Now that summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere, scores of travelers are heading out for vacations. Travel costs are an issue for most travelers, especially now coming out of a prolonged recession.
Having been a keen global traveler, I am always looking for ways to find good pricing without sacrificing quality. These are 20 of my tips to be able to continue to travel while working with a budget.
1. Traveling off-season is cheaper for 2 reasons. Although I have traveled to Siberia in January, there are many less drastic solutions. First, airlines will have reduced load factors and have reduced rates. Secondly, even the French Riviera’s top hotels start 50% discounts around the second and third week in Sept. For travelers that are not constrained by work or school schedules, they will find sunny skies and much less crowded tourist sites.
2. Location matters: Currently 5 star hotels in Madrid are at bargain rates, in some cases less expensive than in Athens. Central and Eastern Europe are very affordable in major capitals and even more so in the countryside.
3. Consider substitutions. In the past I was longing for a South Pacific island vacation but found Tahiti’s hotels too pricey. With the help of Air New Zealand, I substituted Rarotonga and Aitutaki for one-third the price. At that time the Cook Islands were largely unexplored providing a cornucopia of travel stories for my return.
4. Sports vacations carry special tariffs. In addition to hotel and airfare charges, active sports include extra charges for lift tickets, guides or scuba boat rentals. The best avenue is to do careful research ahead of time to identify less visible but equally attractive destinations. Although St. Moritz may be chic, I opted to ski in both Andorra just north of Spain and in Hafjel, Norway.
5. Apartment/house swap or rentals: I have not tried this myself but have friends that are enthusiastic about swaps/local residence rentals from Brazil to Paris. I recommend making certain the location is safe and convenient.
6. Stay outside the city on a local commuter train or subway route. Paris airport hotels have had low rates for a decade with Metro walking distance.
7. Combine with work or family visits or other add-on’s. From domestic to international trips, airlines may allow lay-overs at minimal to no charge. I discovered flying to the Brazilian Amazon from Washington that an extended connection in Panama City, Panama would allow for sight-seeing or sleeping for a few hours before traveling on.
8. Research shows that booking on Tuesday or especially Wednesdays provides the best rates.
9. Depending upon your destination, the day of the week for your travel matters. For popular vacation sites, mid-week rates tend to be best. Conversely, cities like New York that are major finance/business centers often reduce rates on weekends.
10. Cruises are especially expensive for solo travelers since the cruise lines’ break even points can equal 104%. As a result, they often need to fill every cabin with two passengers plus sell drinks and souvenirs daily. Do the math the next time you see 2-for-the- price of 1 advance purchases. This is likely the best rate.
11. For airline deals, consolidators may have the cheapest price. Alternatively, the longest connections and most frequent stops will always be less expensive than non-stop service.
12. Economy can still be a good value and not as daunting as it may seem for long distances. I have flown on some of the world’s longest flights in economy. Many airlines offer small charges for economy seats that have more leg room or leave a middle seat empty. While first class on a wide-body jet is an enormous step-up, on a smaller plane it may be little better for space than exists in economy, especially on the front row.
13. Getting to and from the airport: Every major capital seems to have local monopolies making airport transportation costly. Combined with the fact that airports often are 45 minutes outside the city, the best option for daylight arrivals may be a local train, subway or airport bus. In the south of France, I paid $2.00 for a commuter train ticket from the Nice airport to arrive within walking distance of my 5 star hotel in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. (The hotel limousine was $200!)
14. Airline add-on’s: Take as little luggage as you can easily carry/push. In addition to increased airline charges, the above options at both ends are limited if you pack too much. Moreover, after an overseas flight, do you want to stand in baggage claim as bags are offloaded for 300 fellow passengers?
15. When you are congratulating yourself on the great rate you locked in, remember that most do not include taxes. In New York City, there are several layers of local taxes to consider.
16. Don’t pay for what you won’t use. Even if your workouts are a key part of your daily routine at home, will you need to pay for a hotel with special health club facilities? Outside of resorts or the tropics, major capitals don’t often have swimming pools so do extra laps before heading out.
17. Staying connected: Internet charges may run $25/per day. If there is no free WIFI, visit the local cyber café and combine your morning’s cappuccino with checking/sending emails. Know what your data plan provides abroad. Even if you don’t open emails, when they hit the local cell tower, you are paying. The bill could be more than the airfare so plan accordingly.
18. New hotel openings or recently upgraded ones often feature short-term promotionals. Last year the Hotel Castille located near a top high fashion atelier in an elegant Paris neighborhood had hugely discounted rates following their reopening and upgrade to 5 stars.
19. There’s nothing like a local mini mart or full-service grocery store for bottles of water and snacks rather than raiding the minibar. For forgotten items, find local brands as substitutes. If you can’t get by without your morning’s coffee or tea, pack a small electrical tea kettle, tea and coffee bags with hot chocolate packets for unrefrigerated coffee creamer.
20. On trips abroad, I always do my Christmas shopping and pick up birthday gifts for friends and family. For quality and pricing, avoid the tourist shops and go where local people shop. In Slovenia, I took a public bus to a shopping mall and although lacking a common language, found really distinct items to purchase.