Best options for travel money
My family and I are taking the trip of a lifetime after years of saving. Every few days we will be in a different country with different currencies, such as Singapore, Switzerland, Italy and then on a cruise that stops in Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey, then off to England with Hong Kong on the way home. What on earth do we do about having money to shop in each place?
- D. Eustace, Rye Park.
You're going to need at least some local currency in each of the places that you are planning to visit and by far the most convenient and cheapest way to do that is via ATMs.
You won't have any problems finding ATM facilities in each of the countries on your itinerary, with English language as an on-screen option. Some of the cards that you can use to access your funds via a foreign ATM charge high fees that chomp into your savings.
One that does not is the 28 Degrees MasterCard, which has no annual fees, no joining fee, reload fees or international transaction fees. Interest fees on the card are high if your card falls into debit, but you can easily avoid these if you transfer funds to the card, which you then use as a reservoir to withdraw from via ATMs.
You can also request a supplementary card at no extra charge and this would be a prudent choice for your travels. For more independent advice on this topic from Choice magazine, Google "Choice travel money buying guide".
Avoid short-stay rentals in New York City
Could you clarify the legal situation regarding short-term rental of apartments in New York? We will be visiting next May-June and require a five-day stay mid-holiday and also an eight-day stay at the end of our holiday. Can you also suggest safe areas out of the city to stay, either apartments if possible, or hotels? We don't mind getting the subway into NYC each day.
- R.&L. Barnett, Wollongong.
Although plenty of visitors rent private apartments in New York City, it is a fact that short-term (less than a month) apartment rentals violate various of the city's laws and building regulations.
As a general rule, renting an apartment without a lease is illegal in NYC and the city has become well known for scammers who rent out non-existent apartments, or ones that are owned by someone else.
According to Tripadvisor, "renting an apartment for a visit is probably the most popular and volatile topic on the NYC Forum". While rental apartment accommodation is a fine alternative to hotels in most other world cities, in NYC I would not recommend it.
Hosted stays in apartments or B&B lodgings are perfectly legal, and Bed and Breakfast Com has several options at better prices than similar hotel accommodation.
In general, Manhattan is no less safe than any other part of the city and you're right at the centre of the action. On the other hand, Brooklyn offers less expensive bed and breakfast accommodation, and if your lodging is close to a subway station, the bright lights of Manhattan are right on your doorstep.
French villas on a budget
My wife and I are taking an extended holiday in France from May to October next year. We want to rent two-bedroom cottages for friends and family visits, for a couple of months at a time in the Rhone Valley, Carcassonne and Champagne regions. Any advice and tips on finding suitable properties on a moderate budget — €1000 ($1168) — to meet our purpose would be appreciated.
- P. Ryan, East Ryde.
With your budget in mind, one of the best places to look is the Gites de France website. Gites are mostly simple farm cottages, village houses or part of a farmhouse and they start at about €250 a week for a two-bedroom version. Prices climb in the high season months of July and August and your budget might be stretched.
If you are prepared to lock in an early, long-term booking direct with an owner, you might strike a bargain.
Perfect family beach holiday just an hour away
My parents and extended family are coming to Australia from Denmark for their golden anniversary celebrations in late February. There will be 12 people ranging in age from six to 80 years, some of them keen divers. Can you suggest a location and itinerary where they could spend a week in warm weather. They were thinking maybe Cairns or Port Douglas.
- C. Omoe, Paddington.
Warm weather is no problem on our sea-girt shores at this time of the year. However, I'm not so sure about far north Queensland as a venue. This is the peak of the tropical wet season, with an average of 16 rainy days in February in the Cairns/Port Douglas region.
The sea is likely to be choppy, which makes for more difficult diving conditions, with the likelihood of reduced underwater visibility. This is also the high-risk season for marine stingers and entering the sea without a stinger suit is risky. Finally, this is also the cyclone season, underlined by cyclone Yasi, which whacked far north Queensland in February 2011.
Byron Bay would be my choice for a group such as this. The holiday crowds will have thinned and there will be plenty of accommodation options, including self-catering. With a group of this size and varied ages, you probably want to keep movement to a minimum and Byron Bay fits the bill perfectly.
The beaches are gorgeous and, with a choice of aquatic activities that includes sea kayaking with dolphins and diving, a cosmopolitan cafe and restaurant scene, a hinterland of sub-tropical rainforests, art galleries, country markets and some wonderful drives among the ancient volcanoes of the Tweed River Valley, there is plenty to see and do in this region that will keep them all happily occupied for a whole week.
Access is also easy - just a one-hour flight from Sydney to Ballina, and a short drive from there to Byron Bay. They will probably need to hire a couple of people-movers for the duration of their stay and again, there are several major car-hire operators at Ballina Airport.
Everyone loves an upgrade and Optiontown can help put you at the pointy end of the plane, or even in a sleeper seat, at a not-too-bad price. Optiontown takes business-class, first-class and sleeper seats that have not been sold at full market price and resells them at a big discount. It works for only a limited number of airlines and you might not find out if your luck is in until you're almost at the check-in desk, but this is a great way to travel.
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