Unless you have cleaned up on the stock market, financing a winter sports holiday could be an uphill struggle. With the pound slithering down on its long-term decline, you are not going to have much of an uproarious apres-ski splurge with, say, pounds 100. For such an amount, a high street bureau de change this week would give you just 780 French francs or190 of the Swiss variety. And what about that irritating need for German currency when you fly to Munich for onward transit to Austria? That pounds 10 for the odd coffee or snack will become just 15 Deutschmarks once you pay commission charges. Increasingly, it seems that the British abroad are destined to suffer the discomfiture of the chronically impecunious - unless they are emulate the initiative demonstrated by Philip Robinson of Sheffield.

"German airports are greedy," Mr Robinson writes. "Not content with charging an airport tax, they make you pay again to use the luggage trolleys." You can, however, beat the system.

"At Hamburg airport last week, I found the usual machines which swallow DM2.50 before they give you a trolley, then refund 50 pfennig when a trolley is returned." This being Germany, a lot of well-heeled travellers don't bother to collect their refund. So Mr Robinson cashed in.

"After using my trolley, I 'sold' it to an American couple for a dollar (cutting out the middle man)." With a long wait before his flight to Manchester, Mr Robinson decided to go for it. "I strolled around the airport gathering trolleys and returning them to the machines for 50 pfennig each. I made enough for a bottle of duty-free vodka and a bar of chocolate."

Being short of a few pfennig, this column can offer only a bar of chocolate for other tales of getting the better of airport scams.

The place where the pound is truly puny, of course, is Japan. Yet even in this economic powerhouse, the Imperial family sees fit to travel by public transport - a habit that our own royals are only just beginning to acquire. Furthermore, the Japanese are quite happy for their highnesses to travel in the company of impecunious British visitors. So last month I found myself sharing a carriage with the Crown Prince and his charming wife.

The Japanese are generous to the tourist to the extent of positively subsidising visitors. For example, a week of unlimited travel on the country's bullet trains costs pounds 167. Since a Tokyo to Kyoto return ticket alone would cost this much, it is a bargain indeed - especially when you find yourself travelling royal class.

At Morioka station, on the island of Honshu, one carriage of the 2.48pm bullet train to Tokyo was surrounded by a clump of besuited officials, a crowd of well-wishers and a mood of urgency. Suddenly, a cheer went up and the Prince and Princess appeared.

Their entourage was converging on coach 10. So was I. Was there a mistake?, I asked a station official. He checked my seat reservation and led me through the security cordon towards the royal couple.

They looked considerably more elegant than me; as well as a dusty old backpack, I was carrying a plastic bowlful of ramen, the delicious noodle soup that station buffets dispense for a lot less than a BR sandwich. But I was not destined to slurp in the company of Japan's future ruler. It turns out that the latest bullet trains are double-decker, with first class at the top; plebs like me were stuck on the lower floor, where the view is mostly of concrete embankments.

As we hurtled towards the Japanese capital at 130mph, the main point of interest was the knot of secret service men guarding their shoulder holsters and the steps up to the royal pair's quarters. At each station, the security men erupted onto the platform, where a group of well-wishers bowed and waved fondly to the royal couple. But as with all Japanese trains, it arrived perfectly on time in Tokyo.

The imperial couple provided a fine example for our own royal family: that it is possible to use public transport and remain dignified. This week, Buckingham Palace announced that the royal family is to use public transport rather than insisting on limousines and private aircraft. Let us travellers hope that they cause less disruption than when the Queen famously took a scheduled flight for the first time last year. Her Majesty was on her way back from the Commonwealth conference in New Zealand, but received rather better treatment than most travellers - the flight was diverted for her. The Air New Zealand plane she boarded in Auckland was the one that normally goes to Frankfurt, not London.

Luckily, Her Majesty was saved that tiresome transfer at Germany's busiest airport, since the 747 touched down specially at Heathrow - just a five- minute drive from Windsor Castle. Meanwhile, the unfortunate Frankfurt- bound passengers had an hour added to their journey because of the extra stop. And they probably had to pay DM2.50 for a luggage trolley, too.

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