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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hotwire - great bargains with a twist

There is a saying in Economics that there is no such thing as a free lunch. That is true for most things in the world, as everything ultimately comes with a price. Most people nowadays are hunting for bargains and particular great deals, which is made easier with Internet sites catered to provide you with a range of great offerings. It is of course up to the bargain hunters to filter through all the information, and pick an offer that suits them and their expectations the most. Consumers have different ideas as to what they want and need from a product, and not all sites will appeal to everyone. Hotwire is definitely such a site as it comes with a twist.

Like most other travel sites, Hotwire offers a range of products. You can book a hotel room, rent a car, purchase a cruise or pay for your flights at their very straightforward Internet site, www.hotwire.com. The difference is that you won’t know the name of the provider until you have fully paid for your product. Does it sound confusing? Well, it really isn’t.

If you are looking for cheap accommodation in New York for example, press the button for hotels and enter New York in the search box. You will often get more than one hit as Hotwire gives you the option of searching for a room near an airport or in the city itself. You are also asked to enter the dates of your stay, the number of rooms and the number of adults and children staying there. You will then be presented with a list of available accommodations and the prices. The prices are initially shown excluding taxes and fees. If you are looking for a particular standard, you can choose to filter the search results by stars, from all to above 3 or 4 stars.

For each result, there is a link to an area map and further details. If you press the link, you will see in what area the hotel is located, and the different sights that lay within the area. In other words, even if they won’t specify the name or address of the hotel, you will know within what parameters you will be staying. You will also be able to see what amenities the hotel has, whether it be a fitness centre, shuttle bus or restaurant. Hotwire also provides exemplas of hotels in each category. Go to the star rating description and they will list a few hotels in that category and what you can expect from a hotel in that particular range.

Once you have found the ideal bargain that suits your needs, you will be presented with the total amount, including taxes and fees. You will also be asked to sign up and enter all your details. When this is done, all you have to do is to pay in order to find out where you are going to stay. You will then be presented with a full disclosure of the hotel and the address. Please note that the hotel rates at Hotwire very rarely include breakfast, especially not in the hotels with higher stars.

Similar processes apply for booking car rentals, cruises or flights. If you have signed up for Hotwire and search for a product but do not book it, Hotwire will then send you e-mails telling you about products and offerings that correspond to your searches. That way you won’t miss out on better deals that come up. If you don’t mind taking a bit of a gamble, Hotwire does provide great value offerings.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What to see Down Under - the wonderful land of OZ

Kata Tjuta or the Olgas is a rock formation ne...Image via Wikipedia

Australia as a country, and indeed as a continent, has a lot to offer a tourist. The sheer diversity of the country makes it one of the best places to visit, as there will be something which suits everyone. As Australia is so large, it lies in various different climate zones, which makes it a fantastic destination weather-wise. If it is rain season in the north, the chances are that the weather will be beautiful further south. All you need to do is to decide on the time of year to visit, pick an area or town and start exploring one of the world’s greatest countries. If you are looking for adventure, history, nature and sheer experience, these 5 places are not to be missed:

1. Uluru / Ayers rock: go on an amazing road trip through to Australia’s red centre and visit the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. This World Heritage site is a sacred place to the local Aboriginal people. Uluru, or Ayers rock as it is sometimes referred as, is the most famous of all the sights at this national park. It is a large sandstone rock formation, which appears to change colour as different light strikes during different times of the day. The Uluru is particularly beautiful at sunset and many tourists sit on their cars and watch the extraordinary transformation when day becomes night. There are plenty of small, informative walks to take and you will learn about the Aborigines and their dreamtime. Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as they are often called, is another rock formation, 25 km west of Ularu. Not as famous but nevertheless a place to visit. The nearest town, Alice Springs 450 km north-east of Ularu, is a desert town not to be missed.

2. Tasmania: an often forgotten destination, but one of the most beautiful and serene places in the world. Take a ferry or a quick flight over to this island and prepare for a treat. Join in the fun in Port Arthur with the nightly ghost tours, go hiking around amazing Wineglass Bay or visit Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. This is a place to enjoy the nature and all that it has to offer. Head up to the north-eastern corner to watch penguins come out of the water for the night, look for platypuses or take a boat trip to the remote national parks. Perhaps you will be the one to see the Tassie devil.

3. Sydney: although not the capital of Australia, the city is the most popular destination of the country and the heart of Australia. There is plenty to do and see here and fantastic places are only a day-trip away. Stroll around the harbor and soak up the atmosphere or perhaps take a ferry cruise. If you feel adventurous, you can climb the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge. The famous Opera house is a major tourist attraction as is the Taronga Zoo. If the sun is shining, head out to popular Bondi Beach or take a day-trip to the Blue Mountains. In Sydney you will not be short of things to do.

4. Perth: Western Australia is very different to the rest of the country and the same can be said for Perth, as this little gem is nothing like the towns on the east coast. Perth has developed its own charm and it is very pleasant to stroll around this peaceful and laid-back main town on the west coast. Once you are in this part of the country, go down to Freemantle or take a day-trip out to Rottnest island. A little further afield, but well worth a stop-over, is famous Monkey Mia where you get up close and personal to a few dolphins. There are plenty of places where you can go whale watching, snorkeling or swimming with the manta rays. Perth makes for the ideal base and if you are planning on heading back over to the east coast, why not take the train? It is a real adventure where you go through the desert and stop over at one of the deserted towns along the way.

5. Kakadu National Park: the most talked about national park is Australia apart from Uluru, and one of the most interesting places to visit. To make the most of the park, go on a guided 3 or 4 day trip. Start by visiting the informative Bowali Visitor Centre and then stroll the Nourlangie Rock Art Site Walk. Here you will see ancient aboriginal rock paintings in its original environment. One of the things Kakadu is famous for is the alligators and crocodiles that live there, and you can go on alligator river cruises if you want to see them up close. Depending on the season, you also want to head over to see the Twin falls and the Jim Jim fall. These famous waterfalls only open after extensive crocodile searches are access depend on the level of rain during the rainy season.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The most beautiful cities in the world

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA a...Image via Wikipedia

It is often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and this is true for many things. Each city have its own charm and uniqueness, giving the city its identity. To me, the below 5 cities are the most beautiful in the world, both in individuality, charm, atmosphere and beauty.

1. Sydney: the Australian metropolis has plenty of charm and character. Neatly situated in the south-eastern corner of the country in New South Wales, the Harbour City oozes atmosphere. With over 4 million residents, the city is thriving. When you arrive in Sydney, you will be greeted by one of the world’s most amazing skylines. The famous Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge will stand out from the skyscrapers, and the contrast between all the buildings is something else. Sydney is a lovely place to walk around in, make the most of it. Stroll around the harbour district and go exploring in the smaller cobbled-stoned streets in the area.

2. Prague: not many people go to the Czech Republic’s capital and come back disappointed. It is a stunning city, situated by the river Vltava. Often called the city of a hundred spires, its extensive historic centre is included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. There is no lack of atmosphere in the city centre, and all the sites are close enough to enjoy on foot. The most popular attraction in Prague is its castle. The Prague Castle stands above the historic town on a hill, and just so happens to be the largest ancient castle in the world. In the courtyard stands St. Vitus Cathedral, the most amazing building with a fantastic painted glass window. Back down in the historic district, you will find the Old Town. In the Old Town square, the Church of Our Lady of Týn and the Town Hall are not to be missed. The Jewish quarters will give you a fascinating account of the history of the Jews in Prague and you will be able to visit numerous stunning synagogues.

3. Paris: the City of Lights, or love as many romantics prefer to call the capital of France, is an amazing place. Situated by the river Seine, Paris has an endless list of attractions for every visitor. The picture perfect white fairytale-like Sacre Coeur Basilica dominates the area of Montmartre, and from here you will get breathtaking views of the city. The iconic Eiffel tour gives the skyline an edge, and the pretty cathedral of Notre Dame will impress even the harshest critic. Take a walk along the Champs-Élysées or stroll along the river Seine. Paris also makes for an ideal place to have a picnic. There are plenty of green areas, gardens and parks to sit down and soak up the French ambiance.

4. San Francisco: although not at strikingly pretty as the European cities, San Francisco has its own charm. The historic trams that crosses the city gives San Francisco uniqueness and are a popular past-time for tourists. The Bay area is beautiful, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge really glimmers and glistens in the sun. The skyline of San Francisco is one of the most beautiful in the world, and a great way to get a good look is to take a river cruise or go out to Alcatraz on an evening tour. There are impressive buildings in the city but none as stunning as the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square. Well worth a trip, even if it is just for a photo.

5. Helsingborg: the Swedish costal town, often referred to as “the Pearl of the Sound”, is a vibrant city in the very south of the country. It is seen as the gateway to the continent, and frequent ferry services runs between Helsingborg and Denmark. The two countries, although divided by the Sound, are close enough to be seen from one country to another. Helsingborg has a lot to offer with great beaches, lovely small cafés and restaurants along the seafront, interesting museums and parks. Towering over the city centre is the impressive Kärnan, a medieval 13th century tower built by the Danes to protect the entrance to the Baltic Sea when they controlled this part of Sweden. From here you will get a lovely view of both Helsingborg and Denmark.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Stuck in Stansted Airport - what to do?

Are you going to be stuck in Stansted Airport for most of the day? Is the connection times extremely bad? Well, don’t panic. There are plenty of things to do around Stansted airport. The fact that the airport itself lack most things that you expect from a major hub in a big city should not deter you from making the trip. If you don’t mind paying a few quid for the adventure of leaving the airport, the following are good options.

Tip 1: if you only have a few hours and don’t dare to venture out too far, walk to the SAS Radisson hotel and enjoy their buffet breakfast. The hotel itself is adjacent to the airport but you will still feel like you left the place. At least for an hour or two.

Tip 2 : if you have between 4-7 hours and really feel like you want to get away from the airport nonstop, then take a trip to Stansted Mountfichet. It is a small village only 2 miles from the airport. You can take either the train or the buss, do check for times before leaving as both runs no more than once per hour. It won’t take long before you reach the village and you are away from the airport. Stansted Mountfichet has an excellent museum, in fact it is like 3 museums in one. There is the House on the Hill Toy museum, which is the largest privately-owned toy museum in Europe. Let the toys take you back to your childhood and if you have children, they will love it. Before you enter the toy museum, there is a dinosaur encounter with a few famous dinosaurs . Then there is the Norman village and castle. All built up to show a what a Norman village would look like and with very informative talks and displays at each house or building. There are chickens, hens, deer and goats walking around the place which makes a nice little zoo for children. They have an excellent shop with fabulous goodies to eat for lunch.

Tip 3: if you have more or less the full day, why not make it into London? Stansted Airport are serviced by express trains that leaves every 15 minutes for London, and the journey takes about 45 minutes. If you aren’t in a rush and want to save some money, there is also the option of going by bus. The journey would take a minimum of 90 minutes, and depend on traffic. Once in London, you will probably have enough time to see a sight or two.

Tip 4: if an expensive journey in to London isn’t to you taste, why not go north to Cambridge instead? It is a picturesque university town, with a lot of sights. It is a smaller place, and so you will probably feel that you got more out of your day. Trains leaves for Cambridge frequently and takes less than 1 hour.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Amazing Australia; where to go and what to see

Wineglass BayImage via Wikipedia

With the newly released epic movie "Australia", the continent is most likely to attract a lot of tourists this coming year and rightfully so. It is a beautiful place, filled with interesting people and sights. It is a country which will suit everyone's interests and needs many times over. However, Australia is a vast country and it is very hard to fit the whole continent in during one holiday. You will need several months in order to at least attempt to see the most of it.

The best thing to do if you have less than a month is to decide on an area that you wish to explore. There are attractions, beautiful lakes, waterfalls, national parks and interesting islands to visit in all of the states. Some parts of Australia are more accessible and get more tourists than others. You will have to decide if you want to go off the beaten track, or follow the touristy trail along the east coast. Both of which have their charm of course; it just depends on what kind of experience you would like.

I'm fortunate enough to have spent 9 months Down Under and here are the places that I would recommend:

1. Western Australia; it is definitely off the beaten track and a lot less touristy than the East coast. This is a huge state and there are plenty to see and do. Perth is the big city of the west. It is very laid-back and friendly. You can take the train south to the lovely town of Freemantle, where there is a great market and the atmosphere is lovely. A perfect daytrip from Perth is the Rottnest Island. There you can rent a bike and cycle around the place.

Famous and popular is Monkey Mia, where you can get up close and personal with a few dolphins. Once in WA you can't miss the Ningaloo reef. It's just a short walk from the beach and less exploited than the Great Barrier Reef. Whale watching is also popular in the area and you often spot humpback whales. Up north, the town of Broome is worth a visit, especially the old outdoor cinema. Kununurra is the backdrop for the movie "Australia" and have a great rugged feel.

2. Tasmania; it is just a flight or a boat trip from Melbourne and Tasmania really is a hidden treasure. Hobart is a lovely spot to stay, and the scenery at Wineglass Bay is amazing. You will best enjoy the island best by renting a car and drive around the entire island, or by going on a 5 or 7 day tour. The National Park in the north, where the Tassie tiger is supposed to still exist, is marvellous. You are stepping on land where no one ever went before. Access is by boat only.

3. The Northern Territory; here Darwin is an excellent place to stay, very laid-back and with great weather during the summer. The Kakadu National Park is an experience. The Jim-Jim and the Twin falls are amazing. Apparently Jim-Jim is now closed due to crocodiles, but there are plenty of other places to visit in this huge park. You can go on tours where you spend a few nights in the park itself. Close by is the Litchfield and Nitmiluk parks. Both have lovely secluded places to go for a swim, or even a kayaking trip, and the waterfalls are nearly as impressive as in Kakadu. You can visit rivers where you are taken by boat out to see crocodiles and a variety of birds.

4. Sydney; the biggest city in OZ has a lot to offer with the Opera house and the area around the Quay. A trip to either the famous Bondi Beach or the Blue Mountains is a perfect way to spend the day. The Sydney Zoo is also very popular.

5. The East Coast; famous for its partying and the lovely beaches. This coast is filled to the brim with backpackers and tourists alike. There are a variety of attractions to visit, The National Parks south of Cairns, the Crocodile Hunter's famous Zoo or the Fraser islands. Cairns and Brisbane are the major towns on this side and worth a stopover.

6. Ayers Rock; in the centre of Australia lies this famous rock, called Ularu by the aborigines. Here you can stroll around and look at native paintings, learn about the aboriginal culture and see the rock change its colours as the sun sets. A visit to Alice Springs is a must when you are in the area.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

How to manage money while travelling

Money Back GuaranteeImage by Roby© via Flickr

One of the most important decision when you are about to go on a trip, at home or abroad, is to decide how you are going to pay for yourself. There are a few options, some better than others, where cash, credit or debit card and traveler's checks are best. Often the answer depends on the country you are going to, and in most cases, it might be advisable to choose a mix.

Tip 1: Browse the Internet for information and see what cards are accepted in the places that you are about to visit, not every country have the same rules and regulations. See what charges and fees apply for the cards as well as the travelers' checks. Depending on the answers, you will be better equipped to make a decision.

Tip 2: It's advisable to always carry a small amount of cash, no matter what option you are choosing as you might have to tip, pay for the taxi, make a call or find that the card is faulty.

If you do decide to opt for a debit card, you have made a wise decision. By having a debit card, you won't have to bring too much cash with you. Seeing as your debit card is connected to your bank account, the money you are about to spend, is the money that you have saved and is yours. You won't get a credit card bill in the mail a few weeks after the trip. No unpleasant surprises here.

Tip 3: With the ATM receipt, you can keep track of the money you have withdrawn. If you are connected to the Internet bank, you might also be able to go and see exactly how much money is in your account and how much they have taken from the account. This is especially good if you are withdrawing money in a different currency.

If you lose the debit card or it is stolen, you will be able to call your bank and have it disconnected immediately. There is also a safety net as you are only liable for some of the loss if thieves manage to withdraw money.

Tip 4: Have someone at home help you with your money. If you only have a few hundred dollars in the account at any single time, you will feel safer. When you have used up your money, simply call home and ask them send more money into the account,

Tip 5: Never show anyone your pin number, and don't leave the card to someone and let them walk away with it. Make them bring the machine to you. That way that can't copy your card.

Tip 6: If there is a fee for using the ATM, try and pay as much as possible with the card, and plan your withdrawals carefully.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Avoid Ryanair's credit card fee by paying with Electropay

Anyone who has ever booked flights with Ryanair knows the frustration of the added fees that will increase the price substantially. I wrote a blog post about how to avoid Ryanairs credit card fees here and have now tried it. Even if it isn’t a completely free way of getting around the credit card fee, it is a highly recommended approach. The satisfaction of not paying the Euro 5 per passenger, per flight is extraordinary.

To avoid paying the hefty credit card fee that Ryanair imposes, you need to do the following.

Step 1 : Go to Entropays website, click here.

Step 2 : Sign up for Entropay by filling out a simple form. Please note, choose GBP as the account currency. This is the only way if you want Ryanair to recognise this virtual credit card as VISA Electron.

Step 3 : Give them the details of your standard credit card that you want to use to pay Electropay with.

Step 4: load your new virtual credit card with an amount, at least 10 GBP. The best way is to load the card with the exact amount that the flight cost.

You are now set to go. The signing-up only takes a few minutes. And once done, you can use it as many times as you want.

This is not a completely free service. They will charge you 4.95% of the amount you load the card with. For example, if you load Entropay with 10GBP, they will charge you 0.45 GBP. So of course, there is going to be a point where it will cost the same with Entropay as with Ryanair. This will be when you book a single journey for 1 passenger for EUR 101.01. So, if the fare is less than this, it will be cheaper with Entropay. How much cheaper will be depends on the price of the flight. The cheaper the flight, the higher the benefits of using Entropay.

When you book your flight on the Ryanair website, choose the VISA Electron option for paying. This is currently the only option there that is free. Of course, if you live in a country that offers a VISA Electron, you might opt for that one instead of the virtual way.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ryanair's 250% increase in luggage fees

Boeing 737-800 at Manchester International Air...Image via Wikipedia

The low-cost carrier has done it again. They have made it to the headline with yet another incredulous announcement. The fees for checked-in luggage will rise steeply, in some cases up towards the 250% mark.

In an attempt to make passengers travel with hand-luggage only, Ryanair is raising all their fees for checked-in baggage. If you only carry hand-luggage, weighing less than 10 kilo, you will not notice any differences. However, if you want to check-in your bags, the following will now apply;

Checking in 1 bag online: will rise from €10 to €15 per flight from next month, a 50% increase.

Checking in 1 bag at the airport: will rise from €20 to €30 per flight from next month, a 50% increase.

In an attempt to profit further, Ryanair is doubling the checked-in baggage allowance for each passenger. From having allowed each passenger a weight allowance of only 15 kg, you can now bring with you 30 kilos, as long as no single bag weighs more than 15 kilos. A strange turnaround from an airline that says that they want to get rid of checked-in baggage.

Checking in 2nd bag online: will rise from €20 to €35 per flight from next month, a 75% increase.

Checking in 2nd bag at the airport: will rise from €20 to €70 per flight from next month, a 250% increase.

If you bag weighs too much, you will now have to pay even more for the extra kilos as the excess bag fee is being increased from €15 to €20 per kilo. So, do note that if you have more than 1 kilo too much, you are better off paying the 2nd bag charge online.

If you are travelling with checked-in luggage, the other airlines start to look like a more appealing offer, and possibly even a cheaper one.

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Top things to do in Seattle

City of SeattleImage via Wikipedia

Seattle makes for an interesting destination with plenty to see and do. As a metropolis in the north-western corner of America in the state of Washington, Seattle has something to offer most tourists. Whether you come here to enjoy the surrounding scenery of Puget Sound and the Olympic peninsula or you are bypassing the city to get to Canada, Seattle is well worth a stop-over.

Here are some of the highlights of Seattle;

The Space Needle – this famous landmark and symbol of Seattle can’t be missed. Built in 1962 for the World’s fair, it hovers 605 feet above the city. You can purchase tickets to go up in the elevator to the observation deck, 520 feet above the ground. The observation deck is rotating slowly and you will be treated to terrific views of the city and surrounding areas. There is a restaurant too if you feel like a romantic dinner.

Pike's Place Market – another highlight of Seattle is this open market. It opened already in 1907, making it one of the oldest operated public farmers' markets in the United States. There are plenty of different small stalls and shops, ranging from books, antiques, food and hand crafts but the highlights have to be the fish markets. Go and see them throwing fish around, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

Pacific Science Center – another major tourist destination, especially if you have children, is this hands-on museum. Like the Space Needle, it was built for the World’s fair and has wide range of hands on science exhibits, animal exhibitions and two IMAX movie theaters.

Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum & Hall of Fame this is a fairly recently opened museum, 2000 and 2004, that pays tribute to the history and exploration of both popular music and science fiction. As you enter you are met by an impressive collection of hundreds of guitars hanging together, in all different shapes and colours. There is a separate area dedicated to Seattle music, including a lot of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia.

Seattle Waterfront & Seattle Aquarium – don’t miss the seafront of Seattle. It lies a bit away from the other attractions, but it makes for a nice stroll. There are amusement arcades, shops and restaurants here and the aquarium is one of the best ones in America.

Bruce Lee’s grave – fans of Bruce Lee are in for a treat in Seattle. The famous martial-art actor is buried here at Lakeview Cemetery, beside his son Brandon Lee. Many fans make a pilgrimage to Seattle to pay tribute to their idol, please go here for directions.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

How to find cheap accommodation in New York

NYC: Liberty Island - Statue of LibertyImage by wallyg via Flickr

New York, albeit not Americas most visited town, it is still up there on many people’s to do list. A city that never sleep some say, others would argue, a hard place to find decent and affordable accommodation. As most of you know, it is hard work finding a good budget hotel anywhere, and even harder finding one in a top city like New York. Not only does millions of tourist visit the big Apple, but as a major US city, there are plenty of business people needing accommodation too.

What you need to do is decide what you are going to do in New York, and what area’s you are most likely to be in. Decide how much you are willing to spend on accommodation and try and book as early as possible.

When visiting a city like New York it is important to research the area. What are your main objectives with the trip? If you are going shopping, then you might want to be near the big shopping malls, and if you want to go for a stroll in Central Park every morning, then you better try and find your accommodation around that specific area. Once you have decided how much time you want to spend getting from A to B, you have narrowed down the list. If you plan well, you might be lucky and find a great deal. Depending on the area, it might be more or less difficult.

It is also advisable to think of what you require of the hotel. If you are expecting and want a certain standard, you might have to spend a bit extra. New York is an expensive place, and if you want a good two or even a three star hotel, you will have to be ready to fork up between $100-200.

A few places that are a good option;

1. The 414 Hotel; a 2, 5 star hotel which is located in the city centre within walking distance of Times Square. The hotel lies in a quiet area and has complimentary breakfast and Internet. The price starts at $140.

2. Salisbury Hotel; this 2, 5 star hotel is a bit pricier, but is within walking distance of Times Square and Carnegie Hall. Amenities include continental breakfasts, business services, Internet access, and a 24-hour front desk. The prices start around $158.

3. Holiday Inn Midtown; a good option if you want a central hotel that is only a few blocks away from the main streets. The prices range from $190 to well over $300, so you might have to limit your travel to a low season period.

If you need cheaper options, you should check out hostels, which might have double or triple rooms available. Another idea would be to live outside the city centre, but then you have the additional cost of travelling and it would be time-consuming. There are always pros and cons with every choice you make.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Backpacking in Europe; What you should know before you go.

Going on a trip is always fun and exciting; backpacking through Europe isn't an exception, it's a great adventure. You will see many different places and meet plenty of fellow backpackers. As with most trips, careful planning and some research of the areas you are going to visit is a must.

If you decide to backpack your way through Europe, you need to decide whether to do this by train, flight or a mix of both. You need to decide where to go, and roughly how long to stay. Make a list of must-do things and places to see. It's important to realize that Europe is a large continent, and that every country is different.

Before you go, look at a map of Europe and decide on a possible route. Your destinations might decide your way of travel. For example, if you are staying on mainland Europe, the train might be the best choice, but if you want to visit Ireland or the UK, you might consider flying or taking the ferry. There is a great rail pass called the Interail for European citizen, and Eurail for non-Europeans which make train journeys cheaper and a lot easier.

Once your route is decided upon, it's a good idea to read about the countries that you plan to visit. Most countries have some level of English, but as it wouldn't be their native language, it is important to understand that you might not be able to make yourself understood at all times. However, in most guide books there are small dictionaries with simple phrases to use.

A good chapter in the guide books describes dangers and annoyances. Here you can read about places to avoid, and what lever of crime an area has. It's important to know that every place might have its bad spots, and it would be wise to avoid these. If you follow the tourist trail and don't go off the beaten track, you should have no worries though.

A good thing to do is to check out what various accommodations there are on offer in different countries. Some would have hostels, motels and hotels, whereas other countries only have hotels. In the latter cases you are likely to be offered a bed in someone's home for a fee. Make sure that you don't go alone with someone, but join up with other solo travelers.

When it comes to money, most EU countries use the Euro, but there are still those that don't so it is important to know what currency you need in order to pay for yourself. In most places, a debit or a credit card is widely accepted. Don't let them walk off with it though, as they could potentially copy your card and collect your details.

Before you go, you should write down emergency numbers and phone numbers to your embassy in the various countries. That way you know where to call if something were to happen.

Apart from that, keep an open mind and you will meet lots of friendly people who will help you find your way around.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Great American Roadtrips; the Oregon coast

Pacific OceanImage by eastercat via Flickr

The Oregon coast stretches for about 350 miles and makes an ideal road trip. Whether you drive from north to south, or the other way around, you will be cruising along the Pacific Ocean on US Highway 101. Many people think of a Pacific road trip as being one down the California cost, but Oregon’s coastline offers as much a great drive as the southern counterpart. There are plenty of places and vistas to stop at between Brookings in the south and Astoria in the north and the scenery, although different from the California one, is equally amazing.

Here are my top 5 stops along the way, from south to north;

Cape Blanco Lighthouse; Oregon’s coasts most westerly point makes a good stop. The Cape Blanco Lighthouse was first lit in 1870 making it Oregon’s oldest continuously operating light. You can visit the lighthouse between April and through October.

Bandon; this little town makes for a great stop-over. Famous for its great golf courses, Bandon-by-the-sea is becoming known as Oregon’s Golf Coast. Although only 3100 people resides here, it an attractive place to live. Do try the restaurant beside the Best Western Inn, the food and atmosphere is amazing.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area; stop over here to see and walk on the mighty dunes. There are plenty of things you can entertain yourself with while here, why not go hiking, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding or camping? It is an amazing area.

Sea Lion Caves; just north of Florence lies this fantastic cave. Sea lions have used it for centuries as a home and if you are in luck, they are there for you to see. If they are not in the cave, they might be on the beach a bit further away. They will tell you before you pay the entrance fee if you will see the sea lions or not, even you aren’t, it is well worth a visit.

Astoria; this is the final town before you head into the state of Washington. It is a sizeable town which has a few places of interest. It is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies and lies at the mouth of the Colombia River. Make sure that you visit the Flavel house, the Astoria column and Fort Clatsop. You will enter Washington via the 4.1 mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest continuous three-span through truss bridge in the world.

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