Thorn Tree Forums

The most savvy travellers I know log onto Thorn Tree as they vagabond. Thorn Tree Travel Forum is where you get the latest, greatest, most dependable travel advice for exotic destinations. Originally set up by Lonely Planet as an online way for readers to update their guidebooks, this bulletin board now bypasses and surpasses the guidebooks altogether. Reliable travel info has been completely revolutionized by the ubiquity of internet cafes around the globe.

Let’s say you want to know whether the border between China and Kazakhstan is open this October, or whether its safe to visit Katmandu, Nepal, or where the newest climbing spots in the Peru Andes are. You log on to the appropriate Thorn Tree “branch” where a traveler who is in Katmandu, or who has just arrived in Almaty yesterday after a harrowing 11 hour border crossing from China can tell you all the specific details of what is true and what is not. Someone else might post that the popular beach shack on Lombok island, Indonesia you were headed for is now closed. And, to complete the circuit, you may be on the road yourself, at a dusty internet cafe in Morocco, when you read this. It’s true real-time advice, from real folks who’ve done it. Thorn Tree is a remarkably efficient way to score hard-to-get facts from and to the field. And for armchair planners at home, the sheer details available at a distance is heavenly.

I’ve found that the third world locations, rather than Europe and the US, are best served by the forums; but these after all are the very places instant ground-truthing is so badly needed. Thorn Tree is also a great place to connect up with others bent on long-term Around the World tours, and up-to-the-latest tips on long haul travel. [Suggested by Alexander Rose]

-- KK  

Additional Cheap European Airlines

Cheapo airlines in Europe don’t all go to secondary airports, although they often do. However they often service secondary destinations. For example, we flew Basiqair to Bordeaux last year from Amsterdam. Not exactly Nice. To get to Milano, some of the low costs fly to Bergamo instead, which is on the Venice side of Milan. Their fares were a fraction of the majors — Air France and KLM. In addition to the airlines you mentioned last time, here are some more choices.

— Louis Rossetto

Air Berlin
Germania Express

And a broader list from Germany.


Ryan Air

There are half a dozen or so low-cost inter-European-city airlines. RyanAir is the largest. I recently got a round trip on them from Frankfurt to Pescara, Italy for about $90 — and this is one of their more expensive destinations. Other flights are ridiculously cheap. If I’d wanted to go to say Pisa or Stockholm from Frankfurt, the one way ticket would be 10-12 euros. London (Stansted) to Rome is 10 euros. These are ultra non-frill flights, and they all offer one-way trips without jacking up prices. One major disadvantage is that the airports can be out of the way. For instance, the Franfurt one is actually 62 miles from the city, but for these rates I’ll take a train or bus to the airport.

— Lloyd Kahn

Ad from RyanAir website advertising limited come-on flights to the above cities for 99 pence ($1.80) one way, starting next year. On many flights the taxes will cost more than the fare.

Ryan Air

In addition to Ryanair, there are others with the same idea, with less extensive routes:
Easy Jet


Worldwide Hiking Database

Excellent website with useful information on hiking trails all over the world. From it I get an awareness of obscure and out-of-the-way trails globally. It has trails on my secret Greek Island of Karpathos, and in the central Asian neo-countries of Kyrgytzstan and Tadjikistan, where there are presently no trail guidebooks. Even in places with lots of guidebooks (such as the Coltswolds, England) this site has useful first-person notes and suggested routes.

— KK

The Trail Database


Bulgarian Vacation Property

Village houses and property in rural Bulgaria can often be bought for as little as $1,000. Get ‘em before Bulgaria joins the EU in 2007! I have NO commercial interest here; I just wanted to alert Cool Tool readers what types of places they can get for minimal money.

BTW, at the lower price spectrum, expect no indoor plumbing. These fixer-uppers are only for DIY ‘homesteaders’ at this point. But as an example, we now own 2 very livable houses and approximately 1.5 acres of land (with vineyard and orchard) which we bought for around $1,600 — for all!

-- Molly McAnailly Burke  

Currently for sale: $4,500, in Boyanovo
(plumbing, electricity, no indoor bathroom)

Bulgarian Properties

I Can Read That!

China figures big in the future no matter what your interest. It’s a vast place with its own non-alphabetic writing in abundance. To get around you really need to be able to recognize a few Chinese characters. You can get by knowing the 50 or so basic ones taught in the small expert book. Elementary survival knowledge, like the symbols for toilet — men or women? Exit versus entrance. Numbers, dates, directions, hotel, etc. There is no attempt to teach you Chinese (thank goodness), just how to navigate a visit there.

-- KK  

I Can Read That!
A Traveler’s Introduction to Chinese Characters
Julie Mazel Sussman
1994, 161 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

A clock for number practice. Real clocks use numerals, not characters. But this clock may help you learn the characters for the numbers. You can make hands for the clock out of toothpicks or paper.

“Exit” and “enter” signs. You’ll see the same entrance and exit signs wherever Chinese characters are used.

Restroom signs. Along the Burma Road. this public facility has a two-syllable word for toilet and an arrow pointing to the female entrance.

The World’s Cheapest Destinations

So much to see, so little time. You won’t ever see it all, so why not select your destination by how inexpensive it is, thus maximizing your journey? You can spend two weeks in Europe, or 6 months elsewhere. Your choice. Travellers who choose the latter have far more fun, learn more, and bring dollars where it can do the most good. Rock-bottom prices also transform budget travel in these areas into luxury travel. This thin guide is a good investment for this approach. It lists 21 of the world’s cheapest countries for travelers with more time than money, with a brief idea of what to expect. Stick to these few and you’ll still have a lifetime of adventures.

-- KK  

The World’s Cheapest Destinations
21 Countries Where Your Dollars Are Worth A Fortune
Tinm Leffel
2013, 228 pages, Fourth Edition

Available from Amazon

[The author's website has some interesting and helpful links for bottom-fed travel.]

Sample Excerpts:

Prices plunged to a ridiculous level in the midst of the Asian currency crisis — when my wife and I needed five weeks of travel to spend $350, despite living it up.

We paid a dollar a night for a great room with bath in Jaisalmer, then found out the guys next to us had bargained the owner down to 65 cents!

A cheapie room in a basic cold-water hotel starts at around $4 in the villages and averages $7-$10 in the cities. The worst hotel we stayed in was $8 and the best one we stayed in was $8. It just depends on where you are.

World Stompers

We used to call ourselves drifters, or freaks, but “stompers” works just as well. Stompers are young, nomadic travelers having a great deal of fun meandering around the world, hanging out, partying in run-down grass shacks in exotic places, hooking up with each other, paying attention to the local scene, while ignoring boundaries. It is more a lifestyle than a vacation. Once centered mostly in Europe during the summer, the entire world from Ghana to Laos is now stomping grounds. This book is subversive, irreverent, bombastic, self-published, and full of the best advice I’ve seen in print for global vagabonds. It assumes you have very little money, but a whole lot of time and are open to new experiences. Average trip of a stomper: one year. What I like about the author, Brad Olsen, is that he seems to have made every possible mistake, but learns quickly from them.

Here’s the acid test: If you need to sleep in a bed on your world tour, The Practical Nomad is more your speed (and mine, too, these days). If you don’t care where you lay your sleeping bag down for the night, and you intend to be on the road for more than a month, this is the owner’s manual for you.

-- KK  

World Stompers
A Guide to Travel Manifesto
Brad Olsen
2001, 288 pages, 5th Edition

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

One Summer when Tommy P. and I lived in Lake Tahoe, we made a bet. We bet five bucks on whether he could last a whole month without spending a single cent on food. He worked as an usher for Caesar’s Showroom and was allowed free meals. Security was laid back and lax, so he would munch hard before and after his shifts and smuggle out pocketfuls of fruit, yogurts, puddings, cereal, milk and fruit drinks. I would barter meals with him on his days off to give him a variety, but never any freebies. The bet was only to pay for food.

Well he lost the bet a few days short of a month because he was fired from his job. He got the ax because he got up on stage and danced with Diana Ross during the encore. His boss did not believe she pointed at him for a dance.

* * *
The World’s Top 10 Best Stoner Meccas:
10. The whole country of Laos
9. Dahab, Egypt (page 220)
8. Nimben, Australia (page 179)
7. The ski mountains of Lake Tahoe, CA USA (page 151)
6. Tuk Tuk Peninsula, Lake Toba, Indonesia (page 189)
5. Pokhara, Nepal (page 241)
4. San Pedro, Guatemala (page 158)
3.The Whole Country of India (excluding the cities) (page 244)
2. The state of Alaska, USA (page 153)
1.The whole country of The Netherlands (page 206)

* * *
Trevor also kept records of his ultra-budget days when he was trying to spend the bare minimum (and still have a great time). An example of one such day in India. Orange juice – $.20; vegetable, rice, and sauce lunch – .33; bike parking fee – .03; all-you-can-eat supper – .80; chocolate bar – .20; bungalow on the beach – 50 cents. Total expenses for the day – $2.06.

* * *
Rip-offs are rampant for people commando-crashing outdoors, particularly in Europe. Backpacks are taken, money belts being used as pillows are unzipped and cleared of contents, and even shoes are swiped. If you are going to Europe on a low-budget and plan to sleep outdoors part of the time, consider a few tips. First, it is always best to sleep in a group. There is definitely safety in numbers. Second, sleep with your money belt inside your sleeping, but not all the way at the bottom. There have been incidents of thieves feeling the bottom of a sleeping person’s sleeping bag for a money belt, then cutting the bag open with a knife and removing it. Third, chain your backpack to something, lock all the zippers, and try to use part of it as a pillow. Lastly, wherever sleeping with a group, lock all the packs together in the middle and position yourselves like spokes around a wheel hub. Detour thieves by making it hard for them to steal anything.

The Practical Nomad

Round-the-world travel was my occupation for many years. It’s an admirable vocation ignored by the travel industry and travel media. They think in terms of two weeks not two months or two years. Ignore the country-specific info in this thick tome as out of date [Note: the new edition of this book should have fixed this issue.–OH], but do pay attention to his airline ticketing advice, and his general wisdom about long-term travel. To anyone planning to take some serious time off to explore the far world at a cut above Stompers, start with this book. And then leave it at home.

-- KK  

The Practical Nomad
Edward Hasbrouck
2011, 720 pages, 3rd Edition

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Some people are afraid to have a gap in their resum . Don’t worry about it. Don’t leave a gap in your resum , either. More and more, I hear from returned travelers who are putting their travel experience at the top of their resum : “A year spent traveling the world, familiarizing myself with the diversity of world cultures, and learning how to understand and deal with people from backgrounds different from my own.” Prospective employers may smile, they may laugh, they may be jealous – but they will offer you the job.

* * *
Every guidebook I’ve read describes Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as completely without touristic interest – a big, industrialized city. Too civilized. Too modern. Not quaint. Too fast-moving. Too aware of the rest of the world. Too much of an ethnic mix to give one a proper sense of “pure” Uzbek culture. All accurate descriptions. Most tourists don’t like Tashkent, for just these reasons.

Reading the guidebooks’ denunciations, I knew immediately that Tashkent was the place for me. I found it was everything I had hoped for. I didn’t find a mythic past in Tashkent, but I wasn’t looking for the past. Tashkent is the future of Central Asia, all brought together in one bustling, cosmopolitan , accessible m lange: an intellectual and ideological center; the largest and richest city north of the Himalayas between Beijing and Moscow; a magnet for the best, brightest, and most ambitious people of a dozen nationalities from a thousand miles around. And, as of early 2000, US citizens no longer need a sponsor in order to obtain a visa for Uzbekistan.

* * *
My rule of thumb for guidebook prices is to add 20 percent to prices in a newly revised guidebook plus 10 percent for each year since the copyright. It adds up fast: if in 2003 you’re using a 2000 guidebook, expect prices to be 50 percent higher than in the book.

* * *
Where there is a train, take it. Don’t think twice about the choice. In comparison with rail travel, road travel is dangerous, polluting, and expensive.

“Comfort, Safety, Speed” was the slogan of the Pacific Electric Railway, the Los Angeles and Southern California streetcar and interurban system that was once, believe it or not, the world’s largest. Comfort safety, and speed are the advantages of trains over road vehicles. Even where cars or buses are faster, comfort and safety – especially safety – are the reasons I still travel by rail where I can.

* * *
Hiring a driver greatly reduces your legal and financial liability. It is thus, in a certain sense, the most effective and often the cheapest form of insurance. If you are driving a car, you are responsible for complying with all the local ownership, licensing, tax, and insurance requirements, and for having all the related paperwork in order.

* * *
Myth 5: “Tickets will be cheaper locally”
Many people have heard that tickets in some places are cheap and mistakenly conclude that it will be cheaper to buy parts of their tickets en route than to buy them before they leave. Those same tickets can probably also be obtained cheaply in advance, sometimes much more cheaply than if bought en route.

* * *
Big Business and the People’s Airline.
Travelers often wonder why all major international airlines seem to be set up to cosset the rich luxuriously and expensively. How come a major international airline isn’t committed to affordable, no-frills transportation for the masses? But there was, and to some degree still is, just such an airline: Aeroflot, the national airline of Russia. Why is Aeroflot different? Because it does things differently,
Aeroflot often seems a strange airline, and in some respects it is. It doesn’t know much about marketing, and it is often hard to deal with. But travelers who want to keep no-frills long-haul air transportation available as an alternative to expensive luxury owe it to themselves to at least consider Aeroflot (http:/ and Russian aircraft where they are an option.

* * *
But if you want the cheapest possible roundtrip from the US to India, Ireland, Nigeria, or any other place from which there are large numbers of immigrants, no general-purpose agency, even a general discount agency, is likely to be able to beat the lowest prices of a no-service, bare-bones, specialist agency within that particular ethnic community that sells nothing else but a massive volume of roundtrip tickets to a single destination.

Firetowers, Lookouts & Rustic Cabins for Rent

The last wilderness romance: a funky old-fashion shelter with minimal comfort and maximum views. You can rent these remote cabins for about $25 per day, and sleep 4 or 5 people. The 145 described here are all located in the west. The best are difficult to reach. Most are approachable by 4-wheel drive. All need advance reservations. The little-known details and full getting-there instructions, are here.

-- KK  

Firetowers, Lookouts & Rustic Cabins for Rent
Carolyne Ilona Gatesy
1997, 226 pages
$25 (used)

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

All of the firetowers, lookouts and cabins described in this book are rustic in every sense of the word. They are remotely located, and most lack the conveniences of civilization such as running water, electricity or telephones. The interiors look like they were from the 1950’s and the furniture included is generally limited. They contain sparse, serviceable, shabby or rough-hewn furniture of the sort you might throw out, after the Salvation Army had rejected it. However, if you hike or ski in, you will appreciate just sitting down with a roof over your head. The beds are usually plywood, built with a plank on top, and occasionally lacking a mattress. (I recommend bringing an inflatable mattress if none are listed by the district as included with the rental.) Upon making your reservation, be sure to ask for a detailed list of what is available with the rental and what to bring.

Squaw Peak Lookout
As long as you have four-wheel drive and patience, you can enjoy this scenic cabin in the summer. There is initially a horrendous road of 2.5 miles of ditches and holes, and then an additional 2.5 mile hike into the Lookout, or you can park your vehicle and hike the five miles Squaw Peak is a one room painted white cabin with a stone base located on a bare peak in the Cabinet Mountains. There is a stone outbuilding next door in the process of being rehabbed. The cabin does have available a propane refrigerator and stove and if you send for informaiton, included are instructions in the operation of both items. There is also a wood stove, and wood is kept in the basement.

Category: Very rustic lookout
Elevation: 6,167;
Road condition: Trail access three miles from Highway 200
Availability: All year except July and August; exact dates depend on fire season
Daily use fee: $25 for up to five people

For further information, contact:
Kootenai National Forest
Cabinet Ranger District
HCR2, Box 210
2693 Highway 200
Trout Creek, MT 59874
(406) 847-2462

Berry Creek Guard Station, built in 1934, sits with gorgeous scenic views in the Shell Creek Mountains. The view includes aspen, many tall trees, and lots of mountains. Deer, elk, and sometimes bobcat and coyote may be seen or heard from the cabin boundary. The old cabin has a living room, one bedroom, and propane cook stove and refrigerator, and a propane wall heater. There is indoor plumbing during the warm season, including a shower and toilet.

Lightening Stool at Pickette Butte Lookout

Acker Rock Lookout