Wednesday, July 29, 2009

European Hostel Tips

I just finished reading Rick Steve's article about hostels in the latest issue of International Travel News. Of course you should read the entire article but here are some quick tips I got from it:

• stay in Northern Europe hostels (much less expensive than standard lodging)
• skip hostels in Southern Europe (budget lodging is plentiful)
• city and on-the-Eurail-path hostels are overrun with younger travellers
• rural and off-the-train-path hostels are more quiet with mature travellers

I must admit that I have only stayed in hostels in Anchorage and Cairns. I have seen my share of budget lodging in Europe (rooms, inns, the car) but have not tried any of their hostels. Next trip...

© 2009, Charles McCool

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quantity Discounts - NOT

You would think that by buying more of a product that you would get a price break. Sure, that works in practically every industry, except travel. What can you do about it?

First, let me explain a bit. You should already know, if you are a loyal reader or just a common sense travel consumer, that travel suppliers charge more when there is higher demand. Rates (airfares, cruise prices, lodging, car rentals) are at their peak, for instance, during the New Year's break in the Caribbean and many destinations. Makes sense, right? On a micro level, airlines charge more when capacity is fillings and hotels charge more during the week than on weekends.

Let's say that you are a group of four travelers. There are only two seats on a flight at the lowest price. However, when making your reservation (whatever source you use), the airline will charge the higher price times four. Hotels do the same thing. The weekend rate is substantially lower than the weekday rate but the property will charge you the weekday rate for each day; or they will charge you less each weekend day but not as low as the available weekend rate. I have seen it time and time and time again.

What can consumers do?

For the airfare situation, I will find out what the price is for one passenger (then two, then three, until I find the "magic" price break point). Many times, I have broken the group reservation into two separate itineraries to save money. For example, if two seats are available at $100 but the next two are $150, then I will buy 2 @ $100 and 2 @ $150, instead of 4 @ $150 (and save $100).

A similar process works for lodging and rental cars. I will find out the rate for each day and for each set of days. Similarly, I can make separate reservations at the same property for consecutive days in order to save money. For example, their weekend rate is $99 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and their weekday rate is $199. For an entire week, they may quote $199 for each day or perhaps $199 each weekday plus a "discounted rate" for $159 for the weekend. By booking separate weekday and weekend stays, I would save $180 ($60 for each of the three nights).

Add this strategy to your travel planning arsenal and save money on your next--and EVERY--trip.

© 2009, Charles McCool

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lifetime Deals

One of the best investments I made was a lifetime subscription to International Travel News magazine (ITN). I bought it about 20 years ago and already consider it a great deal; hopefully, I will continue receiving ITN for at least twice that in the future (that is, hopefully I AND ITN will be around for another 40 years). By the way, its current lifetime subscription rate is $244.

ITN, to me, is the best available travel magazine. Many of its articles are written by the subscribers. It is very valuable to read about world destinations and travel skills written by actual persons travelling on their own dime, rather than paid journalists. ITN is a no-frills, informative, inspiring newsprint publication (often 200 pages) that I look forward to receiving every month. Besides, is there another travel magazine that offers a lifetime subscription? Will there even be any travel magazines in another few years?

National Geographic offers a lifetime society membership, entitling the buyer to the magazine. That runs a mere $850. Mensa once (and may still) offered lifetime memberships. Travel companies used to offer lifetime travel passes. The National Park Service sells a lifetime pass to seniors for only $10. I do not think that Disney has a lifetime program, in spite of rumors.

My third principle of better travel (#1 = flexible, #2 = resourceful) is to be assertive. Ask for travel deals. Stand up for your rights when something goes wrong. Regarding lifetime deals (passes, subscriptions, admission, etc.) it would not hurt at all to ask. It shows that you intend to be a loyal customer and that makes the company happy.

What are your experiences with lifetime deals?

Thank you.

© 2009, Charles McCool

Monday, July 20, 2009

Neil Armstrong Cannot Pee in Virginia

How many times have you heard, "If they can land a man on the moon, then ...?"

Well, here is another. If they can land a man on the moon, then they can keep the rest areas open in the state of Virginia.

First of all, today (July 20, 2009) is the 40th anniversary of the first person (Neil Armstrong) to step foot on the moon. It remains an inspiring feat, a quintessential example of what can be achieved. In total, 12 men have walked on the moon, but none since December 1972; except, perhaps in his own mind, Bill "Spaceman" Lee.

Back to earth. So, the state of Virginia is closing rest areas. I have long promoted state welcome centers and rest areas as relatively untapped sources of travel information; essential tools in the travel skills toolkit. Not only an area to rest, literally, but also somewhere to get travel deals. The people (usually volunteers) working at rest areas often had access to lower hotel rates than anywhere else--even lower than the coupon guidebooks distributed in the same centers.

Rest area workers also give keen recommendations for authentic, local dining (usually diners or dives!) and off-the-beaten-track attractions and scenic drives. Perhaps you would argue that such information can now be found on the net. Indeed, there are countless blogs (hey, I resemble that remark), boards, databases, and websites; best of luck poring through them to find what you are looking for. I know that I would rather ask a knowledgeable, competent (YMMV), local person than consulting my GPS or other device.

Besides, your iPhone cannot relieve you, if you know what I mean. Well, at least, there's not an app for that yet. Relief, of course, is the main purpose of rest areas. Virginia is not closing all of their rest areas; only 19 of the 42. As you are passing one of the closed rest areas (RIP), good luck making it to the next open (for now) rest area to relieve yourself.

Hey, Guv Kaine, has the state considered a pay-for-relief program?

© 2009, Charles McCool

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located less than a mile from its well-marked exit of I-77 in Canton, Ohio (less than an hour from Cleveland). Although I was there longer, I estimate that a 2 hour visit is sufficient for most visitors. Die hard fans could spend 4 to 6 hours.

It is a smaller experience than the Baseball Hall of Fame. That is somewhat surprising since the football fan attachment and enthusiasm is arguably greater than baseball. Baseball, on the other hand, is more nostalgic and statistic-oriented.

There is much to do but, unless you are one of those avid fans, you will quickly reach information overload. Your strategy could be to scan displays to get a superficial experience or immerse yourself in selected areas (history, certain eras, Hall of Fame statues, galleries, and more). My favorite area was the Gameday Stadium theater, which I visited more than once.

Snack options are very reasonable and appropriate. At the Tailgate Snack Bar, hot dogs are $1.75, drinks are $1.15, and fries are $1.60. Other items included nachos, brats, sausages, wraps, onion rings, burgers, and slushes. Nothing cost over $4. The stadiums should mirror this experience. If you want to overspend, the gift shop is a mere 50 feet away.

Look for a promotion offering admission to the football and rock and roll hall of fames for a discounted rate.

A nice side trip was to the McKinley National Memorial. On a pleasant weekend afternoon, there were many exercisers running in the park and walking the stairs.

© 2009, Charles McCool

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Baseball Park Tours and Bloopers

One of my interests in touring baseball stadiums. I often enjoy a tour of the park more than the actual game. Most, if not all, of the MLB teams offer stadium tours. A quick way to view details (when, how much, how long) is to visit the team site on The ballpark tour link is under the tab for the team's ballpark, along with seating guide, what you can bring in, etc. For your convenience, here is a link to the Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox) tour.

Three mistakes or bloopers that I have seen at the stadiums are:

1. the classic blooper is the
Babe Ruth statue in front of Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Some say that Babe's glove is authentically period, and that such a glove could have been worn on either hand. Most, however, say that it is a glove made for right handed throwers, which is wrong. You can see this statue without going on a ballpark tour or even without attending a game.

2. during a tour of the
Rogers Centre in Toronto, I found a blooper in a luxury suite. In a glass case, there is a Blue Jays' jersey with "Clemons." Although there was a Argonaut (CFL) player named Clemons, the baseball player was Clemens (with an "E"). Confusing, Yes, but also wrong.

3. during a tour of Pittsburgh's
PNC Park, I found a couple of bloopers. Stick with me here. The first is easiest. In the PNC Club area, they have an Alex Rodriguez (BOO!) bat displayed. Nope, A-Rod never played for the Pirates. I mentioned it to the tour guide, who expressed embarassment and said it would be immediately replaced. The other involves Debs Garms. On his batting champ plaque, there is no signature; there are signatures for other players on their plaques. The tour guide said that the Pirates staff could not locate a signature for Mr. Garms. Later in the tour, a Debs Garms Louisville Slugger bat is on display--WITH HIS SIGNATURE.

I imagine there is not great interest in ballpark bloopers such as these. Perhaps I underestimate y'all. Let me know...

© 2009, Charles McCool

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hertz Florida car exodus part 2

In June, I rented a RAV4 from Hertz in Orlando and returned it to a location in Virginia. The excellent one-way rate was indeed only $100, as I mentioned in a previous post.

Just a quick note to let you know that my rate was further discounted 15% because I always use my AAA discount for all of my Hertz rentals. I was pleasantly surprised to get a rate of $85 for that weekly rental.

© 2009, Charles McCool