- We budget for travel on an annual basis, and then do a rough outline of where we think we would like to go, and when, for the entire year, including estimated costs. I then start looking for deals. Most of our long distance vacation decisions are made based on what travel deals cross our paths; meaning we don't fixate on one particular destination, but rather wait until something enticing and deeply discounted makes it's way to us. One of my favorite sites for last minute discounted cruise deals is the 90-Day Ticker at Vacations To Go. Another good site to locate deals on all types of travel is the weekly Top 20 from Travel Zoo. Both of our recent Gate 1 trips, for example, were purchased after being featured on Travel Zoo's weekly Top 20 deals email.
- We set a budget for each trip and stay within it. Travel for us is really not so much about shopping or fine dining; rather it's more about meeting people, photographing what we are seeing, and doing our shopping and eating as much like the locals as possible. Not that we don't enjoy souvenirs or fine dining - we do - but only as occasional one-offs, rather than being the primary focus of a trip.
|Our souvenirs from Thailand, which totaled about $50, included some handcrafts made by the hill tribes we visited, an opium pot, a carved wooden elephant, and a framed photo and bookmarks made from - get ready - recycled elephant dung!|
- We withdraw cash when we arrive, generally at the foreign destination airport. We've compared the cost of converting currency here at home vs using foreign ATM's, and the foreign ATM's win every time. The same fee is charged whether we withdraw a lot of money or just a little, so we try to draw out enough to cover our entire trip in just one transaction.
- We use cash whenever possible, avoiding the foreign transaction fees charged for ongoing credit card usage.
- If we do use our credit card, we request that the hotel, store or restaurant charge us in their foreign currency, meaning we do not want them to convert the charge to US dollars. Conversions done abroad generally favor the hotel, store or restaurant, and we therefore prefer to have our own bank do the conversion instead.
- We track our daily spend and review each night to see where we stand. It's similar to being on a diet and weighing yourself daily . . . it forces accountability which might otherwise go by the wayside.
- We pack energy/granola bars equal to one per person per day for the duration of the trip. Breakfast is generally included with most hotel stays abroad, and a granola or energy bar, plus a piece of fruit generally available for free at the hotel and eaten midday, will see us through to dinner. We enjoy eating one meal out daily, but that's about it. Two meals eaten out is a bit too much, both monetarily and calorically.
- We'll often stop instead for a midday coffee or tea break at a local cafe. It's usually very cheap, and very interesting in that there are so many different ways to serve tea and coffee. It also allows us an opportunity to interact with the locals since cafe tables tend to be placed very close together.
- We avoid public transportation as much as possible, preferring to walk instead. Walking is a great way to get to know a new area, meet the local folk, and experience the local sights. It's a great, free workout as well.
- Increasingly hotels offer free WiFi, often in their lobby, as do coffee shops. Internet cafes are another good choice to stay in touch with friends and loved ones for very little money. What we don't do is buy internet service from either hotels or cruise lines. Way too expensive!
|In Thailand with our Kindle Fires, using the hotel lobby's free WiFi to stay in touch with family and friends|
- We find the closest market as soon as we can upon arrival, and buy enough beverages and snacks to see us through our trip, helping to avoid the higher cost of doing so at whatever hotel we're staying at. As an example, in Thailand we could purchase a can of the local Chang beer at a nearby 7-Eleven store for 25 baht, or about 75 cents US dollar, vs 120 baht, about $4 US if we took it from the stocked mini bar, or even worse, 220 baht, about $7 US, if we ordered it instead at the hotel's restaurant/bar. Multiply that cost difference times two weeks for two people and the result is very significant: $21 for 24 cans of Chang beer purchased at 7-Eleven vs. $96 if consumed from the mini bar vs. $196 if ordered at the hotel restaurant/bar.
|$21 vs $196 for the same darn thing? Easy choice!|
- We make visiting a local supermarket a top priority. It's a great way to get insight into how people eat, and an absolutely fabulous place to pick up items to take home. Local coffee and tea, packaged cookies, chocolate, biscuits, crackers, interesting snack food items . . . all travel well, clear customs easily, are inexpensive, and make great gifts for the folk back home.
- We invest in a good travel book, or even better, check one out from the library for free, and bring it along on the trip. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge we have, the less likely we are to fall into a tourist trap. Plus, many travel books, particular those by Frommers or Rick Steves, contain excellent walking guides, eliminating the need to purchase a tour. And working to follow these guides and not get lost is just plain fun, reminding me a bit of being a kid and going on a scavenger hunt.
- We bring an empty water container, which we fill each day from our room via the hotel's generally filtered water supply and carry with us. It kills me to pay for water since the markup is something like 500%!
- We convert large bills to small bills as soon as possible, generally at the hotel, to prevent a situation of trying to purchase something too small to allow the vendor to give back adequate change, and having to therefore purchase more than we want of something, or worse, being given back the wrong change and being too unfamiliar with the local currency to catch the error quickly enough.
- We look for every opportunity to enjoy the local culture the way the residents do, which is generally free or very, very inexpensive. As an example, in China we enjoyed going out to the parks and exercising, dancing and playing with the locals for free. In Thailand we enjoyed getting up early and watching the procession of monks collecting daily offerings from the locals. And in many other countries like Sweden, Italy and England, we enjoyed following well marked, free walking guides to see the local sights.
|Courtesy of Rick Steves' travel guides, we explored the alleys and byways of Gamla stan, what the old section of Stockholm, Sweden is called, even as people on expensive guided tours were trailing behind us seeing the same exact things.|
Did I miss anything obvious? Is there something you do that I haven't yet thought of? Please feel free to share it here.