5 last-minute leaf-peeping deals

By Jess Holl
October 3, 2012
Autumn on the east bluff of Mackinac Island. (Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank">rockon/myBudgetTravel</a>

All across North America, shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown herald autumn's arrival. While many big, multicity fall foliage tours sold out months ago, there are still small-scale deals to be had that make for great weekend getaways. Here are five ways to peep your local leaves while they're still alight.

Boston, Bike/2 Nights, From $315

Stay for two nights at the Midtown Hotel, located in the center of Boston's Back Bay, and use it as your home base for exploring the city on two wheels during a classic New England autumn. Includes free parking, daily breakfast, and 24-hour bike access, with helmets, maps, and locks.

When: Through October 2011

Contact: Midtown Hotel, 800/343-1177,

Mackinac Island, Mich., From $159 a Night

Mission Point Resort's "Ghost Hunter" package includes accommodations for two in a standard garden room; a ghost-themed tour of the rumored-to-be-haunted hotel grounds, featured earlier this year on Syfy's Ghost Hunters; round-trip ferry tickets on Arnold Transit Co., which travels through the Straits of Mackinac; dinner for two at the resort's restaurant, Chianti; and daily breakfast; from $159 a night for a minimum two-night stay, plus taxes of 18 percent.

When: Through Oct. 23, 2011

Contact: Mission Point Resort, 800/833-7711,

Mammoth, Calif., 2 Nights, From $49 a Night

Experience autumn in California's Lakes Basin with a cabin rental, complimentary bottle of wine, daily breakfast, complimentary two-hour boat rental, fishing-rod rental, and access to Tamarack Adventures' guided activities (like hikes, bike tours, and fishing clinics), from $49 per person per night (two-night minimum stay), plus taxes and fees.

When:Through November 7.

Contact: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 800/626-6684,

Seattle, Wash., and Victoria, British Colombia, Ferry/Hotel, From $99 a Night

Enjoy a round-trip Victoria Clipper cruise from Seattle to Victoria, Canada, and one night at the Harbor Towers hotel in Victoria, from $99 per person per night. Plus, "like" Clipper Vacations on Facebook and get a promo code good for an additional 10% off. Extend your stay to 2 nights for a discounted $123 per person per night.

When: October 1, 2011- January 2, 2012

Contact: Clipper Vacations, 800/888-2535,

Virginia, Resort/Horseback Ride, From $99 a Night

Includes one night in your choice of tree house, yurt, cabin, chalet, or hotel room at the Shenandoah Crossing resort, plus one 45-minute trail ride for two people. Extend your stay from $63 per night for up to three additional nights; extra horseback rides for other members of your party can be added for a discounted rate of $18 per person.

When: Through November 18, 2011

Contact: Shenandoah Crossing, 888/760-8188,


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The Budget Travel Convert: Reporting from...Tuscany

Hobart Fowlkes, our "Budget Travel Convert," is a high–end jetsetter by trade, budget globetrotter by choice. He reports regularly on the best (and most affordable) experiences and hotels around the world. Today he updates us on a recent trip to Florence and Tuscany's Versilian Coast. See photos from my trip to Tuscany. FIRST STOP, FLORENCE… Before waxing poetic about my trip to Tuscany's Versilian Coast, I must warn readers about renting cars in Italy. I have rented cars in many countries, and I must say that I am still perplexed by what went down at the Hertz Counter at the Pisa Airport on my recent visit to the Tuscan "riviera". I booked my car through Delta so that I would receive miles, and was offered a reasonable price for a new Fiat 500 of 23EUR/day, which seemed reasonable. The total should have been 207EUR, but somehow with all of the extra taxes and fees it came out to something closer to 500EUR. Of course I am well aware of the 20% VAT which exists in all of the EU countries, but I did not expect a 20% Pisa Airport Tax, plus the compulsory base insurance package. Ultimately, my rental car ended up costing me more than almost anything else on the entire trip. (I wish I had read this article before I left: 6 Foreign Car Rental Fees to Watch for on Vacation.) Arriving in Pisa at midday, I picked up my rental car and made a beeline straight to Florence to meet my friends. We had a rendez-vous at Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, which is easy to find, but traffic patterns in cities built prior to the Middle Ages can sometimes be perplexing, so I spent an unnecessary amount of time driving in circles whilst texting in an effort to find those whom I was meeting. Where I stayed: I chose a place called "The Old Bridge." The locals call it a "bed &amp; breakfast" but it is not exactly a B&B; at all, it is just an apartment owned in the building directly across from the Hotel La Scaletta&mdash;a place I stayed once before and found to have very reasonable rates. Via Gicciardini, 22 nero, 011-39/055-265-4262, How much I paid: The total cost of the room was $101 (70EUR) per night. Why I recommend it: The location is great&mdash;it is exactly equidistant between the Palazzo Pitti and the Ponte Vecchio. Also, the roof terrace at La Scaletta has awesome views of the city and backs right up against the Boboli Gardens and the Fortezza del Belvedere. When Hotel La Scaletta is fully booked, since it seems to be quite popular, they offer rooms at even better rates at The Old Bridge, which is where I stayed this time around. Each of the six rooms in Old Bridge is perfectly clean and comfortable each with its own bathroom, AC, TV and WiFi. On the down side, you will have to cross the street to go to breakfast at La Scaletta. Otherwise, I was perfectly happy. Where I ate: Tuscan cuisine is exquisite though somewhat uniform in its content. All over the region no matter where you go, you will be offered a variety of dishes featuring wild boar and porcini mushrooms, and the menu will most definitely include a giant Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is priced per kilo. I don't believe there is such a thing as a Bistecca alla Fiorentina that weighs less than a kilo, I guess theirs is a region with particularly heavy cattle. Having eaten in a wide range of restaurants, my favorite was Trattoria Quattro Leoni. It is just steps from the Hotel La Scaletta and has one of the coziest atmospheres and best food in all of Florence. Other places to check out are Osteria Santo Spirito which is located directly on Piazza di Santo Spirito. Il Latini is a place loved by both tourists as well as Florentines themselves. THEN, ON TO THE VERSILIAN COAST… At the recommendation of some Milanesi friends, we headed straight for a town called Torre del Lago Puccini on the Versilian Coast. The Puccini is tacked on to the end of the name, since it was the birthplace and home of the famous operatic composer, so the town is also known for its annual Puccini Festival. It is also known for its vibrant nightlife (but take note&mdash;although the town might wish it could compete with the more popular international destinations such as Ibiza and Mykonos, it can't). The beaches are nice and entertaining, though crammed with beds and umbrella, which you reserve and pay for as you cross the dune. Never a dull moment, one feels as if one has entered into a Fellini movie in which a range of characters stroll onto and off of the screen randomly...some fighting, some billing and cooing, some wanting to sell you jewelry, others wanting to cover you in henna tattoos, some might want to braid your hair, there is just no telling what might turn the corner next, but it kind of makes you feel like you just plopped yourself into a busy marketplace and that you have to keep a constant eye on your belongings. I guess what I am trying to say in a diplomatic way is that the beaches in Torre del Lago are not at ALL relaxing, but they are extremely entertaining. Where I stayed: There are several places to stay in Torre del Lago, though I believe we ended up in the most appealing. It is a bed and breakfast called B&B; Libano. Libano is the Italian word for Lebanon, so I kind of wondered what the connection was until I met the adorable owner and found that he just happened to be named Libano. Via Tabarro, 23, 011-39/058-435-0322, How much I paid: My room was big and comfy and cost me $87 (60EUR) per night. Why I recommend it: I believe that Libano inherited this large house (it can accommodate up to 60 people), which he turned into a beach guest house that caters mainly (though not exclusively) to the Gay and Lesbian crowd&mdash;a lot of Torre del Lago's nightlife tends to be somewhat "homocentric." An adorable human being, Libano makes you feel instantly at home upon your arrival. There is an onsite restaurant that serves a sumptuous included brunch daily from 9AM to 1PM, a small gym and AC, TV and WiFi thoughout the house. While I really found Libano and his staff to be very kind and sweet and hospitable, their efforts to try to foster friendships between guests and have evening social hours might seem slightly awkward for some. Mr. Libano takes his evening happy hour so seriously that besides merely providing complimentary olives, nuts, and local wines, he serves massive Italian dishes like Lasagna and Spaghetti alle Vongole. Brunch, happy hour, drinks, the impromptu pasta dishes are ALL included in the price of your room which is very cheap. The only requirement of the guest is to try to remain cheerful and sociable and play along with the vibe of the place. Where I ate: On our first night in Torre dl Lago we went to the most highly recommended restaurant in town, La Buffalina. It is very nice, but knowing that that was the best that the town had to offer we began to look elsewhere and discovered that the Versilian Coast is actually awesome with tons of great places to see. For example, a 20 minute drive from Torre del Lago will take you to the gorgeous Medieval town of Pietrasanta which for centuries has been the center for marble sculpting in Italy given its proximity to Carrara. The town is beautiful, full of great restaurants and shops, and became our favorite haunt in the evenings. The very best restaurant in town, in my humble opinion, is called Ristorante Filippo. Filippo himself is probably the kindest, most accommodating restaurateur in the entire town of Pietrasanta, and he, too, runs a bed and breakfast directly adjacent to his restaurant called Le Camere di Filippo where I will most definitely stay the next time I find myself in that region. About 15 more minutes up the coast and you will come to the crown jewel in the Versilian Coast&mdash;Forte dei Marmi. This is the spot where all the fashionable Florentines go to see and be seen. There is really nothing to be had in that town for the "budget" traveler, but it is definitely worth taking a look. Built entirely in the 1930s by Mussolini, Forte dei Marmi is a spectacle in many ways should not be missed. Next stop: Barcelona and the beachtown of Sitges, possibly followed by a short trip back to Tuscany to spend an autumn weekend on the Island of Elba where Napoleon Bonaparte was once sent in exile. "Able was I ere I saw Elba" is the apocryphal palindrome supposedly uttered by the deposed emperor himself. Stay tuned.


Honeymoon travel: How to find an overwater bungalow bargain

Overwater bungalows are an escape fantasy made real, with water lapping under a hut poised on stilts in a serene, aquamarine lagoon. A new site, Overwater Bungalows, makes it easy to comparison shop for a resort where you can walk in your bare feet and admire romantic sunsets out the open door. The site lists every single overwater bungalow in Bora Bora and beyond. French Polynesia offers the most romantic of overwater getaways, but $800 is the typical starting price. Thankfully, Overwater Bungalows has found resorts that are both better priced than Tahiti and still within a belly flop of the ocean. Here are a few for under $300 a night or so, now through January. Panama Near the San Blas Islands, about a half-hour by plane from Panama City (around $70 round trip), the Coral Lodge's six casitas all sit over the water. They boast soaring roofs and creature comforts like Jacuzzis and air-conditioning. The tiny, remote resorts do a marvelous job of re-creating the magical thatched-roof South Pacific look and vibe. 011-507/317-6754,, from $240 a night per couple (including tax of about 15 percent) through October (the off season), and then $263 a night for dates in November through Christmas. French Polynesia, Raiatea A South Pacific bargain, comparatively speaking, can be found at the " target="_blank"&gt;Raiatea Hawaikik Nui Hotel, whose lodgings are 120 miles northwest of Tahiti by speedboat. The lodgings have high ceilings and oversize verandas. Trade winds make up for the lack of A/C. 800/657-3275,, overwater bungalows at $291 a night, including tax, for stays during October. French Polynesia, Moorea Popular Moorea (within easy reach of Tahiti by ferry or plane) is home to Club Bali Hai, which arguably invented the overwater bungalow in the 1960s. Says Overwater Bungalows, based on an inspection: "Being perfectly honest, the Club Bali Hai is only a good choice for those who want an affordable and novel accommodation with a stunning view. The facilities are quite dated and will disappoint those who come with high expectations. On the other hand, the location near many other restaurants and bars makes it an extremely easy and cheap place to stay on an island with very few choices in this price category. The location is deep within Cook’s Bay with amazing views of Moorea’s mountains." 877-426-7262,, from around $250 a night (including taxes) if you book for a week or so. More gorgeous overwater bungalows can be found at That said, the site's operator, Roger Wade, cautions that "$300 is just a bit below the sweet spot for some really nice places. Those who can go up to $400/night have loads of great options, and even $350/night gets some good choices." Budget Travel Tip: Once you're at these resorts, you're truly at these resorts: They're remote, and dining on-site is usually the only option. So include a budget for food costs as you comparison shop. Another tip: Ask for the most secluded hut because sound carries far over water and you don't want to be hearing your neighbor's sounds. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL How safe is your hotel room safe? Get discounted travel by buying gift cards Solo travel websites worth checking out


Culture Fix: 3 unique museums from around the world

This month, we take a look at three museums that share one thing in common&mdash;their specificity. Focusing their curatorial efforts on video games, antique race cars, and Glasgow's history of transportation, respectively, these three museums outclass more general museums through their old-school attention to detail. COMPUTER GAME MUSEUM Berlin goes geeky with this ode to the playful side of technology. If you think Pong was the first video game&mdash;and, more importantly, if you care about such things&mdash;Berlin’s newest (and nerdiest), the Computer Game Museum, is for you. Rebooted in January after a decade-long force-quit, this surprisingly informative history of the medium contains over 300 consoles and 14,000 games in its archives. All your favorites are here&mdash;Mario, Donkey Kong&mdash;as well as the real granddaddy of them all, the 1951 Nimrod. Guests can test tongue-in-cheek prototypes, such as a human-size Jumbo Joystick or PainStation, which ups the ante with a Pavlovian twist: It doles out heat, shock, or a tiny whip whenever you miss the ball. Admission $11. MUSEUM OF THE AUTOMOBILE Turin’s titans of industry get a shiny new pantheon. In Italy, Ferraris and Lamborghinis may not be as revered as Michelangelos and Botticellis, but the race is closer than you’d think. It’s no wonder Turin's Museum of the Automobile, which reopened in March after a major renovation, treats cars like works of high art. Nicknamed the Detroit of Italy, this Alpine city embraces its industrial heritage with a collection of over 200 vehicles from across the globe, including the first Fiat, built in 1899. Witty, conceptual pieces range from a forest of international street signs (Australia: koala crossing) to an installation that places some of the most notoriously speedy race cars (Fiat 500 Sporting Kit, Lancia Delta Integrale) behind bars. Admission $11. RIVERSIDE MUSEUM An architectural master drops anchor along Glasgow’s Clyde River. Every “starchitect” worth her blueprints needs a world-class museum to call her own. Zaha Hadid may have found her Bilbao-like moment with the June opening of Glasgow, Scotland’s Riverside Museum, a zigzag-roofed snake built along a previously dingy stretch of docklands. The collection of vintage trams, carriages, and steam locomotives isn’t roped off. Instead, it’s spread out in its natural habitat: re-created street scenes from different periods in Glasgow’s history, from the Edwardian 1890s through the gas-guzzling 1980s. Outside, the zinc-and-glass building looks onto the Clyde River and the Glenlee, a 19th-century sailing vessel that now serves as a maritime museum. Museum free; tall-ship admission $8. What's your favorite highly-specific museum? Let us know below! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Greece's new Acropolis Museum opens New Dali Museum opening in St. Petersburg Mexico to debut the largest underwater museum in the world


Q&A: How to travel the world without paying a penny

Meet the man who swears almost anyone can travel all over the world "on the other guy's dime." G. Michael Schneider has taught computer science at the university level for more than 30 years. Through the years he has also figured out ways to take more than a dozen extended vacations at no personal cost in places such as Bhutan, Mongolia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Turkey. How does Schneider do it? By arranging temporary overseas work assignments, in which the employer picks up the tab at least for housing and transportation. Schneider calls these gigs "working vacations," and often, they're more rewarding and eye-opening than a standard vacation. Schneider also says that there's often no need to have a Ph.D. or expertise in finance or engineering to arrange a great working vacation. In the Q&A; below, and in his new book On the Other Guy's Dime: A Professional's Guide to Traveling Without Paying, Schneider describes his many overseas adventures and offers plenty of advice for travelers seeking similar working vacations. Do you have some helpful hints for someone planning his or her first working vacation? Schneider: Open your mind (and your atlas) to some less well-known places where your skills will still be in demand but the competition will be far less intense. It is a mistake to apply only to popular tourist spots such as England, France, or Italy. Positions there can be hard to obtain and when an opportunity does open up you will compete for it against a large number of world-class scholars and experts. The end result is often disappointment and the assumption that a working vacation is out of your reach. My last three working vacations were to Bhutan, Mongolia and Nepal, and all three experiences were immensely rewarding. Plus, the primary reason for a working vacation is to have a transformative social, cultural, and professional experience. While you would certainly have fun in London or Paris, a working vacation there will probably not change your life. Six months in the Buddhist nation of Bhutan, three months on the steppes of Mongolia, or a summer in the mountains of Nepal will open your eyes and mind to new societies, cultures and religions. What are some professions that are surprisingly in-demand overseas? Schneider: The biggest surprise is the enormous range of professions in great demand. I think it would be easier to produce a list of those not needed. Many people think you must be a computer jockey, physician, engineer, or finance expert to work overseas. That is absolutely not true. For example, in Bhutan I spent time with a professional golf course designer from Kansas designing and building their first 18-hole layout. In Mongolia I met a radio/TV broadcaster from New York helping to establish a national news network. In Kuala Lumpur I met a musician training the Malaysia Symphony Orchestra and nurturing young conductors to lead the group in the future. In Mauritius my wife was hired to write a report evaluating the current state of the country’s pre-school programs. Don't let your field of interest deter you from considering a short-term posting. If you are good at what you do, there is almost certainly an overseas institution that will need your skills and be willing to pay you to work with them. Beyond work/career issues, what are the most common difficulties inherent in going abroad for a prolonged period of time? Schneider: Without a doubt the single biggest difficulty is overcoming your fears and worries about leaving home and moving, even temporarily, to a strange new locale. I had serious and nagging doubts when I received my first offer of a short-term teaching job. I conjured up dozens of reasons why this foolish idea could never work. What about the house? The kids? My bowling team? Fortunately, my wife, who is far more adventuresome than me, had a comeback for each of these illogical fears and convinced me to give it a try. I haven't looked back since. Overcoming these doubts is the main reason why I wrote my book. I wanted to demonstrate to prospective working vacationers that with just a little it of helpful information and guidance, a short-term post is not difficult to plan and pull ff. It's something you will never regret. For you personally, what's the most annoying or frustrating part of leaving home for a while? Schneider: This may sound silly, but it is our garden! My wife loves to plant large tracts of corn, tomatoes, peppers and other succulent eatables even when she knows we might be going away. My working vacations often take place during our summer break in June, July and August. That's exactly when many of these crops are harvested. I can't begin to tell you how many times we have received email from our renters thanking us for the delicious sweet corn or snap peas they just had for dinner. When you consider that this minor irritation is the most frustrating part of leaving home, you begin to realize how easy it is to take a working vacation. In all your years of traveling abroad, what are a few of the expenses that were unexpectedly covered by your employers? Schneider: The first expense my employers have been quite willing to provide is an air ticket that included an extra stopover, either on the way there or back, even if it added a small amount to the cost. I have done this quite often since it is an excellent way to convert a free ticket from home to destination into a free "two-fer." For example, on the way to Zimbabwe we added three days in Lisbon and six days in Cape Town at no extra cost. When we traveled to Mauritius we stopped in Kenya on the way there and India on the return. On the way to Australia we spent five days lazing on the beaches of Fiji. Our trip to Mongolia included an 11-day vacation in China. All these stopovers were included in the free ticket provided to me as part of my job. Another pleasant surprise was the excellent housing provided by my hosts. In Turkey we lived in a beautiful two-story colonial home on five acres. In Nepal we lived in a four-bedroom home with four servants. In Bhutan we were provided with a lovely two-bedroom apartment with spectacular mountain views. While not all accommodations were that nice, most were quite luxurious and either fully or partially subsidized by the school as part of my teaching contract. What was your favorite working vacation, and why? Schneider: This is the most common question I get and I often give the “cop out” response that I’ve loved them all. But I’ll fill you in on the secret now. My favorite working vacation was my three-month teaching post at Royal Thimphu College in Thimphu, Bhutan. Of all my working vacations this one came closest to fulfilling every single reason why my wife and I love to live and work overseas and experience new places, new ideas, and new cultures. Bhutan is the most non-Western country we have lived in and we have been in some truly off the beaten path places including Borneo, Mongolia, Mauritius and Zimbabwe. Bhutan was closed to westerners until the mid-1970s, and today it is still a place that reveres its historical Buddhist past while trying to bring itself into the 21st century. It is a fascinating and strange mix of old and new. For example, people wearing the ancient garb of gho and kira while enjoying a latte at one of the many downtown coffee shops. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Bhutan and the many friends I made. If you'd been paying your own way, what would have been your most expensive trip overseas? Schneider: Bhutan, since the country charges tourists $250 per day to visit. As an employee I was exempt from that charge. Since I lived there for 90 days, by working rather than touring I saved at least $22,500 not even counting airfare. I want to add that while traveling "on the other guy's dime" is a wonderful side effect of a working vacation, it is certainly not the only reason to consider one. There are two other reasons of equal importance. The first is intellectual renewal. I don't care how much you love your work. When you do the same things day in, day out, year after year, a sense of repetitiveness and staleness can set in. A working vacation where you use your skills in new and different ways (not to mention wildly new and different places) can refresh your soul and bring a renewed sense of pleasure to your workplace. It is an adventure that adds excitement to what may not be a very exciting life right now. The second reason is cultural immersion. When you live in a community for a few months you have time to make friends, meet neighbors, attend social, cultural and religious events, and participate in local activities. You learn about a culture not by observing it from a distance but by becoming part of it. For many of us, that is a far more exciting way to travel than baking on a beach or visiting yet another impressionist museum. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Q&A;: Elisabeth Eaves, a writer who puts the lust in 'Wanderlust' Take My Word: Best-Selling Writers on Travel The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel