Trip Coach: Feb. 14, 2006

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Budget Travel Editors answered your questions

Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for joining us this week. Let's get to your questions!

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Savannah, Georgia: I love to travel, and the journey is more important than the destination. Since I travel alone and dont like the idea of sharing with strangers, I would like to know if there are companies that have travel packages WITHOUT A SINGLE SUPPLEMENT. Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: There are a number of companies that cater directly to single travelers and most enable you to avoid paying a single supplement by pairing you with another same-sex single traveler who you'll be sharing a room with. If you don't mind meeting new people--and sharing your space with them--then it's a great way to keep costs low while exploring the world on your own. All Singles Travel (800/717-3231, allsinglestravel.com) has been in business for 10 years and caters specifically to the solo traveler. Most of their passengers range in age from their 30's through their 50's and the company also offers trips for Jewish, Christian, and senior singles. O Solo Mio (800/959-8568, osolomio.com) also specializes in singles travel and is currently offering thirteen trips in 2006 including trips to Fiji, Italy, and China. Travelers are mostly women, nearly all in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. And singles travel club Travel Buddies (800/998-9099, travelbuddies.com) organizes trips for small groups of singles to adventurous and/or exotic places, including cruises and weekend getaways.

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Silver Cliff, CO: We would like to travel around the world spending about a month each in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America, and Central America. We would like to leave from San Diego next October and be back about 6 to 9 months later. Is there a way to purchase airline tickets with very flexible itineries and what airline(s) would be best for this type of extended trip? Thanks for your advice.

Budget Travel Editors: You'll get the best deal on a round-the-world airline ticket from a specialist like Airtreks (877/247-8735, airtreks.com) or Air Brokers International (800/883-3272, airbrokers.com). The tickets are valid for one year from purchase -- which means that if you're planning a long trip, wait pull the trigger until a month or two before you leave. They're also valid for travel in only one direction, so plot carefully. If you want more flexibility to go wherever the wind takes you, consider buying tickets for your first segment ahead of time (say, Denver to Sydney) and then booking the rest as you go along.
Gayle Forman traveled around the world for a year with her husband and wrote an excellent book about their journey: You Can't Get There From Here. She shared some of her best travel tips with Budget Travel in the March issue and contributed to a live chat. Anything not covered there is probably on her website gayleforman.com. It's chock-full of useful information on everything from airline tickets to visas to money.

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Phoenix, Arizona: Hi; We are traveling to Hong Kong for the first time with our 3 young adult children. What are the best things to see and do in Hong Kong? We leave the U.S. on April 5th arriving in the morning of April 7th in Hong Kong and return the afternoon of April 15th. Should we avoid poultry products while over there? What other areas of the Hong Kong district should be see? Are there any things to make sure we do or don't do? Any information you can give is greatly appreciated. It is our first trip into Asia and our sons first trip out of N. America. We have a 2 hour lay-over in Taipai on the trip flight both ways.
Thanks much, Vicki

Budget Travel Editors: Lucky you! April is a terrific time to visit Hong Kong. The pace is always dazzlingly frantic, but you'll bypass much of the summer's onset of tourists and the oppressive humidity. There are no current State Department warnings for travel to H.K., and eating poultry products should be fine provided they are well-cooked and from a clean kitchen (avoid dubious street food!).

The city is famous for its shopping--both bargains in crowded lane markets and impeccably tailored high-end goods in state-of-the-art, airy malls. Pacific Place even has the shops arrayed in a loosely hierarchical order: top designers on the top floors. Make a post-dinner trip to the unique Temple Street night market, and hop the bus for a rickety and scenic 45-minute ride to the markets at outlying Stanley Village, where you can find inexpensive Chinese trinkets and souvenirs as well as a beach. In fact, Hong Kong is made up of various islands, including Tai O, a cluster of wooden houses on stilts, and Lantau, crowned by a giant bronze Buddha statue atop a mountain at the Po Lin Monastery. (You can read more about the city's sleepy islands in Hong Kong Chills Out.) It's a short, spectacular ride on Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon, where you can take tea in the soaring lobby of the Peninsula Hotel, complete with palm fronds, classical columns and gilt touches.

Smack in the midst of Hong Kong Island, surrounded by twisting and climbing skyscrapers, lie the Botanical Gardens and the Tea Museum, a fun, hands-on look at the art of making tea ware and the customs and meanings surrounding tea. Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong are the main nightlife hubs and you'll spot clusters of ex-pats. All told, the city's British legacy means that most street signs and information is in English as well as Chinese and that many cab drivers, shop assistants, and passersby will understand at least basic requests. You can find additional information at the Hong Kong Tourism Board's website: discoverhongkong.com. And if you have the time, consider a daytrip by ferry to the island of Macao. The tiny Portuguese colony has been returned to China, and is rapidly morphing into a gambling mecca. You'll find a delightful and odd mish-mash of brightly colored Portuguese churches, flashy new casino-hotels, seedy side streets, and construction everywhere.

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Chandler, AZ: Where can we get cell phones for use in Italy? Should we buy or rent?

Budget Travel Editors: You have two decent options for obtaining/using a cell phone in Italy, which, by the way, has some of the best cell service on the planet. Your first option is to rent a phone at the airport (international airports only). The handset costs about $50/week. You'll be charged by the minute on top of that for sending and receiving calls. Your best option is do what the Italians do (when in Rome.....) and buy or rent a GMS phone that's compatible with the Italian phone system. You'll pay local rates, receive free incoming calls from any country, and calls to the US are about 40 cents/minute. To avoid paying more than you want, you can by pre-paid SIM cards, which you'll insert in the phone. Note: When purchasing your phone, make sure your handset is "unlocked" or you won't be able to make calls. For more info on using cell phones in Italy (and other countries), check out Cellularabroad.com.

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USA: I am journeying to New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year and have received some rather impressive party invitations. Sadly, I suspect that my dazzling personality wasn't the draw, but rather it may have something to do with the post-Katrina recovery. Since this is my first time, I've asked around and have been told that in past years, the sage advice was to leave jewelry at home and to wear shoes that could be thrown away afterward. However, some of the parties that I'm attending are rather high-profile and being held on balconies above the crowds. What would be appropriate to wear -- especially on Mardi Gras? Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: The bulk of the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans happen on the street in the form of parades, which begin two weeks before Fat Tuesday (this year, on Feb. 28). Neighborhood "krewes" dress up, make floats, plan performances--usually with a theme. Not surprisingly, this year many themes will be political and/or focus on Katrina. For example, one recent parade poked fun at FEMA. It's really only the final parade on Fat Tuesday, through the French Quarter, that gets the truly massive crowds, but I think the "throw away shoe" idea is going overboard. And you don't want to wear a necklace because it might get tangled with Mardi Gras beads. Other jewelry is fine.


As far as the parties go, just wear what you would to a cocktail party -- a smart dress or pant-shirt combo. Accessorize with a mask, or you could even wear a full-blown costume. (Word is that many are following the "Proud to Swim Home" pro-Mardi Gras costume theme.) A lot depends on the weather. Most of all, you want to be comfortable. I just spoke with a friend in New Orleans who told me that if you really want to be "in," wear a fleur de lis. Just like the iconic NYC t-shirt, New Orleanians are wearing "I (fleur de lis symbol) NOLA" shirts. They're exploding around town as a symbol of support for NOLA. My personal favorite statement T is "Make Levees Not War."

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Indianapolis, Indiana: Is there a website and/or book that list direct flights from different cities? I am starting to plan our next trip and we can go to a variety of destinations with 3 or more airports in close driving distance. Just trying to find the best deals... Thanks!

Budget Travel Editors: Airline routes change all the time, but if you go to travel search engines SideStep.com or Kayak.com, you can plug in the cities and dates you're interested in, and the search results will let you know how many stops you'll make, or if there's a nonstop flight (i.e. it doesn't touch down; "direct" means it can land, but that you don't get off the place). Additionally, the sites will also let you know what the cheapest flight is on the route(s) you're interested in. A site called Groople.com lets you book flights for multiple people from multiple destinations.

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San Rafael, CA: My wife and I are planning to fly to Germany in mid-May and leave mid-June. Either Munich or Frankfurt are acceptable cities. When is the best time to get the best air fares? Should we lock in fares now or wait another month or two to see if the airlines offer better prices. Right now the fares are running $900+. Do consolidators have low prices at all times?

Budget Travel Editors: I would recommend starting your airfare search in mid-March. You're a shade too early right now and as a result, not likely to get the best fare. Beginning around Mar. 15, start checking your dates and desired gateways (SF-Munich) on SideStep.com or Kayak.com. These search engines will compare all available flights for the days you picked, and give you the lowest fare. You might also want to consider booking your airfare and hotel together. These days, you'll often find the better value by going with a package, especially to Europe. Gate 1 Travel.com and Go-Today.com are two of the premier air
hotel packagers that offer particularly good specials in Europe.
For example, Go- Today.com has a $569 air-hotel (3 nights) special to Munich. And a $499 fly-drive special (roundtrip airfare to Munich and 7-day car rental) that's valid until May 26.

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Dobbs Ferry, New York: I am employed full time and attend college at night. I would like to take my two teenage children (16 and 20) on a vacation to Italy for about 5 days during the week of April 8 -16th. I am not particular about which days during that week and I am open to which cities we visit. I need to keep my costs down but I have been unable to find any packages.
Thank you for your help!

Budget Travel Editors: Italy is a hugely popular destination for American travelers, and there are many tour operators specializing in trips to the region. Go-today.com has myriad packages for Florence, Tuscany, Venice, Rome, Sicily, Naples, and Milan, as well as multi-city trips--hurry though, most of the current offerings must be booked by Feb. 16.
A few April examples: a six-night hotel stay in Rome and airfare from $699 per person; a four-night stay in Florence and airfare from $799 per person; a four-night stay in a Tuscan villa, four-day car rental and airfare from $1199 per person. Tour Crafters is another good resource. Most of their current Italy packages are for travel through the end of March (which would be much cheaper than traveling in April, if your dates are at all flexible).
For example, their Amalfi Coast deal with airfare, car rental, and four nights' accommodations for $654 per person is good through Mar. 30, as is their $492 per person package with airfare and a four-night stay in a city of your choice--Rome, Florence, Venice or Paris. Foreign Independent Tours has a series of whirlwind packages such as airfare and three nights in Venice from $665 plus escorted tours of Italy, however most of their current packages are only good through March as well. If you're set on traveling in April, check back with these providers in a few weeks or call to see when they will be posting packages for late-spring. Gate 1 Travel already has its April/summer packages ready. Airfare and four nights in Rome is pricing from $999 per person. Keep in mind that airfare taxes and fuel surcharges for most of these packages will be an additional $150-$200 per person. Good luck!

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Budget Travel Editors: Thanks again for all your great questions.

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