This week, your loyal Deal Detective has a little surprise for you. Not only am I going to reveal my secret identity (gasps are encouraged), but I'm also going to tackle three remarkable reader questions in one column. But first, the big reveal!
Hold onto your fedora, dear readers, because that shadowy figure who's been fighting overpriced vacations on your behalf since early 2007 is none other than ... a mere mortal by the name of Kate Hamman. Now that I've trusted you with my secret identity, I hope you'll trust me to help you find the right trip at the right price whenever you need a travel deal.
Now that that's settled, let's have a look at this week's reader questions.
JennyG writes, "I LOVE YOUR COLUMN! I'm not just buttering you up, either, *BUT* ... I do have a question I hope you can help me with. My fiance and I flipped a coin, and he won when it comes to choosing our next vacation 'theme'—kayaking. Only problem is, I am SO not a kayaker. Can you suggest any trip in late 2008 or early/mid 2009 that would satisfy his outdoorsy 'needs,' and yet not completely terrify me?! (And don't feel too bad for me, I get to choose the honeymoon!)"
Ah, the things we do for love. I myself have worn the proverbial wetsuit many times, and I have found that an open mind makes getting your feet wet a lot more tolerable. Oh, and a little bit of compromise doesn't hurt either. For instance, if you have to spend your days kayaking, why not spend your nights somewhere cozy, possibly someplace with a hot tub and/or a fireplace?
So, for you I'd recommend Crystal Seas Kayaking's San Juan Islands inn to inn tour. You choose the length of your stay, ranging from two to six days. And, even though you spend your time kayaking along the Pacific Northwest's rocky coastline and remote islands, you can pamper yourself at night with comfortable lodging and delicious food. Plus, the trip is led by professional guides, so you can stop worrying and trust that you're in capable hands. The trip is all-inclusive, sans alcohol, and prices start at $880 per person for a two-day guided trip. The tours run April through October.
If you'd like to add another activity on a bit longer tour, while still staying in the comfort of a lodge, Sea Kayak Adventures combines yoga and kayaking in several destinations, including the God's Pocket Resort on Vancouver Island. The trip lasts six days from June 29 through July 4, and costs $1,895, all-inclusive, per person.
Hoover asks, "My wife and I would like to go to France. My uncle was killed in World War II, and is buried at Beny-Sur Mer near Caen. No one in my family has ever been there to see his grave and pay our respects. We would like to spend some time in Paris and the surrounding area also, perhaps a week to 10 days. What is the best way to do this? We are not five-star people, but would like clean and comfortable hotels. We would like to fly from Toronto. Or Detroit or Buffalo as a second option."
I'm honored that you've asked me to help you plan such a meaningful trip, and I hope I can come up with something that suits your needs. Since you didn't mention a specific time you'd like to travel, I suggest going in the fall off-season, around mid-October. The weather might be a bit brisk, but you'll save money and avoid the hassle of crowds.
I was able to find two round-trip tickets to Paris from Toronto for $649 per person, including taxes and fees, on Icelandair. I would spend a few days exploring Paris before renting a car (I priced a Mini with Alamo at $200 for three days) and driving to Reviers, where you'll find Beny-Sur-Mer. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to drive, but you can visit many places along the way, such as Versailles or Auvers-sur-Oise (in French only).
As for hotel rooms in and outside of the city, I would start by reading other travelers' reviews on TripAdvisor before booking. I find that B&Bs tend to offer insight into the culture, and usually come with a breakfast to help start your day.
Lastly, desert bloom writes, "I want to celebrate my 51st birthday in early November by traveling ... somewhere. Where can I go for a total (fares, food, lodging, everything) of $1,000? I do have my passport, but have not yet been anywhere. Love history, art, and nature. I don't drink or gamble, so Vegas doesn't appeal. Any ideas? P.S. I'm traveling alone, from Sacramento, CA."
You may not like to gamble, but I feel like you've just given me a humdinger of a game-show-style question. For $1,000, where in the world can I send you? Let's spin the great wheel of travel answers to find out.
Unfortunately we'll have to rule out most international destinations, because plane tickets alone would take up more than half your budget. So, although I might not be able to send you overseas, I can suggest the next best thing. Plus, you'll even get to leave the country and give that passport a little mileage.
Victoria, British Columbia, may not be that far from California, but it seems worlds away with its English culture and the surrounding scenery of Vancouver Island. Granted it may not be the warmest spot in November, but there are plenty of things to see and do to keep your temperature up. To keep with the budget, I planned a five-day vacation in the beginning of November. You'll want to avoid the $470 cost of flying there directly by booking a round-trip ticket to Seattle for $196, and then taking the ferry for $119 round-trip.
Once you arrive, you'll probably have to spend the first and last night in Seattle, and the Moore Hotel is an excellent option for its history, location, and price ($59 for a European-style room). You can then find chain hotels in Victoria that start at $55 per night on Hotels.com. The grand total for five nights lodging (about $283, depending on class of hotel) and transportation ($315) comes to $598. This means that you are left with $402, or about $80 per day, for food and activities.
I hope whatever you choose to do, you have the happiest of birthdays!
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