Maximizing Your International Travel Dollar

This post bears repeating, because it's a couple of years old so new readers of CS&W probably haven't seen it, it's still as true as ever, and because travel dollars are dearer than ever.

As we wrote in Don't Let "Experts" Tell You Where to Go This Summer,

There are 192 U.N. member states. Kosovo, Taiwan and Vatican City aren’t U.N. members, so add them. Add South Sudan, to be born as the world’s newest country on 9 July. That’s 196 countries, and there are dozens and dozens of territories (Greenland is Danish, Tahiti is French, Aruba is Dutch and so on) and odd bits and specks of land all over the globe. There are plenty of places to choose from….

Keep an open mind. Do your online research. Pick a spot and just go. Buy a ticket, get on the plane, and go see what it’s like. Our world is a great big, sprawling pageant of color and chaos and diversity, and you should go out there and see it."

But use your travel dollars wisely. Now, a reprise from 2009:

•••••

2009Cover Our mailbox is laden with expensive glossy catalogs from high end travel providers. Mountain Travel Sobek, “Celebrating 40 Years of Adventure Travel,” sends a very nicely done 204 page 2009 catalog offering, for a couple of examples:

12 days in Namibia for $7795 per person, starting and ending in Windhoek, including internal airfare and the company of others (price offered is for four or five people). Including Clara and Herb from Cleveland, your close proximity partners for nearly two weeks of Land Rover trips and box lunches, whom you’ll meet on arrival, this epic journey departs from Windhoek twice each year, on Mountain Travel Sobek’s schedule.

Or how about 13 nights in the Republic of Georgia from $3695 (again, not just you, but from 4 – 12 people)? This one starts in Tibilisi, twice a year, again on Mountain Travel Sobek’s schedule.

Not to fault Mountain Travel Sobek. This is what they do. You’ve seen the Perillo Tours ads for travel to Italy? Same thing. You’re buying it? They’re selling it.

So don’t buy it. Do your research and hire local people. They not only have local knowledge, but they’re also often quoting in local money, and the money you spend with them stays local.

My wife Mirja and I flew into Windhoek, for example, by ourselves, and spent a bare fraction of that group price. And it was simple:

Namibiavlei On arrival we rented a car and drove toward Sesriem, where we had a room at the Sossusvlei Lodge, arranged over the internet. We stayed for several nights and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. When we were finished, we drove back to Windhoek and flew away. Not on Sobek’s schedule, Clara and Herb nowhere in sight, couldn’t have been easier and at a fraction on the package price.

Rustaveli In Georgia, it’s virtually impossible to spend money. We spent my 50th birthday in a suite with a balcony and cheap Russian champagne at the luxury Marriott on Rustaveli Street (it's the vantage point, with a view to the Parliament, that all the reporters used during last summer’s Georgia/Russia war). We hired a fabulous local guide who hired a driver, and toured the country on our terms. How you could spend $3695 in two weeks in Georgia, even including a few nights at the Marriott, escapes me.

You’ve got the internet, right? Use it!

Yerevan We hired Sati Travel via the internet for a trip to Armenia in 2006. Noune, who handled our account, sat us down for remarks in her office. She gave us her controversial viewpoint, practical advice and flagged down a vendor for bottles of water on her account when it was time to send us on our way.

Sati Travel charged my Visa 40,000 Manats eight times because they didn’t know how to charge more than 40,000 at once, since they had only had a Visa terminal since April, and they said they were the first travel agent in town to get one.

Just before the last charge went through the receipt roll ran out, and so a long delay ensued as staff, I guess, ran around town to find more paper, but finally we all agreed a photocopy for each of us would be just as good. These are charming, authentic experiences you will not get from American outfitters who charge quadruple the price.

Before you hit the road, spend some quality computer time first, instead of your hard-earned money.

(Photo of Sobek catalog from Mountain Travel Sobek website.)
(Photo of dead vlei, Namibia from the Namibia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.)
(Photo of Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi from the Georgia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.)
(Photo from Yerevan, Armenia from the Armenia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.)

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