i only have HOW much??

I’ve already talked about travelling on a generous budget, but in reality, unless your name starts with Brad and ends with Pitt, you probably couldn’t afford a vacation like that every time! Therefore, budgeting is a key factor when planning most vacations.

There are so many ways in which you can save while you spend. Especially now in our economic situation, many companies are using words like “high cost savings”, “budget friendly” and “affordable” in their advertisements. Deals and steals are the name of the game, and in a time where money is tight and times are tricky, everyone from major airlines to your local kayak rental agency is looking to cut you a deal. So how do you save more money in order to spend more time on vacation?

First off, you have to think about timing. Of course vacations normally fall around summer and holiday times, but that is also when prices are highest. Hotels and airlines can hike up costs sometimes by the thousands during peak travelling days. Therefore, being willing to travel during the off season could save bundles at the start. Think about taking a trip during March or April at the beginning of the year, or September-October during the fall season. Yes, it’s not exactly ideal if you have children (school breaks are usually before and after these periods), but if you are looking to save money, this could be a great option. Plus, places are less crowded with tourists, as most people do not vacation during this these times. So, on top of saving money, you are avoiding long lines and bustling crowds! Score!

Once you’ve figured out the time of your trip, start to think about where you are going and who you are going with. US travel is usually pretty easy when it comes to booking your lodging. Most hotel rooms are large, and there is no rule for the number of guests per room. European hotels, on the other hand, are small, AND there IS a rule for number of guests. Therefore, your idea of packing 5 into a 2 bedroom hotel room?? Not gonna happen! For couples travelling, lodging is not as much of a problem. If your spouse is willing, you can save money right away by choosing a smaller room. Plus, the availability of 1 bedroom rooms is quite large in most cities. However, the more people involved in the trip, the harder it gets. This means, with a family of 5, you would need at least two rooms. And at upwards to 400 dollars a night (with a mid-range hotel), this can get very expensive! When my entire immediate family travelled together last year, we rented an apartment instead of getting hotel rooms. With seven of us, we would have needed at least 3 rooms! Instead, with the apartment, we were able to all be together, and had the added bonus of a living room AND kitchen, which ultimately cut down on food costs later on. If you are travelling with a larger party, it’s good to check with rental agencies in your destination city for affordable rates on condos, apartments, etc. They might be a lot more cost effective for you than a hotel. Some sites to check out are:

www.homeaway.com (rated Travel + Leisure “Best of the Web” 2010)

www.vacationrentals.com

www.apartmentsapart.com

Adding on to the fact that these places will offer you more space, another benefit is the kitchen. Utilizing the kitchen in our apartment saved my family on total food costs. Instead of eating out every meal, we ventured out to a local market to stock up on staple items. We made it a goal to eat at least one meal at the house with our grocery items. For a family of 7, this ultimately saved us at least 50+ dollars a day. With that extra money, we were able to use it towards museum costs and dining dollars.

Other options for lodging are hostels. Now, before you go thinking that hostels are only giant frat houses for poor, struggling, smelly college kids, many have improved greatly over the years and are now more like standard hotels, but for a considerably lower price. A couple sites to check out are:

www.hihostels.com

www.famoushostels.com

Besides lodging, there are plenty of other ways to save money on your trip. I briefly touched on utlizing your kitchen for budget purposes, but if you do not have access to such, there are still ways for you to save. Eat at a farmer’s market for one of your meals. Find a grocery and make a picnic lunch to enjoy at the park. Since you are going to be spending money for every meal, pick and choose which ones you want to splurge on. Your budget (and your waistline!) will thank you later!

some market shopping...london 2007

When it comes to entertainment, plan in advance. Find out when museums are offering free admission. Buy a metro card for the subway or the city trolley. Try not to use taxis, as they are usually the most expensive transportation option. Many cities will offer multi day passes for their public transit, which makes it a good buy in the end if you are planning on spending more than a couple of days in one city. Another option to look out for are passes to museums, shows, parks, etc. Some cities will group together entertainment options for a bulk rate. It allows you access to each place, as well as discounts on merchandise, food, etc. Yes, they can seem pricey, but overall, when you break down the cost, you are saving money. These options, though, are really only a good buy if you plan on visiting all or most of the sites. If not, then a single use pass is the way to go.

parks are always free! Madrid 2010

Another cost saving option? Hop on / Hop off buses. Most places offer these methods of sightseeing, and the cost is usually quite low. It’s a great way to get a broad scope of the area as well. A suggestion is getting a pass for the first couple of days you are there. Take the entire route, and really get a feel for the city. Then, once you have seen everything, make note of the areas that interested you the most. Spend the rest of your time in those regions, touring by foot. This cuts down on time spent trying to figure out where everything is. Plus, walking is free! It is one of THE best ways to save money on a trip. You can get in some sightseeing AND exercise at the same time! Sites to visit include:

www.hopon-hopoff.com

www.city-sightseeing.com

www.theoriginaltour.com

Other little tips and tricks?

Drink water – Sodas and alcoholic beverages cost money! Of course, I’m not one to pass up a martini or two (or three) on vacation, but limiting your intake of beverages to mostly water will help you pinch pennies.

Group travel – Rates are usually higher for less people, so try to travel in groups! It’s understandable that this is not always easy, as obviously the more people you have, the more you have to accommodate for everyone’s needs. However, group rates are a great way to save the buckaroos….So, everyone, do you have your exit buddy?? 🙂

MY exit buddy...Florence 2010

Bring lightweight, multi use clothing – unless you are travelling to the Antarctic or Siberia, chances are you aren’t going to need that goose down parka with the detachable hood. So, leave it at home! The less you pack, the better. Try not to bring that extra bag. For one, you won’t have to pay the 25 dollar extra bag fee at the airport, and two, you’ll be less tempted to stock up on souvenirs!! 🙂 Sneaky, but it works!

Make sure to have enough cash – This might sound odd, but chances are (especially if you are a Bank of America client), your bank will not be located at your destination. Therefore, when withdrawing cash from the ATM, you will be hit with those pesky withdrawel fees. For a one time draw, this is not bad, but if you are constantly pulling out cash, those 3 dollar fees will start to add up! That’s the cost of a coffee or pastry at the cute little Parisian cafe you just passed by! So, make sure you factor in the amount of cash you will need BEFORE you go.

One of the best things about the internet is the readily available access to sites/advice/trip info/etc. There are so many resources to use in order to plan the best possible vacation tailored to your specific needs. Here are some great sites that I have found helpful over the years in planning my own trips:

Travel + Leisure Magazine
Budget Travel Magazine
Lonely Planet
Trip Advisor
Kayak.com
Expedia
Rick Steves Europe
Virtual Tourist
Let’s Go

Just writing this gives me an itch to start planning another trip! I’m already saving up for another European adventure this summer, and I cannot WAIT to see what is in store!

hearts and hugs,

B.

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