You Can Take a Scenic Train Tour of the West Coast for Just $97

iStock
iStock

Plane travel isn’t as glamorous as it used to be. Between TSA pat-downs, the lack of snacks, and that guy in front of you who insists on leaning all the way back, it’s not exactly a romantic way to take in the sights. But trains? They’re an underrated form of modern travel, even if Amtrak does have its flaws.

So as you’re planning your next West Coast vacation, consider this: You can get an Amtrak ticket that will take you along the entire West Coast for as low as $97, Condé Nast Traveler reports.

The Amtrak Coast Starlight runs from Los Angeles to Seattle, giving you 35 hours' worth of spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, redwood forests, Mount Shasta, and some of California, Oregon, and Washington’s best cities. It doesn’t have the speed of a three-hour flight, but this way, your journey will feature as many great sights as your destination.

The $97 applies if you can snag a "saver" fare; other seats might cost closer to $150. For slightly more money, you can reserve a “superliner roomette,” which can cost between $500 and $700, but includes two seats that turn into stacked beds. And if you want to pretend you’re in a 19th-century travel novel (or North by Northwest), go ahead. It's guaranteed to be a less harried travel day than what you'd experience heading to LAX.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

A Shrine to Brine: The Mysterious Case of Missouri's Highway Pickle Jar

iStock.com/MorePixels
iStock.com/MorePixels

No one knows how it started. No one knows who was responsible. Some may even have dismissed it as an aberration, a glitch in the scenery that would soon be corrected. But eventually, drivers in and around Des Peres, Missouri who took a highway off-ramp connecting I-270 North to Manchester Road began to notice that a jar of pickles was sitting on a dividing barrier on the ramp. And it wasn’t going anywhere.

Since 2012, the pickle jar has confounded drivers and internet sleuths alike, according to Atlas Obscura. Some have speculated that someone was trying to send a secret message or share a private joke. Perhaps someone pulling off to the side due to car trouble felt the need to place the brine-filled jar on the concrete wall and then forgot about it. Maybe someone thought it would be a kind of three-dimensional graffiti, incongruous amid the bustling traffic. Maybe it’s an indictment of commerce.

Whatever the case, once the pickles appeared, advocates refused to let them go. Jars that end up toppled over or otherwise damaged are replaced. Sometimes they reappear in protective Tupperware or with a holiday-themed bow. Sightings are photographed for posterity and posted on a Facebook fan page devoted to the jar, which currently has over 4200 members and has morphed from a place to theorize about the mysterious jar's origins to a place where people swap pickle-related recipes and stories.

There are dry spells—no one has posted of a pickle sighting in several months—but followers remain optimistic the jar will continue to remain a presence in Des Peres even if the motivation for placing them near the roadway remains as murky as the briny juice inside.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

The Reasons Why Iceland Is So Expensive

iStock.com/Leopatrizi
iStock.com/Leopatrizi

More Americans are taking vacations to Iceland, and many are returning home with sticker shock. According to Iceland Magazine, “consumer prices in Iceland are on average 66 percent higher than in Europe,” with costs in the land of fire and ice outpacing famously expensive countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and Denmark.

Just look at the prices for food in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavík: A pre-made sandwich at a grocery store can cost more than $10, while a single teabag (with “free” hot water) can run you $4. A meal for two at a casual restaurant regularly costs in the ballpark of $80 to $100 while a beer at a pub downtown goes for about $12 during regular hours. In other words: Visiting Iceland is sort of like being trapped in an airport ... except this airport has volcanoes.

As for what makes the country so expensive, there’s no single explanation. It’s a combination of politics, economics, and geography.

Let’s start with geography. Since Iceland nearly tickles the Arctic Circle, its climate is not conducive to farming. There are few native crops and the growing season is short. According to a report from the European Consortium for Political Research [PDF], Icelanders produced “64.9 percent of their own food and beverages in 2010.” The rest of that food was imported. The same goes for most other goods.

The cost of importing those products—usually from the UK, Germany, the U.S., and Norway—gets passed on to the consumer. In Iceland, imported sweets and alcohol are slapped with an extra cargo fee and all wheat products are subject to a relatively high tariff. So prepare to shell out for that bread.

The country’s currency also keeps costs high. In 2008, Iceland was plagued by a financial crisis that saw the country’s three banks fail and the value of the national currency, the króna, plummet. But the country has seen a miraculous recovery. Since 2009, the króna has strengthened by a whopping 40 percent against the euro. In 2017, it was deemed the world's best-performing currency. That has caused the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar to decrease.

Taxes also add to the cost. Like most countries, Iceland has a valued-added tax, or VAT. (In the United States, a close equivalent would be the state sales tax.) The VAT for goods in Iceland is 24 percent, while the VAT for foodstuffs is taxed at a discounted rate of 11 percent. For Americans, these tax rates are very high. Most states don’t even charge a sales tax on food at all.

(However, while taxes are a contributor, they are not the cause of high costs in Iceland. Many countries have similarly high VAT rates and are not as expensive. Germany, for example, has a 19 percent VAT—and a 7 percent VAT on foodstuffs—but is home to significantly cheaper groceries than those sold in the United States. It’s also important to know that, as an international visitor, you can get some of your VAT refunded.)

Rather, the biggest contributor to costs in Iceland is the country’s high standard of living. In Iceland, the average pre-tax income is about $60,000, with a median income of about $47,000. (In the U.S., the average income is about $48,150 with a median of around $31,000.)

In Iceland, approximately 92 percent of the country’s working population is part of a labor union. Consequently, people who work jobs that Americans might consider “low-wage”—especially jobs in the service industry—earn much higher wages and enjoy more benefits. In fact, the national monthly minimum wage for most industries is 300,000 ISK, or about $2500 per month. That’s equivalent to $15 an hour. But since employees earn more, customers generally pay more for goods.

And, of course, any tourist complaining about high prices should take a moment to point a finger at the mirror. Since 2010, Iceland has seen tourism multiply fivefold. With a growing number of people competing for a limited supply of goods, prices have continued to rise; the dastardly supply and demand curve strikes again!

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