An Introduction to Packing

June 4, 2005
One medium-sized suitcase, lightly filled, is the key to a rewarding vacation

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.

    Plan Your Next Getaway
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    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!


    Carl Sandburg was wrong. Chicago is less the City of Big Shoulders than the City of Big Appetites. In our search for "Little Wonder Restaurants" charging less than $12 for a full-scale meal, we've encountered larger servings in Chicago - more copious sauces and sides, bigger mountains of meat, higher stacks of rolls and loaves - than in any other U.S. city we've surveyed. In Chicago, eating cheap doesn't mean eating lean or meagerly. It means tucking in to vast platters that crash through calorie limits and leave you near-catatonic at the end of the second course. Here are nine enthusiastic recommendations, of which five are old standbys that have fed frugal Chicagoans for at least two generations. The Berghoff 17 West Adams St., 312/427-3170. From just $10.95 for a taste of history (and some of the best German food in the Midwest) Where else could we begin this eating tour but at The Berghoff, in the heart of the Loop and a Chicago institution since 1898? An oversize beer hall, it survived prohibition (and nabbed the very first liquor license when the ban was lifted), and has wursted and knocked the masses with elan ever since. While dinner will take you a buck or two over our usual limit, lunch is still a budget treat, easily coming in at under a dozen dollars. To get the full experience, stick with the classic Teutonic dishes on the menu: savory sauerbraten ($9.50 lunch/$10.95 dinner); the famous Wiener schnitzel, as long as your forearm and served with the equally famous electric-green creamed spinach ($10.25/$11.95); Rahm schnitzel, a breaded pork cutlet ($9.50/ $10.95); or any of the sausage dishes. A starter soup is just $2 per cup, or try the classic Caesar salad ($3.50). Whatever you consume (and many "hop" by just for a stein of the house brew), having a meal in this turn-of-the-century gem with its stained-glass windows, dark wood paneling, original brass chandeliers, and stand-up bar is an experience in itself. Closed Sundays. The Parthenon 314 South Halsted St., 312/726-2407. A Greektown delight with soup and entree for as little as $6.65 At a good Greek restaurant, a meal is never just a meal. It's a celebration with jaunty music in the background and waiters bellowing "Opa!" as the plates of flaming cheese sail by. The owners of this Greektown culinary institution are not only throwing one of the best nightly parties in town, they claim to have invented (back in 1968) the "flaming saganaki" presentation that's become a dramatic standard in Greek eateries across the nation. Whether or not that's true, the waiters pull it off with aplomb, lighting the platters with a flourish and bearing the plate-size infernos like Olympic torches across the crowded dining rooms. But who cares about pyrotechnics? It's the food that counts, and The Parthenon delivers-and then some. Here I've enjoyed some of the tastiest Greek food in my not-so-young life. The best of bechamels, topping every helping of those wonderful Mediterranean casseroles, moussaka ($5.75 small portion, $8.50 monster-size), and pastitsio ($5.25/$8.25). Moist and flavorful lamb ($11.25), which you'll see roasting on a spit as you enter. Flaky spinach and cheese pies ($4.50), exquisitely tart egg-lemon soup ($1.75 cup), and exceedingly tender octopus in white wine sauce ($6.75). The eggplant dishes require special praise. The Parthenon's chefs have tamed the tricky aubergine, turning what can be a tough and seedy vegetable into the most melting of treats. Try the eggplant spread ($3.75), the baked stuffed eggplant ($8.50), or the melitzanopita ($8.50), which is cheese and eggplant encased in phyllo. All are delish. While The Parthenon is not the most up-to-date of the restaurants in the area (most now look like the Greek Isles as imagined by a Pottery Barn exec), it's a colorful, oversize place with fun, hokey murals (blue seas, men in togas) and the kind of old-fashioned hospitality that can't be faked. Open daily. It's a bit out of the way, unfortunately, so drive or cab it. Andalous 3307 North Clark St., 773/281-6885. Marvelous Moroccan meals at a bit over $10 Some restaurants strive to be exotic, others simply are. Andalous falls into the latter category, seemingly plucked off a St. in Marrakesh and plopped down one long pitch from Wrigley Field. There are few accommodations to American tastes here. The lamb is adamantly bone-in, and it's a big bone at that. The couscous is laden with ungainly slabs of vegetables. The owner's one-year-old periodically scoots through the spare dining room on a little play car, followed by her smiling, kerchiefed mother. But are we complaining? Of course not. This restaurant is a delight, with food that's unfailingly pleasing. Try the lemony harira ($2.25) or the thick, garlicky lentil soup ($2.25) to begin. Then make your choice from the many kebabs, couscous, bastillas, and tagines. We particularly like the lamb tagine ($9.99) with prunes and the chicken tagine doused in lemon confi (pickled rind), for $9.50. If you have room left, spring for any of the nutty, honeyed pastries, just $1.25 each. Lunches and dinners all week; take the El to Belmont. Foodlife 835 North Michigan Ave., 312/335-3663. Right in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, an abundance of options for as little as $8.15 for two courses We don't normally recommend food-court dining, but a phenomenon called Foodlife is so imaginatively executed, so well located, and most importantly, so well priced, that I'd be remiss not to mention it. Mimicking a charming town square, down to the cobblestone floors and arbors strung with fake grapevines, the ambience is much gentler than that of your local mall. A host greets you at the gate and then seats you at a table after first giving you an "eat the world" credit card that allows you to go from kiosk to kiosk, charging your food (you pay as you exit). Then you get up and wander through this "global village," choosing barbecue chicken ($6.95) from the "Kickin' Chicken and BBQ" area, or the jambalaya ($5.95) at "Creole King," a bottomless bowl of Italian wedding soup ($5.50, or $2.20 for a cup) at "Souplife," a brownie sundae ($3.25) from "Sweetlife." We could go on. While we can't pretend to have tried everything available (that would up us a dress size), the grub we grabbed was all quite tasty, high-quality stuff. Open seven days. Heaven on Seven 3478 North Clark St., 773/477-7818; 111 North Wabash Ave., 7th floor, 312/263-6443; and 600 North Michigan Ave., 312/280-7774 Almost as fun as baring your breasts on Bourbon St., this New Orleans-style eatery is cheap: from $7.95 for soup or salad and entree. It's Mardi Gras every day at Heaven on Seven, which celebrates the New Orleans version of that holiday in all its tacky glory. The restaurant is festooned with carnival beads (the drinks are too!), there are masks everywhere, and a museum-worthy collection of hot sauces graces one wall as you enter. Tables are loaded up as well - we counted a full 25 hot sauces at our four-top. But don't overdo it with the sauces, since much of the food already packs a fiery punch, as it should. This is real, down-home Cajun cooking, bravely spiced and as flavorful as anything you'd find in the bayou. All the standards plus a few unusual picks are here: jambalaya ($9.95), red beans and rice with andouille sausage ($8.95), a creamy cheese grits and shrimp platter ($10.95), southern-fried chicken ($9.95). All entrees come with your choice of soup, gumbo, or salad. By the way, this is a great place to take kids. They'll love the decor and music, and there's a special children's menu ($4.95) for blander palates. Open daily (Wabash location closed Sundays). Hi Ricky 941 West Randolph St., 312/491-9100; 1852 West North Ave., 773/276-8300; and 3730 North Southport Ave., 773/388-0000. Noodles and starters from just $9.90 Somehow the humble noodle has become a vehicle for high-concept cooking, as sleek au courant eateries have popped up in cities across the country. One of the smartest is the cheerfully named Hi Ricky, which mixes things up a tad by introducing a slew of fab satays into the mix. These meats-on-a-stick are a great way to start your meal and affordable, too, at just $3.95 to $6.25 per trio of skewers (there's shrimp and tofu, too). If you're not a big carnivore, the salad ($2.95) is a distinct treat, garnished with crispy noodles and dressed in a succulent sesame vinaigrette. Then move on to the pasta, which ranges from fiery, cabbage-laden Indonesian bakmi goreng ($7.45) to curried thin Singapore noodles ($7.45) to the pad Thai classic ($6.95). You do your noodle-slurping in some stylin' settings, by the by. Hi Ricky has that "industrial with just the right splashes of color" look down. There are terrific photos of Asia on the walls (in corrugated tin frames, of course), and the background music is tres alternative. Open daily. Pizzeria Uno 29 East Ohio St., at the corner of Wabash Ave., 312/321-1000. Soup or salad and the thickest pizza ever, from $6.98. he pizza joint that inspired the chain. If only its namesakes in other burgs were as good! Forget about fast food! "The pizzas we make are all done from scratch, so they take about an hour to cook," the host at the door explains to somewhat stunned patrons. "I'd suggest you order now." And with that he hands you the menu, and you choose your toppings, as quickly as you can. Then you take a seat, ordering the simple but fresh salad ($2.95), zippy wings ($4.99), or the thick minestrone called Florence's soup ($2.69) in honor of the founder's wife. And you wait. And wait. And wait. Is it worth it? Assolutamente. More "pie" than "pizza," the densely layered concoction that arrives at your table is certainly more interesting texturally than your average thin pizza. The massive crust is crispy on the edges, soft and doughy towards the center. It's topped with just the right amount of sauce and an extra-gooey layer of cheese. If you order meat, it's nicely peppery. If your choice is vegetables, they arrive still crisp atop the pie. But don't over-order. Remember, these pizzas have girth - a medium can easily feed a family of four. And that's just what founder Ike Sewell planned when he created the "bigger is always better," Americanized version of the Italian classic in 1943. Yes, this is where Chicago-style pizza was invented, so eating in this old-fashioned joint, with its pressed-tin ceiling and down-at-the-heel charm, is as much a pilgrimage as a meal. Open seven days a week, an easy walk from Michigan Ave.. La Creperie, 2845 North Clark St., 773/528-9050. Fattening French food (ah, don't we love it?!), two million calories, and a swell time for a mere $9.50. La Creperie inspires a fierce loyalty among Chicagoans. As I recently stood outside, scribbling notes about the look and menu, three passers-by stopped to encourage me to go in. "The best crepes in the city," one told me, and I had to wonder how much competition there was. No matter, this remains one of the top buys, an oh-so-Parisian little joint, redolent of frying butter and decorated with colorful, if faded, travel posters. You might think of crepes as a light in-between-meals snack. Not here. These are crepes to tickle a trucker, dinner-plate-size and plumped with heavy if savory fillings: coq au vin ($7.25), boeuf bourguignon ($7.25), spinach creme ($6.50), ham or cheese ($5.50), egg ($5.50), broccoli with cheese ($6.50). You can start with soup ($2.25) or salad ($4.25), or finish with a dessert crepe (from $3.50), but we doubt you'll be able to do all three. Portions are midwestern (read: big) and addictive - you won't put your fork down until the plate is clean. Closed Mondays. Ann Sather, 929 West Belmont Ave., 773/348-2378. As little as $9.95 for a Swedish feast 'Tis a gift to be simple, according to the old Shaker hymn, and our final pick has that gift in spades, serving food that is proudly simple but far from plain. A Second City fave since 1945, this was once one of many Scandinavian restaurants on Belmont. As demographics shifted, so did tastes, and Ann Sather is the last buffalo, overlooking an urban meadow of funky shoe stores, tiny theaters, and crowds making the trek to nearby Wrigley Field. It still has a sedate Scandinavian look with "Rosemaling" murals on the walls (those swoopy, whimsical paintings you see across Sweden and Norway), a dignified portrait of founder Sather above the fireplace, and upgraded diner banquettes throughout the two large rooms. While the restaurant serves a wide range of American fare, we'd suggest you stick to the Scandinavian specials, all of which come with a starter and two side dishes. We like the Swedish fruit soup, although it is an acquired taste, a peachy concoction filled with massive chunks of mystery fruit (the composition changes daily, but expect prunes, apricots, figs, dates, or kumquats); also good is the pickled herring. For the meat of the meal, choose...well, meat. The Swedish meatballs ($9.95) are a treat, lighter than you've ever tasted and subtly nutmeg-scented. Roast duck with lingonberry glaze ($10.50) is another champ, as is the surprisingly delicate potato sausage ($10.50). Open seven days; take the El to Belmont.

    Can Americans Benefit from the Airfare "Bucket Shops" of Britain?

    The "bucket shop" was born in Britain. And though the name for these once-shady, now-thoroughly-legal airfare discounters has grown respectable over the years (most are known today as airfare "consolidators" or "brokers"), they're still pulling off eerie and unsettling feats of low pricing from London to remote destinations throughout the world. A knowledge of how to find the British "bucket shop" is a mighty weapon in the arsenal of budget travel. (Note: The phone numbers in this article are written for dialing within the U.K. When dialing from North America, use the prefix 011-44 and drop the first zero from all of the numbers listed below.) Dropping into the buckets A similar matchmaking resource,, is Web-only and has been running since 1996. Its site lists 290 British sellers (again, paid subscribers) and some current sample prices. On a recent visit to London, I found the rates were not always available when I called the listed companies, but they were usually close. From company to company, the prices I found through both services were similar. After all, the vendors know they're being stacked against one another. To join both, companies must be bonded, which means they're insured should your chosen air carrier go belly-up. In Britain, only unbonded sellers are today called "bucket shops," while insured ones are known by the loftier "consolidator" (call a consolidator a "bucket shop" and you'll receive a flinty glare). Since, generally speaking, there's no price difference between the two (and they jockey for the same customers), go with a bonded one. Also consider paying with a credit card, despite the 2-to-5-percent surcharge. Should trouble arise, you won't find yourself struggling to get a refund from the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean. You can also find a handful of consolidators through their ads. To-the-minute specials can be found in the major London newspapers, especially the daily travel pages in the Evening Standard (about 50 [cents]), or the weekly magazines Time Out (about $2.50) and TNT (free at most hostels). Once you have your list of contenders, it's time to shop for prices. Bargains, pound for pound First of all, pick your dream destination from London. Because of enduring links to the "mother country," places as far-flung as Sydney, New Delhi, and Johannesburg still do a great deal of culture-sharing with Great Britain, as family members and workers shuttle between them. With London's five bustling airports (Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, City, and Heathrow, the busiest in Europe), lots of seats are flying, so lots of seats need to be sold, and it's easy to hook a bargain you'd never find in the United States. Of course, to make this method work, you must get to London cheaply, too. Aside from the usual airline sales, try an American discounter (consolidator); three big ones are Travac (800/872-8800,, Cheap Tickets, (888/922-8849,, and TFI Tours (800/745-8000, All three companies have round-trip winter departures selling at $275-$450 from most parts of America in the low season of November to March, and high-season seats for around $600 in summer. In order to secure the best last-minute flights, be prepared to stay at least five to ten days in London. Better yet, use an air/hotel package to London, which will fly you there round-trip and give you a bed while you look for those treasured onward ticket steals. With, you'll spend as little as $399 per person in winter (November through March), $599 in shoulder months (April/May, September/October), $749 in peak summer, and $150 more from the West Coast, for round-trip airfare plus six nights' hotel. You can usually delay your homeward flight for up to three months-ample time to find a bargain and take a meaty trip-within-a-trip. While you're speaking to the American consolidators, get prices to your final exotic destination as well. That way, you can compare the fares from your home airport in the U.S. with the London-airport prices through ATAB or Cheapflights. If the two prices (once you add transportation to England) are close, then you don't need to visit the British bucket shops -- unless you really want to break your journey with a stay in London. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules, some destinations are more cheaply reached from the U.S. -- it depends on your home airport. Thus, because of their proximity, South America and the South Pacific are always cheaper from your own doorstep than from London. Everywhere else is in a grey area. Because of strong ties to North America, much of East Asia (including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Seoul) can often be had for $600-$800 round-trip from our West Coast -- although last-minute British bargains occasionally beat that. Australia can be a better buy from the U.S. West Coast, but East Coasters will usually benefit from a London departure. Despite those general advantages, no matter where you live and no matter what the destination, you can (and should) do a little price research online before flying across the Atlantic Ocean to visit the bucket shops of Britain. For many destinations, the best deals await in London. Big deals under Big Ben The same tickets would have cost me $1,244 and $1,300, respectively, from the East Coast during the same period. So even with the added $400 I spent on my trip to London, I would have saved $125-$327 getting to South Africa or Australia. And I would have broken my journey with a stay in one of the world's most fascinating cities -- London. Or how about this: an eleventh-hour fare from a British bucket shop to New Delhi, India, was [British Pound] 299 ($430). From New York, flights to New Delhi can cost over $1,200, so I would have saved about $400 using the London method. There are dozens upon dozens of London consolidators, but for the record, I got those prices at Just the Ticket (28 Margaret St., 020/7291-8111,, Trailfinders (1 Threadneedle St., 020/7628-7628,, Lupus Travel (189 Regent St., 0870/830-8158,, and Benz Travel (83 Mortimer St., 020/7462-0011, The London method isn't just for long-haul flights. Five cheapo London-flying airlines sell popular European destinations for under $100 round-trip (such as Ryanair, Go, Buzz, easyJet, and Virgin Express), far less than flights of comparable length in the U.S. The lowest prices appear months earlier, so book those from home, quickly and for free, on the Web. Then hop to London to catch your dirt-cheap flight on these Euro "upstarts." Booking three months ahead, I was able to buy a round-trip seat from London to Athens for a mere [British Pound] 44 ($63). Even if I spent $350 to get to London, the total would still be a few hundred dollars less than the $550-$650 spent getting to Greece from America in the winter -- and I'd get six nights in London to boot. Last-minute package tours are also fair game. Using, I found unsold seven-night vacations from London to Marbella, Spain, including airfare, hotel, and rental car, for $444 in the middle of December (from Airline Network, 0870/241-0011, I also had my pick of cheap European weekend getaways, such as two nights at an Amsterdam B&B, including airfare, for $228 from Travelscene (020/8424-9648, A few vendors also specialize in last-minute charter flights, mostly to Mediterranean destinations favored by pasty British holidaymakers. One of the best-known is Charter Flight Centre (19 Denbigh St., 020/7828-1090,, near Victoria, which profits in seats the big travel packagers can't fill. I found one-way prices like [British Pound] 59 ($85) to Faro, Portugal, and [British Pound] 69 ($99) to Malta. British truth-in-advertising laws are quite strict, so if you spot a very low fare - I saw Sydney return for [British Pound] 385 ($553) from GM Tours (020/8686-8486) -- rest assured it isn't for sometime in 2006. You can buy it, traipse around Europe for a week or two, and come back to England for your long-haul flight. Consolidators exist in other European hubs, but English-speaking London is the cheapest to reach and easiest to navigate. But you've gotta be ready to leave at the drop of a bowler hat.