Travel for Less
by Guylaine Spencer
Why I Love Budget Travel
5 Ways to Get the Best Value for Your Travel Dollar
My Story: Vacation Meals
Want to travel, but think you can't afford it? Think again!
Accommodation is usually the biggest chunk of any trip budget. If you're willing to think outside the "hotel/motel" box, you can really cut costs.
The range of alternatives is broad. At the bottom of the price ladder, you'll find hostels, but not necessarily the kind you imagine. Many hostels offer some private rooms with shared bathroom and sometimes even a private bathroom. Note, too, that most "youth hostels" are open to people of all ages from babies to seniors.
University residences are another option. In England, they're called Student Halls. You needn't be a student to stay in residence. Although these private rooms are small, they're clean, comfortable, safe, centrally located, and often provide breakfast. The down side is that most are only open to tourists during times that are outside the school calendar such as summer, and in the case of some British universities, the month of April, which is Easter Break.
You might consider a Bed and Breakfast, as well, although the fancier ones are sometimes more costly than a budget hotel.
Many countries in Latin America and Europe offer "pensions," which are somewhere between B and Bs and budget hotels. You can't usually book them through travel agents. The solution? Book a regular hotel for the first night, and then go out the next morning to find a pension. The local tourist office can usually help with names, but inspect it yourself before committing.
If you're only comfortable with a standard hotel or motel, you can still save money by asking about discounts before you book. If you're a youth or senior, you may be eligible for 20% or more discounts. Many hotels also offer savings if you stay longer, so ask about "3 nights for the price of 2" deals or weekly plans. Hotels catering to business travelers often drop prices on the weekend, so if you're staying for a longer period you can at least save on that portion of your stay.
If you're staying at a hostel with cooking facilities, cut costs by making some meals and drinks "at home." Even without a kitchen, you can still buy salads, sandwiches, fresh bread, cheese, chopped vegetables and fruit in grocery stores and delicatessens and picnic in a park or eat in your room. Local farmers' markets often have vendors selling hot meals, too. Take-out restaurants can mark up canned drinks by 50% to 100%, so save your cash and go around the corner to the grocery store instead.
When it's time to sample the local restaurants, avoid the ones that are full of tourists. They're usually over-priced. Look for eateries that attract residents. One big advantage of staying in one location is that you have time to get acquainted with your neighborhood and find good places to eat.
Choosing a home base and exploring through day trips will also cut your transportation costs. In Europe, the high price of fuel and car rental can be a nasty shock for North Americans.
In town, walk or use the local transportation. Check if the transit company offers day passes or week passes.
Time to "get out of town"? Sometimes day-trip companies can be the only route to a destination, or they will save you a lot of time and trouble. However, in many cases, taking a regular inter-city bus or train can be just as simple and half or a third of the cost of a guided tour.
Entertainment and Sight-seeing:
Some of your best trip memories are probably of sights you've stumbled upon by accident. Give yourself the chance to discover again; strike out on your own with a good map. Spend a day at the beach, admire the artwork hidden away in churches and temples, go to a park and watch a sport that you've never seen before.
Many theatres offer tickets at discounted prices for same-day plays; in big cities, you may even find a half-price booth. Check local newspapers for free or inexpensive community concerts and plays. Try the university for repertory cinema. Is there a community festival on? Enjoy the local performances and food that usually accompanies these events.
Many museums have free or "pay what you can" nights. Some charge half-price if you enter after a certain hour. And don't forget the smaller museums; they can be quirky and memorable, and usually cheaper than the blockbusters. Discover the work of local, contemporary artists in private galleries. You don't have to buy. Looking costs nothing!
Souvenirs and Gifts:
Hunting for a great souvenir? Try greeting cards and postcards showing local art work. Sometimes you can even find sidewalk artists selling original work for a modest fee. Frame them when you get home and put your memories on the wall to enjoy daily. Framed cards make great gifts, too. Avoid buying postcards at major tourist attractions, as prices are often much higher than you'll pay in bookstores or small shops for the same card.Local magazines and paperback books by local authors are also easy to pack and inexpensive. Plus, they'll give you and your friends a lot more insight into a country than a t-shirt with a silly slogan. And they're always the right size!
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