Friday, July 29, 2011

Freebie Friday: Kids Fly Free in the Middle East This August

(Photo by SJ Dunphy)
I admit today's post is going to be of limited interest to most of my readers. But it allows me to post this photo of Doha, Qatar's high tech, ever-changing skyline (a plus, right?)

And for those parents hoping to fly with their kids around the Middle East next month--I know you're out there!--Qatar Airways has an unbeatable deal. Parents who book before Aug. 27 will be able to bring along up to two children per adult for the cost of air taxes throughout the month. The deal covers travel to the following gateways: Abu Dhabi, Aleppo, Amman, Bahrain, Beirut, Damascus, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Muscat and Riyadh.

For complete information, click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A New Multiple Flight Pass from JetBlue

It seems JetBlue's popular All-You-Can-Jet Pass is history.

(Remember that one? It was offered in 2009 and 2010 and allowed unlimited flying to all JetBlue destinations for a month.)

In its place, the airline today announced the new BluePass which has a longer validity period, but fewer gateways associated with it. The Blue Pass will allow flyers in the Boston and Los Angeles areas only (sigh) multiple flights from August 22 through November 22.

Here are the details:
  • Long Beach Select Blue Pass: For $1299, pass holders will be allowed unlimited flights between that city and Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Austin, San Francisco, Sacramento and Las Vegas 
  • Boston Select Blue Pass: The price is $1499 for travel from Beantown to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New York (JFK), Newark, Baltimore, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Bermuda and the two Washington, DC airports. 
  • Boston All Blue Pass: As the name implies, this pass allows flights from Boston to all the gateways that the airline services, including those in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America. The price for this one is $1999.
The prices listed above do not include taxes, second bag fees or any of the other ugly extras we've come to expect from air purchases. For those who want to do a lot of international travel this fall, it might make sense to move to Boston for a spell!

Mark your calendars! Last time JetBlue offered passes they sold out within hours, which is why I wanted to give you, dear reader a heads up on this offer, which will go on sale on August 15. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Get a Frommers Guide for 50% Off Today!

I don't need to be immodest, do I, in touting the extraordinarily high quality and usefullness of the Frommer guidebook series? Suffice it to say that they're always worth their purchase price, and today's 50% off discount puts them into the "steal" category.

Actually, the Frommers discount is just one of a couple of goodies that Good Morning America is gifting travelers with today. Click here for discount codes on the books and also on top quality folding bikes, tents, Jamaican resorts, digital cameras and even a Barnes and Noble nook.

These discounts are only valid today, so get moving!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Iceland in the Fall? A Short-Lived Sale Makes It An Affordable Choice

Iceland's presence on the world stage has been pretty explosive lately, what with its economic collapse several years back, and more recently its pesky volcanoes belching up enough smoke to ground hundreds of flights to Europe. But don't let these negatives stop you from visiting this alluring country of fire and ice, with its lava fields, its hot springs, its hopping night clubs and majestic glaciers.

A trip to Gilfoss Falls is Included in the Price (photo by Antony Stanley)
 Prices will certainly be in your favor if you decide to go, especially if you can get your plans together in the next two days, which will allow you to take advantage of Icelandair's current sale. Its worth rushing for: if you can book on time, you'll get a round-trip ticket to Iceland (including fuel surcharges), a two-nights hotel stay including breakfasts, one guided tour and admission to a geothermal bath and a gallery for as little as $599 this fall. The price holds for folks flying from Toronto, Halifax, Boston, Seattle or Washington, Dc. Dates vary per gateway, click here for all the fine print.

Usually when Icelandair throws a sale, its competitor Iceland Express matches, but that hasn't happened in this case. However, if you're thinking of going to mainland Europe, Iceland Express does have some well-priced flights (via Reyjavik) for the fall, so do check there before booking.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What You Need To Know About the Current FAA Shut Down

Who will be manning the control tower next month? (Photo by J Murphy)
The latest fallout of the ongoing battle between the Democratic and Republican parties has been the shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration late Friday.

Don't worry, no planes are going to fall out of the sky as a result. Air traffic controllers are considered essential staff and will stay at their posts. A trust fund, currently balanced (but not for long!) will pay their salaries.

But all non-essential staff have been furloughed (which will make it harder for the air traffic controllers to do their jobs, one would assume).

More worryingly the agency is not currently collecting taxes and losing approximately $30 million a DAY. So how it will pay these stalwart Air Traffic controllers in the future is an open question and one that will be made more difficult to solve every day that Congress dithers on extending the FAA's mandate.

In the meantime, greed has won out where many of the major airlines are concerned, with most carriers quietly raising prices over the weekend. Click on to American, Delta, United, Southwest, US Airways, Continental or Air Trans site and you'll see fares that look near identical to those that appeared early in the day on Friday, though they should be significantly lower without taxes. It seems these airlines will simply be pocketing the money that used to go to the government, an average of $25 FAA taxes on a $300 fare, according to the Associated Press.

Its unclear what Virgin American and JetBlue are doing; both had originally said they'd give their passengers a tax holiday (and in JetBlue's case even refund taxes collected) though the industry website Airline Reporter, which is posting a running commentary on changing airline policies, now says the strategy may have changed with these two airlines.  

We should heap praise on Spirit Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaskan Airlines all of which have lowered the fares one will find on their sites to reflect the lack of the FAA tax. If you're planning on flying any of the routes these carriers service, book now to get a lowered, tax-free rate.

Why have the two sides been unable to reach a deal on the existence of an agency that everyone agrees is key to flyer safety? Shamefully, the authorization bill is being used as a means for union busting. Certain congresspeople have added provisions denying the right of collective bargaining to airline and railway workers to the FAA reauthorization bill, and that highly political, unnecessary move has led to this unfortunate situation.

Alas, nobody thinks about the FAA until a plane crashes. So there hasn't been any public outcry over its shuttering. But beyond air traffic control (obviously a vital function), the agency was working on necessary modernization projects at airports across the country, all of which are now stalled. At one New York City airport, sightlines were being improved so that controllers could actually see the planes as they landed and taxied. As a New Yorker, I'm not too pleased that project is being delayed.

For the details on who the major players are in this battle, click here.

I'd urge everyone to write their congressperson and senator TODAY. Let them know their constituents are paying attention and don't approve of this sort of backroom union busting, especially when public safety is at stake.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Freebie Friday: Snore Free Hotel Rooms

Watercolor by Noemi Manalang
Well, you gotta give 'em points for creativity.

The Crowne Plaza chain has just announced its new and highly unusual crusade against snoring, which it will roll out in 10 European and Asian hotels this year.

The chain is taking a multi-pronged attack. First up, will be rooms specially designed to minimize nocturnal sounds. Equipped with white noise machines and sound-muffling panels, the design of the rooms will help diminish any offending noises nasally blocked sleepers may make. Rooms will also have anti-snoring pillows which prop the head up in a fashion that opens up the airwaves and inhibits snoring.

But the chain isn't just stopping at noise within each room, they also will be protecting light sleepers against noisy neighbors. Crowne Plaza will be dedicating some areas of these 10 hotels as "quiet zones"which will be monitored by "Snore Patrols", staffers whose job it will be to roam through these areas, knocking on the doors of people whose snoring may offend their neighbors. (Okay, a sidenote here: even in this recession, you'd have to be pretty desperate--or a dedicated sadist--to want that job, dontcha think?) Those who are caught snoring will not be allowed to book these quiet zones in the future. They will be strictly for quiet, light sleepers.

What do you think? Will these new measures save marriages and enhance sleep? Is this all just a huge waste of money? Or, perhaps most pertinently, has Crowne Plaza pulled off a major marketing coup, thanks to all the press this anti-snoring crusade is getting?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just When It Looked Like Booking A Flight Was Going to Get Simpler....

Runway photo by M McCafrey
It's been a discouraging day for travel news. Beyond the ridiculous tussle over re-authorizing the FAA, it seems like the Department of Transportation is facing some serious stymieing, too...and that's possibly even worse news for flyers.

Several months ago, the DOT announced a slew of sensible new regulations designed to make airline pricing easier to decipher; and flights themselves more worry free.

But because of a series of lawsuits and petitions launched by the airlines, the DOT is going to have to delay implementing these new consumer protection rules.

Among the rules being delayed are:
  • Those that would have required the airlines to do a better job of informing the public about baggage fees and other hidden costs.
  • Rules allowing passengers to cancel tickets with no penalty within 24 hours of booking. (A personal favorite of mine. I can't tell you how many frantic calls we get from listeners to our radio show who hit the purchase button for airfares, sometimes accidentally, and then find minutes or mere hours later that they need to change their flight plans.)
  • A rule that would standardize the baggage costs and other fees when codeshared airlines are used for multi-flight itineraries.
Now, instead of going into effect at the end of the summer, these rules will go into place on January 23.


Industry forces have NOT succeeded in delaying the implementation of rules to increase the minimum compensation offerred to unwillingly bumped fliers; or the extension of the tarmac delay maximum time allotment for international flights. Thankfully, those will go into effect on August 23.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Camping Space Still Available for Last-Minute Visitors to Yellowstone

(Photo by Daniel Burton)
The marquee National Parks may have some of the most impressive natural sites, but they also tend to draw the biggest crowds. I found that out on my last trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon when I had to jockey for space at one ledge overlooking a particularly scenic view of the Canyon. We were able to find less crowded areas, but it took some doing.

Which is why I was pleased to get an update from Xanterra (the concessionaire that runs campgrounds and other services at many national parks) yesterday about conditions at Yellowstone. It seems a particularly snowy spring kept many areas of the park blanketed into early summer. Visitors cancelled their plans and, unusually for the summer high season, there are now dozens of empty spots at the Parks campgrounds (and, one would assume, viewing areas).

You won't be tenting on snow; the campgrounds are all now dry and usable, if quieter and emptier than in summers past.

To reserve a spot, either go to or to the Xanterra site (, for the campgrounds that company operates (5 of the 11).

Beyond Yellowstone's spectacular thermal attractions (bubbling mudpots, geysers, fumaroles, hot springs), the park is home to the largest collection of wildlife in the continental US. I'd say that, along with the Grand Canyon, its the one national park that every American must visit at least once in his or her lifetime. Its that spectacular.

(Note: Since publishing this post, I've heard from a Yellowstone expert who disputes Xanterra's claim that there's an unusually large number of spots available. My advice: contact Yellowstone directly to find out. It seems odd that Xanterra would spread misinformation on this topic, but perhaps someone there has been misinformed).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More "Studio" Cabins for Solo Cruisers (But Not, Alas, Until 2013)

Last night, I was among the 50 or so people who headed to Conde Naste Traveler's event room to celebrate that publication's first cruise-only issue; and hear an announcement from reality TV-star (didja see him on "Undercover Boss"?) and Norwegian Cruise Lines CEO Kevin Sheehan about the line's newest ships.

The good news in the presentation only slipped out by accident. Apparently, it wasn't supposed to be part of the presentation, but Sheehan, in answer to a question, announced that the line will be continuing with its innovative program of "studio" cabins, meant for solo travelers and carrying no singles supplement. As on the Norwegian Epic (the ship on which this new type of cabin debuted) the new boats will carry interior studios on two levels, again with their own lounge so that the solo travelers can mingle.

We should all applaud NCL for finally addressing the needs of this important yet ignored segment of the market. I, for one,am shocked that the other cruise lines haven't also started adding studios to their ships (okay, some have 3 or 4, but that's really more marketing than actual service, I think).

Sadly, these studio-carrying ships are still not far from the drafting stage and won't debut until spring of 2013 and 2014.

The actual point of the presentation was to tout Norwegian's ugly and classist "ship within a ship" concept, which will also be present on the line's newest ships. As on the Epic, there will be a two-deck enclave of the ship with luxury suites, a pool (a very small one from the look of the renderings), a restaurant and butler service. It will only be accessible via key card, a boon for those who don't want to mix with the hoi polloi and are willing to pay through the teeth for that priviledge. In discussing this area, which will be called "The Haven", Sheehan (who otherwise seems like a down-to-earth guy) talked about how Haven guests will have the option of sending their kids to the Nickleodeon Lounge, or visiting the shows on the open part of the ship, but also "the safety" (his words, not mine) of being able to retreat to their own luxury enclave.

"The safety"??? What, is the rest of the ship "Thunderdome" or the streets of Bagdad?

Am I the only one who finds this whole concept disturbing and too much like the Titanic?

I think I must have been the only one in the room last night to be put off by the 'ship within a ship' stuff (which isn't new, I grant, but still pretty icky). Several severely tanned women near me actually gasped out loud at the announcement of the name "Haven" and the pictures of the suites. It was bizarre.

So that's today's rant.

As I said earlier I give kudos to NCL for creating a terrific option for solo travelers (and also for inviting Blue Man Group onto the Epic and in one fell swoop vastly improving on-board entertainment options). But "The Haven" reminds me too much of "The Tax Haven", a concept I'm sure many of its guests will be familiar with.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Do a Good Deed: Help a Child in Need Get Out In the Fresh Air This Summer

(Photo by Tetsumo)
 Columnist Eileen Ogintz has posted an important blog today about a short-fall of host families this summer for children in the Fresh Air Fund. It seems that that worthy organization still has 700 children to place, and nowhere to send them this summer. They blame the lack of host families on the ongoing recession, but make the point that hosting does not cost anything, beyond a small outlay for extra food for your guest.

Anyone with a backyard can host a child (after going through the appropriate screening process, of course). And most who do host find it to be a life-enhancing, wonderful experience.

Again: it's NOT too late to volunteer.

For more information, either read Ogintz' blog or go directly to the Fresh Air Fund's website.

The Fresh Air Fund has been successfully getting children out of the cities for vacations since 1877. It would be a tragedy if they weren't successful in that mission this year.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Freebie Friday: Parks Day in Canada

Mt Revelstoke National Park (phot by M. Chady)
Stand back, Teddy Roosevelt.

It was actually Canada that had the world's first national park service and tomorrow marks its 100th anniversary!

To celebrate, Canada's fabulous parks will be waiving entrance fees tomorrow and sponsoring 100 special events--wagon rides, seawall fishing demonstrations, scavenger hunts, nature walks, concerts, you name it. The cutest celebration? The announcement of the nation's new "Campfire song". (Not to be patronizing, but that's an event that could only be held north of the border).

Full information on all tomorrow's events can be found at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Several Wyndham Brands Hold Decent Sales

Its clear from the, well, trippy spelling that Wyndham's newish brand Tryp is aspiring to be high style. What I like is that for the next several months its also going to be low cost.

Lobby of the Tryp Hotel in Madrid (photo by Kano)
That's thanks to a sale which will slash 30% off the nightly rate.Travelers who book more than 15 days in advance at a participating Tryp Hotels are eligible for the savings. There's reams of fine print, of course, at the link above.

North Americans aren't that familiar with Tryp as there's only one on our continent (in New York City). However, there are literally dozens of these hotels across Europe and South America, and they're usually quite well-located, maintained, and as I said before, chic in their decor. So give the sale a whirl; 30% off is nothing to sniff at (though be sure you also check such consolidator sites as, and to make sure you're getting the very lowest rate before booking). Spanish Tryps are giving away free Wifi for those who make a booking this summer (the booking can be for fall and winter month stays). Considering that the Madrid Tryp goes for under 50 euros a night, this may be something you want to check out.

Other Wyndham brands are also slashing prices, though not quite as steeply:
  • At Travelodge, those who stay three nights can get a 25% discount off at participating properties.
  • Howard Johnson's has the same discount as Travelodge (though better fried clams).
  • Microtel Inn and Suites (a great brand, all new-build properties with free phone calls and wifi) and Knights Inn (good for the "Dungeons and Dragons" set) are offering 20% discounts on stays of two nights or more
The other Wyndham sales aren't worth mentioning as I have grave doubts they'll yield better prices than the discounter sites are getting, but you can always fish around at the websites of Wyndham Resorts, Super8, Ramada, Baymont Suites, Days Inn or Hawthorne Suites and prove me wrong.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tahiti Soon For Less

Considering that it currently costs $1000 or more to get from North America to Europe, its notable that flying farther across the Pacific will actually cost travelers less in August. That's thanks to a last minute sale from Air Tahiti Nui which is slashing the usual price of airfare by some 60% to just $698 round-trip. (Flights originate in Los Angeles at that rate.) Travelers must hit the skies between August 1 and 18, returning no later than September 9. In addition to the airfare, taxes are an additional $93.

Cook's Bay (Photo by Jean Sebastian Roy)
 For complete information, click on the link above. Do so quickly, as the airline will only be selling 500 seats at this price (be sure the "flexible" box is checked when you do your fare search).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bribes Offerred for Positive Trip Advisor Reviews

Free bathrobes. Upgrades from small hotel rooms to full apartments. Ten percent discounts on food and drink. Rebates of $10 on stays.

These are just a few of the bribes that hoteliers are offering to guests who write positive Trip Advisor reviews, according an article published yesterday in the UK's the Daily Mail. Apparently the false review situation in Britain has gotten so out of hand that the Office of Fair Trading is stepping in to investigate.

I would think it's even more difficult to investigate the hundreds of fake of reviews that hotels or their marketing staffs are simply posting, without the help of actual guests--an issue not addressed in the article.

Just another reminder that user generated reviews have serious credibility issues. Remember that the next time you're looking for a place to stay or eat.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ch-ch-changes for Royal Caribbean's Older Ships

(Photo by Paul Dickerson)
Royal Caribbean--that's the cruise line with all the adventurous activities on board, right? Surf-riders, climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and other heart-rate uppers to keep your teens happy.

Well, sometimes.

Just as with other cruiselines, the amenities can vary greatly from ship to ship. Hit a newer one, and you'll be overwhelmed with choices. Pick an older vessel and...not so much.

Which is why I was pleased to read the announcemnet of CEO Adam Goldstein today that the line would be investing $300 million over the next three years to upgrade its older vessels.

Does that mean surfing machines for each ship? Alas, no. Perhaps because of lack of space on the older ship, but the line doesn't seem to plan much-needed activities to older boats in the fleet. Which means that parents, especially, should read brochures carefully when picking a boat.

However, there will be several other definite improvements. First and foremost will be the expansion of the "Royal Babies and Tots" program--a godsend for parents of very small children. This daycare center cares for children between 6 and 36 months, giving parents a much-needed break.

The line will also be revamping cabins, improving both their looks and amenities. More specialty restaurants will also be added (which may be the reason why they're not adding any activities); and there will also be such high tech touches, popular on the Oasis-class ships, as touch screen signage, massive LED screens in the pool area (um, this is an improvement?), and wifi and flat screen TVs in each cabin.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Muppet Mania at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens

Just two subway stops from Bloomingdales is the only museum in the city I can take my kids to without them breaking out into groans. That's because the Museum of the Moving Image is just so darn fun. Dedicated to film, TV, video games and digital media, the museum is a media-lovers playground with interactive exhibits that allow guests to create flip-card books of themselves jumping around; dub their voices over famous movie scenes; play classic video games and much more. Though I started by mentioning my kids, I should note that adults LOVE this place too.

This summer, the fun is going to be ramped up a notch thanks to a collaboration between the museum and the Smithsonian Institution which will bring Jim Hanson's Fantastic World to New York City. Centered around the life and works of the creator of the Muppets, the exhibit will include some 120 artifacts from his work, including drawings, animations, storyboards, props, and videos. Among the highlights are fourteen iconic original puppets of such characters as Kermit the Frog,  Bert, and Ernie.

As always at this museum, the exhibit is just a jumping off point. The Moving Image will also sponsor workshops on puppet making, lectures on Henson's work, talks by his family members and numerous screenings of his films and TV shows, from the Muppets to his fantasy epics "Dark Crystal" and "Labrynth".

The exhibit opens on July 16 and will run through January 16, 2012.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Group Travel Strategies

Group discounts: the holy grail of travel. Everyone wants one, and groups as small as six often assume they're entitled to 'em.

But not so fast. Traveling en masse is not necessarily a money saver, as a recent piece in the New York Times pointed out. Airfares, for example, don't go down if you try to pack the plane with your relatives. And the rules governing who gets pricing help and who doesn't are strict.

Here are some other tips, culled from that article (plus some of my own):


  • A minimum of 16 adults traveling together is needed for a discount
  • Discounts will average between $20-$50 per person off the price of the cruise, but often there are other perks involved which raise the value of booking together.
  • Early birds win! Some lines, such as NCL do not allow group bookings 120 days or less before a sailing. And for all, you're more likely to be able to snag group space at a discount if you book 9 months to a year in advance.
Pauline's tip: You're more likely to get even more perks if you book with a cruise specialist rather than directly with the cruiseline. That's because those agencies that move a lot of inventory are rewarded with perks--free upgrades, onboard ship credits, etc--which they can then pass on to their customers. A few sources among the many to look at for these extra perks:,,,,,,

  • A site called specializes in group discounts and even services the needs of Travelocity. It works with 40,000 hotels to get discounts for its users and they can be significant.
  • A minimum of 10 rooms is the standard for group discounts on hotel rooms, but sometimes hotels will bargain with smaller groups. Ask.
Pauline's tip: Think beyond hotels when you're traveling with a group. Often renting one or two very large houses with multiple bedrooms will be much more cost effective. And your group will have common space--living rooms, kitchens, yards--to socialize in.

Convention and Visitors Bureaus
  • The traveling groups' best friend. Many will create and send out specialized packets of information to each member of your group; help with restaurant bookings; and even set up personalized websites so the gang can plan together.
Obviously there are more tips than these for group travel. I once interviewed a gentleman who put together his own bike tour each year for his family and 20 of their cycling buddies. It cost less than going with an established company and he enjoyed the process of researching and setting up the rides. I've also known people to use dude ranches and national park campgrounds for group getaways. Really, anywhere individual travelers can go, groups can, too. You just need some poor sap in charge, doing all the gruntwork. (Sigh: usually that's me in these sorts of situations). 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Crowd Sourcing with a Safety Net

By now, you should know the drill. You get an email first thing in the morning from Jetsetter, or Living Social, or Groupon and in it is a tempting treat: perhaps half off at a restaurant, teeth whitening, or in the case of travel deals, a discount at some splashy resort.

The teeth whitening (or dance classes or lingerie shopping discount) is usually relatively easy to redeem because its offerred by a provider in your city, and you have a good six months to perk up that smile.
Photo by Shannon Hurst Lane

Travel offers can be more problematic, as those who've purchased on an impulse have found. Users think they'll be able to get away, but then, just as they're about to finally take that resort vacation or tour, they get slammed by deadlines at work, or the school play calls extra rehearsals for your child. The discount expires and you've been left with a very pricey downloaded peice of paper.

That's why I was happy to hear about the debut of Like the rest, its deals are both in North American abroad, and the discounts seem to come in in the 40 to 50% range (though whether that's a discount off the usual price or off inflated rack rates is it usually is. But unlike most other group buying sites (ie if enough people buy, everyone gets a discount), with Yuupon, you can get your money back if you decide to cancel your purchase. Purchasers have 8 days to get a refund if buyer's remorse sets in.

Yuupon also lets non-members check out its offers, great for those who don't want to overload their email in-boxes. So take a look: there's no risk involved in doing that!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lodgings Before Airfare, At Least If You’re Planning on Renting a Holiday Cottage

The good ones go fast.

That’s the sad lesson I learned recently when trying to book a holiday rental in Northern Ireland for the high summer season.

As I procrastinated, trying to figure out our plans, rental after rental disappeared from the online sites I was monitoring, snagged by more organized travelers. The historic lighthouse I thought would be fun for a family stay? Gone! Along with the perfectly positioned, thatched-roof cottage off the Causeway Coast, and the affordable place with the great big lawn and terrific views.

My other obstacle was the timing of the rental. Due to work obligations, I had to fly out on a Sunday night and give a speech in Dublin the Thursday after my first Thursday in country. So the ideal rental would be a Monday to Monday one. Alas, in Ireland, weeklong rentals are usually Saturday to Saturday. The best houses, knowing they will fill up on a regular weekly basis, stick to that schedule religiously, so they don’t risk losing a week’s worth of rent. Consequently, my initial inquiries were all returned with a no; and I was forced to look at the less desireable properties (ie those willing to rent out for “short breaks”).

The take away? Find out what the standard scheduling is for rentals before you book your airfare, and book the lodgings before you air for added flexibility. By leaving the airfare until 3 to 4 months before departure you’re also more likely to get a discounted rate than you would be if you booked well in advance.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hip Day Tours

A street in a Malay Water Village in Brunei (photo by Ron Wilson)

Ever been tempted to kayak in the harbor of Copenhagen? Or bar hop the glam Hollywood watering holes that the stars frequent? Perhaps you'd be interested in a dawn tour of Delhi, which will allow you to witness morning pujas in the temples and the opening of markets? Or what about going to the market with a family in Brunei and then joining them for a meal in their water village (see above).

Its these types of unusual day-tours, plus a number of ones offering conventional sites with unconventional guides, that are being offered by a new company called Urban Adventures ( No worries of it going belly-up as so many travel start-ups do. Its actually an off-shoot of the well-established Intrepid Travel, a small group adventure company based in Australia.

Intrepid doesn't run the tours repped by Urban Adventures, but it does vet them to make sure they're worthy. I actually tried one of their offerings in Vancouver recently--a walking tour of one of the city's residential areas-- and was impressed and pleased by the quirky yet well-informed patter of the guide. I felt like a really smart, ultra-hip cousin was showing me the sites. In fact, I took the tour in a torrential downpour, but it was so entertaining, not one of the 10 people on the tour bailed out early.

Currently the company is offering tours in 44 countries, from Argentina to Zambia. Most seem to come in at well under $50, though the price will vary depending on what's being offered.