Did you know that there’s a Chinatown bus that literally connects Chinatown with Chinatown in big cities in the States, and what’s more saves you a bundle on fares as well?  I certainly didn’t before I read ‘Spontaneous Tourism’.  In fact, before I read the book I thought the only way to travel was to try and get a last minute flight to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean somewhere where I could sit on an imported beach with regulation palm trees and a view manufactured by Hilton.  My husband and I don’t travel much for the usual reason that we can’t afford to and we never seem to have enough time.  This puts a serious crimp in any thoughts of spontaneity not to mention the large dent that appears in the bank balance every time we do.

Saving for years is not an option either – something always comes up.  If it’s not the car, it’s the roof, or the plumbing, or a hike in taxes – or something. That there are other options out there certainly never occurred to either of us.  For example, I thought staying in hostels was only for college-aged kids backpacking around the Australian outback.  I didn’t realize that this is an entirely false notion – no doubt encouraged by the major hotel chains – and nowadays all ages and types of people use hostels throughout the world as a safe, clean, and comfortable alternative to forking out big bucks for what is, after all, transitory accommodation – especially if, for example, you have your heart set on a visit to London, or Paris, or Berlin, or Sydney, or Tokyo and you don’t happen to have a few million set aside in a vault in Zürich.  Ask yourself – am I here to experience the hotel or the place?  If the answer is yes to the former then expect to pay for it – if the answer is yes to the latter then look up http://www.hostels.com/ and get going!

Paying for hotel rooms in major city centers is way beyond the reach of the average couple and must even cause some heart-flutter in the breasts of the carefree business traveler with the expense account.   Today’s hostels however cater not only to the under-thirties who are content with dorm-room style sleeping and shared bathrooms but us older types who prefer some privacy too. Private doubles and quads are readily available and the prices, compared to the average to upper-class hotel are staggering.  Did you know for example that you can get a private room in a Victorian mansion located in London, sometimes with an ensuite shower included, for from $25.00 to $50.00 [per person] per night in August?  It’s possible – I checked.  If that tip alone is not worth the price of the book I don’t know what is.

The Spontaneous Tourist points out that it is not engraved in stone either that you take two week’s vacation in the summer when the prices are at their highest and the crowds are at their worst.  Why not take an extended weekend off-season instead?  Or several? Sleep on the plane and hit the ground running.  Don’t worry about seeing everything and anything in one day – take your time – come back.  What a very novel idea – that you could actually see the world in snapshots and get just as much satisfaction, have more fun, and maybe even experience less stress, by traveling for shorter periods but far more often.

Did you also know that students can save a bundle on travel just by applying for an International Student card and that train travel is fast, efficient and relatively cheap in many places with the possible exception of Japan – where the trains are incredible but so is the price.   Bus services are available and reasonably comfortable practically everywhere [except in places like Outer Mongolia where you have to tie your suitcases and your goat to the roof of course – no offense to any Outer Mongolians who might be reading this] – and cruise ships [and airlines] give major discounts on luxury travel at various times of the year for certain classes of traveler i.e. Military personnel and seniors.  Singles can frequently save money by offering to share with another – and if you’re lucky the other one might not turn up [because they are coming by bus from Mongolia] and you get the ‘double’ rate anyway.  Bonus.

Contrary to popular opinion you really don’t have to pack the family silver plus the dog every time you leave home.  It is not necessary to travel everywhere with two dozen suitcases unless you’re Paris Hilton and you can actually manage to live and enjoy yourself without seven dresses, four suits and twenty-five pairs of shoes for a weekend trip to Bermuda – gasp. Tips on packing and much more can be found within the pages of “Spontaneous Tourism”, ranging from preparation to packing to places to visit to useful links to  – well – just about everything you can think of really .  This is an exhaustive and comprehensive reference which you will definitely want to add to your travel library, if only to take it down and dust it off each time you feel like day-dreaming about that trip to the Galapagos that you never will take.  And why not!  As the author points out – travel is absolutely essential for the well-being and nourishment of the soul – and he should know, traveling more than 200,000 miles per year as he does.

If I have one criticism of this book it is that it was written for and from the standpoint of Americans.  What about the rest of us I say?  We Canadians, and Brits, and Outer Mongolians want one too.

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