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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

8 Ways to Splurge While Saving

I try to take at least one big trip a year. Whether it's a quick trip to South Beach or a trek around Italy, I like to travel. Oftentimes people tell me that they'd like to go on trips, but can't afford it. I try to be frugal in my day-to-day life. I don't have a fancy new car. I don't have the latest television. Heck, I don't even have cable. I do these things so I can save a bit and splurge on the occasional luxury. So why would my travels be different? I splurge on luxurious vacations while still saving along the way. I travel smart.

If I'm going to take a trip, I want it to be memorable. I know that this may be the only time I visit some of these places. I can't pinch pennies in all areas, but I need enough money to enjoy myself. It's a delicate balance. When I take a trip I use the following tricks to keep it within budget, get good deals, and have the cash to splurge when I want to. Every bit you save can add up to a nice dinner, a glass of wine, or even a luxury hotel stay.

Tip #1 Research
It seems simple enough. Look up some spots online and figure out where you are going. But a little bit of research goes a long way. Sites like TripAdvisor and books like the DK travel guides go a long way to give you the information you need. Check out websites for the spots you want to visit to figure out if there is a discount for getting tickets early. Find out which attractions charge and which don't. Prioritize activities. This upfront research can give you the information you need to make decisions and understand the standard rates so you don't overpay. Read my post on pre-trip planning for more info and resources.

Tip #2 Stay in the Hostel in City and the Resort in the Country
Plan to stay in some smaller more economical hotels so that you can splurge on the resort for part of your trip. When I do this, I try to get the most for my money. In a big expensive city, where I'm out exploring most of the day, I'll stay in a small and cheap (but highly-rated) hotel. In a less expensive area, I'll splurge for the resort at half the price of a 4-star in the city. This is especially easy to do when you are visiting multiple cities/countries. Stay in the resort in the country with a more favorable exchange rate and rough it in the others.

It's amazing how clean and comfortable some small hotels are. Don't knock it because it's cheap. If you've done your research, you can find some inexpensive gems in upscale areas. When you're looking for that gem, read the reviews with your own preferences in mind. A spot might be rated low because the elevator doesn't work, but it's only three stories and you're capable of walking up the stairs. Some may complain that it's loud and too close to the street, but you're a heavy sleeper. Take the extra step to rate the ratings. I've found low-cost centrally located rooms with balconies, good water pressure, and friendly staff. I've stayed at hostel-type places where I still got my own bathroom, a view of a gorgeous courtyard, and plenty of space. 

The money saved at the hostel can pay for a spot with an amazing view, a full-service restaurant, or chocolates on your pillow. It's worth roughing it a bit to feel like royalty!

Tip #3 Book in Advance
In some cases you can get a discount on hotels if you book in advance. Some advance bookings require partial or full payment in advance. You are guaranteed the room and you can check out the rate schedule at some spots to make sure you get the best possible rate. In some cases, pre-booked tickets to local attractions can save you money.

Tip #4 Pay in Advance
You may be able to save 5% or more by paying for hotel rooms in advance. Fewer spots offer last-minute discounts these days. If you're planning a big trip on a budget, it may not be worth the risk. Weigh the likelihood of cancellation and take the risk if you can. That 5% can equal an upgrade or breakfast during your stay.

Tip #5 Opt for a Fancy Lunch and Light Dinner
If there is an expensive must-try restaurant on your list, try it out for lunch. You can experience all the luxury of the meal for a reduced rate. The food will be the same quality and much of the time the same selections. You may get smaller portions and a more casual environment, but the food will still be delicious (at a fraction of the price). 

Tip #6 Go Off Season (Barely)
Most places have pretty clear off and on season schedules. Not only is it less crowded and you spend less time in line, you can save money on all aspects of your trips off-season. Your airfare, hotel, transportation will be cheaper. You might find good specials at restaurants trying to get your business. Many hotels show clear on/off season rates, these are a good resource to determine what the seasons are for the area. A week or two before the tourist season starts is the best time to take advantage of these rates while still having good trip weather and access to the attractions. If you visit off-season you risk the possibility of attractions and restaurants being closed, but if it's close to the tourist season the locals will be gearing up to welcome the crowd.

Tip #7 Take Advantage of Street Food and Markets
One of the first things I do when visiting a new spot is to hit their city market or farmer's market. I like to pick up snacks for an impromptu picnic or to hold me over so I don't make an impulsive meal decision. It's not just produce and dried nuts, you can get hot meals and fresh ready-made meals at the market. In many markets the food vendors are mixed in with the fruit stands and other wares. 

When we are out and about a quick and cheap lunch can be found at a pick-up window or a food cart. 

You can get some delicious food from these food vendors without having the increased price tag for the seat and other restaurant amenities. You can save a good deal of cash and try a variety of food while you walk around and take in the environment. 

Tip #8 Skip the Guides Get the Guide Book
If you want to save money but still want to get the luxury of a guide, get a guide book. 

Many museums offer guide books and books of their collections. Instead of spending the cash on a quick tour of the collection, grab the book and take your time. When we visited the Ufizi I saw tours for as much as $110 for one hour. I got the Uffizi book for $15. I was able to share with my travel buddies for our own private tour. The book also serves as a nice souvenir of the trip, so I skipped the exit gift shop. This is especially nice at museums that prohibit personal photos.

Most of the DK travel guide books have walking tours that include details about the attractions and even some restaurants and pubs to visit along the way. The trivial tidbits and historic background in the DK descriptions give me enough information make the tour around the city memorable. 

Don't assume that travel is out of your price range. If you travel smart you can splurge on your trips while saving along the way.

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