source - Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Online
Daily Newsletter
Monday, November 29, 1999
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Be "Led a STRAY" Around Europe on Flexible, Escorted "Tours" For Around $50 a Day!
If the economic benefits of backpacking appeal to you, but the prospect of fending for yourself in unfamiliar territory seems daunting, you may want to enlist the help of a British-based "backpacker's travel network," the Stray Travel Experience. Not strictly limited to backpackers, the Stray Travel Experience combines the flexibility of independent travel with the convenience and security of an escorted tour: the company employs enthusiastic, well-trained guides to accompany its travelers on private buses (in Britain and Ireland) or trains (in Europe) that make regular and frequent stops along an established route. Travelers are allowed to "hop on and hop off" the bus (or train) at whichever stops they choose (including scheduled overnight stops), and stopovers can last as long as desired within the two- or four-month validity period of the Stray travel pass. It may sound complicated, but the concept is simple. Stray Travel, founded by Neil Geddes (the same man who ten years ago started the first backpackers' travel network of its kind in New Zealand), isn't really a "tour for backpackers." Think of it as a travel "service" that helps eliminate the problems that typically befall backpackers and other independent travelers (such as finding hostel rooms at last minute), while at the same time providing knowledgeable guides that do more than just sit at the front of a bus and narrate the scenery. And it does all this at prices that everyone (even backpackers on a strict budget!) can afford. Some examples of routes, standard departure frequency and pass prices, to give you an idea of the low cost of travelling on the Stray network: Northern Europe Circuit: departs thrice weekly from Venice and goes through Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany before ending in Amsterdam. Nine-day minimum trip time, two-month maximum; cost, 209/$340 (under 26) and 259/$422 (over 26). Northern Ireland and All Ireland Pass-departs four times weekly from Donegal (weekly from Dublin) and makes stops at Ballycastle, Belfast, Galway, Killarney, Cork, and Schull. Nine-day minimum trip time, four-month maximum; cost 149/$243. London to Liverpool Pass-departs thrice weekly from London and stops at Bath, Crickhowell and Llangollen (both in Wales), and Liverpool. Three-day minimum trip time, two-month maximum; cost 79/$129. The cost of Stray's passes includes the company of a guide on each segment of the route and the pre-arranged night's stay at stopover locations (though you pay for accommodation as you go--usually around 9/$14.50 a night--so you are free to seek out alternative arrangements if you like). "Touring" with Stray Travel is an extremely economical way to explore the British Isles and the Continent. For example, National Express, Britain's largest nationwide coach company, offers a pass similar to the one Stray travel offers (valid for 7 days travel within 21 consecutive days) for a cost of 120/$195--and that is for travel alone, without the added features of the Stray Travel Experience. The Stray pass costs 129/$210, and entitles you to travel around a circuitous route from London to Edinburgh and back over a minimum of six days--and includes the company of an experienced guide and the benefit of advance hostel reservations at stopovers. For travel within Europe, Stray uses the continent's extensive rail network, instead of buses, to get around. Again, compare travel on Stray's All-Europe pass (which for someone under 26, costs 359/$585 for a minimum 18-day trip, is valid for 4 months, includes stops in 9 countries and like the British bus network, includes a tour guide and guaranteed accommodation at overnight stopovers) to a comparable rail ticket, the 17-day Europass. The Europass, which would cost $600 to allow travel on a route similar to the Stray path, is only valid for two months and is for transportation only-leaving the traveler to fend for him or herself for a bed in a hostel. What are some other benefits of traveling the Stray way? On day sightseeing excursions, guides arrange secure storage for luggage so travelers can explore unburdened. At the numerous locations where self-catering accommodation is available, Stray will help you find a supermarket, and in Britain, they'll even take you and your groceries there and back in the bus. Guides (sometimes in conjunction with local hostel owners) coordinate walking tours in many of the cities; in larger cities like Paris and Berlin, Stray arms its travelers with public transportation passes and maps so they can explore on their own. And the guides, who are comprehensively trained over their specific route, accompany travelers to both well-known and out of the way sightseeing stops, and organize unique region-specific activities like "peat cutting in Ireland" and "the Salami Challenge" in Bologna, Italy. For more information, visit the Stray Travel web site at, or phone their headquarters in London at 011-44-171-373-7737. Their mailing address is 171 Earls Court Rd, London SW5 9RF, England.

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