Archive for July, 2008

Today’s post comes courtesy of long time reader, first time guest blogger Dana, currently of North Carolina. Dana blogs regularly at From My Wandering Mind and is head chef at Geek Buffet. You’ll find more descriptions of her recent trip to Japan and China starting here.

Last month, I took a 3-week trip to Asia, promising to look out for money-saving travel ideas to post here. Unfortunately, since it was a business trip, I couldn’t do a full-out frugal version of traveling, but I still tried to take notes along the way. The first and best thing I came across was the Japan Rail Pass.

Despite the fact that I used to live in Japan, this trip was the first time I had ever gotten to use a Rail Pass, and it was awesome. My parents had used them when they came to visit me during my time there, but since I didn’t have one of my own to use then, I didn’t realize the awesomeness I was missing out on. Let me explain, all Q&A style.

What is a Japan Rail Pass?

  • The Japan Rail Pass allows the person holding it to essentially jump on and off any JR train line in all of Japan, as well as some long-distance buses, and maybe some ferries, too. Once you have the pass, you don’t pay for tickets for any of these rides, just flash your pass to the gate people. Japan is not, on the whole, a great place for spur-of-the-moment travel, so in many ways the Japan Rail Pass = freedom. No counting your coins to see if you have enough to get all the short ride train tickets you will need for your sightseeing for the day, no having to search for shinkansen travel weekend deals long in advance. Just go!

Why didn’t you use one when you lived there, if it’s so awesome?

  • This is the tricky and sad part. Rail Passes are only for tourists. Specifically, only for people who enter Japan with a “Temporary Visitor” visa stamp in their passports. Anyone living in Japan long-term is ineligible. Many of my regular Japanese friends hadn’t even heard of it unless they’d had a lot of foreign visitors before.

How can I get one of these golden tickets?

  • Because this pass is only available to tourists, it is, somewhat bizarrely, only sold outside of Japan! Their website has a page with information on where the exchange orders are sold all around the world. Just select your appropriate geographic area.

Wait, what’s an “exchange order”? I thought I wanted a rail pass.

  • This is the other weird thing about the process. You can’t buy a Rail Pass inside Japan, but you do have to be in Japan to pick it up. Basically, what happens is you call up whatever tourist agency you have elected to buy the pass from and order one. They send you a package of information with your exchange order in it, valid for one Japan Rail Pass. When you get to Japan, you find the Rail Pass exchange office in the airport (or a major railway station, if you get picked up at the airport by a friend or something), give them your exchange order and your passport to prove you are a Temporary Visitor, and they give you the Rail Pass, with the dates of validity stamped inside it really big for easy reading by railway gatekeepers. The website explains all this stuff in detail as well.

How much does it cost?

  • For adults, the regular pass costs Y28300 (US $263 at time of writing) for 7 days, Y45100 (US $419) for 14 days, and Y57700 (US $536) for 21 days.

Hey now! This is Less Than a Shoestring here! That’s expensive.

  • Yes, yes, I know! Please don’t go away yet. As awesome as the Rail Pass is, it isn’t for everyone. Here are some ways to figure out if it’s going to be worth it for you to get one. Think about all the places you’re planning to go.

+ How many shinkansen rides will you be taking? If the answer is none, or even just one, then the Rail Pass probably isn’t worth it for you.

> Particularly if you are going to be solely in Kyoto, you shouldn’t bother to invest in one, because all the transportation within that city is primarily by bus, and your pass won’t work on their system.

> If you are going to be only in Tokyo, the Rail Pass will let you jump on and off all the JR trains and subways in the city, but perhaps not enough to really justify spending $250-$500 just for that.

> This page offers a rundown near the bottom of other economy day passes and their prices that you could consider instead.

+ If the answer is two round-trip shinkansen rides (ex: Tokyo-Kyoto and back, and then Tokyo-Sendai and back) the 7-day Rail Pass will pay for itself right away, because the cost of two shinkansen tickets is already about the same cost as one Rail Pass, plus the Rail Pass is taking care of all of your in-city train riding, too, as well as non-shinkansen local trains, etc.

> After that, it becomes a comparison game. As I said, the easiest way to figure out if it’s worth it is to figure out how many shinkansen rides you’ll need to take, look up those prices on the Japan Railways site and compare with the Rail Pass price for the length of time you’ll be in Japan.

+ From the front page of that site, it also looks like Japan Railways now offers some other passes for shorter periods of time and/or limited only to certain regions. Therefore, if you know that all of your travel is going to be only on the east coast, or only in Hokkaido, etc., those might be better deals than the whole-hog Japan Rail Pass, which covers the entire country. But again, those passes appear to only be available to non-Japanese-passport holders, so check out their restrictions to make sure you qualify.

As much as I would like to go back to Japan to live someday, now I’m also completely convinced that I want to go back sometime soon as a tourist, so I can take advantage of the Rail Pass system again. It really makes the experience completely different. Not only is the rail system in Japan super efficient, but now I can go anywhere at any time! The best of all possible worlds! It has always struck me as a rather unfair system to restrict the passes to out-of-country tourists, but take advantage of it if you can.

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RyanAir just finished another €1 for select routes in September and October. It is still possible to book some of these tickets for €5-10/leg, so have a look at the site if you’re thinking of traveling during that timeframe.

However, when estimating the price, don’t overlook their recent increase in debit card and EC-card fees — now up from €1.50 to €5 per leg! Whereas the booking fee was once included in their “no taxes, no fees” sales, it is now always an additional charge. The only way to avoid booking charges is to use a Visa Electron card (not available in the U.S., Canada or Australia, according to Wikipedia).

Also, RyanAir recently released a statement reiterating its one bag carry-on policy. Not mincing words, they write,

We will not allow anybody to exceed these permitted allowances, and will be rigidly enforcing our one bag rule this summer. Passengers presenting themselves at a boarding gate should be warned, they will not be permitted to travel if they do not comply with this one bag rule.

Deutsche Bahn is offering any and all comers a 30-day DeutschlandPass for a flat €299 (under 26? a bargain €249). The pass is valid in the 2nd class of all trains, including IC/EC and ICE trains; part of your journey, however, must take place on a long-distance (i.e. not regional or S-Bahn) train [though I’m not exactly sure HOW they expect to police that]. This offer ends August 31, so to get your money’s worth, purchase soon! Tickets are available online (German only).

Finally, EuroCheapo has had a series of guest posts recently from the folks behind Hidden Europe, who shared the following transportation gems:

Tomorrow we’ve got a guest post from Dana on the ins and outs of Japanese rail passes for visitors, so stay tuned!

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Welcome to the sixth Travel on a Shoestring Carnival for South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Here you’ll find South American, African, and Middle Eastern (and Antarctic!) travel tips for those without a lot of money to spend.

Photographic inspiration this week thanks to Heather Bays and the kind folks at Intelligent Travel. You can read about Heather’s setup for the “perfect shot” in her hostel at Global Eye: Cordoba, Argentina.

Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler interviews a round-the-world cyclist on the most hospitable country that he has visited in (surprise?) Iran by Bike.

Nomadic Matt explains how a frugal lifestyle and travel ethic easily finance an unusual amount of travel in his post How I do it, part 2. Also a good read is his post on Keeping Yourself Motivated to Travel.

Joel Widzer has provocative ideas — such as (no joke) following natural disasters — to save you money on travel in his post Insider’s Guide: Contrarian Travel Tactics at “Where Next?”:The Away.com Travel Blog.

Greg Laden encourages you to neither give nor request travel souvenirs in his post Vicarious Travelers and the Poison in the Gift at Greg Laden’s Blog.

If you buy that, then perhaps a read of Flyaway Cafe‘s Mary Jo Manzanares‘ post Create a Travel Journal on the Go is in order. She writes, “You can save on expensive souvenirs by making your own travel journal as you go.”

Steve James covers the most common amateur packing mistakes in What NOT To Bring Backpacking: 10 Things To Leave At Home, a guest post at nomad4ever.

Last but not least, if company’s coming, lay out fresh towels, scrub the toilet and read Tip Diva‘s post on Top Ten Tips – Being A Courteous Host posted at Tip Diva.

Thanks for reading along. If you’d like to see your post on budget travel in South America, Africa or the Middle East in this carnival, submit using the online form found here. Encourage your favorite regional bloggers to submit posts for next month! Our next carnival will be posted Saturday, when we return to Europe. You can submit your posts through Wednesday for that carnival here.

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Senator Barack Obama wraps up his multi-country tour public appearances with Senators Reed and Hagel today in Berlin, where he will be giving an evening speech open to the public following meetings with German government officials.

I’ve been leafletting for three days, getting out the word to Germans and Americans alike. If you’re in the city today, here are the details:

Thursday, July 24
Siegesäule (Victory Column), entrance via the Brandenburg Gate ONLY
Entry begins at 4 p.m., speech begins at 7 p.m.
No bags or banners allowed. Expect security checks (and delays) similar to airport security at the entrance.
Large screens with live feed have been set up along Strasse des 17. Juni should crowds prevent listeners from getting close to the stage.

I’ll be there registering Americans abroad to vote. If you’ve never registered or have not yet requested your absentee ballot, do stop by today and we’ll get you set up for November. (If you’re an American abroad somewhere other than Berlin, please go to the website Vote from Abroad to get your registration in order.)

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To my fellow travelers:

Friday marked the 200th post on Less Than a Shoestring. The blog is just one month shy of her first birthday, and in that same month we should reach 100,000 visitors. Right now, everything seems to be coming up 8s — July saw the climb to over 88,000 readers and 800 comments. In that vein, we’re aiming for big changes, to be unveiled 8/8/08 . . . so stay tuned, and have your air sickness bags at the ready, just in case!

(On a related note, if you are a regular reader, will be traveling soon and plan to blog about it, send me a message with your (pen)name, blog URL, short itinerary including dates, and bio, and I will get back to you with more details.)

Most importantly, thanks to everyone for reading and for what you’ve done to help spread the message that no-budget travel is not about deprivation. Keep linking, recommending, social bookmarking and commenting away! As always, I love hearing from readers, so feel free to contact me personally with concerns, suggestions or ideas; you can find the email address in the “Contact” tab above.

Since my last rundown, Backpackers.com named Less Than a Shoestring a “Travel Blog Top Pick,” PC2Paper honored us with Travel Blog of the Week, and the folks behind the Facebook presence of Hostelling International USA included us in their list of Ten Great Travel Blogs.

Pam of Nerd’s Eye View, blogging about travel at BlogHer, has kindly referred to U.S. to Require Online Registration for Visa-Free Travelers in her post More in the American War on Tourism and Will I EVER Feel Sorry for Any U.S. Airline? in her post Pity Poor Airlines. The first post was also mentioned at New York Traveler.

It’s not too late to enjoy Travel Events in 2008 Tips from the T-List reminded its readers.

Baring My Budget: Malta was singled out in The Roundup at the Digerati Life and Value For Your Life after its appearance in the Festival of Frugality; it also featured in the Carnival of Money Stories #51, the Money Hacker’s Carnival #5, and the Europe Travel Blog Carnival.

Baring My Budget: Madrid and Barcelona was found in the Carnival of Cities, the Carnival of Travel Guide, the Carnival of Europe, and Destinations Carnival #2.

WiseBread’s article “Europe Reborn as a Budget Destination?” linked to three posts in the Baring My Budget series: Hamburg, Venice, and London. Venice was also included in the Carnival of Money Stories and London in the Carnival of Financial Goals.

No-Budget Tips for Venice and Mestre was selected for the Amazing World Blog Carnival and the Carnival of Doing It Differently. London Tips from the Ground was highlighted by the crew at EuroCheapo. More No-Budget Tips for Stockholm and Nyköping made the rounds at the Europe Travel Blog Carnival, the Carnival of Cities, and the Carnival of Tips.

From my visit to the largest travel show in the world came two posts of ITB Impressions: Beer Tourism was the editor’s pick in the Carnival of 20-Something Finances, also appearing in the Carnival of Living Cheaply; Send your Teddy Bear on Vacation was published in the All for Women Blogging Carnival and the Life Lessons of a Military Wife Carnival.

Timeless Friday Freebies are also popular. WiFi in Europe’s Capital Cities was featured at Vagabond Traveller; U.S. State Tourist Information and Highway Maps in the Money Hacks Carnival; City Guide Podcasts at EuroCheapo; U.S. National Parks Passes at the Outdoor Adventure Carnival, Georgia Blog Carnival, and Carnival of Everything Finance; Seattle Wooden Boat Rides at the Festival of Frugality; and U.S. TV Tickets at The Ironic Mullet.

Other blogs have been kind enough to send their readers over to that week’s Travel on a Shoestring Carnival: Thrifty Mommy and Americas #3, Money Smart Life and Americas #4; Tip Diva and Americas #5; Europe String and Europe #3; and the massive SUPERCARNIVAL #1, also seen at New York Traveler, Tip Diva, and Cheapest Destinations.

Posts on the airline everyone loves to hate have been picked up around the blogosphere. WARNING: RyanAir Online Check-in has been discussed at This Just In, Europe Traveler @ Stripes Blog, Student Scrooge and Oz Traveller. Why I Love/Hate RyanAir was spotted at Tight-fisted Miser, EuroCheapo, and the Festival of Frugality. More Trickery: RyanAir Travel Insurance made it into the Carnival of Tips and the Carnival of Food and Travel. Wednesday Transportation Update got a thumbs up for its RyanAir fees coverage from Euro Cheapo.

Some of the blog’s core posts have also seen good traffic. Travel in your Own Backyard was at Small Actions to Change the World Carnival, the Carnival of Living Cheaply, and A Carnival of Environmental Issues. The Art of Being a Gracious Houseguest was featured in the Carnival of Financial Planning, the Life Lessons of a Military Wife Carnival, the Carnival of Family Life, the Mom’s Blogging Carnival, the For Women Blogging Carnival, the Carnival of Tips, the Carnival of Australia Bloggers, the Carnival of Travelers, and the Festival of Frugality, with special mention from Tight-fisted Miser. Budget Eats was included in Plonkee’s 21 Resources for Budget Travel and given a shout out at Vietnam Travel Notes. Reducing Accommodation Costs appeared in the I Want to Change my Family Tree Carnival, Solid Recommendations for Travel Beauty Products in the Bits of Beauty Carnival, Bargaining Tips for Market Shoppers in the Carnival of Tips, and Smart Uses for your Camera (Phone) in the Geek is Sexy Carnival. Random Travel Tips #3 was cited for its usefulness by Euro Cheapo.

Finally, though the post has now expired, Claim your Refund for Foreign Credit Card Transactions was included in the Carnival of Everything Finance and the Carnival of Debt-Free Living.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re a dedicated reader and I thank you!  Have you already added the Less Than a Shoestring feed to your daily reads? With the click of a button, the latest no-budget news, advice and daily blather is delivered immediately via your host of choice! It really is that simple. Use the link above, at the top of the blog, or in the sidebar to subscribe.

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Welcome to the sixth Travel on a Shoestring Carnival for Asia, Oz. Here you’ll find Asian, Australian, New Zealand and Oceania travel tips for those without a lot of money to spend.

Photographic inspiration this week from Nancie McKinnon, another fabulous image courtesy of Intelligent Travel’s Global Eye. You can read more about Nancie’s stay in a South Korean Buddhist temple here.

Intelligent Travel‘s got quite a few recent posts worth a gander:

If you are heading to the Olympics (or just flying into Beijing anytime soon), David Feng of CNReviews has written a great post to familiarize you with your transportation options called Beijing Capital International Airport Express(way) Guide (PEK). His extensive guide to getting around the city by underground avec color map can be found at Beijing Subway Guide: Map, Stations and Colors.

Beijing is the latest city to join the bicycle-rental trend — if you’re not afraid of traffic and thousands of other bicyclists, try Donald Morrison‘s Beijing on Two Wheels, posted at IHT Globespotters Blog.

Also at IHT, Joyce Hor-Chung Lau has just the thing for a sunny Hong Kong day in her post It’s Hong Kong beach season!

If it’s rather Australia you’re headed for, Vera Lang advises saving money and enjoying nature in her post Bushwalking in South Australia posted at Travel Trip Vacation. “South Australia offers amazing diversity and breathtaking beauty in every direction … and it does not come cheaper than walking.”

Onward to India, Anand Giridharadas of the IHT Globespotters Blog presents his advice on How to Behave Like a Local in Mumbai. My favorite tip, especially for business travelers, is his #9:

To save time and whiz through a meeting, specify in advance that coffee-tea service not be done. To extend the meeting for hours, on the other hand, keep asking for tea and coffee at regular intervals. If you really want to create an awkward situation, wait until everyone is about to leave the meeting and then call for tea and coffee and some “snacks,” which usually will mean something fried and time-consuming.

Maneesh at AdmirableIndia.com presents Bangalore to Mysore on Bike: Day 1: Part 2: Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Brindavan gardens and Krishnarajasagara or KRS dam.

You’ll find other advice on traveling in Karnataka in J‘s posts on Chikmagalur, Srirangapatna and his Trip to Dharmasthala, Kukke Subrahmanya and Mangalore.

Wrapping up this week, nomad4ever Chris drags his broken motorscooter across an “unspoiled” Indonesian island near Bali in Around Lombok in 4 days – if you are insane enough.

Thanks to everyone for participating. Submit your blog article (or encourage your favorite travel bloggers to submit) to the next edition of Travel on a Shoestring: Asia, Oz using the carnival submission form. Next week this time we travel to South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Antartica. You can still submit your posts to that carnival till Wednesday.

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I may be a napkin hoarder on the road (I heard echos of myself in this episode’s Act One from This American Life), but sometimes nothing but a moist towelette will do. Stock up on your supply with free samples from:

  • Clean and Clear
  • Pond’s
  • Playtex
  • And for bigger jobs? Give this sample of reusable Scott Xtreme Rags a try.

    Like free stuff? Me too. Click through the Friday Freebies archives.

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