Trip Coach: July 18, 2006

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Budget Travel editors answered your questions about travel

Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions!

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Littelton, CO: New Orleans--How many of the venues are open? What are the don't misses for the moment? Thinking of traveling to New Orleans in November '06. What are the weather conditions?

Budget Travel Editors: First off, more and more places in New Orleans are opening every day. The city has been working overtime for almost a year now to resume a sense of normalcy. NOLA's official website has a wealth of information for visitors, including running lists of what hotels and restaurants are open, slated to open, or still closed for repairs. We also suggest checking out our article New Orleans Right Now.
 
We think it's terribly important that tourists start enjoying the city again--there are loads of ways to have fun. In fact, it's the key to NOLA's full recovery. However, we should also tell you that it's officially hurricane season in New Orleans, and the whole Gulf Coast for that matter. The months between October-June are the best in NOLA, and the coolest.

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Jacksonville, FL: What are some creative ways to obtain a rental car at a reasonable rate? We will be in New York City for 10 days in October, and I cannot find any car under $500.

Budget Travel Editors: Ouch! We New Yorkers feel your pain - prices for car rentals in this city are notoriously expensive.
 
First, do you really need a car for all 10 days? I'm assuming you will be doing some sightseeing in Manhattan. For that, you won't need a car. Driving in the city can be nervewracking, to say the least, and parking is limited and outrageously expensive. Instead, why not travel like a local: take public transportation whenever possible--it's cheap, easy, and safe. 7-day Metrocards, good for unlimited rides on buses and subways, cost $24, or $12 for seniors, and up to three children can ride free with a fare-paying adult. Or you can buy a pay-per-ride subway card; rides are $2/per person and you'll receive a 20% bonus if you put $10 or more on your card (for example, a $20 purchase gives you $24 on your card - 12 trips for the price of 10). Subway and bus information, including downloadable maps, is at mta.nyc.ny.us.
 
If you do plan on driving in and around the city, there are a few options. Zipcar is a great new service that allows you to rent a car for just a few hours - or an entire day in U.S. cities, including NYCty. They offer a few different pricing plans, including an 'extra value plan' that starts at $50 per month, plus a one-time $25 application fee. Gas, parking, and insurance are included. Check out Zipcar's New York rates here: zipcar.com/nyc/check-rates.
 
If you truly do need a car for all 10 days, and are willing to do a little legwork, look into renting a car outside of NYC. Try renting a car in New Jersey. A quick check on expedia.com shows rates from $163/week in Newark, NJ for an economy rental in October. There are a few ways to get to Newark: from Penn Station in New York, take either a NJ TRANSIT or Amtrak train to Newark Liberty International Airport Train Station, and take a taxi to the car rental agency. More information can be found here: panynj.gov.

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Houston, TX: Can you share a list of locations that are good walking towns that have nice hotels close by so we dont have to rent a car? We like trolleys, busses, and monorails. We enjoy museums, local specialty sights and events, good food and three or 4 star hotel chains. We have been to San Antonio, TX, and Seattle. Both of these were perfect for us. We are looking for more of the same.

Budget Travel Editors: You're in luck! Our current issue has an entire feature devoted to four walkable U.S. destinations: Burlington, Vermont, Madison, Wisconsin, Portland, Maine, and Wilmington, North Carolina. We also put together interactive maps highlighting the affordable hotels, cafes, and attractions listed in each place. Major cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Diego--with its revitalized downtown Gas Lamp District--are also great car-free options. Check our downloadable New York Snap Guide for insider favorites; Secret Hotels of Chicago for lodgings outside the loop; and our round-up of Boston hotel deals, Beantown Bargains. To make filling up at the pump less painful, consult our state-by-state list of Deals for Drivers and Gas Watch for tips on getting the most gas mileage, finding the cheapest nearby gas, and online resources for calculating the cost of your trip.

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Independence, MO: I know you have done many articles on Australia and New Zealand, but just wondering if Gate One Travel has independent touring for Australia and New Zealand. I went on a two days London, Paris and Rome two years ago with Gate One and it was great. The tours for each city were included along with hotels and breakfast in each city. Is there anything like this for Sydney, Cairns, and the cities of NZ?

Budget Travel Editors: Gate One Travel offers bottom-of-the-barrel packages for every corner of the world--including Australia and New Zealand. Here's a link to the complete list. A seven-night trip to Sydney and Melbourne with airfare, breakfast and optional tours starts at $1,599. At the other end of the spectrum, a 19-night trip to Auckland, Dunedin, Te Anau, Queenstown, Christchurch, Sydney, Cairns, and Melbourne, with airfare, local transportation, meals and sightseeing tours starts at $4,099. If you're willing to look beyond Gate One, you might consider Intrepid Travel. We're featuring their 14-night loop across New Zealand's South Island as today's Real Deal.

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Charlotte, NC: We have sent a deposit to Smartours for a trip to Israel on Nov 30, 2006. Due to the conditions in Israel now and in the Middle East we are concerned about the trip. We have not paid the insurance or paid the trip in full yet. I called and they said that the trips to Israel do not begin until September and by then everything may be back to normal. I do not see that happening. How do we get them to change our trip to another part of the world such as Thailand and put the deposit toward that?

Budget Travel Editors: My first bit of advice is to never purchase travel insurance from the same company you purchase your tour. BT highly recommends you go to a third party vendor to limit the possibility of disputes and to have a fallback should your tour company close its doors. There's plenty of information about travel insurance on BudgetTravelOnline.com.
 
Now, your trip. Cancellation and rescheduling policies vary from company to company, so we suggest you start by speaking directly to Smartours about changing your departure dates (maybe to a year from now), or your destination. We regularly cover Smartours and know them to be a fair and reputable company. Since there's usually more leeway with smaller travel and tour companies than there are with, say big airlines, we are optimistic that they will accommodate you. Smaller companies tend to work closely with their vendors on the ground, and therefore have good relationships. If they don't work with you to remedy the situation, we'd like to know about it. And yes, it's best that you steer clear of the Middle East right now!

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York Beach, ME: My wife and I are planning a trip to China and Tibet for next May. Which companies would you endorse for Quality, price and reliability? We are allowing 17-20 days. Thanks, Richard

Budget Travel Editors: Our top recommendation for a tour company that takes people to Tibet and China is Intrepid Travel. They offer great trips that vary in length, including some that are 3 weeks+ long. There are several reasons we love Intrepid: it promotes responsible tourism, they get you off the tourist path and meeting (and in some cases staying with) locals, it offers all kinds of tours (adventure, independent, etc.--something for every taste), and has a vast network of people on the ground in exotic, interesting places, including China and Tibet. The only drawback is that Intrepid prices, which are a terrific value, do not include airfare.

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Toms River, NJ: What type of adapter will I need for my electric curling brush and digital camera while in Italy? Barbara

Budget Travel Editors: Depending on your devices, you may need both an adapter, which lets you plug into the different-shaped wall socket, and a converter, which makes sure the voltages overseas can be used safely. To find out what you need, first check the voltage for each device. The info is usually displayed near where the cord is attached. Next, find the voltage used in your destination: 200-250 in Italy, according to magellans.com. If your device lists a range of acceptable voltages--100--250 V, for example--a style D adapter, available for $2.85 from Magellan's, is all you need (800/962-4943). Depending on how much you travel, you might consider spending a bit more on a sleek, versatile adapter from Tumi, which can be used in 150 countries (800/299-8861, tumi.com, $50). If your device lists a single voltage (not a range), or if the top end of the range is under 200, you'll also need a converter, which, in addition to having European-style prongs like an adapter, converts the wattage and/or voltage of your device. Magellan's, which walks clients through what they'll need online or over the phone, sells several kinds of converters, including a $22 model specifically for heating appliances like curling brushes, hair dryers, and irons.

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Indianapolis, IN: First timers to Napa Valley! Any great suggestions on which wineries to visit in just one day? My husband and I and another couple, all from Indianapolis, are staying in San Francisco and can travel up there. Rent a car? Take a tour? Hire a limo?...so many wineries so little time! Susan

Budget Travel Editors: If you're staying in San Francisco--and have only one day to spend in wine country--then consider skipping sprawling Napa altogether and opt for smaller, cozier, (and far prettier) Sonoma. Instead of navigating your wine tour from a major highway buzzing with cars, you'll be driving along small two-lane roads, like scenic Route 12 in the heart of Sonoma county. Plus most of Sonoma's wineries offer free wine tastings as opposed to those in Napa which cost anywhere between $5 and $12. As for wineries, there are tons, so if you have a favorite wine that you drink at home, it's always fun to try it on the estate. At Benziger Family Winery (888/490-2739, benziger.com), you'll learn all about how they create their biodynamic wines (try the port!), and at Chateau St. Jean (707/833-4134, chateaustjean.com), you can sip Sauvignon Blanc amidst its outdoor English garden; for more information on wineries try Sonoma.com. And for dinner in Sonoma, be sure to make reservations at The Girl & the Fig (707/938-3634, thegirlandthefig.com) for "country food with a french passion." You won't be dissappointed.

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Rochester, MI: Help! We have three adult women flying to Glascow on September 3rd. We are interested in hiking and seeing the most beautiful areas of Scotland. Someone told us to head to Fort William. Our flight home is September 8th. What are the highlights of Glascow, where should we stay and do you suggest staying in the Fort William area? Thank you!

Budget Travel Editors: You've chosen a good time to visit! Scotland in September is usually dry, even if a little cooler, with average daytime temperatures in the 60s.
 
Glasgow is a center for art and design, with funky, creative neighborhoods springing up in former warehouse districts (Merchant City) and by the University of Glasgow (West End). Glasgow is also known for the European Art Nouveau architecture and designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (crmsociety.com) and several world-class museums. The highlight is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which reopened July 11th after a three-year, $51 million restoration. Collections include Impressionist works, paintings by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Whistler, and Botticelli, an arms and armor collection, and Ancient Egyptian artifacts. There is also is the vast collection from the late shipping magnate Sir William Burrell, which now housed in a large gallery surrounded by parkland on Glasgow's South Side. Admission to Kelvingrove museum, the Burrell Collection--and all of Glasgow's civic museums and galleries for that matter--is free (glasgowmuseums.com).
 
Getting to the great outdoors is rather convenient from Glasgow; daily trains and buses make the two-and-a-half-hour trip up to the west Highlands, in which Fort William is the largest city. The area is home to stunning lochs and hills, including Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. You can easily spend a few days exploring the scenery, by taking a boat cruise through Loch Linnhe, or hiking through the area. You can pick up free maps of walking trails in the area from the Glen Nevis visitor center, about 1.5 miles outside of Ft. William. (011-44/1397-922, visithighlands.com).

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Belvidere, IL: My husband and I are going to the Guanacaste beach area of Costa Rica September 2-9, 2006. We want to know how much risk there is of contracting malaria from mosquito bites?

Budget Travel Editors: According to their Tourism and Travel Bureau, malaria is a complete non-threat in Costa Rica, ("eradicated" was the word that they used). However, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention includes the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica as an at risk zone for malaria. The recommended antimalarial drug for the region is chloroquine, whose side effects do include nausea, headache, dizziness, and blurred vision, (though travelers who take chloroquine generally don't experience these effects dramatically enough to prohibit taking the medicine). Chloroquine is supposed to be taken one week before departure, and once weekly throughout your stay in the area. Many tour operators and language schools in Costa Rica feel that the malaria pills are an unnecessary precaution, but to be on the safe side it is best to check with a doctor who specializes in travel immunizations. The website travelersvaccines.com has a " travel clinic locator" tool, and a quick search turns up 40 different locations throughout Illinois, several of which have their own websites. (The closest facility to Belvidere is the Winnebago County Health Department at 220 South Madison St., Ste 200, Rockford, 815/720-4000, wchd.org). Another precaution worth considering, bring bug-repellent with DEET in it (diethyl-m-toluamide).

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Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all your great questions. See you next week!

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