Switzerland on a budget –Road Trip

Previous experiences, in addition to the advice of fellow travelers, had led me to believe that there was no way to travel through Switzerland without sustaining trauma to my wallet.  Feeling somewhat hopeless about what was to come, I drove towards the border (from Germany) and prepared to pay premium prices for my short stay in this beautiful nation.  Using some basic “road trip” tactics, we were able to enjoy this country and keep it surprisingly affordable.

If you are traveling by car, you need to stop at the border and purchase a vignette tag for your car.  It is about 40 francs.  They take US dollars as well as euros.  If you drive past this vignette purchase lane, you will end up paying about 200 francs when you are on your way out of the country.

Just like the rest of Europe, the highways are spattered with exits to small towns and rest areas as you make your way to your tourist destination.  Use your GPS and look for grocery stores.  We found that driving through small towns was a wonderful experience.  We stopped at local cheese shops and small groceries and visited with the friendly town folk.  Note: You will need a grocery bag when you purchase edibles, grocery stores do not provide disposable bags (but they do sell fabric bags at the register). The prices at the food stores are reasonable and it is a great opportunity to buy fresh fruit as well as to eat like the locals do.

Stocked up with provisions, we parked at a nice looking rest area and enjoyed a picnic in the Swiss countryside on the way to our major stop.  We also stopped to take photos at some lovely lakes.  Switzerland truly has some awe inspiring scenery.

Our stayover was in Lauterbrunnen, which is a valley town in the alps.

It is a quick train trip to Wengen, a well-known ski town in the mountains.  Lauterbrunnen is best known for its abundant number of waterfalls, and you’d be hard pressed to find a room that doesn’t include a view of the majestic alps.

We hadn’t made reservations in advance and had to stop at a few places to find one that still had vacancy.  Our room was 160 francs for the night, it came with a private balcony and bathroom, as well as a complementary breakfast.  It was nothing spectacular for certain, but it was cozy and had the amenities that we sought.

In the evening, we took the train up to Wengen.  The tickets were about 6 francs each way per person.  The ride (before sunset) was very scenic and worth the ticket fee.

We walked around Wengen and admired the views.  Similar to other tourist towns, the restaurants displayed their menus at the entrance, so we could compare prices and offerings.  Once we had made our decision, we went inside and were stopped by the wait staff declaring that the kitchen had just closed.  Using the small amount of German I had remembered from previous trips, I said, “bratwurst un pom fritas?” (“bratwurst and French fries?”).  The employee agreed to opening the kitchen to accommodate our request, and we enjoyed a tasty, if not basic, dinner for about 15 francs per person.

After a modest breakfast at the hotel, we stopped at Tremmel bach falls and paid our admission fee to walk within the water carved tunnels of the mountain.  It was very impressive and is a recommended stop for any nature lovers.

Speaking of nature enthusiasts, though we didn’t have time, there were many hikers in Lauterbrunnen, taking advantage of the temperate summer climate.

Our drive out of Switzerland was designed to take us through the western part of the country, but our GPS routed us north and we ended up backtracking a bit until we turned west right before the German border.  Again, we took advantage of grocery stores and rest areas to save money on our midday meals.

All told, we were able to keep our spending to a reasonable level, and had a great time.  Using these road trip techniques throughout Europe yielded some great stories from some lesser known spots.

Europe Summer – What to Wear

Facts versus Fallacies – Europe Trip

In order to prepare for the trip, I spent my free time reading travel blogs and watching videos about the “dos and don’ts’ of packing for Europe. Armed with ample travel tip knowledge, I felt confident that I had packed everything necessary to blend in to my every-changing environments. Although some advice was spot on, other items were not accurate to what I observed while on the road. So here’s my take on what I found to be helpful and what was not very accurate.

“Europeans dress nicer than Americans”

I wanted to make certain the outfits I selected that were more “dress casual” than “casual”.  As we made our way through the towns and cities of Germany, Switzerland, and France, the citizens going about their normal lives did not appear to wear nicer clothing than what I observe in America.  The men wore blue jeans and khaki shorts.  The women wore casual shorts, the younger women wore skinny jeans.  The majority wore knit shirts.

“Europeans do not wear exercise clothing out in public”

This was absolutely true.  I did not see yoga pants, gym shorts, moisture wicking workout shirts, nor sweat pants.  The only athletic clothing I observed on the streets was worn be the cyclists riding their road bikes.

“Nobody wears tennis shoes on the streets”

Nope.  I saw folks in tennis shoes all over the place.  The Germans seem fond of Converse, while the French seem to go for whatever is most comfortable for lots of walking.  I had brought a pair of stylish black athletic casual shoes, but they did not last through the long days of walking in Paris.  I purchased a pair of canvas tennis shoes at a Cora superstore (for 8 euro) and they worked out great.

“Europeans do not wear bright colors”

This one was pretty accurate, although I think its more accurate to say that most of the colors I saw on the clothing of the people there tended to be neutral in nature.  Black, white, ivory, brown, navy, and grey were the dominant color scheme.  Folks used small bits of other colors to accent their outfits, but still, even in summer, they were of a more neutral tone.  Brightly colored t-shirts and dresses really stood out amid the sea of more calming shades.  If you are wanting to blend into your environment in Europe, stay with the neutral colors.

“Graphic T-shirts are a no no”

I did see graphic tees, but nothing with a lot of words on it, and nothing that was terribly loud.  The t-shirts had tasteful graphics that did not come across as busy nor obnoxious.

Aruba on a budget

A trip to Aruba doesn’t have to break the bank.  There are low cost options that can provide a much better experience than the all-inclusive or cruse ship excursion experiences.

We stayed at the Pista-Q hotel for $60 per night.  The hotel is just a few blocks away from the ultra expensive accommodations for a fraction of the price.  If you do not mind a hard bed, flat pillows and no hot water; this is a great option for it’s low-budget central location.

For sight seeing and transportation, a scooter rental works perfect.  We met the owner of HS Rentals Aruba .  While he did not have anything on such short notice he was kind enough to drive us to George’s (across from the port on L.G. Smith Blvd. 124; Phone # 593-2202) who had many types of scooters and ATVs available for reasonable prices.  We rented our scooter for $55 for the whole day.

With transportation, we were able to see and do everything on the island.

After a busy day, it was nice to just relax on the beach

Plan on spending a bit extra for food and drinks.

$9 beer.


First post from new travel computer

I bought the Dell Inspiron 3135 from Best Buy online and it arrived today.  I will need to learn how to use Windows 8 but so far I like it.  I realized after my last trip to Honduras and Ecuador that I need to post as I go vs. waiting to return home.  The Samsung Tab 3 was good for many things but was difficult to manage a website with.  I hope my new, small laptop will be a good fit for uploading photos and videos while out and about so I can keep the site up-to-date.

Who makes the list of 10 best places in the world to retire?


They obviously haven’t been to any of these places recently.  After extensive travel over the past two years, much of which to these locations to check out the affordability, I am finding that my home in Florida is cheaper and better.  I guess this depends on the quality of life and lifestyle you can afford.  For me, a young retiree on a fixed income trying to make it stretch, I can not see the value in many of the places on the list.  The target budget in these articles always seems to be about $1000 per month or just about the average Social Security retirement amount.  I make a little more than that but still do not see how these places could work.

Fist, and most important, let me address safety.  Over the past few years Central and South America have become increasingly more dangerous.  I’m not sure if it is because the drug trade or poverty but violent crimes have been on the rise.  I just returned from a month long trip to Roatan Honduras and many places in Ecuador on 1/24/2014 so this info is pretty recent. In Roatan I considered taking a ferry to the mainland and bussing to the capital city of Tegucigalpa.  While researching the route, I was advised by all of the many people not to attempt this.  They explained that the route was not safe.  This was an eye-opener to me since I have driven and taken buses throughout many countries in Central America.  I took their advice and flew to Miami to catch a flight to Quito Ecuador.  After later research, I found that San Pedro Sula Honduras is THE #1 most dangerous city in the world!  Ecuador was not safe either.  On my first day in the country, my tablet was pick pocketed getting off the train at rush hour.


Noticing signs like these in the historic district in Quito were not comforting either.  I understand that Quito is a big city and with any big city there is crime but it seems to be everywhere.  Visits to Guayaquil and Esmeralda were cut from the itinerary due to advice and safety concerns.  Every Western person I talked to had negative personal experiences to share.  I met another retiree who, like me was exploring the list.  He had been to many of the places too and shared his knowledge of the theft, robberies, rapes and murders he was informed about by other ex-pats in all of the Latin American countries.  Even the luxury retirement areas are not sheltered from the problems.  I visited the island of Boca De Briceno just south of Canoa Ecuador.  This place is connected to the mainland by a long bridge and has many high-rise condos for the affluent.  While there, I noticed a local restaurant with many Western patrons.  I talked to the 8 people at one table and found it astonishing that each had been robbed.  One man had his Harley stolen from underneath him while he was at a light.  Another, was duct taped to his bed while he was sleeping and robbed at knifepoint.  He was not an easy target either.  His house was a compound with 10 foot walls, dogs and security cameras.  The robbers poisoned the dogs, cut the power and scaled the walls to rob him.  Another lady had lived in Ecuador her whole life and shared a story where her family were victims of an armed invasion on a rural farm North of Quito.  The police seem to be either part of the problem or not willing to be part of the solution.  No one dares file a report for fear of future retaliation.  These problems are not isolated to Ecuador.  The entire Latin American region is experiencing the same.

Next, I will share my experience on prices.  I live in Central Florida so I often compare goods and services to what I would expect to pay there.  I am not affluent nor do I travel that way so all of my examples are on the low-budget side.  Meals seem to cost about the same in many of these countries.  Grocery stores may have better prices on fruit but meat costs more and rice and beans are cheap everywhere.  Lodging can be found for as low as $200 per month in many Latin countries but a room rental with all utilities included in Florida can be found for $400 per month.  There is no comparison to the quality of US homes vs. the rest of the world when it comes to building standards and utility service so I think the numbers are a bit misleading.  To find anything close to what most people are accustomed to I think the budget would have to be much more than $200.  Building costs are not cheaper either.  I met a person who was building a new home in Ecuador and he had spent $75k already and was only about 1/2 finished with construction.  The same or better home could be bought or built in Florida with $150k budget.  I do not have personal experience with utility costs around the world but understand that electric is very expensive.  Many of these countries do not have air conditioning for this reason.  If you do find a place with ac, I understand that running it will cost you quite a bit.

Last, these are third-world countries.  They do not have the infrastructure of the first-world but are all trying to keep up with prices.  I think the Internet is mostly to blame.  Everyone can see what a burger costs anywhere around the world and no one wants to sell it for less.  For the moment, Asia seems to provide the best deal.  I visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia for 7 weeks from August – September of 2013 and enjoyed the trip.  The prices and people seemed good then but a reporter was just shot in Thailand the other day during their protests.  During that trip, there were border conflicts between Cambodia and Vietnam too.  Third-world countries will always have volatility.  Their government corruption and wage inequality will always create friction between locals and ex-pats.  I was told once by a couple who owned property in Costa Rica that the best way to become a millionaire there was to bring two million.  They had experienced the government laws that were created to tax them and erode their home value.  Even the best countries today might be the hot-spots and war-zones of tomorrow.

In summary, I would advise anyone looking at this list to visit but never buy in these countries.  I too was looking for a cheaper alternative for retirement and have been chasing this list.  The more I see and experience third-world countries around the world, the more I appreciate the value of the US.  I will still travel the world in search of these bargain countries and keep you posted.  However, I have no plans to sell my home in Florida.

Roatan Honduras; Luxury Caribbean vacation at a cost


Roatan is an island in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras.  Being part of the West Caribbean Reef System, it offers great scuba and snorkeling.  The water is warm and clear year-round and has colorful fish, sea turtles and other marine life to observe.  With the international airport Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport (RTB) and several cruse ships stopping here, it is very easy to get to.  Unfortunately; like many cruse ship ports, the prices for everything is higher than expected.

I arrived via RTB on new years day 2014.  The weather was warm and the skies were clear despite being in the middle of the rainy season.  I negotiated a $25 cab for the 20 minute ride to West Bay.  Once there, the cab driver helped find a hotel by stopping at a few places.  Many hotels were full or not open because of the big New Years Eve parties the night before.  I ended up staying at the Seagrape Plantaion Resort for $60 per night.  After securing my stuff and changing into appropriate beach wear, I decided to walk around to check out the town.  West End is pretty small for being a large tourist destination on the island.  It consists of one street about 1/2 mile long with various shops, hotels, restaurants and bars.  Most prices are quite similar to those you would expect to pay in the States.  A fish taco, chips and beer set me back $15.  The fish was quite good though.  They are trying to help the reef by using mostly Lionfish in their seafood dishes.  This was my first time trying Lionfish but I will certainly eat more to help the Caribbean 🙂


Sunsets here are beautiful.  Time seems to stand still as many of the tourists and locals take a minute to watch the sun go down in the evening.

I set out early on the second day to look for low-cost lodging.  This is not an easy task here.  After several stops and much negotiating, I secured a room at the Dolphin Hotel for $45 per night.  They allowed early check in so I was able to get my things, check out of the Sea Grape and move my stuff to the Dolphin just after breakfast.  This left the rest of the day free to explore more of the island.

There are many water taxis in the area to take you around the island for various prices.  I got a ride for $5 to West Bay.


I didn’t realize how close I was to West Bay but I guess $5 isn’t a bad deal vs getting robbed.  I was told by many locals that the road between West End and West Bay gets sketchy after the pavement ends.  Tourists often get robbed along the way.

West Bay is a white coral sand beach about 1/4 mile long with a dock on one end the “Black wall” on the other end and luxury resorts in the middle.  Each of these resorts have chairs for guests and overpriced restaurants serving food and drinks.  There are also many locals trying to drum up business.  They offer massages, parasailing, souvenirs, snorkeling, scuba and fishing trips on their boats…you name it.  Walking the beach can get a bit overwhelming but I made it all the way to the end to “the black wall”.  This is a spot where many people lay out their towels and snorkel over the shallow reef just off shore.  It is literally the end of the bay because of the large rock formation that extends into the sea.  This also limits the number of vendors walking back and forth too.  Here, you can relax and enjoy the beach without all of the hassle.



There are lots of fish to check out on this shallow reef.


For more pictures: click here

For videos: click here

West bay lunches are very expensive at the resorts and not much cheaper at the local convenience store / deli.  $9 sandwich and a $4 beer is what they got me for there.  I guess being isolated from the town and surrounded by resorts lends itself to these steep prices.  Plan ahead so that you have enough for the water taxi back or try to rob another tourist on the walk back. lol

The next few days were raining all day so it put a damper on the beach activities.  After a few days of this, I considered taking a boat to the mainland and touring the country.  However, after talking to many locals about this idea, I was quickly talked out of this idea.  I was told that the mainland is not a safe place and bus travel is not good.  I was shocked to find out the port city of San Pedro Sula Honduras is THE most dangerous city in the world…above Kabul Afghanistan, Mexico City, etc.

All-in-all Roatan is nice but not for me.  It’s a third-world country trying to charge first-world prices.  I think that better values can be found around the Caribbean where you will find safer, more accommodating countries.


The Rolex 24hr at Daytona…What race? I’ve been partying in the infield all day


The Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona may be a great race for auto enthusiast but it also happens to be a massive infield party / sleep over with your new drunk friends.  With accommodations ranging from hundreds of thousand dollar RVs to tents in the grass and everything in between; there are all types of people.  Walking around from party to party is what it is all about.  It is also a carnival atmosphere with a giant Ferris Wheel, other rides and lots of food and beer booths.  For those who are into racing…there is a lot for you too.  All of auto manufacturers have tents and displays, you can see the pit crews work from just feet away; oh…and also the race.  If you are into racing or just nearby when the event is going on, attending this race is a must.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this year but will surely attend the race again.

Playa Pie de Gigante Nicaragua

Gigante is a sleepy fishing / surf village north of San Juan Del Sur on the Rivas bus line.  If arriving by bus, beware that the bus stop is 7km away from the village.  The bus drops you off at a dirt road with no taxis and little traffic but if you are lucky enough to see a vehicle going your way they will most likely give you a ride.



San Jose Costa Rica

Many of our trips to Central America start and end in San Jose.  Jet Blue offers a direct flight from MCO to SJO.  It is a short 2.5 hour flight and usually has space available.  Comfort Inns and Suites is our favorite hotel in the area.  They have complimentary airport shuttle and a free breakfast buffet too.  At $90 per night, it is a good hotel for the price.  There may be cheaper or more expensive but none that offer as much for the price.  The rooms are clean and the staff is wonderful.