Tax-free Travel Shopping

By Reid Bramblett
June 4, 2005
The taxing trials of foreign shopping, the vexing vagaries of customs duties, and how to avoid paying any of it

In foreign travel, there are few experiences that are more common and banal yet cause so much confusion as the tangled web of taxes, refunds, duties, and exemptions. The vicissitudes of just trying to figure out what you do and do not owe on a couple of souvenirs can get so complicated that most travelers throw their hands in the air, bite the bullet, and pay what all the governments tell them to. I say "governments" because there are actually two government levies involved in shopping in a foreign country-and the good news is that you don't have to pay either one of them.

Like I said, there are two times a government tries to swoop in and take a percentage of your purchases.

The 911 on the V.A.T.

The first levy is a sort of national sales tax--most countries call it a "Value Added Tax," or VAT--that the country in which you are traveling charges on all purchases. Unlike state-imposed sales taxes in the US, this amount (which ranges anywhere from 3 to 22 percent) is already included in the sticker price on an item, so you rarely realize you're paying it. Foreign nationals are usually exempt from having to pay this tax on purchases (but not on such things as restaurant meals, hotel rooms, and car rentals), but since the VAT is already included in the price, you end up paying it anyway.

The way foreign governments set this right is by allowing alien shoppers (that's you) to get that VAT refunded to them at the end of their trip by waiting in line at a counter in the airport--in the case of the EU, at the airport of the last EU country you'll be visiting. This means you must be sure you keep all receipts handy to fill out the VAT refund form at the airport (you mail this in after returning home).

However, shops that have a "Tax Free Shopping for Tourists" sticker in the window can fill out the paperwork for you when you make your purchase. Quite a number of businesses belong to this network, including tons of mom and pop operations, not just those vast souvenir warehouses near tourist sights. Your only job after that is to drop the forms and receipts off at the airport counter, where they hand you a pile of crisp dollars and shiny new coins as your refund (yes, dollars, because getting local currency just before stepping on the plane to leave the country would be silly).

One catch. To keep the line at this counter short, not every minor purchase counts for getting your VAT back. There is a minimum amount you must spend in a single store, which varies by country anywhere from around $50 to $200 (the VAT Calculator on the Web site gives specifics for major countries) before the right to claim a VAT refund kicks in. That said, in those shops that honor the Tax Free Shopping for Tourist system can often do the paperwork for you even on smaller purchases.

OK. So much for VAT. You save your receipts, you stand in line at the airport, and you either get cash back immediately (in the case of having those pre-filled-out forms from the "Tax Free Shopping for Tourists" shops), or they give you the stamped form and an envelope for you to fill out while waiting to board your plane, then you mail it in within 90 days of returning home. Eventually, you'll get in the mail a check for your refund. Sometimes this takes a week or two. Sometimes this takes six months. There is no rhyme or reason, so just be patient.

"Duty Free"

I'd like to pause for a moment and explain about the "Duty Free" shop in the airport, a phenomenon that dates back to the early transatlantic flights in the 1940s but these days means mostly homebound travelers wandering the airport carrying plastic bags stuffed with cartons of cigarettes and bottles of rum.

The first scheduled transatlantic arrivals began touching tarmac at Ireland's Shannon airport in 1945; within two years, an entrepreneur named Sean Lomass had opened a kiosk he called "Duty Free" at the airport, and the idea (ahem) took off. The "duty" you are avoiding paying when you shop one of these places is the VAT, that local government tax, plus most import/export tariffs or duties.

The practical upshot is that, on heavily taxed items such as alcohol, perfume, and tobacco, duty free prices can be up to 25 or even 50 cheaper than the normal local retail price. You save a bit on other items bought at the Duty Free as well--jewelry, clothing, tchochkies--but nowhere near as much as you do on the more tax-burdened products appealing to vice and vanity.

It's a loophole merchants and governments have agreed upon, basically creating a little bubble between the security checkpoint and the ramp to the airplane where, for tax purposes, you're already considered to have left the country (this is why you can only buy from the duty-free when leaving). Note that since the EU is a single economic zone now, you can buy Duty Free only if you are flying to a country outside the EU (or are connecting a flight out of the EU that same day). That means if you have a ticket from, say, Rome to Paris, you can't do the duty free.

(This, incidentally, has done a number on the bottom lines of Northern Europe's ferry lines, which once depended heavily on Duty Free shops for revenue and have already been struck severe blows by the newly emerged competition of the Eurostar train through the Chunnel, no-frills airlines, and the 7.8km Orerunsd Bridge linking Denmark with Sweden.)

Now remember, I said you were avoiding the local taxes, duties, and tariffs on those purchases. Uncle Sam will still want to have his say about your purchases--whether Duty Free, "Tax Free Shopping," or simply stuff you bought overseas--once you get them home.

I do declare!

Once you arrive at a US airport, the US government reserves the right to charge you an import duty on any foreign purchase you bring into the country. In practical terms, they overlook souvenirs and such by allowing you to bring home a certain dollar amount of goods duty free.

The amount you are allowed was for a very long time limited to $400 per person, but it was recently raised to $800 per person from most countries, $600 for most of the Caribbean. Fine art and certified antiques are exempt. There are some funky exceptions for folks returning from U.S. possessions and territories.

There are also some fussy time-related rules largely aimed at airline employees and others who fly internationally more than once a month and return from trips abroad within 48 hours; it gets complicated, but basically those people can only bring in $200 a pop (this nasty little rule is mainly designed to keep flight attendants, pilots, etc. from become under-the-table importers/exporters).

Beyond that $800 limit, customs reserves the right to charge you a duty, starting at around 3 percent for the first $1,000 over the limit.

One way around this is, while still on the road, to mail to yourself up to $200 worth of items each day, marked "for personal use"--though this only makes sense if the postage rate will be cheaper than the duty. You may also mail up to $100 worth of items per person per day to friends and family marked as "unsolicited gifts" with a short list of the items contained and their values written on the outside of the package. Sending these loved ones an actual gift for them to keep, rather than just your personal purchases to hold on to for you, would be a nice touch.

They also have restrictions on the physical amounts you can bring in on some items, especially those vices and vanities: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigars, and a ridiculously tiny limit of one liter of alcohol of any sort--wine, beer, booze, whatever. This is in addition to the long, odd list of things you may absolutely not bring back in to the US, or need special permits to do so, such as drug paraphernalia, plants, game trophies, firearms, art and ancient artifacts, absinthe, items from embargoed countries (Cuba, Iraq, Lybia, etc.) and a long, qualified list of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, runny cheeses, and other foodstuffs.

These are all items that the government considers "...would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national political interests." Most of these rules have good reasoning behind them--the Mediterranean fruit fly epidemic that swept the West Coast and cost $100 million to fight back in the 1980s was traced back to a single piece of infested fruit brought home by a tourist. And let's not forget Dutch Elm Disease. Or Mad Cow.

Those are all the regs of concern to most tourists. In practice, customs officials are pretty lenient as long as you are honest and don't break the set-in-stone rules, like trying to smuggle in prohibited foodstuffs. I've flown home from international destinations dozens upon dozens of times, and I always fill out the customs declaration form they hand you on the plane before landing as honestly as I can, listing all the goods I'm bringing home with a fair estimate of the cost. I've been waved through even when declaring $100 to $200 over the limit, when carrying four or five bottles of wine (really, "one liter" is so silly), with tins of pate (technically, canned meats are on the no-no list), and more borderline cases.

You can get much more info, and more specifics, at For specifics on which food items you can bring back, check out the rules

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Save Money When You Change Your Money

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!

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).