Euro Dips Under $1.30, Making Europe Affordable
The value of the euro keeps tumbling to a one-year low against the U.S. dollar. That's great news for American travelers, who now have significantly more spending power while traveling around much of Europe.
Compare current rates to spring 2009, when we reported about the currency crunch, the euro was valued at $1.40. At that time, a €200 hotel room cost $280 for anyone paying with dollars. Today, with the euro valued at only 1.27, that same room costs only $254.
That's a big savings, but it gets even more dramatic when you compare this to prices in April 2008. Back then, when the euro was at an astounding 1.60 against the dollar, that same €200 hotel room cost $320.
When you multiply that €200 price for a longer stay, the effect of these shifting currency values becomes clear:
• 3 nights in the Spring of 2008: $960
• 3 nights in the winter of 2012: $762
The continuing economic crisis in Europe means that the euro will probably remain weak, with increased spending power for Americans, throughout the spring at least.
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Tips On Flying With Gifts
'Tis the season for traveling like Santa and his elves, with tons of gifts and packages in tow. The Transportation Security Administration has several reminders for travelers bringing their holiday gifts onto a flight. First off, remember that any liquid, aerosol or gel items are subject to the 3.4-ounce limit for carry-ons. That includes these popular holiday foods, treats and gifts: cranberry sauce; cologne; creamy dips and spreads (including cheeses and peanut butter); gift baskets with food items such as salsa, jams and salad dressings; gravy; jams; jellies; lotions; maple syrup; oils and vinegars; perfume; salad dressing; salsa; sauces; snowglobes; soups; wine, liquor and beer. Pies and cakes can be brought through security, but are subject to additional screening (whatever that means! A TSA taste test maybe?). Flyers are permitted to travel with wrapped gifts, but if the gifts set off the security alarm or there are any red flags, security officers may have to peel away your pretty paper take a closer look inside. “We recommend passengers wrap gifts after their flight or ship them ahead of time, to avoid the possibility of having to open them during the screening process,” TSA advises. So, really think about what’s in those packages, as it’s easy to forget about the contents once they’re wrapped. Case and point, I was flying with gifts for my brother and his family one year, when airport security pulled me aside to tell me there was a foot-long knife in my carry-on. I couldn’t believe what they were telling me, and turned bright red and flustered. As it turned out, I had packed an at-home, sushi-making set for my brother that, indeed, included a foot-long sushi knife. But because it had been a couple weeks since I had wrapped it, I forgot about the knife. They confiscated the blade and I had to gift the sushi set minus one of its main ingredients. More from Budget Travel: 5 Eco-friendly Packing Tips Poll: Would You Use Social Media to Find A Better Seatmate? It's Ski Season! Check Out Strategies for Cheaper Lift Tickets
5 Eco-friendly Packing Tips
According to the International Trade Administration, roughly 60.3 million Americans traveled abroad last year—and if their packing strategies are anything like mine, almost an entire box of Ziploc bags went into the making of each of their carry-on items. “Green” packing might sound like an oxymoron, but it can be, at least partially, achieved through subtle adjustments to packaging materials and supplies for the road. Here are five tips on what to bring and how to pack for your next eco-friendly trip: 1. Invest in reusable snack bags. Air travel is hard. Air travel without snacks is cruel and unusual punishment. Sites like ReUseIt.com have environmentally friendly snack containers that can be reused to prevent Ziploc overload. Their sandwich bags are lightweight, moisture resistant and easy to clean. If your destination hotel has a nearby grocer, you might save on eating-out costs by packing sandwiches for a picnic at a local park. The Flip & Tumble bags provide an alternative to plastic produce bags for bulkier items, and they’re perfect for stashing odds and ends in the hotel room. 2. Use a clear Tupperware container for toiletries. (Reader Tip) Travelers often pack toiletries in disposable bags to protect the clothes from accidents, but a clear Tupperware container works even better in preventing spills. Keep in mind that this tip might not work if your toiletries are in a carry-on bag, especially if the container isn’t entirely clear, because TSA agents must be able to easily identify the contents. However, the container can also prove useful for knickknack storage at the hotel. If you’ve emptied out your toiletry containers by the end of the trip, you can then pad the Tupperware with a washcloth and turn it into a safeguard for breakable souvenirs on the long trek back home. 3. Opt for re-chargeable batteries. Travel alarm clocks, cameras, flashlights, and toys all need batteries. Re-chargeable batteries may require a charger—but that takes up about the same amount of space as a pack of extra disposable batteries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends checking Call2Recycle for information on how to recycle rechargeable batteries as well as tips on maximizing battery life. 4. Reduce plastic waste by treating your own water. Depending on your destination, tap water may or may not result in a hospital run, so it’s unadvisable to write off bottled water altogether. The SteriPEN, Micropur tablets, the Outback Water-Bottle Filter, and other purifiers offer alternatives that at least reduce (if not eliminate) the need for plastic bottles. An extensive list including the pros and cons of each method can be found on Matador. 5. Wrap the gifts after landing. It’ll save trees. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas if airport security checkpoints weren’t covered in shredded candy striped paper. Remember that TSA may unwrap and search any package before you board the plane (yes, even Christmas gifts), so this year, save the boxes and bows for after your arrival. This list is hardly complete, but it’s a starting point. Tell us your best eco-packing trips in the comments! —Chabli Bravo MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Be a Packing Genius: Step-by-Step Photos ?src=blgrc">Carbon Offsets: Worth it? How to Make a First-class Sandwich for a Flight
Five Ways to Instantly Win Over the Locals
As a South Africa-based health professional with decades of field experience in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (to start with), Ruth Stark has learned her share of lessons about getting by in another country—and in another culture. And while her new book (out this month from the University of Washington Press), How to Work in Someone Else’s Country, focuses on advice and ideas for folks embarking on short- and long-term work projects, it's also chock-full of tips leisure travelers can use, too. (I'm now seriously considering adding a water bottle to my suitcase as a bed warmer for romantic-but-potentially-drafty old hotels or B&Bs.;) Stark's book covers packing tips, safety suggestions, and travel-planning advice (oh, the complications of multi-country visas), but most invaluable are her years of experience building and observing cross-cultural relationships in all kinds of settings. And since this interpersonal stuff is what can really make or break a trip, we asked her for her no-fail advice for making inroads with locals anywhere you go. Learn a few words of the language. "You don’t need to know much," Stark says. "Even a few words or phrases will do—please, thank you, how are you? And don’t worry if you can’t pronounce the words perfectly. The fact that you try to say anything at all will show your interest and will get you off to a good start." And don't forget to say hello. "We Westerners tend to be very fast and efficient and like to get right down to business," Stark says, "But whether you're buying a bus ticket or meeting your tour guide, it's important to take the time to say a word of greeting first." A simple, "Hello, how are you today?" will suffice, Stark says. Even a nonverbal greeting—a smile, a nod, and a bit of a pause—stands in as a gesture of respect for the other person as an individual, not just a service provider. Study up on the local sports heroes. Skip talking politics—there's a much better (and less touchy) way to show you're interested in the local culture and current events. "Sports is a great ice breaker," Stark says. "When you meet locals who speak some English, ask about their sports heroes and the national teams. People are often passionate about the subject and love to talk about it—and it will likely open the door to talking about other topics." Go ahead, brag about your kids. "In the Western world, we often get to know people as individuals through what they do in their work," says Stark. "But in many parts of the world, the individual is viewed primarily in relation to their family network." Ask about a person's family, tell them about yours, and you're well on your way to finding common ground. "There is no better way to win friends," Stark says. Play photographer. "Digital cameras have opened up a whole new pathway to making friends with the locals, even when you can’t speak the language," Stark says. "If you're taking pictures of a group of people you don’t know (with their permission, of course), offer to show it to them on the camera. Just like back home, people enjoy gathering around the camera and seeing how the pictures came out." And if you're taking photos of newfound friends, find a way to share the images with them, whether it's through email, a compatible cell phone network, or even mailing them printed photos. "It is especially meaningful if you send photos of your new friends with their families," Stark says. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Learn a New Language for Under $100 Q&A;: How to Travel the World without Paying a Penny 5 Common Farmstay Questions—Answered!
Scheduled Air Steps In For Charter Vacations
Slowly but surely, vacation packages that once relied on charter flights to shuttle travelers based in smaller markets to fun-and-sun destinations are being replaced with packages bundled around scheduled flights. In the past, companies like Vacation Express, Apple Vacations and Worry-Free Vacations relied heavily on chartered aircraft to deliver travelers in markets underserved by regional or national carriers to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. But slowly, scheduled carriers have picked up the slack and have gradually added more flights from second- and third-tier markets in the U.S. to these popular vacation spots. The Edina, Minn.-based Worry-Free Vacations, for instance, was once a vibrant air-and-hotel packager for the Midwest market. Now, Worry-Free no longer offers air transportation at all, and purely sells hotels, car rentals and activities in Las Vegas, Mexico and Jamaica. Meanwhile, its parent company, MLT Vacations, is busy operating and managing more and more airline vacation brands such as Delta Vacations and United Vacations. Similarly, the owners of Apple Vacations are in the process of shutting down their USA3000 airline, a business started several years ago when scheduled air wasn’t adequate for the Caribbean and Mexico routes Apple Vacations serves. USA3000 actually grew to become almost entirely a scheduled carrier, but the fact that its service is coming to an end speaks to the how much the national scheduled airlines have increased service to leisure locales. The changes are probably more dramatic behind-the-scenes than for the travelers booking these vacations. Beach-goers might simply notice that the name of the carrier is one they recognize — or one they are a frequent flyer of $mdash; rather than that of a lesser-known charter company. Vacation packagers work around-the-clock to deliver competitive prices, regardless of what kind of aircraft or air contracts they engage. But if you live in a market that was once catered to by more charter flights and have seen a noticeable shift, let us know the changes you’ve noticed, good or bad. Do you care how you get to where you’re going or is it all about the price of the vacation? Do you prefer working with a larger airline so that you can accumulate miles? Let us know! More from Budget Travel: 9 Must-Visit Caribbean Islands Should Airlines Have to Allow One Free Checked Bag By Law? Nonstop Caribbean Map: Fly Right to the Beach