Trip Coach: July 26, 2005

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Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get started...

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Bartlesville, OK: My husband is in a wheelchair. He has to travel in it because it must lean back. Air travel is impossible because he must remain in his chair with the seat at a 45-degree angle. Rooms are reported to be quite small on cruises and he would have to have the chair in the room to get to the bathroom, etc. Of course, we need the budget priced tours. Do you have any suggestions for us.

Budget Travel Editors: Here's an article from our archives on accessible travel:

"For Travelers with Disabilities" contains resources and information for booking accessible vacations. Also, "It's Time to Get Off the Sidelines" contains information for mobility-impaired travelers who are interested in outdoor vacations

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San Luis Obispo, CA: I'd like to travel over the Christmas holiday but am having a hard time picking a place to go, perhaps a chilly Germany/Europe or a warm Argentina, who knows? Can you give a good Christmas escape idea that also won't break the fragile bank?

Budget Travel Editors: If money's an issue, go for Europe. Airfare to South America will be ridiculously expensive around Christmas, in part because of all the South Americans heading home for the holidays (combined with not all that many flights to choose from). Airfare to Europe can also be expensive around Christmas, but over the past few years several tour operators have been selling air/hotel packages to European cities (London, Rome, Paris, Munich, and more) for specific dates around Christmas and New Year's. The prices are usually pretty good--starting at under $800 for airfare from the East Coast and 5 or 6 nights hotel. You'd pay more than that just for airfare to Argentina. Companies such as gate1travel.com and go-today.com should be announcing their special Christmas and New Year's packages starting around September or May.

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New York, NY: I have been trying to locate a direct (or as direct as possible) flight from New York or Newark to Dubrovnik but have had no luck. What I have found takes me through Europe for a transfer and is very expensive. Are there are inexpensive flights (direct or otherwise) from New York or Newark to Dubrovnik for Fall departures? I could fly as late as November.Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: Forget about taking a major carrier all the way to Croatia. A quick search on Orbitz shows that the big carriers--United, Continental, Delta, etc--all have flights topping $1,300 that stop either in Vienna or Frankfurt. The better way to go here is to fly to Vienna on one of the majors and then catch a low fare flight to Dubrovnik. Many new low-fare carriers like SkyEurope have insanely low prices on intra-Europe flights. For example, SkyEurope has flights from Vienna to Dubrovnik for as low as 9 Euros, or $11. Over the next month, keep an eye on consolidators like Orbitz and Kayak to score a cheap flight to Vienna, and then search engines for the low-fare carriers (whichbudget.com, openjet.com, applefares.com, wegoigo.com) to catch a cheap connection.

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Santa Fe, NM: What are the most reasonable travel insurance policies for a 50-day trip to Europe? Who would you recommend? Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: Here is our guide to travel insurance: Travel Insurance: When do you need to buy it, and what are the best sources?

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Centerport, NY: What credit card gives the best rate for purchases in Europe and what bank's ATM card imposes the lowest transaction percentages on withdrawals?

Budget Travel Editors: Until recently, MBNA and Capital One were the only two banks that did not charge additional fees on purchases made abroad. But due to a recent policy change by MBNA--the bank now adds a three percent fee to transactions involving foreign currency--Capital One is the only bank that does not charge fees on foreign transactions. You can sign up for a Capital One card by visiting CapitalOne.com.

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Byron Center, MI: Wanted to know about the weather and possibilities of hurricanes the last couple weeks of November. We want to book a cruise to the Eastern Carribean and hit St Maarten, St Thomas, Tortola and possibly Bahamas. Lots of money to spend and have a ruined vacation. Also, how's the weather in that area in the first week or two of September? Too hot for a cruise or hurricane possibilities? Thanks so much.

Budget Travel Editors: Considering the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through October, the chances of running into a major storm in late November are pretty slim. However, hurricane season has been a busy one this year, so it's always a good idea to monitor the forecast from the National Hurricane Center (nhc.noaa.gov) before you plan your trip. If traveling in September, expect passing rain showers and high temperatures of around 90 degrees. At night, it'll cool to temperatures in the mid-70s.

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Fairfax, VA: What are the best sources or websites to find inexpensive condos (like unused timeshares)to rent in desired locations like Hilton Head, whether by bidding on them or by direct rental?

Budget Travel Editors: You can browse more than 38,000 apartments and homes available for rent worldwide, with no middleman fee, at Vacation Rentals By Owner (vrbo.com). Currently the website is offering dozens of vacation homes for rent in and around Hilton Head for prices far below any hotel in the area (like a two-bedroom two-bathroom condo, with a pool, just steps from the beach from $575 per week). Browse by neighborhood, sort by number of bedrooms, and view property photos taken by the owners themselves.

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St Petersburg FL: My husband and I are celebrating our 10th on Oct 8th (2005) We would like to cruise to the Panama Canal. I am finding it difficult to find any info. Can you help me? Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: Congratulations! In order to find a Panama Canal cruise, you may have to postpone your trip until late October when hurricane season officially ends. I'd be surprised if many cruise lines run that itinerary in early October. To find out for sure though, poke around on a website like Cruisemates (cruisemates.com) or Cruise Critic (cruisecritic.com). You'll find destination guides, style info (which ships are best for families, couples, etc.) and, most importantly, reviews of cruise ships and itineraries, including which companies go where and when. Once you know which itineraries and ships suit you best, shop around for the best value. Try CruiseCompete.com. (Remember that being flexible with your dates can make all the difference.) If you'd like help and advice from an experienced cruise consolidator, contact a company like GalaxSea Cruises (800/662-5450, cruisestar.com) or CruiseBrothers.com (800/827-7779, cruisebrothers.com).

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San Diego, CA: My husband and me are interested in staying for a week either in Provance or Tuscany. Can you give us an idea on some places and maybe tell us the best affordable place.

Budget Travel Editors: Start with our Secret Hotels features. We ran a roundup of the best, most affordable places to stay in Provence last July. How does a room with a private terrace and views of a lavender field for $56/night sound? Find the full article here.

There's a similar piece on Tuscany in our current issue. Stay your own apartment in the 13th-century hilltop village of Gargonza for under $150/night. You might even get your own fireplace. Or book a room at the 800-acre Vagli family farm in Libbiano (north of San Gimignano) for $94/night. Find Secret Hotels of Tuscany here.

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Budget Travel Editors: Thanks again for your great questions. We're sorry we weren't able to answer all of them. See you next week.

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