Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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Oh, that pesky budget – when I’m planning a trip, it has a discouraging way of reminding me that it’s all about the benjamins. I like to be out and about sightseeing all day and use my accommodations only as glorified sleeping quarters. If you value experiencing new places more than having luxurious thread counts while on the road, here are a couple of alternatives to spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel room.
In 2011, I made my first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for former Twin Bert Blyleven’s induction. Although I started researching lodging options six months ahead of time, I quickly realized I was too late: the two main choices for visiting this small town of 2,000 were to drive more than an hour each day to stay somewhere less expensive or pay more than $200 per night for a nearby motel.
Since I like to have a roof over my head (for me, “roughing it” doesn’t extend to sleeping in a tent, although that’s another viable option if you are so inclined), I initially dismissed the KOA located a mere ten miles from Cooperstown. When I double checked their website, I discovered they had “kabins,” very reasonably priced bare bones cottages (mine was about $75 per night). Just bring your own sheets, a towel (which can double as a pillow), some trail mix for breakfast and you’re good to go. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with baseball fans from around the country.
When I met a mother and daughter staying with me at the Apple Hostel in Philadelphia, I remember thinking how ingenious it was that they had discovered a way to travel together and make inexpensive but lasting memories. Who needs those fancy lotions and shampoos anyway? Long seen as the domain of the thrifty youngster, hostels should appeal to anyone looking for a convenient jumping off point for a day’s sightseeing as they are frequently located in or near a town’s center. (The Apple Hostel, for example, is in downtown Philadelphia, a mere four blocks from Independence Hall and easily reached from the airport by public transportation. My selection was a female only dorm for about $35 per night.)
While it may not be the most restful place in the world (can’t I catch up on sleep when I return to Minneapolis?) or have the most stunning décor (at the Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam, you’re greeted by a brightly colored mural of a monkey holding a joint), it does often provide some of the same amenities as a hotel including laundry, wifi and access to a refrigerator. And techies that need to be plugged in at all times can be comforted in knowing that every hostel I’ve stayed at has its own electrical outlet for charging all of your digital necessities by each bunk.
Eclectic ideas can lead to memorable travel experiences – I won’t soon forget the foosball table at the Flying Pig Hostel with a bumper sticker reading “I closed Wolski’s! Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Some of the most fun I’ve had exploring the world involves breaking from the norm…with the added bonus of returning home a few bucks richer. A perfect amount to start planning my next adventure.
I can sorta kinda understand the people who decide to “see” Italy via two days apiece in Venice, Florence and Rome — if they know it’s the only time they’ll ever visit the boot-shaped wonderland. But even worse than not being able to do justice to any of those wondrous cities, they’re completely missing out on extraordinary destinations up and down the peninsula.
This jewel of a town in central Umbria could serve as a movie set for a medieval or Renaissance drama or horror movie, with imposing palazzos and steep, winding cobblestone streets that ooze a sense of foreboding around every curve and corner.
There’s even a Fountain of the Mad in the town’s center; running around it three times allegedly bestows it, rather than curing it. The bird-cage-like lift to Monte Ingini is a bit bizarre, too. But the shops selling local Majolica pottery are eminently sane (and spendy, while the fabulous Taverna del Lupo (Via Giovanni Ansidel) serves up fab local fare such as rabbit and what my better half called the best omelet ever.
I've been to Paris but once, alas, and I found the residents to be quite cordial, if not downright polite. On our first day, at one restaurant with non-English-speaking proprietors two fellow customers saw our befuddlement and helped us navigate the menu. Other acts of kidness ensued over the next week, sullied only by a ripoff-artist cab driver.
But I don't doubt that some of the city's reputation for rudeness came the old-fashioned way, often abetted by tourists who didn't try to speak the language or comport themsleves admirably, either. So I was not surprised to see this story about a concerted effort to promote optimum etiquette.
The 30,000 copies of "Do you speak Touriste?" being dispensed to waiters and sales clerks includes sundry greetings and cultural advice. To wit: While the Chinese are "fervent shoppers," we Amercians want to be reassured about prices.
-- Bill Ward
A reader asks: can an American get a credit card from a European bank, which would contain the special chip that allows them to be used in ticket machines and other outlets in Europe?
My answer: Probably, but you don’t need to if you’re simply interested in getting a card with chip technology rather than a card issued by a European bank.
A bit of context for people unfamiliar with the technology: American credit cards use a magnetic strip to exchange information during a financial transaction. In European and other countries, card issuers have turned to EMV chip technology (named for Europay, MasterCard and Visa). Where people are handling the charge, American credit cards often work. Not so at unmanned kiosks, such as those at train stations and gas pumps.
According to Greg McBride of bankrate.com, getting a card from a European bank isn’t impossible, though “banks are understandably reluctant to lend money on an unsecured basis to borrowers in a foreign jurisdiction.” It’s likely you could get one after opening a deposit account with that bank.
Fortunately, you likely don’t need to go through the hassle of opening an account overseas. “Chase has recently rolled out chip-and-pin technology,” McBride said, “and other large national and regional banks will most certainly follow suit.”
Wells Fargo, the largest bank in Minnesota, is one of them. Eric Schindewolf, vice president of product development at Wells Fargo, said the bank is rolling out a pilot program this summer with 15,000 customers who are frequent international travelers. “The pilot program is about understanding what it means to do a smart card program, how will customers use the product, what questions will they have.” The card will have both a magnetic strip and a chip for use here and overseas. Schindewolf said he didn’t know when or if such a card would go into production. Though this might be hard to accept for avid overseas travelers, the company has already identified the customers who will be part of the pilot program.
If you can’t track down a card with a chip through Chase or another bank, there is another option. Travelex, which used to issue traveler’s checks, now offers prepaid currency cards with chip-and-pin technology which you can use just like a debit card.
Book a round-trip flight on Sun Country to London by April 15, and receive a free round-trip flight to anywhere Sun Country flies in the contiguous United States.
To qualify, you must book the London trip through Sun Country Airlines or a London Package through Sun Country Vacations for travel between May 27 and September 4 (the full duration of the airline's seasonal service to London).
There's loads of fine print (black-out dates, additional taxes and fees, etc.), but still a great deal for anyone planning a trip to London this summer. Sun Country's seasonal flights to London's depart every Friday from MSP and arrive in London-Gatwick on Saturday morning.
Return flights from London depart every Sunday.
For more information, go to Sun Country and click on "royal offer on purchase to London."
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