Traveling in Style, on a budget

February 8, 2007 at 3:04 pm (Travel)

Last weekend, when I told my mother that Heather and I were heading out to the LA Times Travel and Adventure show, she really wanted to come along with us. At this point in her life, she wants to get out and see the world, without my stepdad, if necessary! Unfortunately, she couldn’t come with us due to other commitments, but over the course of the conversation, I got a pretty good idea of what she was looking for and suggested that I would put together a couple of sample itineraries for her for trips abroad, and that Heather and I would even come along with her if we could afford it. As soon as I hung up the phone, I realized that wasn’t necessarily the smartest things to do, since my mom and I probably have very different ideas about what it means to travel in style; I’m happy with cheap hostels and backpacks and walking places, while I think she wants air-conditioning and buses, if not cars. So, I thought I’d outline some of my favorite tips for traveling in style, but on a budget, to help jumpstart my thinking.

  1. RESEARCH! This is the single most important thing you can do to save money before you go on a trip. Don’t just book a package on Expedia and hope for the best (not that their packages are bad; my wife and I once did Maui for a week in a resort for about $120 per person per day, including meals, thanks to them) . Figure out how much plane tickests and hotels normally cost for that time of year and area, so that you know how much you’re saving if you find a deal. Figure out when the high season is. All of this research will help you figure out the answers to the tips below.
  2. Your flight is one of your two greatest expenses in almost any trip, so shop around. Again, figure out what the normal fare is, then look for deals. Start with Expedia, Travelocity, etc., then (if you’re traveling abroad) look at the website for any airline based in that country or (for domestic) any airline with a hub in that city. Often, there will be special deals only available there. Also, plan and buy well in advance, because ticket prices usually go up the closer you get to your travel date. If you are willing to travel economy class, great! My sister will generally only fly business class, and I’m sure she’s happy doing that, but I’m perfectly willing to cram myself into an economy chair if it means saving $1500. Okay, so that isn’t realy traveling in style, but it’s the destination that matters, if you ask me.
  3. Your housing is your other biggest expense. Outside of looking for cheaper tourist hostel-type places, try looking outside of the city center, if you’re in a city. For example, if you’re in a small European city, see if surrounding towns have fancy places to stay and are near a train station that will get you into the main city. Or, look for an area off the beaten path. If you want to see Venice, fine, see Venice. But if you want to see the Italian countryside, well, there’s more to Italy than Tuscany, and pretty much all of it looks the same (by which I mean, beautiful). So, grab a guidebook and look at a completely different state. Just about everywhere in Europe has little medieval towns with beautiful churches, etc., so you can almost always find something worth visiting there. Or, if part of your trip will be in the big city and part in the country, think about staying in the big city for only a couple of days and then relocate to the country, where everything will be cheaper, instead of commuting by bus or train every day. That will save you money and simplify your life.
  4. Get out of the cities! Most of my favorite memories from traveling involved me going out into the countryside and seeing some beautiful ruin or town that wasn’t crowded with people. The trip itself may cost some money, but it’s probably no more expensive than the museums and galleries you’d be frequenting in town.
  5. Eat out once a day. That’s right, only go to a restaurant for one meal a day, if you can. Meals abroad can cost anywhere between $10 and $40 per person, per meal, depending on where you are. So, have a nice dinner every day, and save money on your other meals. But how to do this stylishly? A quick visit to a local deli or grocery store will supply you with a brick of local cheese, some form of cured meat, fresh fruit like apples that travels well, some fresh bread or crackers, and some bottled water or wine. Toss it in a backpack and, when mealtime comes around, open up your Swiss Army knife and have a meal in whichever public space you are. After all, which is more stylish, eating lunch in some enclosed cafe, or eating lunch in a medieval square, under the eyes of the cathedral, or overlooking a rustic vineyard? If you ask me, the latter.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering, I’m thinking about two itineraries: The first involves the Spanish countryside and Basque country (for which I need to a lot of research!) and the second involves Tuscany and the Veneto, in Italy. I’m pretty sure I can come up with something that my mother will like, with those general outlines.

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