It was 9:30am when I finally arrived in Miraflores and got off the Quick Llama van to look for accommodation on foot. It was far different from Ecuador, or basically any country I have ever looked for a place to stay in before.
First of all, finding any kind of accommodation that’s not a higher class hotel is extremely difficult because none are very well marked. But what made it all worse was that every hostel in Miraflores charged so much for their rooms, you’d think you’re in Singapore, not Peru.
After 3 hours walking up and down Miraflores on foot with my backpack on on the sweaty back, I concluded that Lima has one of the most expensive accommodations in the world. Certainly so when looking at what you get for what you pay.
Had I not been tired as all hell after a 32 hours long journey across multiple time zones, I would have packed up and left. Eventually, sheer tiredness got the best of me and I caved in and booked a bed in a 6 bed dorm for 40 Soles (about $12 US) in Pool Paradise.
Whereas in neighboring Ecuador I got beautiful private rooms with private bathroom and smart TV for $10, a bed in a busy dorm, which was located right on the ground floor and right next to the reception, so there was talking, banging and other noise 24/7, and there was no internet in rooms so I had to sit in the lobby to get on line, this seemed like one truly shitty deal. And that was the cheapest dorm I could find, as well as the cheapest anyone in the tourist information center knows about.
The room was dark, gloomy and smelly, with the only window facing a wall right outside of it. But the scariest thing was the young Filipina who was in the room when I checked in, who told me that she was just moved from another dorm room after herself and everyone else who stayed there woke up with bed bug bites all over their bodies.
The whole check in process to Pool Paradise was over the top. They asked me to fill up their registration form which was on a tablet, and which asked way too many personal questions which went over and beyond whatever a hotel may need in order to provide guests with accommodation.
To get a private room in Miraflores, you’d be looking at a cost of 160 Soles or more (about $50 US) – the type of money for which you could get a room in a decent hotel in western Europe.
Overall, right on my first day I found Peru to be very expensive with little to justify to high cost of services. I knew right away that I’m only staying in Miraflores because I’m too tired to look for a bus terminal and take a trip to another town. I knew I was only gonna stay in Lima for this one night, and the following day I would move somewhere else, but if somewhere else it’s as expensive as in Lima, I would then just quickly visit the places I was interested in visiting and move to another country all together.
Ecuador’s new law permits foreigners to only enter the country once a year if stayed for the full 3 months, and whereas I was there since the late September of previous year, I would not be able to reenter until late September again. Bolivia remains a strong option. But like it or not, for the time being, I remain in Peru.
I recently paid a visit to my friend who travels with an iPad (an Apple product). I simply asked him if I could check up on my sites on his laptop to make sure nothing was falling apart since it looked like I was not gonna make it back home for a good while. He handed me his iPad and told me to take as much time as I need. Since I’ve been traveling with what I consider to be the best laptop for travelers, near whole day of iPad use gave me a chance to compare the two and thoroughly review the latest gadget that seems to get so much attention. Is iPad good for travelling or not? Is it better than a laptop or does it lag behind? Read on to find out all about it. This is my in-depth personal review of the Apple iPad with special focus on use by the travelers on the road.
Unfortunately, because it was my friend’s iPad that I got to use (and am reviewing here) and I used it while visiting his place, I do not have any pictures of it. I did not go to visit him to review the iPad, it just so happened that he had one. However given how popular this gadget is, I believe everybody has already seen one or knows how to look up the pictures of it.
Using iPad – First Impressions
Using iPad is no different from using any other Apple product. Nothing is where you would naturally anticipate it to be. Granted, human being is a highly adaptable creature so I eventually get used to everything working backwards, but I still think it’s just plain weird that everything would be set up to go against intuition.
Second thing you also notice right away is the awkwardness of use. This is also something that could be anticipated as iPad was stripped of all the useful things (such as a keyboard) so typing and working with text, or otherwise using any of the features is a major pain (on top of being unnatural as mentioned in a paragraph above).
The immediately noticeable positive thing is a crisp and sharp screen with very nice picture. That is also something I would call typical of Apple as usability and functionality have never been strong features of any Apple product. Instead of proper engineering, Apple clearly puts maximum focus on cute design. Regardless of how unusable a gadget is, for as long as it looks cool and has a cool screen, it seems to be enough to trick many people into buying.
I know really darn well that this was a poor business decision, but my personal and professional conscience made me put the business second. A good example were SONY cameras. They had these cute little buttons and really attractive designs, but while both were strong selling points, one thing hidden from a customer looking to buy a camera was quality of pictures they’d take.
Being a small retailer who had to offer added value to his products in order to survive in the shade of the big box stores, I educated all of the people who came to buy a camera from me on what they could anticipate in terms of image quality from each of the cameras. I explained to them what they would be gaining and losing if they opted for this model as opposed to that one. Being a professional photographer at the time, I had the real life expertise sales people from big box stores did not have and that was the reason many people came to buy their cameras from me.
Many however bought their cameras elsewhere and then came to ask me, whom they knew of being an expert on photography, to explain why their pictures look like crap. Often times, by mere looking at pictures I had but one question to ask – is it a SONY camera you have? More often than not, the answer was “Yes”. After brief introduction, the customer would realize that buying a camera from a big box store instead of from a photographer was a mistake and that deciding which one to take based on what the camera looked like was the main reason why important images did not work out.
Still, despite poor picture quality, SONY cameras counted among the best selling ones among the people who did not buy theirs from me. That only confirmed the fact that people are visual creatures and will side with more attractive looks rather than quality output when making purchasing decisions.
It is the same with Apple products. Ipad could be the most useless gadget to be released in centuries, but thanks to its polished black surface and shiny, sharp-pictured screen, it sees millions sold worldwide. I have seen people’s shopping decisions influenced by attractive looks before, so it does not surprise me with iPads at all.
As a brief disclaimer I would simply state that I closed my photography business down in 2005. I have not kept an eye on SONY cameras since and what I talk about above simply reflects on the knowledge I acquired while I was running said business. Things may have (and likely have) changed since. But let’s get back to iPad and its use as a gadget for travelers.
Cost of the iPad
The biggest drawback of iPads is their high cost. These underpowered, limited use calculators with movie playback capabilities (but without a DVD player) are way too expensive for what they offer. I bought my laptop for $379 Canadian and at the time, Apple iPads were available for $499 Canadian (basic version). Had I been delusional and bought an iPad instead of my Samsung N150, I would have spent more money but got far more limited device which would disallow me from being efficient and productive. This could potentially jeopardise my income to a point that I could entirely lose it. As a businessman who earns his living on a computer, an iPad could never be an option.
Yet despite its extremely limited use, it costs significantly more to buy than my small netbook with which I can do absolutely anything. In a year since the purchase, my N150 was my sole tool I used for all video editing, dozens of photo manipulations done each day, graphics design for high end customers, daily web programming and maintenance of high traffic server serving 3 million unique readers a month.
Ridiculously enough, despite being superbly overpriced to begin with, the functionality of this overpriced product is so limited, you will be stuck having to spend more money to buy various applications to actually have at least any use of your new gadget. Yet even if you were to spend thousands of dollars on aps, you still won’t get the functionality of even the cheapest, crappiest laptop available.
Paying more money to be able to do less makes no sense. As a result, buying iPad – whether for travel or anything else makes no sense. None whatsoever.
Review of iPad’s Usability by Travelers
I frequently use my laptop while standing up. Being a rigorous traveler, I often get caught in need of an immediate information and need to get on the internet to look it up. It frequently happens when I can’t find the guesthouse I want to stay in in a city I just got to. When that happens, I walk around in search of unsecured WiFi signals and get on my laptop wherever I can find it. Oftentimes there is nowhere to sit, or it could be raining so I’d be just hiding under whatever piece of roof I could find and as a result, I’m forced to use my laptop while standing up.
Using a conventional laptop standing up is not a problem. But trying that with an iPad became a major nightmare. You basically can’t use the iPad while standing up comfortably. You would either have to twist your wrist into an unnatural position to be able to type, or band your back and neck too much making for a very uncomfortable use. This thing alone makes the iPad unusable for travel.
But usability suffers in all other aspects as well. As a busy traveler, after a long day of trekking, when you’re really tired but need to check your emails and whatever else you use online, you’d like to just lay on bed with pillow folded up below your upper back to keep the upper body up so you can both relax and do your computer work, but if you have an iPad, you can’t. Putting your laptop on top of your thighs and using it while in near laying position is easy and I do it often while traveling, but it’s impossible to do with an iPad.
In order to use it, you’d have to sit up, which would require you to sit on the age of your bed because as a traveler, you won’t see many guesthouses that also have armchairs in their rooms. Sitting on the edge of the bed means that you have nothing to lean your back against and if you’re tired after a busy day, this can be a real issue. Furthermore, even if you do have an armchair or other seat in your room, because you have to lay the iPod flat on your lap, you will be forced to arch your back till it hurts which will make you feel even more tired and will significantly reduce productivity if you’re like me and earn your money on line. The only alternative to it is to hold the iPad with one hand to have it under comfortable angle but this way you will only be able to use one hand for actual work cause the other one will be stuck holding the darn thing.
As for sheer usability during traveling, iPad is completely and utterly unusable.
Review of iPad’s Functionality for Travel
Aside from being more expensive than significantly superior rivals, completely unusable by travelers and non travelers alike, iPad also lacks in basic functionality to a point that it’s ridiculous.
The iPad I tried had only one web browser on it – Safari (Apple operating systems are rather limited and not user oriented so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no option to add a different browser to it, but I don’t know that for sure). Using Safari by travelers is beyond destructive. Let’s say that like me, you have a travel blog and you’re writing a new post. Your entry includes something you have previously talked about so you want to link that page. You open another tab and navigate through your blog to get to that page so you can copy its URL and paste it into your new entry. With the URL in your clipboard, you come back to the tab where you had your work in progress only to find out that switching tabs in Safari refreshes the pages so you will have lost all you have worked on. Imagine the frustration!
Typing using iPad is a whole new level of frustration all together. If you are responding to something, you won’t be able to see the text because it will be covered by the keyboard buttons. The iPad I used had an external keyboard (yet another expense) which made typing a little easier, but made the whole thing clunky and disorderly. As a traveler, packing and transporting a laptop is easy. But having an iPad and a separate keyboard requires extra space and makes storage and transportation more challenging. The bulk of stuff and cables turns the use of it on the road into a major headache.
Without an external keyboard, the typing is tough. There is no tab key and no arrow keys which makes navigation through text (especially if you’re trying to write something longer than a couple of sentences) a nightmare. If you need to edit a sentence two paragraphs up, you’ll be up for a major task. Many other tasks which take no time and effort on a laptop are also a major nightmare on an iPad with that touch screen – trying to edit the URL in the address bar for example is nothing short of a complete horror.
Photo editing is impossible for images larger than 2,000 pixels on any side. In other words, unless your camera is 10 years old, forget about editing your photos, even if you shelled out for the camera connection kit. Speaking of photo editing, using any of the intuitive, user friendly applications you are used to using, such as Adobe Photoshop or ULead PhotoImpact would be impossible on an iPad. You would be stuck using weird looking and functioning PhotoGene.
Major Technological Drawbacks of iPads for Travel
No Multitasking – what more needs to be added? I’m a busy webmaster. When I get on my laptop, even though it only has 1GB RAM memory, I have several windows open at the same time because I need them at the same time to do my daily tasks. This is impossible with an iPad. As such, iPad is unusable. If you are a traveler, it is quite likely you have some form of presence on the internet. If that’s the case, then lack of multitasking will make the iPad unusable while you travel. But if you make your living on the internet, then iPad is an absolute NO. Yet even if you don’t, surely you would like to have an MSN Messenger or Skype running in the background while you’re on line so when some of your friends log in, you can step in for a chat. Unfortunately, on an iPad, you can’t.
No USB Ports – If you want to be able to download pictures from your camera onto your iPad, you’d have to buy (yep, more money spending) a camera connection kit which is nothing short of ridiculous.
No Flash – this paralyzes more than you would imagine. WordPress image uploader is flash powered for example. If you run a WP powered blog, tough luck! The uploader is not the only WP feature that doesn’t work on an iPad, though. Some sites use login popup splash screens powered by Flash so if you’re a member of such and visit them on an iPad, you won’t be able to log in. Similarly, many online forms will be difficult or impossible to fill in. If they use flash, they won’t work at all, but because the keyboard doesn’t have arrows, even if it wasn’t a flash powered form, you won’t be able to navigate through it, which makes filling them up an insanity of an effort. Complete nightmare!
There is also no DVD player on an iPad, but that’s not a drawback in my mind. DVD players are a major battery wasters and are a more or less an obsolete technology so they’re not anything I’d expect to be on a portable computer anyway. With flash drives growing in size and becoming excessively popular, DVDs have no place on computers anymore. It’s much faster and more convenient to put data on a USB stick than it is to burn them on a DVD disc.
Statement iPod Ownership Makes
There is absolutely nothing that an iPad can do, what a netbook can not. On the other hand, an iPad can do no more than 5% of what an average netbook can. Yet an iPad costs significantly more than an average netbook. As such, anyone who travels with an iPad makes an undeniable statement that they got to 5 trying to add 2 and 2.
iPad – The Good
Battery life seems decent
iPad – The Bad
Overpriced and underperforming
Requires additional purchases to achieve basic (yet still limited) functionality
Impossible to use comfortably
Can’t use it comfortably while standing up
Can’t use it comfortably while laying in bed
Can’t use it comfortably while sitting without a desk
Safari is a default (and only) web browser
Typing is very challenging and tiring
Text editing is either difficult or impossible
No arrows or a tab key for normal navigability
Limited photo editing capabilities
Impossible to edit images over 2,000 pixels
No USB ports
Limited and difficult file management
Slow web browsing (web pages always load very slowly)
Touch screen picks up fingerprints and dust too easily
Made by Apple (fanboys are just plain irritating)
Review of iPad for Travel – Conclusion
Using an iPad for travel would make absolutely no sense. Even if you don’t need to do any type of computer work and only need a machine to check emails and watch YouTube videos, iPad would prove to be a major headache since even the simplest tasks (typing URLs for example) are a tiring and challenging. If however your use of the internet goes beyond email checking, then iPad is a complete No No. Yet even though iPad is nothing more than a limited use calculator with video playback capabilities, the price tag for that thing is unreasonably high which makes a consideration to buy it a sign of limited wits. The fact that so many people did pay to own it only proves how backwards much of the society is.
Tap water in Laos is not potable (not safe for drinking). I would not drink tap water anywhere in South East Asia but as a long term traveler who really doesn’t need to get sick while on the road, I also brush my teeth and gurgle them clean with bottled water. Unfortunately when it comes to the cost of safe for drinking bottled water, as is the case of virtually everything else a traveler needs, the cost of staying hydrated is also far more expensive in Laos than in neighboring countries.
But that’s not all – as if being unreasonably expensive wasn’t bad enough, most bottled water available in Laos is not mineral water from quality underground source. It is mostly treated tap water, run through some filters – perhaps exposed to the UV radiation or ozone to kill potential bacteria – but to what extent it is being done and how reliably is the filtering process supervised is anybody’s guess. In an economy where food and beverage regulation are lax, it’s easy to cut corners, especially if there are quite decent profits looking to be made. Yet despite being of such low quality and questionable purity, bottled water costs more in Laos than quality mineral water from a coveted sources in Thailand or Cambodia.
Tiger Head appeared to be the one bottled water quality and purity of which didn’t seem to be as questionable, but a bottle of Tiger Head was even more expensive than already overpriced treated tap water. Careful though as lesser quality Lion Head bottled water is also sold in Laos but it’s not the same as Tiger Head. Lion Head simply utilizes the game of words to make itself easily confused with its superior competitor.
Tiger Head water is bottled by the same company that brews Beer Lao and as such, bears the same tiger head (yellow silhouette of the big cat’s head) logo as you would find on their beer. I found Tiger Head to be the best tasting and purest drinking water available in Laos, but while you can find it for as little as 5,000 Kip (roughly $.60 US) in Vientiane and Pakse, be prepared to shell out 6,000 (roughly $.75 US) or more for it in Luang Prabang and other areas.
For comparison purposes, 1.5 litre bottle of Water O – quality mineral water treated by using Japanese water purification technology can be bought for 2,000 Riel in Cambodia (about $.50 US) and two 1.5 litre bottles of Minere – the finest quality mineral water available in South East Asia can be had for 22 Baht (roughly $.68 US) at Thailand’s Family Mart stores. One bottle of Minere costs 15 Baht (about $.45 US) in Seven Eleven.
There is also a wide availability of water kiosks all over the countries like Malaysia or Thailand. These purified water dispensers can be found on the streets of every town and for mere 1 Baht (in Thailand) or 10 Sen (in Malaysia) – equivalent to $.03 US – you can have your 1.5 litre bottle refilled with treated and purified, safe for drinking water. Since owners of these water kiosks can choose how much water he/she wants to dispense per which coin, some of the kiosks would need as much as 2 or 3 baht (or 20 to 30 Sen in case of Malaysia) to fill up your 1.5 litre water bottle, but this is the most economical and most environment friendly way to stay hydrated in South East Asia.
Unfortunately, I have never seen a water kiosk in Laos so having to spend lots of money for bottled water was the only way to survive. The cost of a single bottle of water doesn’t seem that high, but since Laos is in a tropical climate, excessive sweating is normal and that increases your body’s demand for water. At the end of the trip, the cost of staying reasonably hydrated in Laos added up to quite a chunk of money. And dont even start me on the cost of energy boosting coconut water in Laos…
As a traveller, dining in Laos is also not as cheap as in other SE Asian countries. When it comes to food, Laos adopted that crappy discriminating practise widely popularized throughout Cambodia. Just as it is in Cambodia, Laos eateries believe that it is perfectly justifiable to overcharge (rip off) foreigners so getting food for the price a local would pay is rare.
Restaurants in popular tourist areas have menus in both Lao and English, but don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s bilingual. This is just an illusion created to make you believe that you are getting a local deal, but the prices on the menu only apply to foreigners. A local would come, look at the menu, smile at it, put it aside and ask in a language you cannot understand how much it was going to be for him which will never end up being the same as what you as a foreigner would have to pay.
Out of this part of South East Asia, Thailand is the best country when it comes to the availability of locally priced food available to foreigners. Prices in Thailand are often clearly marked and visibly posted, even if you go to the most non touristy market in an area where you will have been the only foreigner in ages. Yet the price posted will apply globally – this is how much this particular item costs and everyone, regardless of their color of skin will pay this amount. There is no such thing as different price for different people. Sadly, that’s not how it works in Laos. As a tourist, aside from finding transportation and accommodation vastly overpriced compared to other countries in SE Asia, I also found lack of inexpensive foods available to foreigners financially exhausting.
Bowl of fried rice with squid and shrimp can be had for $1 in Cambodia. That same amount will buy you steamed rice with nice dose of (really spicy, mind you) chicken stew in Thailand and in Vietnam, you could also almost throw a beer in it with food but forget about getting a decent portion for an equivalent of $1 in Laos.
Pakse in southern Laos was the only place where white bread sandwich with friend egg and veggies could be had for 8,000 Kip (roughly $1) but be prepared to shell out more everywhere else.
Overall, even for a skilled budget traveller capable of finding the means to travel, sleep and eat on the cheap, Laos happens to be an expensive trip. As a foreigner, the cost of food will be out of proportion to what locals pay but that’s a sad reality of many places in the region.
One thing in Laos frequently used by travellers that’s far more expensive than anywhere else in South East Asia is transportation. You’ll be able to cover twice the distance for half the money in other SE Asian countries, including seemingly more expensive Malaysia, than in Laos. The cost of transportation was what was killing my wallet the most while I was in Laos. Songthaew (back of a truck) is a less expensive option, but it is significantly less reliable, much slower and incomparably less comfortable to a point that unless you carry a really tiny backpack and don’t mind sitting squashed with your knees tucked tightly under your chin while dozens of chickens peep hung off of the carrier bar next to your head for upwards of 8 hours, then this little saving is not that great of an option.
Since Laos has been on a map of individual travellers for a few years now, decent transportation options comparable to those found in the more developed neighbours are nowadays widely available, however they are significantly more expensive than what you would pay for when covering the same distance or traveling for the same length of time in other SE Asian countries.
While cost of transportation in Laos is high as it is, unless you buy your inter city ticket directly from the provider (aka from the booth of the company running the bus), you will also end up paying the tour agency fee which will bump the already high total cost even higher up. Most travel agencies will sell the ticket with 30% – 50% markup which is brutal.
For example an air-conditioned (albeit squishy, with no leg room) overnight bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang costs 115,000 Kip (about $14 US based on 2010 exchange rates) when purchased directly from the bus company but if you buy the same thing from a tour operator in Vientiane, you end up shelling out 150,000 Kip (about $18,50 US) or more. Though the latter will also include tuk-tuk transport from your guesthouse to the bus station, tuk-tuks can be easily individually arranged and should cost no more than 10,000 Kip. In this case the tour agency charges extra 30% on top of the ticket price.
Luang Prabang is about 390 km from Vientiane and the journey by bus takes about 8 hours to complete (includes a few stops along the way). For comparison purposes, Cambodian Siem Reap is 544 km from Sihanoukville. Overnight bus trip with lots of leg room takes about 10,5 hours to complete (with a few stops) and costs $16 (September 2009), inclusive of a tuk tuk pickup from your guesthouse to the bus station. Similarly, Thai island of Phuket is about 840 km from Bangkok. To cover the distance, the overnight bus takes 12 hours to complete with only one stop along the way, however even though it’s more than twice the distance compared to the Vientiane to Luang Prabang bus trip, the cost is only 495 Baht (roughly $15,50 US) and you get to travel in a much more comfortable, modern bus than in Laos.
The cost of transportation in Laos took me by surprise. No matter how you spin it, covering the same distance or travelling for the same amount of time will usually end up costing you much more than it would in any of the neighboring countries. And you definitely won’t be getting what you’re paying for as buses serving Laos are older, louder, dirtier, and offer less comfort and leg room.
Traveling in and exploring Laos was an uplifting and rewarding experience. However, being a backpacker and a traveler on a budget, I was shocked by how expensive Laos is compared to the neighboring countries. I expected exact opposite – Laos is generally deemed to be one of the poorer countries in South East Asia which usually means that traveling through there should be comparably cheaper. It doesn’t happen to be the case. Visiting Laos ends up being far more expensive than visiting Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia or many other countries of the region.
On my travels so far, I have stuck with cheap, backpacker accommodation options, traveled using local bus or train transport and explored destinations reached on foot instead of using taxis (or tuk tuks) but after arriving in Laos, I had to significantly lower my standards of living yet it still ended up costing more. Gone were the days of having a room with attached bathroom. Gone were the days of having a room with a window facing outside so the air in the room doesn’t make me gag. Yet even though I significantly lowered my standards of living, gone were the days when my total expenses, including accommodation, food, water and transportation stayed at a level not exceeding $10 per day. While still cheap by western standards, compared to similar countries of the South East Asian region, Laos was shockingly expensive.
In a nutshell, if you’re a backpacker visiting Laos, expect to either have to pay more for what you are used to getting in other countries, or lower your standards if you wish to keep the expenses in line with those you previously had. I’ve covered the cost of traveling in Laos in separate articles, each targeting a particular topic:
As I was doing my research on the best priced plane tickets to an interesting destination to start off my worldwide travel, I found out that due to new taxes imposed upon visitors to Alaska, cruise ships sailing that way will be forced to charge additional $50 per passenger, making this cruising option less attractive to travelers. Because of that, many of major cruise line companies made public statements that they will be discontinuing or limiting their Alaska cruises and will instead move their ships to the Mediterranean Sea where demand and income from have been continuously growing. This was supposed to take place at the beginning of 2010.
I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska so when I realized that many of the cruise ships that used to serve this area will not be there as of January 1st, 2010, it became clear that prices for Alaska cruises will go up. Those few ships that will still serve the arctic state will have little competition so they will be able to jack prices up plus there will still be that additional $50 per person fee imposed by the state of Alaska so if one were to take an Alaska cruise, they should do it before the end of 2009 or have to pay significantly higher price.
This prompted me to start looking into available options. I wanted to visit Alaska and take an Alaskan cruise before prices become too unaffordable. But at the same time I thought of combining it with other adventures to make it a roadtrip of a lifetime. I thought of doing the following:
Rent a car in Edmonton
Drive up the breathtaking Alaska Highway all the way to Anchorage – a 3,000 km long journey that would take about 4 days to complete
Enjoy the scenic views and make stops at interesting locations along the way, such as the Liard River Hot Springs
Enjoy the nature and scenery of Alaska for a day or two
Drop off car rental and board a southbound cruise ship sailing to Vancouver
Take a mesmerizing 7 day cruise exposing the beauty of Juneau, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan etc. while it’s still cheap
Spend a day or two in Vancouver, known as one of world’s most beautiful cities (which I have not visited in my life yet)
Rent a car to drive back to Edmonton
Drive across beautiful British Columbia enjoying the mountains
Make a stop at Frasier Canyon known as one of world’s most exciting white water rafting areas
Drive across Canadian Rockies
Drop off rented car in Edmonton and savor the road trip of a lifetime you have just finished
This seemed like the ultimate roadtrip, the ultimate adventure, the trip that combines some of the best and most coveted areas of the world in one go. And because time was against me, I could not put it off as prices for cruise ships were bound to rise significantly come 2010. So I started doing my research to make this roadtrip come true but hit a solid wall when I started phoning up car rental companies.
First of all, hardly any of the worldwide rent-a-car companies has an office anywhere in Alaska making it impossible to drop a car off there. Secondly, the few that do would charge an arm and a leg for drop off at a location that’s different from pick up location. I wasn’t quite aware of this fact prior to this research. I’ve rented a car many times before in different countries, but have always dropped off where I’d picked it up. But because many big car rental places have offices worldwide, I thought it was a no brainer that you could pick a car here and return it there. I was wrong. Unless it’s some kind of special, drop off at a different location will incur an extra cost – often multiplying your initial cost by a large factor. But if you intend to drive across the border and drop it off in another country, that’s when it starts getting ridiculous.
Alaska is a US state whereas I would be starting my roadtrip in Edmonton, Canada. That means I would be renting my car in one country, but dropping it off in another. Most of the time you can’t even do that. Rental terms and conditions restrict the use of a rented automobile to the same country. Crossing borders is not allowed, unless some special arrangements are made or it is a company that specializes in car rentals for people who need to drive internationally. Either way, after many phone calls and no luck finding a company with the office in Alaska, I was eventually able to trace some down, but dropping off a car registered in Canada in the United States state would make it an extremely costly venture. Similar extremes would apply to the car I would rent in Vancouver to drop it off in Edmonton. Vancouver is located in British Columbia, whereas Edmonton is in Alberta. Again – these are two different provinces, hence different license plates and registration cards. A lot of hassle involved so the cost of it would be very high.
The only other option I had was to rent a car for an extended period of time (3 weeks) in Edmonton, drive it up to Alaska, board the cruise ship and pay also for the car to get on board, then get off the ship in Vancouver and drive the same car back to Edmonton. This was an option that was priced a little better than the other one, because it eliminated high international drop off fees, but was still extremely expensive. Cruise ships are intended for vacationers. They specialize in sailing people, not cars. If you want to take a car with you, you’d be looking at a very high cost, which totally defeated the purpose of trying to get on the Alaska cruise ship before prices go up in 2010. And if I were to do it, I would have to shell out a big chunk of cash to have my rented car on board the cruise ship and while it is there, I wouldn’t even be able to drive it, but the cost of the rental for the time while I’m on a cruise ship would still count, hence I would be normally charged by a car rental company for those days whether I’m driving it or not.
In other words, while I’m on the cruise ship, I would not be able to use my rental car, but I’d be paying big bucks for each day of having it, plus I’d be paying super high cruise ship fee to have the car on board. All of that made the cost of my awesomely planned, but impossible to execute roadtrip sky high. The plan was top notch, but it was impossible to carry out unless your pockets are big.