Posts Tagged ‘budget travel’

Planes, Trains and Boats…getting around Southern Italy

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmediamuseum/

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmediamuseum/

On a recent trip to Palermo, followed by a visit to Naples, I had the opportunity to experience just about every kind of public transportation option that Italy has to offer.

It all started with a two-hour train ride (8 Euros) to Bari, where I would then catch a bus to the airport.  The national railway network is Trenitalia, and they have regional and express lines that go just about everywhere.  In my case, it was a regional train.  Upon leaving the train station in Bari, I walked to the tobacco kiosk to buy my bus ticket (80 cents) to the airport.  Having done this before, I knew to be aggressive when the bus came and make sure I had a seat on the bus.

To get to Sicily, I flew from Bari to Trapani, which is about an hour or so from Palermo.  It was a Ryanair flight that cost me next to nothing  (11 Euros plus taxes, coming to 18 Euros), the catch being that there are no assigned seats (so you have to fight for a good one) and then you have to listen to several sales pitches for perfumes and lottery tickets.  The flight was one hour and passed by very quickly.  And of course, this being Italy, the people onboard applauded when the plane landed.

To get from Trapani to Palermo, where I would be staying for a few days, I used the shuttle bus service known as Terravision.  For 12 Euros I had a seat on a nice, air conditioned bus, and was let off in a nice area in downtown Palermo.  From there I walked to my bed and breakfast because I had already gotten to know Palermo a bit previously.

I had some time scheduled in Naples, where I was meeting a friend.  Since Sicily is an island, the obvious solution was to take a boat. (Though you can take the train, which sits on a barge for the aquatic part of the trip).  The company I used was Tirrenia, and I opted for a night boat so that I could sleep, as it’s an eight-hour trip.  I reserved a bed in a women’s cabin (though you can also reserve your own cabin) and was pleased to find out that the boat had a restaurant as well as a self-service cafe and a lounge with a full bar. Not bad!  The total price for the boat trip was about 70 Euros and it was well worth it, as when I woke up and looked out the cabin window, I saw Naples in all its splendor, lit up by the golden morning sun.

This is something I really like about living in Europe: the public transportation is so varied and available that you can go anywhere you want for a reasonable price.

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at AffordableCallingCards.net as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Budget Travel in Switzerland

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

By Chantal Panozzo

Save money in Switzerland. Really.

Save money in Switzerland. Really.

Chinese food, $25. 1-hour train ride, $60. Night in a Swiss hotel, $200. How the heck can someone travel on a budget in Switzerland?

After all, Switzerland recently was reported as having the highest hotel rates in Europe. It’s tough to find anything under $200 a night, let alone $150. Even on the Swiss Budget Hotels website, “budget” is considered the prices I quoted above. Yes.

So what’s a traveler to do?

Travel like a European. By staying longer, you’ll save more.

What?

Yes.

The key to making a vacation affordable in Switzerland is to rent an apartment.  But since most apartments are only available for a minimum of seven nights, you need to stop vacationing like an American with your head cut off and start vacationing like a lazy European that doesn’t have anywhere to be except in a chair enjoying the scenery. And staying seven nights in an apartment will be cheaper than a long weekend at a hotel. Guaranteed. Staying a week will also guarantee you at least a few days of decent weather too.

In the resort town of Bettmeralp near the Aletsch glacier, an apartment can be found for 2 people for around CHF 500 total for 7-nights. An apartment also means you’ll have a kitchen so you can cook your own food and forgo the restaurants where a “good deal” for a meal for two is CHF 60. Some apartments are also available with free Internet, which means no fees at Internet cafés, and many also have washing facilities so you can vacation longer but pack lighter.

Another hint: don’t pay full price for your train/lift tickets. Find deals through local tourism offices, Rail Away offers, and if you live in Switzerland, make sure you at least have the ½ price card.

How do you save money when traveling in Switzerland?

Chantal Panozzo is a writer in Switzerland. She’s the author of One Big Yodel, a blog about life in Switzerland and moving abroad, and also discusses living abroad as a freelancer at Writer Abroad. She’s also the co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop.

Bacon and Eggs…and False Advertising!

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Bacon and Eggs…and False Advertising!

It seemed like a simple enough plan, get a little breakfast before starting our day, but this turned out to be much more difficult than we anticipated.

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Our hotel (ok, motel), a block from the beach, in Ft. Lauderdale advertised a Continental Breakfast when we made the room reservations.  With a name like Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort and Suites you can generally figure it will be really good or really bad…I was expecting the latter but upon check-in was actually pleasantly surprised.

Mind you our mantra for the past year has been “clean and safe” so we are not generally very picky about our accommodations as long as the room and towels are clean and it provides a safe respite from our travels.

Our “suite” had running water, and it was hot, something that we have not seen in a few weeks.  Our apartment in Buenos Aires lost its hot water heater so for the past 3 weeks we have heated water in pots on the stove for our family bath water, and, the months prior to that we were starting a wood fire each morning in order to heat our shower water.  So, with a T.V., microwave, and refrigerator we felt we were living large.

We were up early, bathed, dressed and headed down to our Continental Breakfast, each of us excited to reacquaint ourselves with foods we have not eaten in a year.  If you would have asked me what type of foods I was expecting I suppose I would have answered; toast or bagels, pastries, dry cereal, fresh fruit, coffee and tea, juice, milk, a selection of jellies, maybe some hot cocoa for the kids, and if we were really luck a hot cereal like oatmeal would be available.

We know a little about Continental Breakfasts, maybe even experts at this point.  Quinoa cereal in Ecuador, bad coffee in Peru, cheese and meats in Cusco, and coffee con leche and medialunas in Argentina are a few of the memorable breakfasts.  We have had our share of the good and the bad but as we bound down the stairs and opened the doors to the restaurant we were expecting one of our better meals but instead were completely disappointed.

I knew the smell of bacon and potatoes that hung in the air as we stepped in were not for us, they advertised a “buffet breakfast” for an additional $5.99 per person but we had declined this option confident that the Continental Breakfast would meet our family’s needs.

I stepped up to the counter and said good morning to the man standing behind it.  He asked if we had been there before, and after I answered that this was our first time, he began telling me what was available for breakfast.  “Bagels and waffles are ok but that is it” he said to me.  I looked down to see a covered plastic tray with a few Bagels and a couple of those frozen/thawed toaster waffles staring back at me.

I must have mis-understood him I thought.  “Cold cereal and milk is not available” I asked  No! was his reply.  “No coffee or juice” I said.  “Yes, coffee was included” he replied.  At this point I am trying to keep my cool, because I can tell that not only were we ripped off by the like Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort and Suites false advertising of a Continental Breakfast, but that this gentleman behind the counter was not going to be very helpful.  “What is available for the kids to drink” I asked.  “Soft drinks” was his reply.

I can hear Gina saying something to me but can’t hear the words.  She is probably trying to talk me back inside…to keep me from jumping, to prevent me from telling this guy exactly what is on my mind.  Gina and I grab a cup of coffee and Grant gets a bagel.  Gigi does not want anything (well, she would have drank soda but mom and dad said no).

Gigi does not want to stay so her and Gina head back to the room.  I sit with Grant waiting for his bagel to toast, as he walks back to the table he tells me the toaster does not work.  I smile and look over at the helpful counter man, decide against striking up another conversation with him and tell Grant that we will go find something else to eat.

As we head upstairs he gets another ear full from dad on the virtues of truth over dishonesty, the concept of false advertising (I actually try to give him both perspectives…mine as the customer that was ripped off and the business perspective of why they might do this).  We grab the girls and our day bags and head out into the wilds of Ft Lauderdale.

We are only a mile or so down the road when a bright yellow Denny’s sign catches Gigi’s eyes.  I am not a fan of the place and was hoping to find a local “greasy spoon” but as we pull up to the stop light they have a $3.99 Breakfast advertised on a sign stuck in the front lawn.  Trying to feed a family of four on a budget while traveling is not easy, especially after you figured that a Continental Breakfast would get the family through to lunch, so the lure of an inexpensive breakfast was strong and we pull into the parking lot.

The waitress comes over for our drink orders and I ask for 4 waters.  She returns with our waters a few minutes later and asks for our orders.  Gigi orders pancakes from the kids menu, Grant tries a new breakfast burrito, and I order the $3.99 Value Slam.  The waitress then says “you need to order a drink” “What do you mean” I ask.  She tells me that the fine print says that I have to order a drink in order to get the $3.99 price for the Value Slam.  “Where is the fine print” I ask her and she points to the bottom of the menu.

Now I am having a bit of a struggle these days reading small print and in dim lighting.  I purchased a pair of reading glasses while in Argentina and the kids are having a good time teasing dad about his ailing eye sight, but I swear the fine print was typed in “1 Font”.  I can’t read it if my life depended upon it, no matter what distance I hold the menu or how much light is reflecting on it.

“You have got to be kidding” I say to her.  I get the standard “I did not make it up” reply back.  Well no, I understand it was not your decision to create an advertising campaign that deceives someone into thinking they can purchase a breakfast for $3.99 but then adds a requirement of purchasing an additional item in order to get the price.  We looked and the cheapest drink was $1.87 not including tax.  So the actual price for the meal was at a minimum $5.86!

Now, I am sure that there will be a bunch of people reading this that think I should get a life and wonder why I would waste any amount of time writing a diatribe about getting a bad Continental Breakfast or a little “bait and switch” from a national restaurant chain, but these experiences seem so applicable to the state of our country these days.  More importantly though is what these messages are teaching our kids!

The Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort and Suites advertised a Continental Breakfast and then did not provide one, clearly trying to get their customers to purchase a $6.00 per person breakfast from them.  Denny’s was clearly advertising a $3.00 Value Meal that did not exist.  When did this become acceptable business practice?  How is it that we as a society allow these types of practices to continue, often simply ignoring them and through this omission give them our blessing.

The Denny’s example really drives me crazy.  The waitress was right, she had nothing to do with the decision and was only following instruction/rules given to her by her supervisor.  That is part of the “system” actually, decisions being made by no names somewhere that are accountable for these decisions, resulting in a situation where nobody is ultimately accountable for these decisions.  I could envision months of meetings about this marketing campaign, ultimately resulting in a decision to advertise a $3.99 Value Meal but with a “catch” that requires the purchase of a drink that raises that actual price to almost $6.00, and hiding this requirement in super fine print.  Somehow these corporate geniuses ALL went along with this and ALL thought it was a good idea.  It gives me the cold sweats.

Who is this campaign targeted at exactly?  I would suppose it is targeted towards those that do not have a lot of money, maybe the poor, families, and the elderly for example.  One of the tenants of business and most certainly of Marketing is to “know your customer” so I am certain that these corporate executives knew exactly who they were swindling…and again it was alright with all of them!

After we finished our breakfast (I did not order the drink – Gina and I split a different breakfast that resulted in us saving an extra $2.00) we sat around talking about this experience.  I am amazed at how inquisitive kids are and how much they want to understand what the parents are talking about.  Gina and I brainstormed alternative approaches that Denny’s could have taken (our corporate roots at work).  We talked about truth in advertising, about fixed costs and variable costs, about who might be affected by this policy, and what they would have done if they were involved in the decision process.  Grant was the one that looked through the menu while we were talking to the waitress trying to determine the price of drinks and effective REAL cost of the meal.

One solution we came up with was to advertise $5.99 Value Meal with DRINK INCLUDED.

Maybe we would not get as many customers (maybe we would) but we would not be participating in false advertising and would be doing the honest thing.

As we sat there I asked out load the rhetorical question, “whatever happened to the golden rule”, where upon Grant said “ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”

A smile crossed my face “YES, exactly!”

Sean Lannin wrote this article for AffordableCallingCards.net where he blogs about his life as an expat.  He also writes a personal blog Portable Parents about his travels in Latin America with his family.  Come by both blogs and share a comment!

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