How do you find those fares?

Most of our friends and family know that we like to travel, and that we don't like spending a ton of money to do so.  The Boarding Area has a great blog post today that explains a little bit about jumping on "mistake fares", and I'd strongly suggest reading it if you're interested in scoring a ticket to an exotic location for less than you'll often pay to fly domestically.

It's important to note that if you're the kind of person who wants to visit a specific city on a specific weekend, or you need a week to "think about it" before booking an international trip, you might as well not even bother.  The keys to scoring these deals are to notice them when they happen (I follow some key Twitter accounts that tend to broadcast them, such as The Flight Deal, which is mentioned in the article) and booking them immediately, often within an hour or two of them being found.  Many of the airlines will let you cancel a fare for free within the first 24 hours, so book the trip first, then ask your boss for the time off!

Often these cheap fares tend to be for travel in the winter or shoulder seasons, but we've found that the lack of crowds often makes up for slightly cooler weather.

Here are a few examples of crazy cheap sales and/or mistake fares that we've flown, all were round trip:

Chicago to London for $221
London to Florence for $16
Chicago to Paris for $250
Chicago to Johannesburg, South Africa for $390
Chicago to Beijing for $528
Minneapolis to Copenhagen for $351

Other Twitter accounts to follow:

Fare Deal Alert

Steal This Trip

AirFare Watchdog (Consider signing up to receive a daily email from their site showing you the fares that are on sale from your home airport as well)

Taking the train from Iowa to Boston

We're in Boston! I needed to come here for some training, but we came out a couple days early for some sightseeing. Having never taken Amtrak, we decided to try it, as it was also $200/person cheaper than flying. We brought our niece Bailey, who is 15, along for the ride as well (she was only half-price on Amtrak) so that she and Holly can do stuff while I'm at class.

We got up at 6 a.m. on Friday, packed the van, swung through the McDonald's drive-through for breakfast, and hit the road for the two hour drive to Mount Pleasant. We arrived without incident, but soon found our train was running three hours late from the guy who opened the (non-air-conditioned) station. We passed the word along to the rest of the passengers as they arrived, and we all waited together on the platform, as it was (slightly) cooler outside. After about two hours, I waited with the luggage as Holly and Bailey got lunch from McDonald's, which made it our second meal there of the day, but we had passed it a few blocks from the station and we didn't know where anything else was.

There was a "colorful" group of people we were waiting with, and we even got to watch some of their personal life stories dramas unfold in front of us as we waited. One was a serviceman, returning to base in New York. Let's just say it was pretty clear from his continuous cell phone calls to friends that the military has seriously reduced its standards due to the ongoing war. I wouldn't have trusted this guy with a powerwasher, much less a machine gun...

After much sweating, the train finally arrived, and we relaxed in the cool air and comfy seats for the four hours to Chicago. Or so we thought. After about 15 minutes they informed us that they were kicking us off in Galesburg, Illinois. We were originally supposed to take this train (6) to Chicago to catch train 48 to Albany, but train 48 was oversold. So, they decided to take the people from train 6 who were going to be on train 48 (about 15 of us) and remove us in Galesburg to take a charter bus all the way to Toledo, Ohio. That way, Amtrak could offload the passengers destined for the stops before Toledo, and have room for us once we got there.

So, we loaded on to a fairly nice charter bus, and made the 7 hour drive, with a stop at McDonald's somewhere in Indiana. For those keeping score, this wound up being our third meal at McDonald's in one day, which made us all want to throw up. Bailey didn't eat anything, Holly got some apple slices, and I sort of gagged down a Big 'n Tasty, which they don't even have on the menu in Iowa anymore. We loaded back on the bus, and managed to sleep a bit before getting to Toledo. We arrived around 1:00 a.m., but had to wait for our train to arrive at 4:15 a.m., when we resumed our journey as planned. We made it to Albany around 4:00 p.m. and quickly switched trains to the 448 to Boston. On this train, we had the bad luck to sit behind some of the worst parents in existence, as well as their horrible little children, but fortunately they got off at Springfield, so the final 2 hours were blissfully quiet. We got off in Back Bay, bought our passes for the Subway, and checked in to our hotel with enough time to shower before we crashed into bed.

A care package

The following plea is from my wife:

While in Fiji, we enjoyed a visit with the students and teachers at the primary school in the village of Tiliva on the island of Kadavu.  The students entertained us by signing songs, and the parents Bokelman entertained them by making balloon animals (in between frightening them by loudly popping about a dozen).  The school building has four rooms for grades first through eighth and serves about 120 students if I remember correctly.  Students from outside the village spend the week boarded at the school. From the posted schedule it appears that they devote the entire week, evenings included, to their studies.   The local guide said that while it is a public school, government support does not quite reach the smaller islands, and families are required to pay some form of tuition.  While the students are polite, well-mannered, and seemingly eager to learn, their supplies and resources are slim--which is particularly sad to those of us who work in education and are familiar with the educational interest and devotion of most American students.

We'll be sending some supplies to the school, and we invite you to help us.  You can send money to me via PayPal (hbokelman at or to 125 Oregon Road, Cedar Falls, IA  50613.  I plan on sending a donation in addition to basic, consumable supplies like pencils and crayons as well as teaching materials that the teachers can use for the long term.  Our travel books said that the Fijian people were the most hospitable people you'd likely find in the South Pacific, and our hosts proved that true.  Please help if you can, and thank you!

Tiliva School

Last working day before Fiji

Today is my last working day before our vacation to [[Fiji]]!  I won't have Internet access on this trip, heck, I'll be lucky to have electricity, so don't expect much in the way of updates.  We'll be staying at the Waisalima Beach Resort on the island of [[Kadavu]], assuming all the travel goes as planned.  I've been tanning (yes, in beds, like a girl) to brown up for the trip, as I plan on doing some snorkeling.  I also have been reading a couple of books about Fijian culture, which is vastly different from our own, and from the culture of Tahiti.  Anyone care to place bets on whether or not we can get my wife to drink Kava?