Last time it was about packing the items you will get the most use from. Today this post is about finding the right hotel, eating on a budget, and how to save on transportation.
Where to sleep during your vacation? With all the options out there, you could pull your hair out trying to decide between a B&B, hotel, rental, whatever. The first step is to determine the area you will stay in. This also applies to your transportation cost. The more central you are, the less you will spend on transit. Unfortunately, this isn’t true of hotel costs. The key is to find a place that skirts the area you need. This could be a sketchy area, or it could be residential. Do your research. Also, don’t underestimate Priceline or apps that help you find deals at the last minute. It’s a risk, but if you wait to find your hotel then you could possibly end up in a four or five star hotel that is exactly where you want to be. If you aren’t a risk taker, however, the best thing you can do is research your options. Compare the price of a hotel to the cost of a short-term rental. Sometimes you can save with rentals. Sometimes you pay more for them.
When I went to London last year, I spent hours trying to decide on a place to stay. Often a hotel deal would pop up only to be sold out before I could take advantage of it. I used search engines like Booking.com and Hotels.com, then checked the prices against the actual hotel website. I finally found a hotel (part of a small network in London) in the area I needed. My friend and I wanted to be able to access parts of London easily, and yet be near a park and a residential area. Our hotel was in Kensington, so near Notting Hill that we could walk there; across the street from Hyde Park, and near the Kensington Palace. We were only a block from two central tube lines and there was a bus stop in front of our hotel.
The most important thing to research, other than location, is what you will get included with a hotel or rental. Our London hotel was a bargain for its location and for amenities such as breakfast and wifi included in the price. This may sound greedy (okay, it is greedy), but you want to get as much as possible for your money. Don’t go with expensive hotels, even if they’re a bargain, unless they come with breakfast and wifi. I have noticed that the pricier a hotel, the less it offers (outside of an experience, but seriously, how much time will you be spending in your hotel room anyway?!). There’s no need to sacrifice comfort, but unnecessary luxury is a money drain. Make sure your hotel or rental offers the necessities, especially the wifi. Outside of the US, wifi is not nearly as accessible as it is here. We Americans are spoiled. Therefore, it is essential that your hotel offers it with your room, as you.will.use.it. One last thing: booking sight unseen, especially from across an ocean or halfway around the world, is scary. Check TripAdvisor for hotel reviews. If the hotel has less than a 75% customer rating, don’t book it. I don’t care how cheap or seemingly nice it looks, you will regret it (the voice of experience here).
Now for the next money saver: eating. The #1 reason you should have breakfast included with your hotel (if possible, that is – it’s not a deal breaker though if the price is right) is so that you have one less meal to buy. Eat a hearty breakfast as late as possible and have a light snack for lunch. I find grocery stores are perfect for popping in and grabbing something. If you are organized enough, buy your snacks at home before leaving if you are heading to a locale where the currency is high against the dollar. In that case it is cheaper to bring light snacks with you. I always manage to pack nuts (the 100 calorie packages are perfect for trips), just in case.
Also, if you are traveling with someone, do share. You can always order another dish if you’re still hungry, but it’s harder to tote leftovers around if you don’t finsih your meal. Also, unless you are staying in an apartment rental, you may not have a place to store your leftovers. Sharing with someone else not only helps cut the cost of a meal in half, you also keep yourself from consuming too many calories. Win win, right?!
Should you find yourself in a rental, do visit the grocery store and cook at “home” as often as possible. Again, it’s all about getting the most resources for your money and making adequate use of them so that your hard-earned money is not wasted. Visiting the store and local markets are a great way to experience living in another city, anyway.
That said, do live a little on your vacation. Splurge on a nice restaurant with a good reputation. Personally, though, I love being in places where I can absorb local culture. Small, inexpensive restaurants, markets, and food stalls are great places to hang out, get some good food (or not, but it’s the experience, right?), and watch the local world go by. Some of my fondest memories are of grabbing a sandwich somewhere and consuming it in a nearby park. I’ll never forget munching on bread, cheese, and juicy nectarines in a churchyard in France, awed by the ancient church building that must have seen so much in its decades of standing there, quieted by the War Memorial nearby listing the local boys who had died in the World Wars (it was a small village, you could easily number the dead), and listening to the wind sweep over the grass while a brook gurgled somewhere nearby.
Just Take a Walk
The last money-saving advice I have is to offer some ways to save on transportation. Here again, research will determine whether you save money or not. Your hotel/rental should ideally be in the place you plan to spend the most time in, so that you can walk where you need to and not have to pay transit fares. Look at whether the city you are visiting has reduced fare hours and try to travel during those times. Do not ever buy a transit pass unless you really plan on traveling the length and breadth of a city. In other words, only buy if you will use every penny of that and then some in order to make it worthwhile. But you probably won’t know that ahead of time, so it’s best to buy as you go so that you don’t leave a city with unspent money on a pass. I regretted buying a pass in Rome because I ended up not using it, due to the walkability of the city. I totally wasted about $100 (50 euros). I was talked into it because I thought the transit + museums would pay for it, but I was wrong. A lot of museums weren’t included in the pass and I still spent money on museum entrance fees.
If you are thinking about driving yourself, carefully calculate the cost and compare it to other available options. Should you rent a car to drive someplace, be sure that you research every aspect of the rental. Will there be any additional charges (insurance, taxes, gas costs, etc), and only keep the car for the time you absolutely need it. Research other options for getting to another city. In some places it is even cheaper to fly than to drive. That said, sometimes you can only access a city or village by car. In that case, be sure that you fully research any and all things you will be responsible for, especially if you are going overseas. But of course I don’t need to tell you that. Any responsible adult knows to check everything, right? Right.
For newbie international travelers, one last thing: always calculate currency exchange rates/fees into your budget. You will be paying more or less for everything once you leave the US. Be aware of currency rates before you go and be sure you calculate a little extra for this. Also, it’s usually not a good idea to exchange your money at an airport. I like to find an ATM (hopefully you have a good bank that won’t punish you for using one) and take out what I need and then a little more. I don’t like carrying a lot of cash around for security reasons, but more importantly, I hate leaving a country with unused currency. Try not to use your credit or bank cards very often if you are out of the country, as they will stick you with a foreign transaction fee for every.single.purchase. That said, you do need one handy in case of an emergency. Try to be a cardholder of a travel-friendly credit card, if possible. Here are some great tips from Rick Steves.
Now it’s my turn to hear from you. What is your number one way to save $ while traveling? Please and thank you for sharing.