Apr 04

Figuring out costs

I’ve been working on the costs of my different trip options for the fall. I broke down tour costs, flight estimates, food estimates. I have not included the costs of admission to museums and such, as well as buying souvenirs. I fully expect prices to change a bit, as well as the value of the dollar vs the euro and the pound. Also Airfare can certainly change in the meantime. But I wanted to get an idea of the costs. Would it be worth it to go to Edinburgh instead of doing the 2 week tour as a cost saving measure, or would the price end up fairly similar?

The exchange rate I used was 1:32 dollar to the euro, and 1.44 dollar to the pound, the rate when I was doing the actual pricing. The pound is the lowest I’ve ever seen it, hopefully it doesn’t go back up.

The Road to Budapest with Intrepid:
1730 for the tour
528 local payment (400 euros)
868 Airfare non stop round trip from Vienna
100 train from Budapest back to Vienna
521 estimate for meals based on Intrepids recommendation
Total: 3747
I will probably also need to get a hotel for an additional night in either Vienna or Budapest for the last Saturday into Sunday when I would fly home. I may also need a hotel for the night before the tour starts.

Bohemia and Beyond with Intripid:
1925 for the tour
528 local payment (400 euro)
803 for airfare (JFK to Berlin, Venice to JFK)
521 for meals based on Intrepids recommendation
Total: 3777
I may also need a hotel room for the night before or after the tour.

Scotland
My plans are to stay in hostels, more for the social aspect then for the price aspect. Subsequently I would prefer smaller rooms, 4 people instead of 8+.
786 Round trip flight to Edinburgh
235 3 day Haggis Tour without upgraded hostel accommodations
64 meals based on Haggis estimate of food costs
103 3 Nights in a 4 woman dorm at St. Christophers Inn Hostel, Edinburgh
30 1 night in Glasgow Hostel, estimate
15 Round trip train from Edinburgh to Glasgow
200 estimate for 5 days of meals
Total: 1433

If I decided to do a 5 day Haggis tour:
403 5 day Haggis tour, without upgrading the hostel accommodation
108 meals for 5 days on Haggis Tour
Adjusted total: 1546

Obviously Edinburgh would be the cheaper option, even if I decided to upgrade some of my accommodations or decided on some more expensive meals. The two Intrepid Tours will work out to cost me about the same amount. Of note is that Bohemia and Beyond tour is a Basix Tour and the Road to Budapest is an Original Tour which should have some nice accommodations.

Apr 01

ET, Phone home…

So, if you were ET, how would you phone home? Or if you were me, in Europe, how would you phone home? I generally don’t call much, but I do like to check in from time to time.

In 2006 when I went to Scandinavia and Russia I decided to buy an international cell phone. I had looked at several different options: renting or buying an international phone. I decided to go with a company called Mobal. With Mobal you purchase a used phone with a sim card from the UK and pay for calls based on your usage. The phone I bought was $50 and calls are as cheap as $1.25 per minutes, though the cost in most countries is $2.00 per minute. In Russia it is actually $8.00 per minute, I didn’t use it there. The per minute charges are kinda high, but I was only planning to use the phone to check in with my parents or if there was an emergency. For the 33 days I was away I only spent around $20.00, plus I had the peace of mind of having the phone if I needed it. I was also able to use the phone in Egypt and can use it on other future trips.

I’ve been happy with the international phone but I switched my regular cell phone service to ATT mostly since it didn’t work in my new apt, but as a nice bonus ATT uses the GSM network. Since I’m now starting to plan my first trip overseas since switching to ATT I wanted to find out what options I have now, other then my old international phone. I explored a bit and have 2 options:

1. If I am able to get my phone unlocked by ATT I could buy a local sim card to use. I figured that ATT would make me fulfill my 2 year contract before I could do that, but I was wrong. I gave ATT a call and found out that a phone can be unlocked after 3 months of service provided you meet some other qualifications – like you pay your bill on time, I should be eligible. And I have a Blackberry, which is a quad band phone, which I would need for my phone to actually work in Europe. From what I’ve read on the internet the best thing to do is to buy a pre-paid sim card when in Europe, they can start as low as 5 pounds in Scotland. The one downside to this is that some of the services on my phone probably wont work and having to wait until I purchase the sim card to get the new phone number.

2. Just use my cell phone as it is and pay per call. For this I looked at the per minute cost: From Scotland, Italy, Hungry, Austria and Germany it’s $1.29 a minute. From Slovakia $1.99 a minute and from the Czech Republic and Poland it’s $2.29 a minute. Outgoing text messages are 50 cents each and data usage is .02 cents per kb and pay per use. Aside from the higher costs of this the other downside is that it’s unlikely that I would be able to make calls within the country, only to the US. The good thing about this is though is that my family would be able to call me without having to figure out a different international phone number, I just have to pray that other people don’t call me and run up my bill.

My plan at the moment – If I go with a multi-country tour I will probably just use my phone as it is. That will save me the trouble of having to switch sim cards in different countries, and I would anticipate that I wouldn’t need my phone that much anyway. I would still get my phone unlocked so that I have the option of getting a local sim card if the need arises. If I decided to go to just Scotland (or Paris) for a week then I would get a local sim card. If I do this then I will be doing my own planning and on top of only needing to get 1 sim card I will be able to call hotels or hostels or set up plans while in Scotland.

Mar 26

More about… You Americans have no culture!

I’ve tried to write this post several times and I ran into the same problem every time – offending people. I’ve decided to take a totally different approach to this post and just talk about the stereotypes Americans have about each other and maybe touch on some of the language differences from region to region, basically a more lighthearted approach. Besides, without differences you can’t have stereotypes.

I’ll start with the Southerners, they’re an easy target for a Yankee like me. They’re slow – they speak slow, drive slow, talk slow – yup just slow. Ironically thought they seem to shorten terms – like saying Y’all. But at least the men are gentleman and the women ladies. They haven’t gotten over the “War of Northern Aggression” – also known as the Civil War, which ended over 140 years ago! And then there is the issue of the inbreeding…

I hear that Northerners like to talk fast – it makes us a bit untrustworthy. Otherwise we’re apparently pretty cool. But even within the North we have some issues. Like in Western Pennsylvania they call soda “pop” and use a “buggy” at the grocery store. They’ve got a wacky accent over in Massachusetts too, that’s a whole different thing.

Out in the Mid-West are the polygamists, and the crazy militia people. And out in California the people are all fake and image obsessed, plastic surgeons do well here. And the call the West Coast the “Left Coast,” not because it’s on the left side of the country, but because all the liberals live there (well the ones who aren’t in New York City.)

I hope I gave a little insight into how American’s view each other and their cultural differences, assuming any of these stereotypes are actually true.

Mar 23

Fall Travel Plans

As I recently posted, I am considering doing a 2 week tour in Eastern Europe. Since I posted that idea I found out that I will have to shell out a lot of money for some dental work, enough that I started considering changing my plans.

I still want to go overseas and thought a 1 week trip to 1 City might fit the bill. I wanted the city to be in Western Europe to minimize the length of my flight and hopefully the price since I would only be going for a week. I was seriously considering Edinburgh and also maybe Paris as a second choice. The real question I need to answer is if this scaled back trip was really going to be much cheaper then what I was already planning.

But before I could started working on that I hit a roadblock with my dental stuff. I don’t want to bore you with details of my dental work, but since I suspect this topic might come up again I’ll say a little bit about it. I was born with a cleft lip and palate and would like to redo some of my old dental work, it will involve a palate expander, braces, a bone graft and dental implants. I may scale back what I do on my teeth or delay it until next year. If I do delay my dental stuff then I may feel a little freer with money to take that trip to Eastern Europe. If you want to read more about my dental issues, I have a blog about that: Creating a beautiful mouth.

Mar 09

The Burgh – Pittsburgh

I’ve just returned from visiting Pittsburgh, well actually I was visiting my friend who lives near Pittsburgh. I’ve been before and it seems like a nice city. I feel like I just see a little bit each time I visit. In the past I saw the Duquesne Incline (which offers great views of the city) and went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game, they have a great stadium. This time we stopped for lunch on the South Side, it was a nice little area with shops and restaurants. Reminded me a little bit of the land area of South Street Seaport in NYC.

I flew out on Jetblue, which is my favorite airline for domestic travel. Jetblue just opened a new terminal at JFK – T5. The food was better then it had been, the terminal was also brighter. The bathrooms was nice – room for you and your carry-on in the bathroom stall. There were some nice restaurants (or an airport) and nicer shops, which I appreciated incase I ever end up there for a long time. It was however lacking in a magazine selection. I’m used to Hudson News which has like every magazine ever written. At T5 there was only CNBC News shops with had a decent selection of magazines, but not as good as Hudson News has, I was disappointed. I did have a strange occurrence on the flight out, but you’ll have to read that in another post I’m working on about weird things that happen on a plane.

Jan 29

Welcome to the Traveling Giraffe

I’m starting this blog to talk about travel and travel related stuff, welcome! I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past few years. I’ve traveled on tours, cruise ships, independently and with my family. I hope to talk about my past travels, upcoming travels, New York City and Long Island.

I’ve toured with Contiki – European Discovery (London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Lucerne, Florence), California Highlights (Las Vegas, Yosemite, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles), Scandinavia and Russia (all over Scandinavia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Belarus, Warsaw, Berlin), and Egypt. I’ve cruised with Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

My next trip is to Hawaii, so you’ll be hearing lots about the planning of that trip and about the trip while I’m away and once I come back.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading…