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Shoestring reader and friend of the blog James D., currently of the Big Apple, took a trip to Montreal this summer and had the following tips for fellow no-budget travelers:

+ Getting There: if you have time, take the train from NYC. Yes, it is a long ride, but it is a beautiful one, and the best part is the train station is right in the middle of downtown. The airport is about 30 minutes outside of the city.

+ Getting Around: like NYC, the city is on a grid, making traveling around really straightforward. The Metro is fast, cheap and easy to navigate.

+ A City of Green Neighborhoods: during the days, I explored the city on foot. A great hike is up the Mountain (Parc du Mont-Royal). This was an all day hike, up and around. There are breathtaking views of the city and there were a lot of people picnicking up there.

The sightly less trendy part of the city is the Plateau. This is north of Parc la Fontaine, another wonderful park in the city. Down the hill from the park (down rue Amherst) is a nice little market that is a great place to pick up a snack for lunch.

For the historic charms of the city, head to Vieux Montreal — the Old City (think European cobblestone streets). Here you’ll find lots of museums and a nice walk along the water. Wandering around the back streets, I found a small store with a sandwich and drink combo for under $5.

The last day I walked over to one of the islands in the St. Lawrence River, Parc Jean-Drapeau. The home of the Biosphere and the Olympic Fields, you can beat the crowds by getting lost instead in the surrounding woody area.

+ Free (and Useful!) Brochures: the two best things I picked up were totally free: the first was the official tourist guide to the city. I saw stacks of these in every hotel and B&B. It has some small maps and lots of historical information about the different areas of the city and some of the more touristy things to do. It is paid for by advertisers, so I was wary of the food recommendations. The second was a free city map. This was large, but even the locals had them, so you don’t stand out holding one.

+ Practice that French: while a lot of people do speak English, a little bit of French will go far. If you get lost, it is faster to start off in broken French and the person will do their best to help you out.

+ Bring your Own: the main street in Montreal is Ste. Catherine. It is great during the summer since the majority of it is closed off and becomes pedestrian-only. However, like all downtown areas, it is the most expensive part of the city for food. I went there almost every night with a coffee and sat in one of the many little parks just to watch the city go by.

+ More Cheap Entertainment: Montreal also has a great bar culture, with many no-cover shows: jazz, rock-a-billy, etc.

+ When to Visit: every weekend during the summer, the city comes alive with festivals and parades. During the Jazz Fest you’ll find numerous free concerts all day long. Another festival I caught while visiting was Gale-rue d’Art, an art street festival.

+ Where to Stay: Montreal is filled with B&Bs. The one I stayed at fed me tons of food and allowed me to do laundry there. The manager also gave me suggestions on things to do every day. Talk to locals! Plus, if it is a good B&B, they will feed you enough for two meals.

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Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, is offering a special this fall, targeted at its pedal-pushing ridership: FREE transport of your bicycle on two of its IC lines.

  • On the line Nürnberg – Karlsruhe, major stops include:
    Nürnberg Hbf, Ansbach, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Stuttgart Hbf, Pforzheim Hbf, and Karlsruhe Hbf
  • On the line Düsseldorf – Ostseebad Binz, major stops include:
    Düsseldorf Hbf, Duisburg Hbf, Essen Hbf, Bochum Hbf, Dortmund Hbf, Kassel Wilhelmshöhe, Erfurt Hbf, Weimar, Halle (Saale) Hbf, Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Berlin, Greifswald, Stralsund, and Ostseebad Binz

If your final destination requires local or regional trains, your bicycle also continues on with you at no extra cost!

In order to take advantage of this offer, you must reserve a place for your bicycle following your ticket purchase on one of the above lines and display the reservation ticket clearly on your bike. Online reservations for this offer are not possible, but you can book in all train station ticket offices, travel agencies selling DB tickets, or over the (not toll-free) Bicyclists Hotline 01805 15 14 15. The offer continues until 15 November 2008, so get cycling!

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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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The travel season is in full swing, as you can tell by the questions rolling into my e-mailbox.

  • First up is Patricia from Norman (welcome back!), who wanted to know how to treat her luggage if she feared it had been exposed to bedbugs.

This is a serious (if icky!) question, as no one wants a bedbug infestation at home. Bedbugs retreat into crevices, making them extremely difficult to eliminate once they have been introduced. If you have followed the news, you will know that due to a ban on the toxic chemical once used to kill bedbugs, they have begun infesting even 5-star hotels in major cities. Once more, ick!

One of the best resources I found online addressing this came from the University of Minnesota Extension office. Most essential information is the following:

How can I assure that my items are not carrying bed bugs without throwing them away?

Many people may want to discard all luggage and clothing after discovering an infestation, but this is unnecessary. The key is to contain all items suspected of carrying bed bugs in plastic bags until the items can be laundered, washed by hand, heated, or frozen.

Before leaving the infested site, anything that can be laundered should be sorted and placed in plastic bags. Separate the laundry as you would if you were normally laundering items, specifically: light colored clothes from dark items; delicate items from items that can be laundered on wash / dry regular cycles; and finally, dry cleanable items. Separating the clothing permits easy loading of the washing machine and you can avoid escaping bed bugs as you try to sort the laundry at home.

When washing, set the washer and dryer for the hottest setting that the fabric can withstand. If you need to use a dry cleaning service, mention to them that the items may have bed bugs and they can keep the articles in the plastic bags until just before loading into the machines.

Suitcases and other items that cannot be placed into a washing machine should be carefully inspected, and if bed bugs are found (or you are not sure) place them into plastic bags, as well. Suitcases may be hand-washed. If hand-washing any items, use soapy water and make sure that the hottest water possible is used. Test the item to make sure it will not be affected by the hot water. A target temperature of 100°Fto 120°F should be sufficient. Use a scrub brush along the seams and folds.

Items that cannot be washed may be heated or frozen. Currently, research is being conducted to determine the most effective thermal conditions for killing bed bugs, while not damaging materials. However, based on related research, a two-hour core exposure at 120°F (45°C) should be considered a minimum target temperature for heat treatments. For freezing, a minimum of 23°F (-5°C) must be maintained for at least 5 days. As the temperature is decreased, the time of exposure is shortened. For instance, the articles could be “flash frozen,” resulting in a very short time of exposure, but the target temperature should be -15°F (-26°C), the conditions required to instantly freeze the eggs. Keep in mind that most household freezers will have varying temperatures between 30°F and 20°F, and a 2-week freeze time is recommended if you are uncertain of the freezer temperatures.

Remember, if heating or freezing conditions are used, remember that these adverse conditions must reach the core of the articles being treated.

Patricia chose to “treat” her suitcase by placing it in the hot Oklahoma sun for a few hours. You may have to adjust your method based on location and season.

At the time that Patricia wrote me about bedbugs, a friend of mine was dealing with a lice outbreak in the family. Here is an article with links to lice-control resources. If you are not the parent of a school-aged child, you might be surprised to learn that lice are gaining resistance to the chemical most commonly used in shampoo treatments (which you might remember from your own childhood), making nit-picking combs the most reliable method for eliminating eggs and nits. Hopefully you will never deal with a bedbug or lice infestation on vacation, but it never hurts to be prepared for these ugly sides of travel as well.

  • Next we have Mark in Orlando who wanted to know the best time to buy his train tickets for a Munich-Paris trip in September.

Any time you’re considering travel across Germany, you’ll want to brush up on how to do it cheaply by reading the following two posts: Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part One and Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part Two. If you’re set on the train, the first one’s for you.

Mark wrote in his email that online forums suggested it would be cheaper to wait until arriving in Germany to purchase his ticket. This is simply false. It is possible to purchase tickets from any computer in the world up to 90 days before your travels using Deutsche Bahn’s online search function, and it pays to buy as close to the 90-day border as possible. The cheapest tickets — inside of Germany called “Dauer Spezial,” across Europe called “Europa Spezial” — have limited numbers and will be snapped up quickly. Here is a page describing how to book your tickets online (or by phone, if you prefer), along with the delivery options (printing vs. mailing vs. picking up).

In Mark’s case, there is a special sale between Munich and Paris called Europa Spezial Frankreich, with tickets available for as little as 39 euros! Unfortunately for him, on the date he wishes to travel, all of the 39-euro tickets have already sold. There are, however, three trains with 59-euro fares and one with a 69-euro fare, so it still pays to book in advance.

What follows is a quick tutorial in searching for scheduled trains and their prices for your trip:
+ Enter your information here: Munich, Paris, date and approximate preferred time. No need to change anything else. Click enter.
+ Because it’s an international connection, it will ask you to enter your age, in case you are eligible for a further discount. Put in your age and hit enter.
+ On the next page, it will bring up three trains around the time you entered. If you want to see earlier or later trains as well, click on the Earlier and Later arrows in the “Time” column. You will see it also shows you the standard fare as well as the savings fares. In order to see which prices are actually available, click on “show availability for all.” When you find the time/price combo you like and want to book online, select purchase. On the next page, locate the proper fare and select purchase again. You will then be taken to the booking engine, which will make you register before allowing the transaction.

  • We close today with Margaret in Italy, who is wondering how to deal with a serious case of homesickness while spending the summer alone abroad.

First stop for anyone feeling homesick (or irritable, sad, or otherwise emotionally unstable abroad) is this article on culture shock. It is important to remember that what you’re feeling is absolutely normal and you are by no means alone.

> Contact with home is important, but it only helps to a certain degree — it can feed the homesickness if you dwell on it too much. That said, we all need somewhere to vent, and that generally means calling your nearest and dearest. If a phone is not available, a Skype account allows you to call people using the internet and it’s pretty darn cheap.

> Is your suitcase fully unpacked and stored away somewhere, or have you been living out of it? Put your things on shelves and give yourself a mental cue of permanence.

> Make new habits and rituals. Always buy your bananas from the same guy, always get the same pastry at the same shop. As people begin to recognize you, are friendly, and can anticipate your needs, you have the feeling you belong.

> It might help to reflect on your experiences, to distance yourself somewhat from your feelings. Journaling or blogging and photography are a good way to get a new perspective: think about how you would distill this experience for others and simply document it.

> Try to cherish the opportunity everyday by doing something Italian that you *can’t* do at home — hang out on a piazza, surrounded by ancient buildings, drinking coffee or just listening, watching people parade by with their baby strollers and high heels; try a new gelato flavor (or three); visit a museum and admire the marble sculptures; go to the market and buy fresh ingredients for a bufalo mozzarella and tomato salad dinner; wander town without a map and discover new things; get on the train and take a weekend trip to Rome, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Venice, Bergamo!

> I know the saying is “Feed a fever,” but a taste of home can be a quick fix. For Americans, try to:
+ bake something, anything — banana bread’s a good one, your favorite cookies or brownies are another
+ whip up something typically American: hamburger and fries or potato salad, taco salad or fajitas, BBQ chicken

> Laughter and distraction are also good cures. It can’t hurt to:
+ see a movie or watch a DVD in English; serve with buttery popcorn
+ watch The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or some other (keyword: ) funny show you like [I have heard but am not condoning that a computer with internet access can find most any programs from abroad using a proxy and Hulu or Surf the Channel]

> If doing things by yourself makes you feel lonely (and thereby homesick), then take someone with you or pick up someone along the way. Read the post Meet People While Traveling for more ideas.

Thanks to these readers for writing in. If you’ve got a question, feel free to shoot me an email via the contact form.

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I recently discovered a post by the folks over at SkyScanner entitled Satellite Airports – do you know where you’re going?  While I know that Schoenefeld Airport lies 17 rather than 71 km from Berlin, I did think the *idea* was a good one; nevertheless, the chart needed more information:  HOW do you get to and from the airport, HOW MUCH additional money will you shell out to get there, HOW MUCH LONGER will it take you to get to/from a more remote airport?  This is the information you really need in order to make an informed choice about whether or not that bargain airfare is as cheap as you think it is.

So without further ado, the first in a two-part series of charts outlining the nitty-gritty of how, how much and how much longer, today in Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Italy, UK and Poland:

AIRPORT CITY DISTANCE (km) TRANSPORT OPTIONS COST O/W EST. TRANSIT TIME (min)
Charleroi Brussels 47 Charter bus, local bus/train  €13; €10.50 60, 20+50
Skavsta Stockholm 106 Charter bus, local bus/bustrain SEK 150; SEK 21+89-135  80, 20+60-85
Torp Oslo 86 Charter bus, train NOK 180; from NOK 199 110
Bergamo Milan 47 Charter bus, local bus/train  €8; €1.65+4.10  60, 30+60
Ciampino Rome 38  Charter bus (1, 2), local bus/train, local bus/subway from €5-8; €1+1.30; €1.20+1  40-45, 5+15, 15+25
Pisa Florence 70 Charter bus, (local bus/)train €8; €(0.95+)5.60  70; (5+)65
Treviso Venice 31  Charter bus, local bus/train  €6; €1+2.35  70, 15+35
Forli Bologna 67  Charter bus (1, 2), local bus/train €10-12; €3.50+3.90  85, 15+60
Stansted London 56  Charter bus (1, 2), express train from £2-8; from £14  75, 45
Luton London 52  Charter bus (1, 2), express train (1, 2) from £7-10; £10-11  70, 25-35
Katowice Krakow 100  Charter bus (1, 2local bus/bus (1, 2)-train 44 zl; 20 zl + 12-16 zl 120, 50+70-100 

If you have a request for information about a mystery airport, send it along post-haste, via comment or email, and I’ll include it in the next chart.

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Welcome to the fifth Travel on a Shoestring Carnival for Europe. Here you’ll find European travel tips for those without a lot of money to spend.

Photographic inspiration this week comes from yours truly, one of the many intricate details I captured (in this case, a carved door) in June at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

If you’re headed to Spain in August, you’ll want to pop over to Karen Bryan at Europe a la Carte Blog who has a lead on 10 Euro Spanish Saver Rooms from Travelodge.  (I’m surprised no one commented the rooms are so cheap because — as I was told by locals on my trip in June — August is simply too hot to enjoy traveling there!  Make sure that room has air conditioning, I guess.)

Just a hop, skip and a jump away is lovely Lisbon.  Pennypinchers will welcome Kristie‘s advice on Where To Stay In Lisbon, Portugal posted at Norway – An American In Oslo.

If you find yourself on your last krona before flying home, Anna Etmanska gives the lowdown on overnight options at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport in Shopping and Sleeping Part 2 at Budget Trouble.

The Amateur Traveler updates us on what’s new from the road in England and Greece Revisited – Episode 138

Carter Dougherty outlines how to get away from the city for a perfect Riesling in Frankfurt, Wine and the Rheingau at IHT Globespotters Blog.

If you’d rather drink with your eyes, take a tip from Sheila Scarborough and head to Belgium to enjoy Artful color: Carpet of Flowers in Brussels at Perceptive Travel Blog.

EuroCheapo Blog has had some great guest posts on getting around Europe cheaply on trains.  You’ll want to check out both European rail passes: Read this before you buy and France Night Train Alert: €15 couchettes through July 14.

Wrapping up, it seems that everyone’s got Paris on the brain.   NYT travel writer Elaine Sciolino presents Hidden Gardens of Paris and Budget Travel’s This Just In had an article by Laurie Pike on Affordable Europe:  In Paris, Secret Spots for Visitors.  When you’re knackered and longing for a taste of home, Joe Schmid of the IHT Globespotters Blog can help you out with his article Parisburgers: Finding the Great American Meal in France.

Thanks to everyone for contributing! If you’d like to see your post on budget European travel in August’s carnival, submit using our online form. Next week, we’ll be back to North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Submit your posts for that carnival before next Wednesday!

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