Trip Coach: August 9, 2005

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

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Williamsburg, VA: What time of the year is the best time to travel to County Cavan, Ireland to do genealogical research? We would like to travel when the weather is temperate, however, cost is a consideration. Please advise.

Budget Travel Editors: The Ireland B&B packages are perfect for you; you'll get round-trip airfare to Dublin, a seven-day car rental, and six nights of open vouchers good at more than 2,500 B&Bs across the country, including Co. Cavan. (Take a sneak peak at some of them by logging onto tandctrade.com; make sure you look for the ones that accept vouchers.) Your first night will be prebooked at a Dublin hotel (unless you request otherwise), but after that, you're free to skip around Co. Cavan booking each B&B night as you go. Don't think a week is long enough to trace your roots? Add on extra days. Want to splurge on one night in a castle? You can tack that on, too.

If you wait to go until November, you'll still get pretty temperate weather (as temperate as Ireland weather ever is; many people happen to think that the chill and fog only add to the experience), but fewer crowds and better prices. Low season pricing runs November to March -- holidays excluded -- then rates start creeping up until the summer. Shop around with Ireland.com (800/896-4600, ireland.com/travel), Brian Moore International Travel (800/982-2299, bmit.com), and Celtic Tours (888/833-4373, celtictours.com), to see who's got the best deal for you.

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Lake Charles, LA: When traveling coach class to Europe what is the best seat selections?

Budget Travel Editors: Aside from a good rule of thumb of asking for a bulkhead or exit row seat on any flight, international or domestic, when you check in, I'd recommend visiting seatguru.com. The website lists major airlines, their carriers, and gives the lowdown on which seats have the most room, are the quietest, etc. Good luck!

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Bradenton,FL: We would like to plan a train trip in Italy for late October or May, 2006. In your opinion when is the best time to travel to Italy? Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: Both October and May are safe bets for a visit. You can expect generally sunny skies, pleasant weather for outdoor sightseeing, and a (comparative) dip in tourism and prices. If you opt for October, avoid staying over into November--Italy's wettest month.

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Fairfax, VA: Several years ago my parents went on a trip across Canada by train. My Mom really wants to go on another trip like that but she thinks the price has really gone up over the years and may now be unreasonable.I would like to plan this trip for my family. Can you suggest a company that may give us the best deal? The trip would be for about a week and possibly in May (if this is a good time) Thanks

Budget Travel Editors: Via Rail, Canada's Amtrak, travels from Toronto to Vancouver (or vice versa). If you're willing to invest the time and money to travel by train, it's a great route through diverse landscapes. You can even request special stops between Sudbury Junction and Winnipeg. The train leaves Toronto on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and Vancouver on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays. A one-way, comfort-class, adult fare departing Toronto in May is about $350 ($425 CAN), and there are off-peak and advance purchase discounts.

Here is more information about the Toronto-Jasper-Vancouver route: viarail.ca/trains/en_trai_toja.html
If you're looking for a shorter train trip, we're covering this topic in the upcoming September issue. Via Rail has just introduced a new class of service called the Easterly class from Halifax to Montreal from May through October, which includes redecorated cars, two meals featuring local cuisine, and a "Maritime Learning Experience".

You can reserve your tickets at viarail.ca.

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Lake Charles, LA: We are planning a trip to Italy this fall. We would like to drive from Rome to Milan and take in the sights and cities along the way. We are planning to visit Rome, Spoleto, Florence, Venice and Milan. Is driving in Italy only for daredevils? Do you have any recommendations on not to miss sights along the route. Thanks for your help.

Budget Travel Editors: Go for it! Road tripping from Rome to Milan will give you the most flexibility, provided you pack a good map, and keep alert. Be sure to set out on foot once you arrive at various stops. Despite its dicey reputation, driving is often more straightforward on the autostrada than in urban areas, where efforts to preserve an overabundance of cultural riches, plus bureaucratic inefficiencies, can lead to unexpected road closings, parking restrictions, and confusing signage. Narrow, one-way roads and zig-zagging vespas don't help either.

You could spend several weeks just traipsing around the five cities mentioned and along the way there are countless not-to-miss sights with loyal followings. Here are some personal favorites: Assisi, home of Giotto's frescoed lifecycle of St. Francis; San Gimignano whose iconic towers suggest a medieval Manhattan; Fiesole, an Etruscan hilltown overlooking Florence; Ravenna for spectacular Byzantine mosaics and Dante's tomb; trademark porticos, red brick and meat sauce in the university town of Bologna; and the pristine Lago di Como, encircled by the Alps and picturesque villages.

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Washington, DC: We are trying to plan a December honeymoon that won't cost more than a couple thousand dollars, direct flight from DC. Thinking about Caribbean, but not sure exactly which island to go (just went to St. Martin not long ago, so not that one).

Advices? Suggestions? Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: Congratulations! It's tough to recommend a Caribbean island without knowing your interests and whether you prefer an active or leisurely honeymoon, so how about the islands of Trinidad and Tobago?

Trinidad is urban, sophisticated, and exciting, while Tobago is smaller and relaxed. Both have exceptional geographic diversity, from mountains to rainforests to sandy beaches, and an interesting mix of cultures (West Indian, East Indian, and Chinese), food, and music. The islands are located off the coast of Venezuela, outside the hurricane belt.

You can fly nonstop from Washington, DC to either Port-of-Spain, Trinidad or Tobago on American Airlines or BWIA Airlines starting from around $350 RT. Both airlines also offer package vacations: BWIA is currently offering roundtrip airfare from DC to Tobago plus 7 nights at Arnos Vale Hotel from $866 per person, if you travel by December 15. You can also check other companies (cheapcaribbean.com, for example) for package deals.

We wrote about Trinidad in the December/January 2003 issue of Budget Travel magazine. Read the article here.

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Rocklin CA: What is the best strategy to make favorable currency exchange transactions? I am traveling to Australia and New Zealand for 3 months.

Budget Travel Editors: A good rule of thumb is to just use ATMs in Australia and New Zealand. Exchange rates are fair and if you use cash, you'll avoid paying fees for foreign transactions. (However, it is wise to have the ability to trace your travel expenses.) Capital One is the only credit card that doesn't charge a fee for overseas transactions. You also might want to look into American Express' Travelfunds Card, a prepaid "Travelers 'No' Cheque Card". If you use it before Oct. 15, then you get a free companion airfare, however there are fees. Read the terms and conditions here.

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San Diego, CA: Please Help!!
I'm looking for the cheapest airfare to Zurich in July 2006 in time for the World Cup. My friend lives in Zurich and I'm planning to join him for 2 weeks of football (soccer) but first I have to get there and so far I haven't found anything for less than 1K!! When should I start looking? How much should I expect to pay? Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: Since I don't know what gateway you're leaving from, it's hard to price tickets. However, I would recommend beginning your shopping in March of next year. You'll pay too much if you purchase your tickets more than 6 months out. Ideally, 3 months prior to departure is the sweet spot, unless you're willing to risk waiting for last-minute specials. Another way to go is to find the most affordable flight to Europe (usually London is the cheapest), and from there grabbing a no-frills flight like EasyJet or RyanAir to Zurich, or even Geneva.

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Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all your questions.

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