to needlessly give away a decent slice of currency to middlemen. Might as well get as much as you can, right?

Every little bit counts, and the place to begin saving is in the initial purchase of traveler's checks for the trip. For years, the U.S. Department of Justice has investigated the strange coincidence that almost all sellers of traveler's checks (most of them banks) charge a uniform fee--ranging from $1 to $2 per $100--for doing so. Since these banks enjoy other forms of income from the lucrative travelers check business, they really don't need that fee, and a few of them waive it. As the first step towards saving that ultimate total of up to 10%, you should seek to buy your checks from a bank that charges no fee.

Often, the friendly manager of a small bank will waive the fee for a good customer. Some banks waive the fee for people with special accounts, or for members of their travel club, or for senior citizens, or for any number of other promotional reasons. Ask your own bank manager to consider waiving it for you, a long-time depositor. Saving the fee is the first step towards enjoying even greater savings overseas.

Once abroad, you'll discover to your horror that most exchange offices charge both a fee and a commission for changing your traveler's checks into the local currency, in addition to imposing a hideously-weighted (in their favor) exchange rate in doing so. Calculated even conservatively, those fees and commissions can often add up to as much as 8% of the average transaction at those little, one-person booths called "Bureaux de Change" that are scattered about Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, Place de la Madeleine and Via del Corso, in London, Paris and Rome.

Therefore, the first, unbreakable rule of smart travel--I wish it were written in neon in the heavens above--is never to change your traveler's checks (or dollar currency) in any such exchange office, but only in a big, huge bank in the very center of the city.

Not only in a big, huge bank, but in a bank affiliated with the issuer of the traveler's checks you're using. Cash Barclay's Travelers Checks at a Barclay's Bank in London, cash American Express Travelers Checks at an American Express Office, Thomas Cook Travelers Checks at a Thomas Cook office, and so on. If you do, you'll usually save the "encashment fee" that alone can amount to 5% and more at a "bureau de change."

(I say "usually" because a handful of European countries require a fee by law, and in those countries, even the well-known travelers check companies can't avoid it. Since the mandated fee is a flat sum per transaction, regardless of the amount you cash, it pays--in those countries only--to cash a fairly large amount of traveler's checks at a time, in order to reduce the percentage of your loss).

But even if you can't get to a bank affiliated with the issuer of your brand of travelers check, go to a bank nevertheless; they invariably impose much lower commissions for cashing traveler's checks than do the small "bureaux de change" to which I've referred. It almost always pays to stifle that impulse to dart into a closet-sized Piccadilly Circus currency shop, and walk a few further blocks instead to a big, stuffy bank. You'll save.

The only place where banks themselves turn into the polite equivalent of highway robbers--no matter how prestigious their names, no matter how venerable their lineage--is at airports. In my experience, the moment a bank is given an airport location, it becomes just as rapacious, just as immoderate, as the flashiest, cockney money-changer. Possibly because they must pay heavy concession fees to the airport for the right to deal with a captive audience, the rates, commissions and fees of airport banks are calculated to cost you as much as 8% of the amount you exchange--considerably more than you'd pay at the very same bank in town.

The other locations where you should never cash traveler's checks are hotels (you should also never send laundry from, or make international phone calls from, a hotel). Hotels regard money-changing as a "profit center" opportunity. While their fees and commissions may be reasonable, the exchange rates they use are ridiculous.

To summarize this initial point: always cash your traveler's checks in a big, in-city bank. And try to use a bank affiliated with your brand of travelers check.

But which brand of travelers check should you buy? In my firm view, any of them, there being very little difference among all major brands. All such companies maintain literally thousands of affiliated offices overseas that will replace your checks if they are lost or stolen, and with approximately the same speed and efficiency. I once visited the awesomely-impressive, indeed cavernous, refund offices staffed by hundreds of employees and equipped with hundreds of computers and telephones at the Florida headquarters of a major, travelers-check-issuing company--and it was not one of the top two or three firms. Buy the brand handled by a bank that will waive the issuance fee.

Should you, though, buy dollar-denominated travelers checks or those in foreign currencies--euros, pounds and yen?

Contrary to the advice you'll receive from well-meaning friends, there is no answer to that question. If you think the dollar is about to decline in value in the time between your purchase of traveler's checks and your use of them, then buy foreign-currency traveler's checks. Then, if the dollar does decline, you'll gain. If you think that the dollar is about to strengthen, then buy dollar-denominated travelers checks; and if you're right, you'll be better off. Trouble is, you're gambling either way; and since you don't know what the currency markets will do in the weeks ahead--no one really does--there's no sure way of making the choice.

Tussling with that conundrum, one banker-friend of mine advises people to "hedge." Buy half your traveler's checks denominated in dollars, he says, and the other half in a foreign currency, and you can't lose; when one declines, the other usually strengthens, and the total amount of your funds stays absolutely even.

Whatever decision you reach on any of the above issues, you should at least convert virtually all your travel money for an overseas trip into some form of traveler's checks--for two reasons:

First, the traditional one. Traveler's checks are quickly refunded if they are lost or stolen; you avoid the loss of cash. Often I hear sad tales of tourists whose hotel rooms in Madrid or wherever were robbed of $800 in cash, or their pockets picked in Venice for almost as much--and I marvel. What in the world were they doing with that amount of cash, which they would certainly never carry even in the United States? Buy traveler's checks!

And there's a second reason for doing so: all money changers--big and small, reputable and questionable--use a better exchange rate in the cashing of traveler's checks than in the conversion of actual currency, a difference--indeed--of as much as 1% or 2%.

In other words, they pay out more foreign money for your traveler's checks than for your U.S. dollars. Why? Money merchants will tell you that for a number of reasons, including those of security, the expense of handling traveler's checks is less than for dealing with currency. Ask any expert traveler, who will confirm that around the world, traveler's checks are worth more in exchange transactions than the equivalent amount of dollar bills.

ATM machines abroad

How about using ATM machines for your cash needs overseas? This is an excellent option and one that we recommend highly (although not to the exclusion of traveler's cheques; we'll explain why below). Nowadays, there are ATM machines that honor American bank networks (Cirrus, Plus, etc.) in every major city in the world. And ATM machines (as well as credit cards) give you remarkably good exchange rates, similar to those enjoyed by corporations when they exchange tens of thousands of dollars. Fees at individual ATM machines around the world vary, just as charges are different at various spots around the U.S. Also, check with your bank to make sure that it does not charge an additional fee for using your card overseas.

The problems with ATM's? Some smaller or more remote locations still lack them, and you can sometimes find yourself without access to one when you need it. ATM's are also not as plentiful abroad as they are in the U.S. While there may be hundreds in every larger city in Europe, you won't be able to find them on every block in every neighborhood. In certain circumstances you may have to hike many a mile before you'll find one that can take your card.

Our solution? Always carry traveler's cheques, credit cards, and ATM cards (never rely on just one). That way you're never stuck when a smaller hotel doesn't accept your Visa card, or you find yourself in a village with no ATM machine. When it comes to currency, we follow the Boy Scout's motto: Be Prepared!

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An Introduction to Passports and Visas

Some--not all, but some--countries and territories require that you have a passport and/or visa to visit them. Which do, which don't? You can assume, as a rule of thumb, that the requirements become more onerous the farther away you travel from the United States. Let's first consider the "closer-in" places. To enter Canada, you need nothing more than identification, preferably but not necessarily a "photo I.D." (driver's license, credit card, or similar). The worst that will occur if you haven't these items on your person (which once happened to me) is that you'll be taken briefly to an office, interviewed, and made to sign an affidavit swearing that you are a U.S. resident. The Canadians are visitor-friendly. To Mexico and the Caribbean, you'll need "proof of citizenship," which can only be (a) a passport, (b) a voter's registration card, or (c) an embossed birth certificate. Don't take these requirements lightly; though my daughter once entered the Island of Curacao with her library card for identification, I have seen persons treated rudely and put through considerable apprehension, who arrived in Bermuda or Mexico without these papers. If you don't have a passport or registration card, be sure to order a copy of your birth certificate from the municipal authorities where you were born, and specify that it must have a raised, official seal on it. To almost all other places outside the U.S. and its territories, such as the countries of Europe, you'll need a Passport. And to some countries--some--you'll also need a Visa obtained in advance of arrival. Passports Where and how you obtain a passport depends on whether you are applying for one for the first time, and how much time you have before departing on the trip. When it's time to apply for or renew a passport, the first stop should be the federal government's own easy-to-read Web page on the subject: There you will find current fees, application locations, downloadable application forms, and answers to most of the passport-related questions that you might have. Because of light demand, late December through February is the fastest time of year in which to apply for a passport. After March, requests increase and orders can take longer than the official estimate of 25 working days (five weeks) for a regular application. Still, despite a 40% jump in demand over the past decade, improvements within the Passport Agency are shaving waiting time and service is remarkably swift. If you are seeking a U.S. passport for the very first time (and are over the age of 13), or if your last passport was issued more than ten years ago, then you must apply in person at any of the following offices, many of which require appointments: Any of the U.S. Passport Offices (their addresses are online and in the phone books) maintained in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Stamford, Connecticut or Washington, D.C. (and two additional mail-only locations in Charleston and Portsmouth, NH); or A clerk of any Federal or State Court of record, county offices or a judge or clerk of any probate court accepting applications (phone first to inquire); or A designated postal employee at a selected post office (phone first to inquire). Bringing with you, if you apply in person, the following items: Two recent photographs 2 inches by 2 inches in size, full-face; a passport fee of $85 if you are 16 or over (rates went up in August 2002), $70 if you are under 16; Proof of Identity (like a driver's license, or a witness who can swear as to your identity); and Proof of U.S. Citizenship (embossed birth certificate or registrar's certificate, certificate of citizenship, naturalization certificate or notarized affidavit by person having knowledge of your place of birth). You will also fill out form DSP-11 at that time. There are, of course, different requirements for applicants residing abroad, naturalized citizens, or persons claiming citizenship through birth to U.S. citizens residing abroad at the time. If you are leaving in a very short time, and need to have a passport issued in less than four weeks, then you'll need to either apply in person at any of the actual U.S. Passport Offices in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Stamford, or Washington, D.C. (their addresses are in the phone books and at the federal Web site listed above) or you can renew by mail for a $60 fee (you must include proof of departure date). If you need to have the passport within 10 days, you'll be charged an additional $60 (plus a possible delivery charge additional), and must submit "proof of departure," i.e., copies of your airline tickets. Alternatively (and more and more people are now doing this), you can use the services of a commercial passport/visa service, especially one located in Washington, D.C. They will charge you more, but they will get the job done. For "life or death" passport emergencies--usually, the need to leave almost immediately--call 900/225-5674 (this is a toll-call, costing $0.35 per minute). And for other detailed information about passports, write or phone the information specialists at still another passport office, National Passport Center, 31 Rochester Avenue, Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801-2900, phone 603/334-0500. If your current passport expires within six to nine months, it may be wise to go ahead and renew it now. That's because some countries require foreigners' passports to be valid at least six months from the time they will be visiting their country. If your passport expires sooner than that, you might run into trouble at the border. If your passport is lost or expires while you're abroad, head to the nearest American consulate or embassy with as much identification as possible and they can arrange a replacement on the spot. Likewise, if you run out of space for visa stamps, American embassies and consulates worldwide will sew in a new signature of pages without charge. The federal government regularly compiles a list of world nations and their entry requirements, which is posted at More on that in our section on visas. Visas Some countries (none are in Western Europe) also require a visa of an American citizen. Visas are usually issued at the Consulates of the countries requiring them, and you may happen to live in a city with such a consulate. Then, you simply stroll over with your passport and have the visa affixed inside. If you don't live near a city with the Consulate in question, you might phone the nearest one to learn their procedures for obtaining the visa by mail (this step almost always involves mailing your passport to the Consulate). Alternately--and many people today are turning to this next option--you can use the services of a commercial visa-obtaining firm, of which there are now many in major US cities. For those who prefer to save the cost of using a middleman, we've compiled a list below, of all the countries that require visas and the required fees. Angola: For stays of up to 90 days, Angola charges a fee of $55 per visa. Contact: The Embassy of Angola, 2100 16th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20009 (202/452-1042). Web: Armenia: A fee of $60 to $95, with the cost varying by processing time, buys a 21-day visa. Contact the Consular department of the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, 2225 R Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/319/2983). Web: Azerbaijan: There is no charge for visas issued within five working days. The maximum length of stay is also five days. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2741 34th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202/337-3500). Bahrain: The maximum stay in Bahrain is four weeks. A visa fee of $50 is required. Contact the Bahrain Embassy at 3502 International Drive, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/342-0741). Web: Bangladesh: The cost of a visa is $45. The length of stay permitted is determined on a case by case basis. Contact the Embassy of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, 3510 International Drive, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/244-0183). Belarus: A visa allows tourists to stay for up to 30 days. The processing fee is $50 for visas processed within five working days, $100 for next day processing. Contact the Consul General, 708 Third Avenue, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10017 (phone 212/682-5392). Benin: A $40 fee covers a visa good for up to 36 months. Apply to Embassy at the Republic of Benin, 2124 Kalorama Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20008 (202/232-6656). Bhutan: Visas are issued at the point of entry in Bhutan and cost $20 for a 15-day stay. Contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations, 2 United Nations Plaza, 27th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (212/286-1919). Brazil: Visas are valid for multiple entries within five years from the date of the first entry, for stays of up to 90 days. The one-time processing fee is $45. Contact one of the following offices: Brazilian Consulate General in BostonThe Stattler Building20 Park Plaza, suite 810Boston, MA 02116617/542-4000 Brazilian Consulate General in Chicago401 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 3050Chicago, IL 60611312/464-0244, 464-0245 Brazilian Consulate General in Houston1700 West Loop South, suite 1450Houston, TX 77027713/961-3063. Brazilian Consulate General in Los Angeles8484 Wilshire Blvd., suites 711/730Beverly Hills, CA 90211Phone: (323) 651-2664Brazilian Consulate General in Miami2601 S. Bayshore Drive, Suite 800Miami, FL 33133305/285-6200, 285-6209 Brazilian Consulate General in New York1185 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue), 21st FloorNew York, NY 10036917/777-7777, Brazilian Consulate General in San Francisco300 Montgomery Street, suite 900San Francisco, CA, 94104415/981-8170, Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C.3009 Whitehaven St., N.W.Washington, D.C. 20008202/238-2828, Burkina Faso: Visas valid for up to three months, extendible once in country. The processing fee is $25. Contact the Embassy of Burkina Faso, 2340 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/332-5577). Web: Burma (Myanmar): We do not recommend travel to Burma because of its human rights abuses. But should you decide to go, the visa cost is $20, good for three months. Contact the Burmese Embassy (Embassy of the Union of Myanmar), 2300 S St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/332-9044 or 9045). Burundi: A multiple-entry visa that is valid for up to two months requires a $40 processing fee for a single entry, $80 for multiple entries. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Burundi, Suite 212, 2233 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (phone 202/342-2574). Cambodia: Visa cost is $20 for a 30-day stay. Contact the Royal Embassy of Cambodia, 4530 16th Street, N.W., Washington D.C. 20011 (202/726-7742). Web: If you decide to go in person, please note that the consulate closes from 12 to 1 p.m. each day for lunch. West coasters can contact the local honorary consuls for visas. In Los Angeles that is: Dr. Hay Yang, 422 Ord Street, Suite G, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213/625-7777). For Seattle, contact Daravuth D. Huoth, 1818 Westlake Avenue, N, Suite 315, Seattle, WA 98109 (206/217-0830). Cameroon: A multiple-entry tourist visa costs $65.22 and is valid for stays of up to three months. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon, 2349 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/265-8790). Cape verde: Single-entry tourist visa requires a $20 payment; for a multiple-entry visa there is a $40 fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Cape Verde, 3415 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/965-6820). Web: . Central African Republic: Processing fee is $150. Contact the Embassy ofCentral African Republic, 1618 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/483-7800). Chad: Visa valid for stays of up to 30 days, $75 fee required. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Chad, 2002 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/462-4009). Web: People's Republic of China: A single-entry visa, which allows a 30-day stay, requires a $30 processing fee. Double entry within a three-month period, again for 30-day stays, is $45. Multiple entries within a six-month period: $60. Along with the fee, be ready to produce two 2X2 photos. Be sure to check the expiration date on your passport before you apply for a visa. China only allows visitors from those whose passports are valid for more than six months from the date of entry. If you live in the Washington, DC area, contact the Visa Section of the Chinese Embassy, 2201 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/338-6688). Web: There are five other consular offices that can issue visas as well. They are: Passport & Visa OfficeConsulate General of P.R. China520 12th AvenueNew York , NY10036(212/502-0271) Consulate General in Chicago100 West Erie StreetChicago, IL 60610(312/803-0095) Consulate General in San Francisco1450 Laguna StreetSan Francisco, CA 94115(415/674-2900) Consulate General in Los Angeles443 Shatto PlaceLos Angeles, CA 90020(213/807-8088) Consulate General In Houston3417 Montrose BoulevardHouston, Texas 77006(713/524-0780) Democratic Republic of Congo: Visas are valid one to three months depending on the fee. A single-entry visa costs between $75 and $264 and a multiple-entry visa ranges between $120 and $360. Contact the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1800 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20009 (202/234-7690). Cuba: To visit Cuba, Americans must apply for a license through the Treasury Department. A license can be obtained only if you fit into one of the existing categories, which range from people traveling to Cuba for professional research to people whose travel is related to humanitarian needs. A complete list of the categories can be found on the Treasury Department's Web site,, along with applications. Contact the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, D.C., 20220 (202/622-2500). The Bush Administration has cracked down of late on illegal travel to Cuba, imposing heavy fines and greatly restricting the number of licenses the Treasury issues yearly. Djibouti: Multiple-entry visas are valid for 30 days and require a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Djibouti, 1156 15th St., N.W., Suite 515, Washington, D.C. 20005 (202/331-0270). Egypt: A $15 processing fee covers the cost of a visa good for stays of up to three months. American's can simply purchase the visa at their point of entry. Should you wish to take care of this matter in advance, Egypt's main office in the US is the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 3521International Court, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/895-5400). Web: . But travelers from other areas of the country can obtain visas and information from the following Consulate Generals: Consulate General of Egypt - Chicago500 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1900Chicago, IL 60611(phone 312/828-9162) Consulate General of Egypt - Houston1990 Post Oak Boulevard, Suite 2180Houston, TX 77056(phone 713/961-4915) Consulate General of Egypt - New York1110 Second AvenueNew York, NY 10022(phone 212/759-7120/7121/7122) Consulate General of Egypt - San Francisco3001 Pacific AvenueSan Francisco, CA 94115(phone 415/346-9700) Eritrea: The length of stay is determined by the visa type, expect a $25 fee. Contact the Embassy of Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009, (202/319-1991). Ethiopia: Travelers can stay up to two years on an Ethiopian visa. The fee is $70. Contact the Embassy of Ethiopia, 3506 International Dr., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, (202/364-1200). Web: Gabon: A $60 fee covers stays of up to four months. Contact the Permanent Mission of the Gabonese Republic to the UN, 18 East 41st St., 9th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (212/686-9720). Gambia: Visa allows a one-year stay, the fee is $45. Contact the Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the U.N., 800 2nd Ave., 4th floor, New York, NY 10017, (212/949-6640). Web: Georgia: The processing fee for a visa to Georgia is between $40 and $70, which allows stays from two- to three-weeks. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Georgia, 1615 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/393-6060). Web: Ghana: Single-entry visas require a $20 fee and multiple-entry visas require a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/686-4520). Web: Guinea: Visitors can stay up to six months; there is a $45 visa fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Guinea, 2020 16 St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 (phone 202/518-5700). Guinea-Bissau: A $40 processing fee will purchase a visa good for only two days. Contact the Embassy of Guinea-Bissau, 15929 Yukon Lane, Rockville MD 20855 (301/947-3958). India: India has a sliding scale for visas. Transit visas for stays of just 15 days cost $30, multiple entry visas good for stays of up to six months are $60. For serious wanderers, India will issue visas good for up to one year for $85, and for up to five years for $150. Visas begin on the day of their issue. Applicants should bring two passport size photos to any of the following offices: Embassy of India3 East 64th St. New York, NY 10021 (212/774-0662)Web: Consulate General of India, Chicago455 N, Cityfront Plaza Drive, Suite 850Chicago, Illinois - 60611(312/595-0405) Consulate General of India, San Francisco540 Arguello BoulevardSan Francisco, CA - 94118(415/668-0662) Consulate General of India, HoustonSuite 600, 6th floor, 3 Post Oak Central1990 Post Oak BoulevardHouston, Texas - 77056(713/626-2148) Jordan: A single-entry visa requires a $16.50 fee and a multiple-entry visa requires a $31.50 fee. Tourists can visit for six months. Contact the Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 3504 International Dr., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/966-2861). Web: Kazakhstan: Single-entry visa starts at $115 for one month and goes up to $245 for a multiple-entry visa. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 1401 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/232-5488). Kenya: Visitors can stay for six months. The cost for a single-entry visa is $50, multiple-entry is $100. Contact the Embassy of Kenya, 2249 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/387-6101). Web: Kiribati (formerly Gilbert Islands): Expect a $57.75 fee for a single-entry visa, good for a six-week stay. Contact the Embassy of Fiji, 2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 240 Washington D.C. 20007 (202/337-8320). Kuwait: Visa fee is $24. Length of stay varies depending on visa type.Contact the Embassy of the State of Kuwait, 2940 Tilden St., N.W.,Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/966-0702). Web: Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan): Visas for stays of up to one month cost $50, up to three months $90, one year $200. Additional fees for multiple entry visas. Contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic, 1732 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (phone 202/338-5141). Web: Laos: There is a $30 processing fee and visas are valid for a 15-day stay. Contact Consular Section of the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/667-0076). Web: Lebanon: Single-entry visas are $35 and last three months. Multiple-entry visas cost $70 and cover stays of up to six months. Contact the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (phone 202/939-6300). Web: Liberia: Visas are valid for three months and require a $45 fee. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, 5201 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011 (202/723-0437). Web: Madagascar: Visas are valid six months from the date of issue. Short-term visas are valid for single-entry up to 30 days. The fee is $33.45. Double-entry visas cost $39.01. Contact the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, 2374 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/265-5525/6). Web: Maldives: There is no charge for a visa here, but you need one to stay up to 30 days. Contact the Mission to the U.N., 800 2 Ave. Suite 400E New York, NY 10017 (phone 212/599-6195). Mali: Allows stay up to one month. Fee is $20. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mali, 1900 L. St. Suite 401 N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/332-2249). Mauitania: Visas are valid for three months and cost $45. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/232-5700). Modova: The fee for a single-entry visa is $4, which allows a one-month stay. Contact The Embassy of the Republic of Moldova, 2101 S. St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, (202/667-1130). Web: Mongolia: Visas are good for stays of up to three months and cost $45. Contact the Embassy of Mongolia, 2833 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/333-7117). Web: Mozambique: Entry visa valid for three months from date of issuance. A single-entry visa costs $40, multiple-entry visa $60. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique, Suite 570, 1990 M St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/293-7146). Nauru: Tourists can visit for a maximum of 30 days. Contact the Consulate of the Republic of Nauru in Guam: Ada Professional Bldg., Marine Dr. 1st Floor, Agana, Guam 96910 (671/649-7106). Nepal: Visas are extendible to a maximum period of 150 days. A single-entry visa is $30, double-entry $55, and multiple-entry $90. All of these visas are valid for 60 days. Contact the Royal Nepalese Embassy, 2131 Leroy Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (phone 202/667-4550). Web: Niger: A fee of $35.58 allows a month stay and a fee of $88.94 allows for stays of three-months. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Niger, 2204 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/483-4224). Nigeria: Processing fee is $45. Stays of up to one month are permitted. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Nigeria, 2201 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037 (phone 202/822-1500 or 1522) or the Consulate General in New York (212/715-7200). Norfolk Island: Visas are issued upon arrival for visits up to three months. The fee is $33. For more information, consult the Australian Embassy, 1601 Mass. Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/797-3000). Web: Oman: Visas for multiple-entry are issued for stays of up to six months and are valid for two years. The fee is $60. Contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, (phone 202/387-1980). Pakistan: Tourists can stay up to one month, visas cost $45. Contact the Consulate of Pakistan, 12 E 65th St. New York, NY 11102, (212/879-5800). Web: Palau: There is a $50 fee for stays of up to 60 days. Contact the Representative Office, 1150 18th St., N.W., Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20036 (202/452-6814). Web: Papua New Guinea: Visas allow visits of up to 60 days. Single entry visa costs $10.25. Contact the Embassy of Papua New Guinea, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., Suite 805, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/745-3680). Web: Qatar: Qatar visas come in a number of different flavors, with varying maximum stays. Expect to pay a $45 processing fee. Contact the Embassy of the State of Qatar, 4200 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 200, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016 (202/274-1603). Russia: The government of Russia charges a $70 processing fee for month-long visas, to be issued within two weeks of application. Higher fees are applicable for rush orders. In addition to three passport sized photos (on matte paper, please), Russia requires visitors show written confirmation, either from their tour operator or hotel, or their travel plans. Make sure that the agency's reference and registration numbers are included in the confirmation material. In Washington, contact the Consular Section of the Embassy of Russia, 2641 Tunlaw Road, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202/939-8907). Web: For New York the address is: 9 East 91 Street, New York, NY 10128 (phone 212/348-0926). The consulate also has offices in San Francisco (2790 Green Street, San-Francisco, CA 94123, phone: 415/928-6878) and Seattle (2323 Westin Building, 2001 6th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121. phone 206/728-1910) Sao Tome and Principe: Tourist visas for single entry of up to three months ($35) or multiple entry of up to six months ($40). Contact the Permanent Mission of Sao Tome and Principe to the U.N., 400 Park Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022 (212/317-0533). Sierra Leone: A single-entry visa is valid for three months, $45 fee. Multiple-entry visa, $90 fee. Contact the Embassy of Sierra Leone, 1701 19th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 (202/939-9261). Sudan: Tourist visas for single entry are valid for three months and cost $50. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan, 2210 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/338-8565) Web: Suriname: There is a processing fee of $45 for a visa; visitors can stay for up to one year. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Suriname, 4301 Connecticut Ave., Suite 460 N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/244-7488 and 7590). Syria: Visa permits a two-week stay in Syria, the fee is $61. Contact the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/232-6313). Tajikistan: The fee is $70 and visas are valid for one month. Contact the Consulate General, 2790 Green St. San Francisco, CA 94123 (phone 415/928-6878). Tanzania: Visas are valid for six months. There is a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania, 2139 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/939-6125). Togo: $45 is the cost of a visa, however length of stay will vary by visa type. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Togo, 2208 Mass. Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/234-4212). Turkey: American and Canadian citizens can pick up a visa at any port of entry into Turkey for visits up to three months. The fee is $45. Contact the Consular Office of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/612-6740). Web: Turkmenistan: Length of stay and processing fees vary on a case-by-case basis. Tourists visiting from one to ten days pay a $31 processing fee. Contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan, 2207 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/588-1500). Uganda: Single-entry visas cost $50 and allow a three-month visit. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda, 5911 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011 (202/726-7100-02). Ukraine: A single-entry visa is $30. The length of stay is determined by type of visa. Contact the Consular Office of the Embassy of Ukraine, 3350 M St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, (202/333-7507). Web: United Arab Emirates: Single-entry visa enables stays of up to 30 days and a multiple-entry allows stays of up to six months. There is a $51 processing fee. Contact the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 3523 International Court, Suite 100, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, (202/243-2400). Uzbekistan: There is a $45 fee for visas covering 15-day visits. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan, 1746 Massachusetts Ave., NW, 20036 (202/530-7284) or the Uzbekistan Consulate, New York, NY 10017 (212/754-6178 or 7403). Web:

An Introduction to Packing

More trips have been ruined by over-packing than by all the hurricanes, overbookings, and surly waiters of the world, combined. A light suitcase is the key to an enjoyable vacation, and proper packing ranks with the advance study of history and culture, as the two most important steps of travel preparation for trips to anywhere. Except on a cruise (which involves other considerations), pack light! Take no more than one medium-sized suitcase per person, partially empty, and you assure the success of your trip. Take more, and you become a fatigued beast of burden, a prisoner of porters and taxicabs, the unhappy bearer of unwashed clothing or of items never used. Come to peace with yourself. Realize that you will not in all probability be invited to a garden party or to the opera on your trip, or to meet the Queen, and that it is not necessary to include an outfit for every conceivable and far-fetched occasion. Nor is it necessary to bring pharmaceuticals, Kleenex, band-aids; the entire world has become well-developed, and even Kathmandhu has a 24-hour drugstore. About the only paraphernalia you will ever need to bring on a trip--items that perhaps can't easily be obtained once there (although they're really available everywhere)--are transformers for your electrical devices (like hair dryers) or adapters for foreign sockets, or perhaps coffee immersion heaters. Don't bring another thing! If you have taken too little, you can always remedy the deficiency while abroad--namely, by shopping for more--but you will obviously not want to discard excess items that you have unnecessarily brought. Light packing is the key to an enjoyable vacation, and a prime example of the need for careful preparations in advance of your departure. How to be a successful packer A light suitcase means freedom. To emerge from a train or plane with bundles and boxes in every hand, means porters, means taxicabs, means that the first hotel you pass must be the hotel in which you'll stay. To jaunt along with a light suitcase is to avoid all these costs, to use buses instead of cabs, to make your hotel choice slowly, carefully, and without desperation. With all the decrease in fatigue which a light load entails, you can simply walk out when the man at the hotel counter quotes too high a price--and seek another hotel. Don't sneer at this freedom. The travelers whose arms are bursting from their sockets with weight become prisoners. It costs them dollars simply to get from train to hotel; it costs them tiring effort to shop around and to choose. A light suitcase means spiritual freedom, too, and an ability to concentrate on the attractions and activities of your destination, in preference to mundane, daily needs. With too many clothes, and too many parcels, you'll spend hours unpacking and arranging your apparel when you check into a hotel. You'll spend hours packing them away again as you prepare to leave. You'll awake on the morning of departure, spend frantic and precious time in packing and wrapping, and finally collapse in sweat on your outgoing plane or train. Moreover, you'll have a disorderly, bursting suitcase--cluttered with dirty and unwashed clothes. Remember, too, that these problems increase as the trip continues. However heavy your suitcase may have been as you left home, it'll be twice as heavy as you go along. At every stop of your trip, you'll pick up mementos, gifts, books, papers, tapes, souvenirs. Unless you've had a one-third-empty suitcase to begin with, you'll be festooned with extra parcels and packages near the end. You'll loop them over your shoulder, you'll squeeze them under your arm, you'll carry some with your little finger--and you'll approach each new city and each new hotel search in a mood of desperation. The first hotel you examine will have you at their mercy. Make the right decisions and buy the lightest quality suitcase available. You'll then fill it with the skimpiest set of clothing your courage will allow. Having done that, you'll then remove half these clothes from the suitcase, and depart on your trip. You won't, for instance, take eight complete changes of underwear. You'll realize that three are enough; that there are few less-than-a-week laundries at your destination, and that you'll have to wash out those t-shirts yourself, in any event. You'll recognize how depressing it is to cart a suitcase of dirty clothes from city to city. After many years of disregarding my own advice, I've finally settled on the wardrobes listed in this Encyclopedia for travels in both cold and warm-weather seasons. Click the category that applies to your own trip. For men in warm weather For men, a packing list can be rather severe, and still perfectly sufficient. If you seek comfort and economy on a summer trip, then this is all you need take (in addition to a normal-weight suit worn on the plane): 3 pairs of drip-dry undershorts or briefs 3 drip-dry undershirts 4 pairs of socks 1 sweater 2 drip-dry sport shirts or synthetic knits 2 drip-dry dress shirts 1 pair of dress shoes 1 pair of rubber-soled walking shoes 1 light bathrobe 1 pair of pajamas 1 sports jacket 1 pair of durable slacks 1 pair of jeans or chinos 1 raincoat 2 neckties 1 bathing suit Toilet and shaving articles For men in winter The following should be adequate: 3 pairs of shorts 3 cotton t-shirts 3 pairs of socks (of which two should be heavy woolen ones) 2 handkerchiefs 1 heavy sweater 2 sport shirts (including one flannel one) 1 Drip-Dry white dress shirt 1 woolen bathrobe 1 pair of heavy warm flannel pajamas 1 pair of dress shoes 1 pair of heavy walking shoes 1 pair of lined waterproof boots 1 tweed sports jacket 1 pair of heavy slacks 1 winter suit 1 heavy coat, water-repellent 2 neckties Toilet and shaving articles Foe women in warm weather The following items (chosen with the help of a female adviser) seem sufficient for women traveling to warm-weather destinations, on any sort of trip other than a cruise: 4 pairs of cotton panties (to be rinsed out as you go) 4 pairs of socks 2 bras of nylon or other quick-drying material 1 cardigan sweater 1 pair of jeans or solid-color, all-purpose pants 1 pair of sandals 1 pair of good, sturdy walking shoes (low heels) 1 pair of dress shoes 1 wash 'n wear daytime dress 2 blouses or 2 synthetic knit shirts 1 all-purpose outfit (which can double for afternoon and evening wear) 1 pair of pajamas (or nightgown) 1 lightweight robe 1 bathing suit and bathing cap 1 all-purpose rain-proof travel coat Non-valuable jewelry, scarves and accessories Cosmetics and toiletries Your "traveling to the destination" outfit--a comfortable ensemble for the overnight flight For women in winter Winter means special packing problems. It can be cold where you''e going, and you must be prepared with heavy, sturdy, woolen clothing. And that means that you must be even more stern with yourself. Because your bulky winter clothes will weigh far more, you must take far less. You simply cannot afford to fill your suitcase with any inessential item. Here are my suggestions, again aided by outside advice: 4 pairs of panties 4 to 6 pairs of stockings or socks 2 bras 1 heavy woolen cardigan sweater 1 long-sleeved pull-over sweater, preferably something you can combine with the cardigan, if need be 1 pair of heavy corduroy or woolen slacks 1 pair of all-purpose, nasty-weather snow boots 1 pair of good sturdy walking shoes 1 pair of dressy high heels 1 pair of warm bedroom slippers 1 woolen or wool-knit daytime dress 1 Wash 'n Wear-Drip Dry cotton blouse or 1 washable cotton-knit shirt 1 Wool-knit or silk-jersey dress which can double for afternoon and evening wear 1 pair of heavy warm flannel pajamas 1 very warm robe Jewelry, scarves and accessories 1 super warm coat, rain-proofed, and preferably with detachable lining Your "traveling to" the destination outfit Packing miscellany Whenever possible, carry all liquids in plastic bottles. They are flexible, provide more room, and prevent accidents. If you must take along a glass container, such as a perfume bottle, avoid spillage by sealing the cap of the bottle with a layer of wax. Roll into scroll-like shapes whatever is rollable: underwear, slips, bras and so forth--all the items that don't have to be wrinkle-free. In that manner, these items can be placed along the sides of your suitcase easily, or into the most unusual cracks and crevices (which you'll discover while packing). For items that do wrinkle, a layer of tissue paper placed above and below the garment will prove to be a surprising wrinkle-preventer. Finally, conserve space. Don't let anything go to waste. A hand-bag should be jammed with small articles, shoes jammed with socks, and so on. Since you will probably be doing your own laundry, take at least one plastic bag, with a zipper, for carrying wet clothes or wash cloths from town to town. Also recommended is Woolite, the cold water soap. Take as many packets as you think you'll need--one packet will do for a full washbowl of laundry. Since many foreign hotels do not provide soap, you'll need to carry it along. Towels, however, are provided everywhere. Avoid bringing the clothing that requires a fancy cleaning-and-pressing job. Unless you do, you'll spend substantial sums for cleaning and laundry, you'll be continually inconvenienced, and you'll end up--in our worst nightmare--lugging a suitcase full of useless, dirty clothes. The suitcase itself For carrying these clothes, you'll want to buy the lightest suitcase available: one made of fabric. Cloth luggage is really quite durable, comes in several varying sizes, and is feather light. Equally important, they're the cheapest on the market and yet offer the greatest amount of space. You'll value the expandable nature of a fabric suitcase when you start to cram in all the "odds and ends" you couldn't resist picking up along the way. Try, too, to be a one-suitcase traveler. If you've a couple and feel that one suitcase per person just will not do, then, instead of getting another valise, buy a "valpac" (a fold-over, portable wardrobe) as your third piece of luggage. With a valpac, you simply hang up your clothes inside, and instantly have a suitcase with a convenient carrying handle. Most valpacs also contain extra inner pockets for shoes, underwear, or other soft goods, and they have a great deal of useful extra space on the bottom and along the sides.

Is Maui the Better Hawaii? Or Is It Too Pricey to Be Admired?

It's a big shift in travel patterns. A growing number of American vacationers are today choosing the once-quiet, once-rural island of Maui in preference to the former travel king, Oahu (home of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach). While Maui can't possibly overtake Oahu in tourist numbers (it has only 17,473 hotel rooms compared with a giant 31,557 rooms in Waikiki alone), it's coming up fast and last year welcomed 2.2 million visitors as compared with Oahu's 4.7 million. In the last ten years, traffic to Maui has been strong, while somewhat stagnant to Oahu. Why? The main reason for Maui's increasing popularity is its rural atmosphere. Maui's numerous resorts are spread out over acres of manicured grounds, and its miles and miles of country-side with no buildings and no stoplights are the very opposite of Waikiki's densely packed hotels in their urban, concrete jungle. The "Valley Isle" offers visitors a variety of outdoor experiences because it is still relatively unspoiled and brimming with resources, from clear, crystal waters teeming with fish to fern-filled rain forests. If you dream of a classic, slow, relaxing tropical vacation, Maui is the place. But if you also contemplate staying at one of the "big names" in Maui resorts or hotels located along the luxury beach areas, you'll pay dearly for that choice. You'll also eat in expensive hotel restaurants and, since most of them don't provide kitchen facilities in their rooms (as the condos do), you won't be able to "cook in" occasionally. The budget tourist seeking an authentic, unpretentious Hawaiian atmosphere goes instead to Maui's seaside area of Kihei. This sprawling community, wrapped around six miles of beaches, is one of Maui's best bargain areas for condo accommodations, cheap eats, and lots of free things to do. Located on Maui's sunny southern shore, Kihei is about a half hour drive from the Kahului Airport (which is located on the opposite side of Maui's isthmus, on the north shore). Not only is Kihei cheaper, but its central location makes it easily accessible to other places of interest on Maui, like the historic town of Lahaina, the shopping and bargains in Kahului, and the quaint rural areas of Upcountry, nestled on the slopes of the 10,000-foot volcano Haleakala. Budget lodgings of Kihei Indeed, "just across the street" describes the Sunseeker Resort (551 S. Kihei Rd., 800/532-6284 or 808/879-1261, fax 808/874-3877, Located in a palm-tree lined garden setting, next to the very busy Kihei Road, this sand-colored, low-rise series of older condo apartment buildings offers cozy air-conditioned units with complete kitchens and private lanai, at year-round budget prices of $50 to $70 for a studio double, $70 to $90 for a one-bedroom double, and $150 to $175 for a two-bedroom unit. Next door is Nona Lani Cottages (455 S. Kihei Rd., just south of Hwy. 31, 800/733-2688 or 808/879-2497, a grassy expanse dotted with eight 400-square-foot cottages tucked among palm, fruit, and sweet-smelling flower trees. Charging year-round rates of $90 off-season and $99 high-season, management supplies everything but phones (a blessing if you're trying to escape civilization), and the four front cottages have ocean views. If the cottages are booked, opt for one of the private guest rooms (with private entrances) in the main house at the $75 to $85 price (for doubles). For those who want to be right on the beach, Punahoa Beach Apartments (2142 Ilnli Rd., 800/564-4380 or 808/879-2720, fax 808/875-9147,, a four-story boutique condominium with only 15 units, sits on a quiet side street away from noisy Kihei Road. A grassy lawn rolls about 50 feet down to an excellent snorkeling beach, and all of the beautifully decorated condos have fully equipped kitchens and lanais with great ocean views. Shopping and restaurants are all within walking distance. Studio doubles rent for $85 off-season, $115 in high season, and one-bedroom doubles go for $110 off-season, but soar to $160 in high season. For budget-minded families, Haleakala Shores (2619 S. Kihei Rd., 800/869-1097 or 808/879-1218, fax 808/879-2219, offers two-bedroom condo units (sleeping up to four people) for $108 in off-season, $144 in high season. Located just across the street from Kamaole Park III, the apartment complex is an easy walk to restaurants and shopping, and near a golf course and tennis courts. Larger than most condominiums, the units here are 1,200 square feet and feature two bathrooms, a private lanai, a full kitchen with dishwasher, a washer/dryer, and a pool on property. Even the parking is ideal, with a free covered garage. Finally, those looking for more amenities on property, like two swimming pools and tennis courts, should consider Hale Kamaole (2737 S. Kihei Rd., 800/367-2970 or 808/879-1221, fax 808/879-5576, Here some 187 low-rise condo apartments are clumped into a series of buildings situated on sprawling grounds just across the street from a beach park noted for swimming and sunset-watching. All units have complete kitchens and lanais that overlook either the swimming pool or the tropical gardens. One-bedroom condos go for $85 in off-season, $110 high season. The best general source for budget Kihei condominiums is Bello Realty (800/541-3060 or 808/879-3328, fax 808/875-1483,, which offers a large number of units priced as low as $55 in the off-season and $70 in high season. Your meals in Kihei Once you have settled on your accommodations, consider grocery shopping and eating in to save money. Even this can be an adventure: shop at the various farmer's markets spread throughout the island. Not only do they offer the best prices for just-picked fresh produce, but you also get to talk to the farmers themselves (they will happily explain how to cut local fruit and cook exotic vegetables). In Kihei, the farmer's market is held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Suda Store, 61 S. Kihei Road. It is possible to venture out to sample the local cuisine without taking out a second mortgage. Ethnic restaurants always offer bargains; a Maui original you can't afford to pass up is Maui Tacos (several locations around the island: in Kihei at the Kamaole Beach Center, 2411 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-5005, all open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.), serving gourmet Mexican on paper plates for less than $7. Never mind that it is little more than a take-out counter (with very few tables and chairs to eat there); take your fresh fish taco, chimichanga, or monster-size burrito to the beach and try not to stare at the glitterati lined up like everyone else for their order. One of Maui's best frugal deals for fresh Hawaiian fish is also located in Kihei at Alexander's Fish, Chicken & Chips (1913 S. Kihei Rd., 808/874-0788, open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.), with fresh island catches for under $10, served with rice or fries, and coleslaw - or try some of their finger-licking chicken, calamari, beef, and shrimp. Easy to find (look for the ocean mural out front), this is one of Kihei's most popular eateries and outside patio seating is limited - just wander across the street to Kalama Beach Park and have lunch or dinner oceanside. Ultracheap Maui For a rock-bottom budget, Maui has hostels, but not in the Kihei area. Located on the other side of the island in "Old Town" Wailuku, about a ten-minute drive from the Kahului airport, Maui's two cheapest lodgings offer price-busting deals: Banana Bungalow Maui (310 N. Market St., Wailuku, 800/846-7835 or 808/244-5090, fax 808/244-3678,, surrounded by a garden oasis, features dorm rooms for $16 or private single rooms for $29 (doubles $40) with shared bathrooms, as well as a range of free tours of the island (from hiking through a rain forest to whale-watching-even free shuttles to the beach. Or try the modest Northshore Hostel (2080 Vineyard St., Wailuku, tel./fax 866/946-7835 or 808/242-1448,, priced the same and also offering free tours and shuttles. A step up from spartan hostels is the seven-room inn Peace of Maui (1290 Halnmaile Rd., Halnmaile, 888/475-5045 or 808/572-5045, on the slopes of Haleakala, in the pineapple plantation community of Halnmaile. This very acceptable alternative, just ten minutes from the beach and an equal distance from the Kahului Airport, is slightly more upscale than a hostel, with more of a family atmosphere, and features comfy rooms (each with TV and a minifridge). For all this, you pay just $45 for a double that shares a full kitchen, living room, shower room, and separate toilet room. A one-bedroom cottage sleeping four is also available for $80 per couple. To see and do It's easy to enjoy other outdoor activities (from ocean-bathing to hiking) without dropping a bundle. You can play tennis for free at the numerous county tennis courts (some even have night lighting); for a complete list contact Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation, 1580-C Kaahumanu Ave., Wailuku, 808/270-7230. For superb golf at terrific prices ($26 weekdays, $30 on weekends), get a tee-time at Waiehu Municipal Golf Course (just off Waiehu Beach Road, Waiehu, 808/244-5934).

Quito, Ecuador

A bewildering succession of five presidents occupied Ecuador's Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) in Quito from 1997 to 2000. It was during this turbulent spell that El Niño devastated the country, the nation's largest bank collapsed, the government defaulted on its international loans, and the devaluation of the country's currency was the worst of all Latin America. Visitors from around the world found prices to be insanely, even criminally, cheap. In 2000, current President Gustavo Noboa stabilized the economy by making the U.S. dollar the only legal tender. Prices have risen a little since, but still, Ecuador remains one of the cheapest places on earth. Quito, Ecuador's capital and South America's loveliest city, lies just 14 miles south of the equator, but its pretty perch at 9,300 feet in the Andes ensures a refreshingly springlike climate for its 1.5 million inhabitants. Visitors enjoy the mild climate, too, and once in Quito, they realize the city is a superb base for day forays or weekend jaunts. (Why keep packing and unpacking your bags in a new hotel room every night?) They find a budget room and use the absurdly cheap public transportation system to visit Indian villages, crafts markets, Andean cloud forests, and hot springs, all within one to two hours by bus. Or from here, they easily book the best budget cruises to Ecuador's Galapagos Islands (see Budget Travel, Nov/Dec 2000). Quito's historic center is a justly proud, church-filled, red-tiled, cobblestone, UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, set beneath the volcano of Pichincha (15,729 feet). The colonial gems of the Old Town anchor the new-a glistening tumult of white skyscrapers and green parks stretching to the north, where most of the city's best hotels, restaurants, cyber-cafes, nightclubs, museums and residential areas are found. The recent debut of an efficient trolley system allows quick, easy, and cheap movement from the historic center to the newer district. Must-sees for little money Strolling through old Quito's beautiful buildings and stunning churches is a must, and it costs little to view the quarter from a hilltop or church tower. To preserve the colonial feel, billboards and street signs are banned, and on Sundays so is vehicular traffic (visit then to experience a veritable step back through time). And of course, a short bus ride north to the ecuador (equator) itself is mandatory - where else can you comfortably have a foot in each hemisphere? The Quitu people lived in Quito almost a millennium ago, but the Incas were in control when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1526; the Inca general Rumi¤ahui, rather than submit, razed the town, which explains the lack of pre-Columbian sites. The next best thing is at the Museo del Banco Central, housed in an unmistakable mirrored circular building at the corner of Avenidas Patria and 12 de Octubre near the south end of the new town. Here, $2 gains admission to Quito's archeology showcase, where stone fetishes, gold masks, obsidian mirrors, turquoise ear plugs, explicitly erotic pots, beautifully deformed skulls, huddled mummies, and scary surgical instruments are splendidly displayed. And go upstairs for a look at Ecuadorian art from colonial to modern. Arrive at 11 a.m. when an English-speaking attendant will show you around for free. For best city views, most guides tout colonial Quito's Panecillo ("little bread loaf") hill, topped with a huge statue of a uniquely winged Virgin Mary. You can do better. From the Museo Nacional, grab a $1.50 cab to the Basilica, begun in 1926 and still not quite finished. No matter; adventurous souls pay $2 to climb up its three soaring towers. An elevator makes it halfway, and the route continues up ever-narrowing stairs, finally emerging at the church bell. Beyond, a series of steep, slender metal ladders, protectively labeled with the word cuidado (careful!) and a picture of a figure falling, leads the visitor higher still, emerging at the very apex of the highest clock tower. Here, paneless windows allow access onto tiny outside ledges, 328 breathtaking feet above the street below. Hold tight! The view of the old town to the southwest and modern Quito to the north beats any to be had in the city. And you'll most likely have it all to yourself. Once back to the relative safety of the cobbled streets, descend eight blocks southwest along Calle Venezuela into the Plaza de la Independencia, the heart of the colonial city. Two Nutcracker-like presidential guards prevent visitors from entering the Palacio de Gobierno, but underneath, a basement vault contains, of all things, an old-fashioned barber shop providing the public with $2 trims inside the country's seat of government! Within four blocks of here are seven colonial churches; Quito must have been a supremely religious capital in early days. Most churches charge $1 admission and all are worth a look; make sure to see La Compa¤¡a, which Quite¤os (locals) consider their most ornate church, where a reputed seven tons of gold was used to gild just about every available surface. To head back to the new town, hop on an electric trole which for 20: whisks you north along Avenida 10 de Agosto. Modern Quito has a thriving sub-culture of cybernauts who crowd dozens of cafés to surf the Web for just $1 an hour, drink coffee, and swap stories. With tropical names like Papaya Net, these places are a dime a dozen along Calam and nearby streets, an area so jammed with popular cheap hotels, restaurants, and foreigner-aimed travel agencies that it's been dubbed gringolandia by the locals, although the real name is the Mariscal Sucre district. High-altitude hotels, low rates Arriving at 9,300 feet, visitors feel tired, so a good hotel is essential while acclimatizing. The Mariscal Sucre district has over 20 hostelries crammed into a few blocks. Mariscal Sucre has experienced a rash of muggings recently. Although policing has improved (private security guards have been hired to increase safety), most residents suggest using a taxi at night. Nevertheless, many budget travelers stay here, as do business people residing in high-rise hotels on the edges of the area - perhaps these folks are the ones whom thieves are fishing for. Recommended places in Mariscal Sucre include the funky Albergue El Taxo (Calle Foch 909, 2225-593, with artwork galore and comfortable old couches in the public areas. Dorms are just $5 per bed, and private rooms (shared baths) are $8 per person, most of whom are young international backpackers. Spartan but spotless, the nearby wood-floored Crossroads Cafe & Hostal (Calle Foch 678, 2234-735, is popular with river-rafting groups and backpackers. Rates are $6 in dorms, $10 and $15.50 for singles and doubles with shared bath, $13.50 and $22.50 with private bath. The café is inexpensive; or rustle up your own vittles in the guest kitchen. Another fave for budget travelers of all ages is Posada del Maple (Calle Rodr¡guez 241, 2544-507, with dorm beds at $7.25. Rooms with shared bath are $13.50 for a single and $22.50 for a double; a private bath will cost $15.50 to $20 for singles and $25 to $29 for doubles. Buffet breakfast is included, and rates are seriously discounted in the low season. Plus: A guest kitchen provides free tea and coffee, a rooftop terrace invites relaxation, and a cybercafé is next door. To escape gringolandia, I recommend the residential La Floresta district, a 15-minute walk south. Several bus lines connect La Floresta with both the old and the new towns, and a cab will be under $2. Cheap, friendly, and funky, La Casona de Mario (Calle Andaluc¡a 213, 2544-036, charges $6 per person in private rooms with shared baths in a rambling older house. The mainly young guests enjoy kitchen and laundry privileges, and crowd into the TV lounge or the garden. Nearby, the very secure El Ciprés (Calle Lérida 381, 2549-558, has friendly owners who'll pick you up at the airport and who run an on-premises travel agency-facilities which make Ciprés popular with budget travelers of all ages. Rates range from $6 in dorms to $12 to $14 for singles and $16 to $18 for doubles with private baths and TV. Continental breakfast in the skylit dining room is included, and guests use the Internet for free. Best features are the fireplace (surrounded by Indian masks) for cold evenings and the hammock on the lawn for sunny days. The colonial old town has dozens of ultracheap dives, most with nothing to recommend them beyond their cheapness. A notable exception is Hotel San Francisco de Quito (Calle Sucre 217, 2287-758,, a renovated colonial building two blocks from Plaza de la Independencia. Rates are $12 single and $20 double in clean rooms with small but functional private baths (all Quito's budget hotels tend to skimp on bathroom space) and a TV. Breakfast is included. Upscale budget lodging A step up is the well-placed 52-room Hostal Plaza Internacional (Plaza Leonidas 150, 2505-075,, just two blocks from the U.S. Embassy or the Museo del Banco Central and a few blocks out of the Mariscal Sucre. Rooms are cozy but clean, with TV, phone, and private bath; the staff (some English-speaking) is helpful, and there's a restaurant. What more could you want for $26 single/$36 double? A similarly good-value choice ($26 single, $36 double) is the intimate, family-run Hostal Charles Darwin (Calle La Colina 304, 2234-323, ecuanex., with an inviting garden. It's on a quiet side street in the aptly named La Paz ("Peace") district, a few minutes east of Mariscal Sucre. Quito cuisine Coffee and people-watching come first. Café Amazonas, at the corner of Avenidas Amazonas and Roca in Mariscal Sucre, is one of several sidewalk cafes on Amazonas. It's always full during daylight hours, with regulars holding court and visitors writing postcards. A coffee buys you the right to sit for hours. And then, your meals. For tasty low-cost lunches ask for an almuerzo or men£ - the weekday set lunch ordered by local office-workers (almost every establishment offers one); ordering & la carte costs twice as much. Because the high altitude slows the digestive system, Quite¤os eat a large lunch but a small supper. A typical inexpensive set lunch of a vegetable soup, light main course served with rice, and a juice or fruit dessert, costs $1 to $3, depending on how classy the place is. Sightseers in the old town find few culinary delights, and most head back to the new town for decent dining. My advice: the time-tested "eat where the locals eat." One locally popular place is Chifa El Chino (Calle Bol¡var between Venezuela and Guayaquil) with almuerzos for just over $1. Chifa means a Chinese restaurant, and though you'll find the usual cheap - and - filling heaps of noodles and rice, you can also ask for a local churrasco, a slice of grilled beef with an egg, french fries, beets, and rice - you won't leave hungry. In the Mariscal Sucre district, I like La Casa de las Menestras (Calle Lizardo Garc¡a 356), where $1.50 buys a meal in pleasantly bohemian surroundings with few tourists. (In fact, anything with menestra - bean stew - in its name is probably going to be cheap.) More upscale is French-run El Para¡so Perdido (Calle Baqueadano 409, 2506-630), also in Mariscal Sucre, where the recommended men£ ejecutivo sets you back $2.50. For all the classic Ecuadorian dishes, but at a low, low price, the place to go for decades has been Mam Clorinda (Calle Reina Victoria 1144), in Mariscal Sucre, popular with gringos and locals alike. Seco de chivo (goat stew) or llapingachos (fried mashed-potato pancakes) are my favorites, but less-adventurous chicken, beef, and fish dishes are also available. Big lunches or early dinners (it closes by 8 p.m.) are $4 to $6. Vegetarians favor Windmill (Calle Col¢n 2245), less than a mile west of Mariscal Sucre and adjoining a health-food store. At the south end of Mariscal Sucre, Super Pap (Calle Juan Le¢n Mera 741) celebrates that most Andean of vegetables, the potato. You can have a baked spud stuffed with anything from chili to chicken-filling, delicious, and never more than $2.75, depending on the stuffing. Both open for lunch and dinner. Quitting Quito Any pink-striped bus marked "Mitad del Mundo" traveling north on Avenida América, on the city's west side, will reach the equator for 35:. In 1736, Charles-Marie de La Condamine's French/Spanish/Ecuadorian expedition made measurements here that gave rise to the modern metric system. (It's exactly 10,000 kilometers - 6,700 miles - from the equator to either pole.) A 98-foot-high monument marks the spot; admission is 50: or another $3 if you wish to ascend the monument and inspect the ethnographic exhibit of regional tribal groups. In my mind, the 35: bus ride is more fun than the museum, but the equator is the equator - don't miss it. Markets, volcanos, and hot springs Few things beat an Andean market for sheer color, with thousands of Indians bartering in murmurs and gentle gesticulations - yelling is out of order! Thursday is market day in the village of Saquisil¡, where half a dozen plazas are packed with produce. My favorite is the animal market, with strings of piglets topping the bill. Feeling dry? How about a basket of 50 small tangerines for the ubiquitous dolarcito ($1). Or 10: for a greasily yummy llapingacho hot off the griddle. Reach Saquisil¡ by a two-hour dawn bus ride from Quito's terminal terrestre to Latacunga ($1.40), and transfer to a local bus (25:). That fabulous snowcapped volcano looming over the route? It's Cotopaxi (19,348 feet), Ecuador's second-highest peak and the world's second highest active volcano. (Several other glaciated peaks are seen on the ride as well.) And if dawn bus rides aren't your thing, Latacunga has a dozen hotels well under $10. Papallacta, two hours east by bus, is the country's hot-springs capital. From Quito's terminal, take any bus ($2) to Lago Agrio, Tena, or Baeza and get off at the sign for Termas de Papallacta (2557-850, A gravel road leads a mile uphill to this comfortable resort in the high Andes. On a good day, Antisana (18,892 feet), one of Ecuador's remotest, mist-shrouded peaks, puts in a stunning appearance. Pay $3 for an all-day pass to the superclean hot-springs complex with glacial river-water plunge baths, steaming waterfalls, and half a dozen other pools. Or stay in the basic Hostal Antisana (6320-626) immediately outside the resort, where beds are $7 and meals are available. Birding - and then Otavalo Between coast, Andes and rain forest, tiny Ecuador has more ecosystems and wildlife than do most of the world's countries. Birdwatchers are enthralled by over 1,500 species (twice that of the U.S.), including 120 species of hummingbirds. An excellent place to see them is Mindo, a sub-tropical cloud forest village two hours below Quito on the western slopes of the Andes, an area identified by the Nature Conservancy as one of the planet's ten most diverse bioregions. Birders will spend a night because the best animal activity is in the few hours after dawn or before dusk. Stay at the seven-room Caba¤as Armon¡a (2765-471,, where rooms with shared baths are $6 per person, or $12 in cabins with private baths, including breakfast. Two of the owners, Efra¡n Toapanta and Hugolino O¤ate, are trained local guides and arrange (multilingual) guiding for $12 per day for small groups (fortunately, even the Spanish-speaking guides know the birds' names in English). Your trip is over, bar the final shopping spree. The Otavale¤o Indians have that covered. The men's signature calf-length white trousers and black ponytail, and the women's embroidered white blouses and golden, blown-glass bead necklaces, are recognized the world over. The crafts market here is the most successful on the continent. It's a two-hour ($1.60) ride from Quito, but many visitors elect to stay overnight in one of dozens of lodgings. Recommended are the quiet, family-run Residencial El Roc¡o (Calle Morales 11-70, 6920-584), where rooms are $3 per person with shared hot baths, the century-old Riviera Sucre (Calle Garc¡a Moreno 3-80, 6920-241), with a flower-filled courtyard surrounded by units with shared and private bath at $5.60 and $9 per person, or the Indian-run Hotel El Indio (Calle Sucre 12-14, 6920-060), with modern rooms at $10 per person and one of Otavalo's most authentic restaurants. Saturday is Otavalo's main market day, when streets around Poncho Plaza are clogged. Check out the food and animal markets as well, and wander down to the main plaza dominated by a huge bust of Rumi¤ahui (the Inca general who razed Quito). The proud Otavale¤os were horrified by a recent suggestion that he be replaced by Simon Bolivar!