Trip Coach: September 19, 2006

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Budget Travel editors answered your questions about travel

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

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Miami, FL: I am planning a trip to Machu Picchu, and would like to know the best time of year to go weather wise. Aso I would like to hike the Inca Trails. Can you reommend a reputable tour group for my latest adventure?

BT Editors: Machu Picchu is breathtaking--not only because of the altitude. In fact, BT included a visit to the ruins within the magazine's annual Dream Trip feature in the March 2006 issue. It can be found here. The dry season last from May through September, and is the best time to hike through the Andes. (Watch out for the crowds, though, especially in July and August.) You'll have the trails to yourself during the winter wet season, but you'll also have the risk of mudslikdes and trails washing out.
Good sources for tour guides to Machu Picchu include travel books like Moon Travel and Lonely Planet and Budget Travel's 40 Best Bargain Vacations section and online Real Deals section, which list reputable companies (such as G.A.P Adventures, gapadventures.com) in Peru packages.

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Woodland, CA: We (a couple in their 50s with a 21 year old daughter) are going to NYC during the holidays from San Francsico to visit our son who just started grad school. We are on a tight budget and are looking at Craigs List at apartments for rent. Do you have other suggestions? We would like to be close to the Chelsea area. We are trying to conveince another son to go with his wife and two small children. What are good activiites for a mixed age groups?

BT Editors: New York is not known for its budget accommodations, and yet a slew of mid-range chain hotels have opened properties recently in the city. You can find a run-down of the new hotels in the July/August issue of Budget Travel. The online article can be found here. You can get a good range of inexpensive accommodations within BT's New York City SnapGuide also on the website as a free downloadable document.Craigs List and Couchsurfing.com are good alternative means of finding places to stay on the cheap, but with such a large group and small children involved, you may not want the element of surprise always involved in such matters, and it might be difficult finding something to accommodate your needs. The NYC SnapGuide is also a great resource for mixed-age activities, but you can't go wrong with visits to Central Park, the Rockefeller Center (including taking in the view from Top of the Rock), and the Bronx Zoo.

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Littleton, CO: We're going to New Zealand and Australia. What is the most economical way to access local currency? Credit card, ATM, Traveler's Cheques?

BT Editors: I found that when I was in Oz and NZ, the best thing to use was my credit card for purchases, as I was guaranteed that conversions were done at the moment of purchase and not once a day, as my bank would have done if I used my debit card. This worked great as, depending on where you are traveling, most places are very friendly about taking cards--even for a $2 latte (or flat white). However, even in Sydney and Auckland, you will inevitably need local currency--especially if you plan on checking out their great flea markets. I tried to take out the biggest wad of cash I could when I was pulling money out of an ATM. Foreign withdrawal fees are especially taxing in Oz, starting at $9 a transaction. Don't take out so much that you feel uncomfortable, but I found it helpful to keep a small amount on me, and the rest in a different wallet, that I kept separate. As a personal preference, I usually carry just enough in Traveler's Cheques when traveling to get myself out of a jam, should disaster strike. Check with your bank and credit card company about their fees. Also, let them know you're traveling so they don't think someone else is suddenly using your card down under.

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Raleigh, NC: My son and I hope to go on a European backpacking tour for 1-2 weeks and are wondering when is the best time and cheapest way to go?

BT Editors: Last year, my boyfriend and I backpacked through Europe in April and May. We flew in and out of Paris and passed through Nice a couple times. We were both surprised how different both cities seemed when comparing early April and mid-to-late May. April was very rainy in Paris; and in Nice, beach weather was still a ways around the corner. However, by May both cities were fantastic, but not crowded by summer tourists yet-- meaning we were able to barely beat high-season tourist prices. After a bit of comparison-shopping, we found that for the two of us, it was actually cheaper in most cases to stay in a modest two or three star hotel, rather than booking single beds in hostels. Also, some of our favorite meals were picnics of hand-cut cheeses, warm baguette and fresh fruit from the outdoor market with a bottle of wine. A cheap and fun way to experience local climate-- watch what others buy to find out what's best in each region.

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Kansas City, MO: My family and I are traveling to New York City in April 2007 and since there are 8 of us, I was wondering if it would be better to try and rent an apartment or suite. Do you know of any agencies I can contact about finding a property? Also, we are wanting to be near Carnegie Hall as my niece will be singing there!

BT Editors: I would check out Craigslist.com. I moved here from California six months ago, knowing little to nothing about the area, nor anybody who lived here. Without too much trouble, I found a great furnished sublet in Hell's Kitchen at a very reasonable price--sight, unseen. However, when I pulled up to the place in a cab, the girl's boyfriend was waiting for me to hand over the key and useful city-wise information. Everyone has something going on here in the city, and when you DO get a great apartment, you don't want to let go of it. So, people sublet so that they can still make rent while they're away and don't have to give up their apartment. Whether you're staying a week or a month, there will be someone offering exactly what you need. I would suggest the Upper West Side or Upper East Side if you have that many people. Closet space might be limited, but if you can handle living out of suitcases, it can be a cheap and comfortable alternative to a hotel. Just make sure you can get in touch with the renter (I suggest over the phone) and feel him or her out.

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Kennesaw, GA: Please advise when we need dress pants and/or dresses while in London and France next month. Can we wear jeans to museums, restaurants, shows, cruises?

BT Editors: While having never been to London, I have never had a problem getting into a museum in France wearing jeans. These are tourist destinations and we all know what kind of jokes everyone makes about tourists--not exactly the snappiest dressers. As far as restaurants, it will depend on the type of dining you will be doing. For example, a 3-star Michelin restaurant will most likely require men to wear jackets and not allow jeans. And if you're going on a cruise, the cruise line operator will be more than happy to answer any dress-code questions about shows, dining on board, etc.

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Magnolia, TX: My daughter and I (age 62) are taking an Oceania cruise starting November 5th in Athens and ending in Rome on November 15th. We have three days extra in Italy. Should we stay in Rome for the three days or tour Rome for one day and then take a train to Venice to spend two nights before returning by train to Rome for our flight home? Which is best three days in Rome or one day in Rome and two in Venice?

BT Editors: We say stick with Rome for three days--you certainly won't run out of things to do! Three days in one place will give you a chance to get to get a feel for the city as opposed to rushing up and down the Italian countryside. It's a long train ride between Rome and Venice (four and a half hours), and November in Venice tends to be dreary and rainy. Before you go, print out our Rome Snap Guide, packed with insider tips on the best tips to eat, shop, and play.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL: We are going to Italy next month and will be in Florence for 5 days. We are looking for day trips via train or bus to see some of the countryside. Any suggestions?

BT Editors: Lots! A stay in Florence places you in the heart of much-loved Tuscany, and by October, the region's often-overwhelming number of tourists will hopefully have dwindled. Pisa, an hour by train, can easily be seen in an afternoon; for tips on its iconic tower, consult our story, "Dream Trips: Pisa." It's almost a two-hour train ride to Siena, whose central piazza plays host to the traditional palio (horserace) each summer. Climb 500 steps to the top of its medieval bell tower, Torre de Mangia, and you'll be rewarded with postcard-perfect views of tiled rooftops and cyprus trees. For train information, visit the website of Trenitalia. The tiny hill town of Montepulciano, famous for its red wines, is accessible by train to Chiusi and then a bus or cab ride to the town center or alternatively by a two-hour bus ride. If you'd like to sample something beyond Tuscany, Bologna--a lively university town in Emilia-Romagna with a great food and art scene--is an hour-and-a-half train ride to the northeast of Florence. (Compare its central Neptune statue/fountain to the one in Florence's Piazza della Signoria.) For the latest on the arts in Bologna, read "Italy's Newest Art District is Born in Bologna."

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

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