Wednesday, June 29, 2022

How to be frugal but have fun on vacation

The summer of 2022 seems to be a rebound time for travelers. With so many people having enhanced immunity, either by vaccination, having had Covid, or both, worries about isolating, masking, or getting sick appear to be waning in people’s minds. And, thankfully, a Covid test is no longer required to enter the U.S.

Spiraling inflation coupled with increased interest in traveling, both domestic and international, means prices are increasing for lodging, gasoline, flights, cruises, and more. You still long to go somewhere, but you don’t want to scrimp unnecessarily to the point that staying home is the better option.

So what can you do to make your trip more budget-friendly, to avoid a credit card bill full of vacation splurges? Planning ahead is absolutely necessary, if you hope to be a frugal traveler.

Check your credit card(s) for perks:
If you have hotel or airline credit cards or one of the higher priced preferred cards from major companies, you probably have credits, miles, or points that can be used to pay for lodging, flights, or car rentals. For a week-long trip last spring, we used hotel points for every night that we were on the road, so no extra cash was needed at the time of our stays. We recently returned from a family trip for which flights were booked with credit card points. Hotel upgrades are often available to those with loyalty cards, too. Even if a credit card has an annual fee, the value you receive can easily offset that amount.

Book local:
Often you can find a good deal by booking independent or local hotels rather than national brands. Airbnb or Vbro may provide a savings if you plan to stay more than a week in the same place.

Save on transportation: Car and truck rentals have been in short supply, and these can be expensive when available Prices doubled from May 2020 to May 2021 according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ride-sharing services have fewer drivers and increased prices in many cases, too.

 If you must rent, try to arrange your itinerary so you only need a rental car for part of your stay. If you’re in a city, plan to stay near attractions you want to visit. A well-located hotel (use those points!) can save money since you can walk to destinations or to public transit. Walking is a great way to slow down and feel the pulse of a city, take an impromptu detour, or explore a new find.  It’s also healthy.

Skip the souvenirs: You probably don’t need a trinket or T-shirt that promotes the place you visited. These lose excitement the day after you return home. If you do need a reminder, try shopping at a grocery store rather than expensive souvenir shops as these often have better prices for the same items. 

Take plenty of photos and make a photo book or video to share with friends later. They will enjoy that more than a refrigerator magnet that doesn’t have meaning for them, and you'll have another dose of fun every time you reminisce about your trip.

Photos by Larry Burmeier and free sources. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Tea time at Lake Louise

Morning reflections on Lake Louise

Classic hikes at Lake Louise in Banff National Park in Canada will take you on trails to either Lake Agnes Teahouse or Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.  We chose to hike the Lake Agnes trail on the recommendation of the tourism office and other hikers we had met in Banff the night before.

Mirror Lake lives up to its name.

The Plain of Six Glaciers provides panoramic views of glaciated peaks in the Canadian Rockies on a trail that’s 3.3 miles versus 2.2 miles for Lake Agnes, but the estimated time for each hike is 90 minutes one way. The difference is that there’s less elevation gain for the Plain of Six Glaciers, so it’s a bit easier on the legs. At the top is a rustic teahouse serving homemade goodies baked on a wooden stove—much as when it was first constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s.

Lake Agnes waterfall

The Lake Agnes Trail, labeled moderately strenuous in my guidebook, starts in front of the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau.  (Plan to arrive before 10:00 a.m. as the parking lot fills quickly). The trail climbs steeply for the first 1.6 miles, switch-backing through a forest of fir and spruce. It levels off at Mirror Lake, a wonderfully scenic spot that appears just when you need a break.

Near the end of the trail, just below the teahouse, a beautiful waterfall flows out of Lake Agnes, gushing over a series of rocks with a refreshing spray. The trail concludes in a series of steps leading to the historic tea house that overlooks the lake and valley.

Not having brought snacks (bear warnings all around) we were hungry, so it was a good thing we arrived in time for lunch--homemade tuna, peanut butter, or cheese sandwiches. An assortment of hot teas is available and would taste terrific on a cold day, but we were looking for something chilled after our uphill trek. Unfortunately, there’s no ice (everything has to be packed in to the teahouse), so we settled for drinking the water in our backpacks.

 Lake Agnes Teahouse

Slightly revived, we headed out for another six-tenths of a mile on a fairly steep path to Little Beehive (the longer trail to Big Beehive, a distinctively rounded mountain, joins up with the Plain of Six Glaciers trail in the opposite direction). New vantage points provided impressive views looking back at Bow Valley, Lake Louise, and the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau.  The return 3-mile trip went much faster as our memory cards were already loaded with hundreds of images—and we resisted the urge to add more.

Mountain view along Lake Louise

There’s no better way to appreciate the stunning sights of the region than on one of these hikes. Being photo hounds who savored our lunch break, the entire excursion took us about five hours.  Naturally, we were ready for wine and cheese on our return to the Post Hotel.


Friday, June 10, 2022

Thrills at the mighty Iguazu Falls

We’re walking on the Lower Falls Trail at Iguazu Falls inArgentina, looping along connecting paths, all the while gawking at the indescribably beautiful cascades of water roaring over walls of rock and plunging into the Iguazu River below. It’s a moody, mystical scene reminiscent of Niagara or Victoria Falls—but the enormity of Iguazu Falls dwarfs both.

Powerful waterfalls in every direction

Water pours magnificently over huge black boulders into the abyss below. At places the rocks gleam like yellow gold under the flowing froth. Mist rises high above the ledges obscuring everything behind it; then it dissipates and plumes again even higher, casting a haze over the entire landscape.

As huge sprays of water shoot like geysers into the air, a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowds of people on the walkway reflect the amazement shared by onlookers who are jostling for space by the railings and unobstructed views. On this September day, the sun occasionally peeks out, but mostly the weather is cloudy and pleasant--perfect for taking pictures, which we do often.

Although I had heard about Iguazu Falls, I could not visualize the sheer numbers of thundering waterfalls—and the incredible maze of concrete and steel pathways that allow visitors to experience the spectacle in such a close and personal venue. Travel brochures don’t come close to conveying the scope of the gigantic water-drops or the immensity of the site in this national park.

Getting soaked on land

One path is specially designed to take brave souls into the pounding spray, a most spectacular sight if you can keep your balance and your eyes open in the forceful wind and water.  We don ponchos before walking to the end of the path, knowing we’ll be thoroughly drenched in seconds. Of course, the spray carries for some distance. Having felt it on our approach we had stashed all but the waterproof camera in dry bags. (Eager for more thrills, I do this again on another day of our visit).

Getting soaked by boat

We then scurry down a rock path studded with pink periwinkles and purple, white, and yellow flowers of various shapes and textures on our way down to the river. That’s where our next adventure begins--a boat ride with Iguazu Jungle that takes us under the falls. It’s an exciting and risky-looking excursion, although apparently it’s safer that it appears on first glance. On reaching the bottom of the path, we’re issued life jackets and dry bags for our backpacks and gear—and then wait for our turn to board the boat.

To make up for an uncommonly long delay, the speedboat driver gives us even more thrills than usual. First, we go toward the waterfall of St. Martin’s Island, the second largest one. Then we bounce and lurch closer, retreat, and go back in even closer. I’m soaked and water is pouring over my face.

As if that isn’t enough to get our adrenalin pumping, the driver zooms back to the main river and then takes the boat around the bend to another thundering waterfall inside Devil’s Throat Canyon, screeching the powerboat as he drives further into the spray. We’re almost directly under the pounding falls, and I can’t open my eyes. The boat is in rock and roll mode, so I simply hold the camera high and snap away, hoping for a few good photos. Finally, we head back to the dock, a bit wobbly but thoroughly exhilarated by what we’ve just done.

It’s late afternoon when we return to the pier, and a chill is settling in the air, so Larry and I head back to the hotel for dry clothes and dinner in the restaurant.

Photos by Larry and Beverly  Burmeier

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Must-see natural wonders of the world

Frequent travelers have their favorite destinations, and it’s not always the best known places that capture one’s sense of wonder.  Still, there are special sites that always seem to attract visitors—and for good reason. Here are a few that you should put on your lifetime bucket list:

Victoria Falls—Fed by the Zambezi River that runs between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa (the Falls are visible from both sides), Victoria Falls is the tallest and widest waterfall in the world. During the wet season dense mist fills the area as water plunges through the gorge to the canyon below. In the drier season beautiful rainbows sparkle through fog, giving rise to the name local tribes used for Victoria Falls many years ago, “smoke that thunders.” For the super-adventurous, try bungee jumping from the bridge that connects the two countries or go whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River—memories that last forever!

Ngorongoro Crater—When the upper two-thirds of a towering volcano collapsed into its base, the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa was created. It is the world’s largest unbroken caldera, often called “Africa’s Garden of Eden” because of the immense variety of plant and animal life concentrated there. Descending into the crater, which encompasses more than 100 square miles of desert, grasslands, forests, lakes, and streams, is tricky business—driving best left to professional guides. Animals, including elephants, that live in the crater typically stay their entire lives because leaving the region is too difficult.

Redwood National Forest—
The world’s tallest trees grow in Northern California, some reaching 200 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter.  It’s hard to imagine that the average age of these redwoods is 600 to 700 years old. Wander along numerous foot paths or take a wagon ride to marvel at these huge and ageless plant specimens.

Grand Canyon—The enormous gorge is a testimony to the power of wind and water that cut through and eroded rock to form a beautiful and intriguing geological wonder. Carved during millions, if not billions, of years by the Colorado River (a flowing ribbon at the bottom), this massive canyon measures 277 miles long, one mile deep, and four to 18 miles wide. 

It offers dramatic views and brilliant colors during sunrise and sunset. Explore the area on accessible rim trails, hike or ride on mules down into the canyon, or raft on the Colorado River in an unforgettable multi-day camping adventure.

Glacier Bay National Park
—Many Inside Passage cruises to Alaska venture into Glacier Bay for a look at the panoramic coastline sparkling with massive glaciers and deep fjords. If you’re lucky, you may glimpse marine life such as whales, porpoises, or otters drifting on chunks of ice that float in the water.  Small ships can venture closer than big ocean liners, but even the big ships provide guests with amazing views of snow-capped mountains and icebergs. It’s a sight that often draws visitors back for another visit.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier