Trip Coach: August 1, 2006
Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions!
Larkspur, CO: I would like to take my mother (she is 66 and I am 41) to Spain in October or November. We are both very interested in cooking and are looking for a vacation that combines cooking classes and a little free time for sightseeing. I really enjoyed your article on Paradores in March and think we would enjoy staying at one in the southern part of Spain. If you could also provide information on car rental in Spain vs traveling by train, that would also be helpful.
Budget Travel Editors: First off, I would suggest going in October, when it's harvest season in Spain, and also because November tends to be very rainy. Train travel is very easy, and relatively affordable, in Spain, but by renting a car you're able to get off the beaten path to charming villages, where you can catch a glimpse real small town life. If you plan to spend two weeks, maybe think about training one week, and driving the next.
Should you decide to rent a car, do it BEFORE you go from a large vendor, such as AutoEurope.com. As for cooking schools, I suggest perusing the Shaw Guide listings for Spain. As of today, there are some 86 recreation cooking programs listed for Spain, many of which are in Andalusia in the south.
Ridgecrest, CA: Our group, three couples in their late 50s and early 60s, would like to do a walking vacation in Ireland, anywhere between late Spring and early Fall. We're thinking 7-10 days, 6-8 miles per day, staying overnight in B&Bs or country inns but having someone schlep our luggage forward every morning. Can you offer suggestions on when and where to start, what route to travel, where to stay? Thank you!
Budget Travel Editors: For starters you should know that Ireland has an extraordinary network of B&Bs that are affordable and where guests pay one fee and then choose among participating properties, many of which are delightfully local and family-run. People often stay at a different B&B every night, which is perfect for visiting "ramblers."
As for which part of the country to visit, that depends on you. I recommend picking up a good guide book, doing some reading on the different counties, and deciding what sounds good. Once you know where, you can zero in on specific walking tours.
A company we highly recommend is Country Walkers, an outfitter that leads walking tours around the world. At this time they have three tours in Ireland: Cork, Galway, and the Southwest. Burren Walks is another; they guide you across The Burren on the west coast, one of Ireland's most unusual and mythical landscapes. Here are a few other links: goireland.com, southwestwalksireland.com, irishtourism.com/walking-tours-ireland.
Boise, ID: We are traveling by car to Canada leaving August 3. What documents are required for border crossing going and returning? I have the non-resident insurance card for my vehicle. I am a naturalized US citizen, the other travelers are US born. We are going to the vicinity of Red Deer, Alberta and then to Assiniboia, Saskatchewan for family gatherings. Any other pertinent info appreciated. All travelers are adults. Thank you.
Budget Travel Editors: To travel to Canada, a passport or proof of U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, and photo ID is required. Although a passport is not required until January 1, 2007, as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, we strongly recommend bringing one, especially for reentry into the U.S.
Find out more at the U.S. State Department website or Canada's Border Services Agency website. Read about the new requirements for travelers here.
Kenosha, WI: 3 of us will be visiting NYC from 8/11 - 8/14. We need a good schedule for visiting the following: Empire State building; Statue of Liberty, MOMA, Ground Zero, Ground Zero Museum, Tavern on the Green, Central Park.
Budget Travel Editors: Sounds like an eventful trip! A few key strategies will help you see all of the sights you mentioned. The best advice is to tackle only one or two neighborhoods each day--there's so much to see and do! So here are our tips:
Visit MOMA on your first day and skip the $20 admission fee--it's free every Friday night from 4--8 p.m. More information: moma.org/visit_moma/admissions.html
Next, you could stop by the Empire State Building, which is also in midtown. During the summer, it's open until 2 AM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Skip the lines and order tickets in advance online. More info: esbnyc.com
Tavern on the Green is inside Central Park, so both destinations can be visited either in a morning or afternoon. One tip: Skip the overpriced food at Tavern on the Green and pick up a picnic lunch at Whole Foods or Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery at the nearby Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. Check out centralparknyc.org and shopsatcolumbuscircle.com
Visiting the Statue of Liberty can take hours, especially during the height of tourist season. We've had good luck avoiding the crowds by buying tickets online and going very early in the morning. The first ferry to Ellis Island leaves Battery Park, located in lower Manhattan, at 8:30 A.M. More info: nps.gov/stli/ or statuereservations.com.
After returning to Manhattan, you can walk a few blocks north to the World Trade Center site. Be aware that there is only a viewing platform; the memorial and museum is scheduled to open in 2009. More info: buildthememorial.org
For more great places to eat, drink, and play in New York City, check out our Snap Guide.
Longmont, CO: Hi, Can you rent a car in Munich, Germany and drive into Prague, Czechoslovakia? Thank you.
Budget Travel Editors: Yes, you can but keep an eye out for the hefty one-way rental fee. Europcar, a wide-spread and well-known European rental company, charges an extra 348 euro for one-way trips. You can rent from the Munich airport (remember when searching online that it may be listed as "Muenchen") and drop it off at the Prague airport or other city locations. Also, the rental car probably will be a manual so get your clutch foot ready.
Washington, D.C.: I'm traveling to Berlin, and want to fly round trip to Copenhagen for a long weekend (September 1-4). Can you suggest a nice, moderately priced hotel that would be a good base for a 24 year old single woman who plans to see the city by walking and using public transportation? Thanks!
Budget Travel Editors: The Absalon Hotel is just a couple blocks from Central Station and is within walking distance of Tivoli, Town Hall Square, and popular shopping and restaurant areas. The hotel sometimes runs special offers online, but a standard single in high season is 136 euro (about $175). The Absalon also has an annex, which is within the same building, with cheaper, low-frills singles and doubles with shared bathrooms (from 74 euro/$95 a night). Both the hotel and annex rates include breakfast. If you get tired of walking or public transportation, the hotel also rents bikes in the summer.
Philadelphia, PA: I need inexpensive land package to Scotland or Ireland for late September, early October. Any suggestions?
Budget Travel Editors: Sure, there are several tour operators that specialize in Scotland and Ireland. Sceptre Tours, for one, has a land-only package for one night in Shannon or Dublin, two nights in country B&Bs, and one night at the lovely Adare Manor & Golf Resort in County Limerick, plus an economy car rental, from $499 per person in September or $379 per person in October. Dooley Vacations has a four-night stay in Dublin with an economy rental car from $309 per person. As for Scotland, Brian Moore International Tours has a package that includes two nights in Edinburgh or Glasgow and four nights in country B&Bs, with an economy rental car, from $609 per person in September or October. CIE Tours has a four-night escorted tour split between Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Nairn, with some meals, sightseeing, and a river cruise from $885 per person in September and $828 per person in October. For inspiration before you go, read our recent article Everyday Is a Winding Road in Ireland and A Tailor-Made Trip to Scotland.
New York, NY: I am trying to plan a month long trip to Paris for myself. I've never been overseas and I've always wanted to live in Paris. This trip is a big treat for myself! My dates as of right now are October 11th until November 11th. My big problem is housing. For that amount of time I would like to have my own apartment. I was wondering if you guys could point me in the right direction...Something not too expensive (Less than $1000 for the month)
Budget Travel Editors: Our eight-page downloadable Paris Snap Guide is packed with insider tips on the best affordably places in eat, shop, play, and stay in the City of Light. Here are three short-term apartment rental agencies that we recommend: parisapartmenttours.com, parisrentaparts.com, and locaflat.com. A cheaper option would be to be rent a room in a Parisian's apartment. Check the listings on these sites: paris.craigslist.org, expatriates.com/classifieds/paris, fusac.fr/en, colocation.fr/homepage.php. Good luck!
Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all your great questions. See you next week!
When I travel, I put each shoe into one of the plastic bags that the newspaper is delivered in. They are sturdy, just the right shape (long and thin), and at the end of the trip I can just throw the bags away as I get more bags everyday at my doorstep! --Patti Watson For car travelers, pack a black bedsheet to put over your belongings in the back of your car to prevent them from being seen from the outside. --Tom Glow Even if you're not planning to swim in the ocean or pool, tuck a pair of inexpensive rubber flip-flops into your bag. They're light and hardly take up any space. Your feet will breathe a sigh of relief when you slip them on after a day of shopping or sight-seeing. Wear them to protect your feet in the shower at the gym and with your pj's as slippers. At the end of your trip you can use them leave them behind. --Mary M Morris We take a pencil with a two-foot piece of duct tape rolled around the middle. This holds a couple of safety pins and threaded needles and is a compact emergency repair kit. The tape comes in handy for all types of repairs, from keeping blackout drapes together to fixing hems of clothes and even makes, with a piece of tissue, a bandage. The safety pins are also used for quick fixes from hanging damp bathing suits to pinning money to the inside of clothes. The Needle and thread are easy to locate, and the pencil is used for writing as well as the graphite loosens locks in a pinch. --Pat Campbell, Upland, Calif. When you need warm clothing, avoid bringing wool. Bring garments made of a high-tech fleece. They are warm and can be dressy, too. Fleece weighs so much less than wool and takes up much less space. Some fleeces wick moisture and are very comfortable whether you are sitting still or are very active. If you have trouble finding garments made of fleece in your local department store, try a sporting goods store or catalogue. --Linda Byard When we travel, we pack clothes to wear that we will eventually donate to a shelter or charity in the area we are visiting. The day before the end of our vacation, we launder the clothes and drop them off. This is a win-win situation: more room in our suitcase for souvenirs, and clothes for people who need them. --Lori Chiffy After finding that some hotels, especially in Latin America, have door locks that aren't dead bolts, I have begun packing a small rubber door stop. I wedge it under the door for more security. --Mary Davis I'm a huge fan of guidebooks, but they are way too bulky to bring them all along. Since most of the guidebooks that I use are updated annually, before I leave I tear out the pages featuring attractions, museums, and restaurants I want to visit on my trip. I also purchase a good map like the Streetwise edition. Instead of four or five guidebooks, I end up taking a few sheets of papers that pack flat in my bag. And best of all, I can throw them away at the end of my trip! --Dena Martin, Pasadena, Calif. When I travel for business or need to pack formal wear, to save on space I roll up my ties and stick them inside my shoes. When I arrive at my destination, I simply take the ties out of shoe and unroll them. This has the same "no-wrinkle" effect as rolling up jeans! --Derek Hendrickson, Rochester, N.Y. To reach your destination wrinkle-free, layer your similar clothes (long slacks or jeans, tops, shorts, etc.) with a folded sweater or other soft item in the middle on top. Then fold in half or, in the case of tops, fold the sleeves to front, and then in half, around the soft item. I always do this, and I never need to re-iron on a trip. --Jacquelyn Kelley, Ardmore, Okla. Pack a sheet of bubble wrap for those breakable items you might purchase while on vacation. Also, a regular size Ace bandage is always good to have for any aches and pains from hiking, too much walking, or any accident that you might suffer. Place heavy items at the end of the suitcase that will be on the bottom when the suitcase is standing on end--this way the weight will hold the bag upright and not tip it over. --Kathy Quinn A lot of people underutilize the outside pockets of modern suitcases because of security fears. The pockets are great for holding dirty clothes on your return trip. This will free up space in the main compartment of the bag, making more room for things you picked up on your trip. The outside pockets are perfect places for undergarments, socks, and workout clothes. I guarantee no one will steal those! --Dan Moisand, Melbourne, Fla. I either roll up all my clothes or I put a piece of tissue paper in between the different layers of cloths, because this decreases wrinkling. I also make sure that I pack one pair of comfortable shoes (running sneakers). I am a runner, and I love to explore by running. I then pack only 2 other pairs of shoes to coordinate outfits (for example a black pair/a brown pair). I also leave any expensive jewelry home--no need to lose anything sentimental! Wear the jewelry that you want to wear for the whole trip. --Jessica Piecuch, Chelsea, Mass. For long trips, I always pack along two sturdy wire hangers and attach two clothespins to each. When I need to wash pants or other items that need to be dry by the next day, I hang them where the air can circulate around them freely. Hotel hangers have no hooks and cannot be used outside of the closets. Wire hangers take up no room in your luggage, and you can leave them behind after the last wash has dried. --Norma Martin Pack women's dress shoes inside men's shoes. If your feet are small enough and your husband's feet are large enough, you can save space in your suitcase by packing your shoes inside his. I wear size 7 ½ and my husband wears size 10. I pack my dress shoes with a low heel inside his dress shoes. It not only saves space in the suitcase, it also keeps my shoes from losing their shape while packed. --Danielle Bangs
Here's a tip for packing kids' clothes for a trip: Assemble complete outfits (shirt, pants, underwear, socks), place the largest piece on the bottom and stack the rest on top of that, and then roll up into one bundle. This eliminates having to rummage through the suitcase each morning, as you just pull out a complete outfit, ready to wear. --Meg Rice, Hillsboro, Ore. To avoid arriving at your destination without your possessions because the airline has misplaced or lost your bag, pack half of your items in your spouse's or partner's bag. Ditto for them. That way, you still have a few items to change into until your bags arrive. --Elaine Poole, Goshen, Ind. We place a collapsible soft-sided cooler bag in luggage when we fly. Not only does the cooler serve as a picnic refrigerator while on vacation, it also hauls souvenirs back home as checked-on luggage. --Ray Anderson I travel often, but I can pack in minutes, because I keep a pre-packed bag in my closet. It's carry-on size with wheels, and it contains: a Dopp kit with toiletries, a manicure kit, a makeup bag, a nightgown, a robe, a hairdryer, a cell-phone charger, a mug, a "coil" to heat water, tea bags, a mending kit, granola bars, bandages, antibiotic ointment, medicine, a change of underwear and socks, and a good book. --Kathleen Webster Many travel articles say to pack as little as you can bear taking, and then take half of that. I've never been able to travel quite that light, but I've still found plenty of ways to keep my load manageable. 1. Bring black, and never underestimate the power of accessories. 2. Pack a reversible bathing suit and a sarong. You can use it as a towel, a skirt, or a beach blanket. 3. Use a chamois cloth instead of a full-sized towel. The chamois rolls down to washcloth size, dries quickly, and can be wrung out instead of hung to dry. You can buy it in the car supply area of any home store, or at a swimming/diving specialty shop. 4. Bring only the beauty essentials, and look for products that have dual functions. For example, take a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen--it's like having foundation, lotion, and sunscreen all in one. --Amy Zimmer
Mexico: Ocumicho On one his frequent art-buying trips to Mexico, Hank Lee came upon Ocumicho in the mountains of the state of Michoacán. "It's eternal springtime there," says the co-owner of San Angel Folk Art in San Antonio, Tex. "There's never really a hot summer or a cold winter. The town is filled with flowers and vegetation, and baby chickens are everywhere." The village, two and a half hours from the main road between Guadalajara and Morelia, is known for its clay devil figurines and painted pottery. "The artists get inspiration from the tabloids," explains Lee. "Everything is about sensational topics, like Ebola and killer bees." Two stores off the main square serve food, and a typical dish is squash-blossom tacos with homemade cheeses. "But everyone wants to feed you," says Lee. "In a villager's home, you'll usually see a woman sitting in the living room with a pile of corn, shucking it, husking it, and grinding it by hand. And the women of the town all wear traditional dress: petticoats with aprons, puffy-sleeved shirts, and hair in pigtails." As for lodging, Lee offers three options: "Stay at hotels back by the main road, rent a house, or camp out in the town square. No one minds." Michoacán Tourism Board: 011-52/443-312-8081, turismomichoacan.gob.mx. United States: Greenwood The Mississippi town of Greenwood, 130 miles south of Memphis, is experiencing a renaissance. Much of the revitalization is thanks to The Alluvian, a high-design hotel opened in 2003 by the Viking Range Corporation, the kitchen-appliance manufacturer, which has its headquarters in town. The hotel and Viking's cooking school have attracted foodies and artists, who, in turn, are opening restaurants, shops, art galleries, and even a blues museum. Last fall, Ari Weinzweig, cofounder of the Ann Arbor, Mich., culinary colossus Zingerman's, went to Greenwood for a conference. "Visiting the area is like going to another country," he says. "Not in a bad way! It's just the feel, the pace, is different. You drive through fields and see how cotton looks when it doesn't come in a box." Weinzweig loves the pastries that Martha Foose, the cooking school's executive chef, makes at her Mockingbird Bakery. But his greatest find? "The Delta tamales," made with beef and cornmeal. "They're all over the area," he says, "but the best ones are at Doe's Eat Place." The family-run restaurant, 55 miles west in Greenville, has served Delta tamales for more than 60 years. The Alluvian: 866/600-5201, thealluvian.com, from $175. Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum & Gallery: 222 Howard St., 662/451-7800, threedeuces.net. Mockingbird Bakery: 325-B Howard St., 662/453-9927. Doe's Eat Place: 502 Nelson St., Greenville, 662/334-3315, doeseatplace.com.
El Salvador: Suchitoto Jim Kane, founder of the tour company Culture Xplorers, travels to Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, and El Salvador three months a year. "We try to go to places that aren't necessarily so far off the beaten path, but that we want to experience in a different way," he says. One of Kane's recent finds is Suchitoto. "It's one of the prettiest towns in El Salvador, with well-maintained colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. It reminds me of Antigua, Guatemala, 20 years ago." The village, on rolling hills next to a lake, is less than an hour north of San Salvador. Suchitoto attracts artists and hosts festivals throughout the year. A boutique hotel, Los Almendros de San Lorenzo, adds to the appeal. "For under a hundred dollars a night, you get a trendy hotel in a sleepy town," says Kane. Los Almendros de San Lorenzo: 011-503/2335-1200, hotelsalvador.com, from $80. Guatemala: San Marcos "We buy high-grown coffees, usually starting at 4,000 feet, which means mountains are always around," says Alain Poncelet, vice president of coffee and managing director of Starbucks Coffee Trading Company. "It makes the views very unique." Poncelet spends nearly a third of the year traveling to plantations. "I was on a farm in the San Marcos region of Guatemala recently," he recalls, "walking up the mountain with the farmer, when I heard a very loud noise and saw rocks rolling down. The farmer laughed and said that the volcano had 'awakened.' " Eruptions of the Santiaguito volcano regularly shower the area with ash. Though Santiaguito is in the province of Quetzaltenango, which borders San Marcos to the east, its eruptions can be felt for miles. San Marcos has three volcanoes of its own, including the highest peak in Central America, Tajumulco (13,845 feet). Departing from Quetzaltenango City (a.k.a. Xela or Xelaju) every Saturday morning, Quetzal Trekkers leads two-day peak excursions that include transport, food, guides, and camping equipment. Covered in the rate at Takalik Maya Lodge, south of San Marcos in Retalhuleu, is a coffee plantation tour, as well as entrance to Takalik Abaj National Archaeological Park. Since the ruins were unearthed in the late 1800s, 277 Mayan monuments have been discovered. Quetzal Trekkers: 011-502/7765-5895, quetzaltrekkers.com, $50. Takalik Maya Lodge: 011-502/2333-7056, takalik.com, includes all meals, from $57.