An updated excerpt from The Big Book of Retirement Secrets
A Rich, Low-Cost Way to See the World
Imagine signing up for an all-inclusive, five-star tour of China… for easily half the going price for airfare and lodging.
Many local chambers of commerce arrange high-quality group vacations at dirt-cheap prices… And they’re open to anyone, not just members.
“We stayed in all four- and five-star hotels. And all of the dining was top quality,” said Ed Baker.
For less than $2,000 per person, Ed and his wife spent nine days – minus two days of travel – touring areas of China, including Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. And all he had to do was make a phone call.
Ed retired in 2000 from his job as a project manager. A Navy veteran, Ed had spent most of his life living outside Akron, Ohio, with his wife and three children. He had always wanted to visit China. So when he read a newspaper ad for a trip to China offered by the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, he called without a second thought.
The chamber took care of all travel arrangements and even gave Ed a booklet on what to expect on the trip, right down to what he should wear.
Ed’s trip included a charter bus to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport from Ohio (and from JFK to Ohio after the trip), round-trip airfare from JFK to Beijing, three full meals a day, an English-speaking tour guide, hotel stays, and all attractions included. Just the flight alone would have been more than $1,000 per person.
Ed traveled with a group of more than 150 people, which was divided up into smaller groups. “It was probably the best-coordinated trip that my wife and I have ever been on,” he said.
The chamber sets up trips like this to create connections that could lead to some business exchange. So the only catch is you have to attend a few events arranged by the chamber – factory or warehouse tours. But most of the trip is open for typical sightseeing.
Check out your local chamber of commerce to find these all-inclusive trips.
Another Great Way to Vacation on the Cheap
Feel like having a vacation, but can’t afford a week at a hotel? Try swapping your home.
How it works… Choose where you want to go, find a listing that looks interesting, and set up the exchange. Most sites (like www.homeexchange.com) require an annual fee, which can range from around $35 to $150.
While home exchange is an inexpensive alternative to paying for a hotel, remember to take some precautions.
Before the exchange, always lock any valuables away and check with your insurance company to make sure any possible, however unlikely, damage that might occur is covered. Also, make sure the agreement states that your house will be “broom clean” when they leave, meaning tenants must wipe down flat surfaces and sweep before leaving.
Hundreds of Dollars Off an RV Rental
Traveling for almost nothing – or getting 10 times the value it would normally cost – makes the adventure all the more exciting.
It’s like the first blindfolded wine tasting I conducted in 1978, when we discovered that wine for $15 can taste as good as stuff the French wine snobs charged $65 for. What a joy.
There’s a way to take an RV trip for less than $60 a day… rather than the typical $200 per day.
How does this it work?
The company that rents these RVs is called Cruise America – you may have seen its vehicles with brightly painted landscapes on the sides. The company constantly needs to move its vehicles around the country. Rather than hire expensive drivers or moving companies, it seeks out “volunteers” to make the trip. In my case, I got a 90% discount on what it normally charges. You can do the same thing.
Here’s how I did it. I flew one-way on Southwest into Las Vegas ($189) and took a cab ride ($30) to a lot run by Cruise America.
From Las Vegas, I drove to the Grand Canyon… Sedona, Arizona… and through the desert of northern Arizona on my way to the drop-off in Phoenix. I had nearly unlimited miles and up to six days to make the trek. Best of all… I got to use a $95,000 RV for just $24 a day. (Discounts and mileage may vary depending on your destination.)
After my drive, I flew home from Phoenix – only $179 on Southwest.
Total cost – airfare, gas, and RV rental… everything for five nights and six days – was only $700.
Keep in mind, you don’t need any special license. Your regular driver’s license works fine. Driving an RV is simple. And most campgrounds are designed to make it easy.
Cruise America has more than 100 rental locations in the U.S. and Canada.
A Working Wine Vacation That Feels Free
Consider a “crush” vacation. Working the crush means helping a winery pick, destem, press, and move juice, barrels, and waste during the harvest. It is one of the most unique cultural experiences you can imagine.
This is a physically demanding vacation. But in the end, you get a vacation and a few bottles of good wine to take home.
For the 2007, 2008, and 2009 harvest, I traveled to Calistoga, California, and stayed with my friends, owners of the Mutt Lynch Winery. Their Sonoma winery produces some of the best unwooded (fermented in steel tanks rather than traditional oak ones) chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The description on their website says it all…
“Fresh, juicy fruit aromas and flavors of peaches, pears, and apples, with a creamy and zingy finish. The fruit ‘jumps out of the glass’…”
For more than a week, I worked for the Lynch family. I did everything from helping the grape pickers pluck dead leaves under a warm September sun, to dumping the pomace
(the solids left over after juicing) at the end of the day.
I didn’t get paid a thing, and the work conditions were sometimes a bit difficult. But the benefits included room, board, and a great experience. Most importantly, I learned about winemaking – from world experts.
One of the experts I learned from, Phyllis, is half owner of a winery called Deux Amis that shares space with Mutt Lynch.
I watched (and helped) Phyllis and her colleague Brenda measure levels of sugar and pH in the fermenting juice and “punch down” grape skins floating in the nascent wine to ensure a uniform fermentation.
Seeing them monitor and adjust the winemaking process to tease the flavor they want from every unique batch of grapes taught me how much of an artist’s touch great winemakers bring to their work. It’s not the sort of perspective you get from reading Wine Spectator.
Phyllis and her partner Jim have been in the wine business of northern California for more than 70 years combined. It was an honor to learn from them.
It turns out there are dozens of small local wineries like Mutt Lynch and Deux Amis around the world that desperately need help during the harvest season. These tiny wineries simply can’t afford to pay for full-time help. Instead, they offer free room and board to ordinary folks who are looking for a memorable experience.
In most of America’s wine-producing regions – including Napa and Sonoma in California, Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Finger Lakes region in New York – you can work a crush. If you’re interested in a wine-country vacation, I recommend you contact your favorite vineyard directly.
For example, some small and less-known vineyards in Ohio love having volunteers help them with the harvest. Simply register your interest prior to the season by contacting the individual winery, or just visit the winery on public picking days that get advertised in local newspapers.
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