Trip Coach: March 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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Teaneck, NJ: My nephew in Montreal is getting married August 12 and is interested in an inexpensive honeymoon. He and his fiancee are really into outdoor activities i.e. hiking, canoeing, etc. Also interested in a cruise to Alaska. Any suggestions? Thank you, Marcella

Budget Travel Editors: A cruise to Alaska seems like an excellent fit for your outdoor-minded nephew and his soon-to-be bride. Once the hot destination for more sedentary, time-rich seniors, the 49th state now hosts dozens of cruises that stop in several ports and offer great outdoor excursions: hiking, bear-watching, biking, kayaking, dog-sledding, helicopter tours, etc. For the most economical option, forego pre-/post-cruise tour choices and stick with a basic week-long trip (from about $850, most excursions cost extra). The top three lines sailing the Alaskan coast -- Princess (800/774-6237, princess.com), Holland America (877/724-5425, hollandamerica.com), and Royal Caribbean (866/562-7625, royalcaribbean.com) -- all have a myriad of itineraries for this summer and dock in the big name ports of Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway as well as some smaller towns. An Alaska cruise would offer a healthy mix of active adventure and one-on-one indulging via food, drink, spa treatments, and, well, you know...

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New York, NY: Thinking of going to Sicily in mid-April. Is it still too cold to enjoy a trip there at that time of year ?

Budget Travel Editors: In April, Sicily will likely be too cold for swimming and lolling about in bathing suits, but perfect for sightseeing and leisurely outdoor lunches. Temperatures average 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with about two inches of rain. You'll avoid the summer's oppressive humidity and spike in tourists, and will get to witness wild flowers bursting into bloom and the traditional processions and festivities around Easter (April 16).

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Merritt Island, FL: I will be traveling with my husband and 3 couples down the Danube ending in Vienna on June 6, to 8 June, 2006. We need a hotel in center town, walking distance to everything. Friends are 55 to 70 and do not want loud night life close by. We are looking for quiet, comfortable rooms w/bathroom in $90-100 range. Do you have any suggestions?
Louise

Budget Travel Editors: Finding a central hotel in Vienna under $100 a night is a tall order, especially with the current strength of the euro against the dollar. Here are some properties that make the cut--or at least come close. Near St. Stephen's Cathedral and Hofburg Palace in the 1st district, Pension Neuer Markt faces a beautiful square that hosts Vienna's lively outdoor food market. Be sure to request one of its 37 rooms overlooking the quiet courtyard or Seilergasse; doubles from 75 euros ($90), including breakfast. The family-run Hotel-Pension Suzanne is located on a quiet side street off the main thoroughfare Kartnerstrasse and near the State Opera House; doubles start at 96 euros ($115), including breakfast. Further afield in the quaint residential neighborhood of Josefstadt (close to public transportation), the Hotel Zipser has modern brown-and-cream double rooms from 79 euros ($94), including breakfast. Some rooms come with balconies. A bit more expensive, the Pension Nossek is a perennial favorite sitting smack in the midst of the pedestrian-only, shop-lined Graben. You'd be hard pressed to find a more central location, but it can become noisy at night. Rates start at 110 euros ($132), including breakfast.

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Fort Myers, FL: We are going on a 10 day Greek Island trip: 3 nights in Santorini, 3 nights in Mykonos and two nights in Athens from April 3-13. What temperature ranges can we expect while there so we know what to pack? Thank you for your help.

Budget Travel Editors: April is a lovely time to visit the Greek Islands. The November-through-March colder rainy season is over, the mercury starts creeping up the thermometer (averaging in the 60s), and the wildflowers begin to bloom. A light coat, windbreaker, or heavier sweater mixed in with short sleeves and long pants should be suitable for dealing with any dipping evening temperatures (low 50s). Of course, if you want to keep your bags light, pack for fairer weather and just pick up an inexpensive sweater there if you face an unexpected cold snap.

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Morrisville, PA: Do you have any special advice for folks flying with their CPAP machines which they need for their sleep apnea? Thank You

Budget Travel Editors: If you're traveling with a CPAP, make sure to carry it onboard; checking the equipment would make it vulnerable to damage or loss. Within the U.S., the CPAP machine is not counted towards your hand luggage limit. For travel outside the U.S., call up the airline you'll be flying in advance and ask them about their policy. Airline security is trained to recognize the machine and allow it, but just in case, take along a doctor's note describing what the machine does, and why you need it. Remember to pack any necessary adapters for foreign sockets and an extension cord since electrical outlets are sometimes not near the bed. Lastly, bring a backup mask and duct tape. Masks tend to get crushed and may break, and duct tape is an efficient way to close up any hose leaks.

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Midvale, Utah: While visiting Switzerland last year, we were invited to dinner at a friend's home. They introduced us to raclette and we loved it. When we left, they presented us with an expensive raclette machine to bring home. We cannot use it because of the difference in the power. We can buy converters for our equipment to be used in Europe but where can we buy converters that would do the reverse so we can use our raclette machine from Switzerland in the USA? The Beardall Family

Budget Travel Editors: Magellans, a leading supplier of travel goods for over seventeen years, sells a grounded adapter plug that allows users to run equipment and appliances bought overseas in the United States. It works just as any converter would, however the "male" plug fits any typical three-pronged socket. It's a multi-national adapter and should fit just about any style of plug from around the world. However before you buy, make sure that your raclette can run on dual voltage by checking the input information on the machine itself. Most European appliances work on 220 volts, so it's important that the machine lists the capability to run on 110, 120, or 125 volts as is common in the U.S. To purchase the adapter, visit Magellans on the web at magellans.com. You'll want to search for the Grounding Adapter Plug A, item #EA23MAG ($6.85).

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Austin, TX: My good friend Sidney just moved away to Dallas with her daughter and husband. I'm really going to miss having her as my neighbor because she was my adventure loving friend, always up for anything.

Thanks for the help! Heather

Budget Travel Editors: Less than 100 miles north of Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Isla Holbox is remote and exotic, perfect for an adventurous yet relaxing vacation. And touristy, it is not: The island has no high-rise hotels, cell phone service, or ATMs (bring pesos), and instead of cars, golf carts are the common mode of transportation along the sandy streets. Get there by hopping an inexpensive flight to Cancun--a recent search on Sidestep.com found roundtrip flights from Austin in June for around $400 on Delta--then a 90-minute taxi to the port of Chiquila, where you'll be ferried to the island. It's a lot easier than it sounds, and you'll be rewarded with endless beaches and serene views when you arrive. Choose to spend your days lazing poolside, collecting shells on the beach--or during the summer months--swimming with 50-foot whale sharks while accompanied by a local skipper (it's safe, we promise). And for that bit of luxury with a bungalow feel, try the Xalox Resort (011-52/984-87-52160, holbox-xalocresort.com). Depending on the season, $80 to $130 scores a thatched-roof palapa, with beds made of rough-hewn logs, and a breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit.

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Gibson City Illinois: What are the best locations to visit in New York City for the budget conscious family?

Budget Travel Editors: Believe it or not, New York is full of great ideas for the budget traveler. The Municipal Art Society gives free tours of Grand Central (check out the recently renovated ceiling featuring zodiac constellations), row boat rentals in Central Park are just $10/hour, and there's no cover charge to hear top-notch jazz at 50-year-old Arthur's Tavern in historic Greenwich Village (but you may want to purchase a drink/soda!). For many more fun insider ideas on where to eat, sleep, shop, and play, check out our downloadable New York City Snap Guide

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Davis, Ca: I would like to take a ferry from some where near Rome, Italy to Croatia in Mid-May. What would you suggest?

Budget Travel Editors: Well, you're looking at a very long ferry ride. Rome is located near the eastern side of Italy's "boot" and Croatia is to the north on the western side. The best places to pick up a ferry would be Ancona, Pescara, or the Apuglian town of Bari--all on the opposite side of the Italian peninsula on Adriatic Coast.
A company called Jadrolinija operates an overnight ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik and Split. And here's a link to a search engine dedicated solely to Croatian ferries: uk.geocities.com
And another helpful website: http://www.findcroatia.com/transportation_croatia/ferries_croatia.htm
Prices vary depending on company, but expect to spend around $150 for a crossing. If you're not set on taking a ferry, I'd also suggest looking into flights from Rome to Dubrovnik on one of Europe's many low-cost air carriers.

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Dallas, TX: A friend and I want to go to spain end of Sept early october. We only have 10 days and want to see Barcelona and Madrid (with as many places in between!). Actually, I want to see Granada and BCN and my friend wants to see Sevilla, Madrid and Bilbao! What's the best way to do it?

Budget Travel Editors: The cheapest flights will most likely be in and out of Madrid, so that should be your starting and ending point. You'll probably want at least two days to explore there--wandering around Plaza Mayor, visiting the Prado and Reina Sofia museums, trying out some tapas bars--before moving on to the other cities. You're trying to cover a lot of ground, so investing in a Eurail Spain Pass (from $175) may be your least expensive way to get around, or if you'd also like to be able to move at your own speed--perhaps drive through Extremadura, or between Barcelona and Bilbao--look into a Eurail Spain Rail 'n Drive Pass (from $249 each for a standard car, $305 automatic). For both, you can add on extra days for additional train travel (raileurope.com). After exploring Madrid, you can either drive (6 hours) or take the train (2 1/2 hours) down to Seville. (If you do drive, viamichelin.com is a great resource for figuring out driving times, directions and how much tolls will cost you.) Since you'll want more time for exploring in Madrid and Barcelona, a day and a half should do it in Seville, before you continue on to Granada (car or train: 3 hours) where you definitely need to factor in enough time to visit La Alhambra. A good option for train travel between Granada and Barcelona is the overnight "trenhotel" which takes about 12 hours, and lets you save on lodging while snoozing your way north. (Driving time is about 9 1/2 hours.) It isn't hard to lose track of time in Barcelona, between the mesmerizing Gaudi architecture, delicious food and seemingly endless museums, but you'll have to limit your visit to a couple days if you want to get to Bilbao too. The train between these two cities has to navigate the Pyrenees and takes nearly 10 hours, driving will take you about 6. Another option for this leg is to buy a cheap one-hour flight. (On Vueling.com you can find prices as low as $ 12 before taxes and surcharges.) The trip back to Madrid from Bilbao takes nearly 8 hours by train, just under 5 by car. Fitting in all of these visits might be a bit much for one trip, but it certainly cane be done if you're willing to invest some time in planning!

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Albuquerque, New Mexico: I have two trips coming up in July. The first is to attend a wedding July 15 in Georgia. The second is to travel to Sydney, Australia from mid-July to mid August. Would it be cheaper for me to combine travel for the two trips, such as flying to the southeast for the wedding and leaving from there for Australia? Or would it be cheaper to first return to Albuquerque from Georgia and make Albuquerque my point of origin when heading for Sydney?

Budget Travel Editors: In situations where you are booking two flights back to back and one of them is a long-haul flight, it's useful to check out a few variables before buying booking your tickets. Some international air routes are covered by a limited number of airlines, or depart from only a few gateway cities. It's quite possible to score a great deal by a taking low-cost carrier to a major hub and catching a well-priced international fare from there. Use online searches to find out fares from major international airports (i.e. New York, L.A., and Miami) and from the hubs of big airlines (Delta's main hub happens to be Atlanta). Even factoring in the low-cost carrier tickets to get to those airports, you may get a better bottom line.

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Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.: I want to visit the islands off of Scotland in the north. Which is the most beautiful and what of packages are offered for fall?

Budget Travel Editors: The northern Scottish archipelagos of Shetland and Orkeny are are about 600 miles north of London, at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia. Their northern location means Scandinavian-type summers with 19 hours of sunlight, which are balanced by long, dark winters. (Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the climate of the islands, considering their latitude, is rather mild.) By traveling in the early fall, you'll miss the summer sun (and peak tourism season) but catch better travel deals. You can fly directly to Lerwick, Shetland, from London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and then rent a car from the airport. An ideal amount of time to properly explore Shetland is four or five days. For more information and a list of tour operators for package tours, check out the island's tourism website, vistshetland.com.

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