20 Spending Secrets of the Well-Traveled

Travel writers share brilliant tips on how to save money while vacationing

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Fly First Class

If you can redeem frequent flier miles, Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet, suggests looking at first-class tickets. If you’re paying cash, first class normally costs two to three times as much as an economy seat. But if you’re using award travel miles, first class often uses only 25 percent extra miles. 

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Don’t Rule Out Exotic Locales

Don’t settle on the first travel itinerary you find. “I was playing with Delta miles recently, and found I could get a round-trip ticket to Tanzania for fewer miles than Lisbon!” says Reid. “That means African beaches and setting up safaris, or going to Freddie Mercury's birthplace at Zanzibar. Suddenly something more exotic felt a lot more attainable.”

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Take the Bus

Skip the car when you’re traveling to pedestrian-friendly cities in the Northeast. “Cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. are accessible by fleets like Megabus and Bolt Bus, with fares frequently less than $5,” says Reid.

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Break the Language Barrier

A great way to take a trip for less is to study a foreign language in a low-cost country. “One of the best value trips I've taken is studying Spanish in Guatemala. For about $150 a week, you can get a family home stay, meals and 20 hours of private instruction with good tutors,” says Reid. This is also a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and connect with locals.

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Be Spirited Away

The holiday season is prime time for airlines, which can make many flights too costly to consider. If you’re intent on getting away over the holiday, consider traveling on the actual holiday dates. As an example, “A flight from N.Y. to Rome, Italy, from December 22 to January 2 prices out today at $1,462,” Chief Explorateur officer Gabriella Riberiero says. “But if you don’t mind traveling on Christmas Day, returning on New Year's Day, the fare drops to $1,052, saving you over $400."

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Carry On

Pack light and take only essentials. Be sure to leave room in your luggage for souvenirs and other goodies so you don’t come back overstuffed.  The checked-bag fees for airlines continue to go up. An additional tip: Travel with inflatable or small, collectible toys if you are bringing gifts so they don’t weigh you down, says Riberiero.

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Befriend the Front Desk

Before traveling, contact your hotel and ask if there’s any sort of discount being offered. “If you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary or special occasion, shout it out,” says Riberiero. Booking travel online limits your prearrival contact with the hotel, so speak up to ensure you get whatever special treatment you deserve.

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Pamper Yourself

Take advantage of the lower-cost spa services abroad. “Treatments that cost a bomb back home are often far cheaper overseas. That may include beach pedicures in Bali, leg-hair threading in Vietnam or having your dead skin nibbled off by doctor fish in Hong Kong,” says Lonely Planet author Sarah Baxter.

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Talk Like a Local

Cut U.S. phone-company roaming charges by purchasing or renting a phone from the country you are traveling in. You could also buy a local SIM card. “Most places in the world have pay-per-minute cell phone services you can top-up as you need. These can cost anywhere from about $3 to $50 plus minutes,” says travel writer Celeste Brash.

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Dine Well at Lunch

Eating at upscale restaurants for lunch and cutting back at dinner can keep you from overspending. “Lunch menus are almost always less expensive than dinner menus, so you can try the region's best food without destroying your budget,” suggests Brash.

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Pack Your Walking Shoes

“Walking tour maps are available for free or at a very low cost at many tourist offices. These are fun ways to discover the subtle details of a town, get sidetracked if you want and get a bit of exercise,” says Brash.

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Bunk Up

College and university accommodations are great options if you’re looking for lodging on a super-low budget. “Schools often have housing for conferences or visitors for much less money than a hotel room of similar standard, and in the summer many schools rent out empty dorm rooms and apartments,” Brash says. “In Canada these can start at 30 U.S. dollars per night.”

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Compare Carriers

A major airline carrier, like U.S. Airways, Delta or United for instance, might be cheaper when you consider baggage fees, booking charges, and transfers from distant airports which are often not included when you travel with a less-known carrier, says Meg Nesterov, contributor to Gadling.com and an American expat living in Istanbul. “I recently found a London flight to work out cheaper on British Airways than EasyJet after factoring in all the fees, plus BA had more flexible flight times and convenient airport hubs,” says Nesterov.

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Budget Wisely

It’s easy to underestimate travel expenses. “Remember to factor in hidden costs such as tipping, airport taxes, port charges, airport parking, shore excursions, and entrance fees,” says Terrence Zepke, author of The Encyclopedia of Cheap Travel: Save Up to 90% on Lodging, Flights, Tours, Cruises, and More!

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Preorder Tickets and Passes

Save money by purchasing rail passes and theater tickets online before you leave. “Buy a pass that bundles admission to several popular attractions. You can find them on such sites as CityPass.net,” says Zepke. Be sure to take the credit card you used to buy the ticket with you so you can prove you’ve already paid.

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Read Regional Publications

“Find destination inspiration and information in local specialty publications,” says Nesterov. Some of her favorites: in-flight magazines on small airlines or local English-language newspapers.

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Fine Tune Search Results

Creating a Google custom search is a great way to keep information relevant and tailored to fit your travel plans. “I created a custom search using all the major travel publications and guidebook websites, newspaper travel sections and favorite personal blogs to search for travel information and add to it regularly when I find new favorite sites. It cuts out the websites you don't care about and focuses on content you trust,” Nesterov says.

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Rent a Home vs. Hotel

In France, a budgeting tip is to stay in gîtes or holiday homes. A gîte might be a free-standing rental house or a room in an owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast. “Gîtes offer fabulous value, allowing visitors to spend a fraction of what they'd need to cough up for a hotel,” says Alex Robertson Textor, contributor to Gadling.com. “Play around with the Gîtes de France website and you'll find that €150 can get you and your honey a beautiful converted farmhouse for a week in Normandy during high season.”

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WWOOF It

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF pairs up volunteers with agricultural and maintenance work on
organic farms around the world. It is a great way to supplement vacation with volunteer work. “Volunteers pay nothing for their accommodations or meals and they are not compensated for their labor,” Textor says.

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Camp the Caribbean

The Caribbean is an expensive region with pricey accommodations, but there are plenty of opportunities to cut costs by camping. “There are several campgrounds in the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago's Department of Agriculture operates a number of campsites as well,” Textor says.

 

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First Published October 17, 2011

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