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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Don't Wait -- Celebrate! Week 8.13.10


Thanks for visiting my travel blog! Here I will share my money saving tips for all aspects of travel, as well as give recommendations on travel clothes, accessories and other gear. As you may know, I enjoy life and all it has to offer, which includes traveling as often as I can. Unfortunately, like many of us, I don't have a big savings account, but I still want to get the most out of trips with my husband and stay in nice hotels and eat good food. I'll be posting weekly updates on how to save money when reserving airfare, hotels, cruises, restaurants and car rentals. I will also be adding general travel tips and useful travel items that I found and take with me on my own travels. For more deals, join me on Facebook (Shereen Travels Cheap) or follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/shereentrvlschp).
Leaving on a jet plane
Airfare can be a huge chunk of your vacation budget. You will want to save as much as possible, right? I mean, I sure do. Traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday is a tried and true way to save on plane tickets. Sometimes, you can save hundreds by just switching your travel dates to fly on these days. Of course there are plenty of other ways to save, too! Try some of these money saving tips:
  • American Airlines is offering flight deals across the U.S. through December 15th. Fares start at $69 each way for bookings by August 24th. Find selected cities served here: http://bit.ly/a4W5XI
  • Track airfare prices on www.yapta.com. You input your desired travel destination(s) and dates and Yapta will scour the internet to find the lowest prices for you and then send you an email with the information they found. Each week they will send you the best price they found. If there is a significant price drop in between, they will email it to you right away, so you can book it. THEN when you have your flight, use Yapta again to continue to track prices. If the price drops significantly before your trip, you may be eligible for a refund or travel voucher for the difference. Each airline is different, so check the rules on Yapta's website. You must register your flight on Yapta's airline refund program, so they can tell you when you are eligible.
  • Look for travel deals on Tuesday and Wednesday. These are the days that airlines put out there specials and the least likely day for people to buy, because it is the middle of the week and they are working. Bummer for them, but awesome for you. You might also check early on Saturday mornings, because they change the prices again on these days and usually set them higher than the rest of the week. Sometimes, though, you come across a crazy good deal that was put in by accident. Lucky you if you can snap it up before they catch the mistake on their end. If you book it before then, they have to honor it. Hooray for you!
  • Summer is the best time to buy airfare...for Fall. Prices for flights are always going to skyrocket for Summer travel, so if you can hold off until September, you are likely to get much better rates. Of course, you can see the competing fare deals for those travel times all through June, July and August.
  • Delsey fusion Save money on extra fees by not checking bags and only packing whatever can fit in your carry-on bag. Not only are there plenty of stores that sell lightweight travel clothes, but they are also stylish. My favorite bag is made by Delsey. It is 21", has a great telescoping handle, fits enough clothes for my husband and I for two weeks (wetake the equivalent of stuff for five days, mix-and-match pieces and do laundry). We take two pair of shoes for each of us and then a pair of flip flops. We pack the flip flops and one pairo of shoes and then wear the heaviest pair we take on the plane. When everything in your travel wardrobe color-coordinates, you never need more than two pair of shoes: one casual and one dressy.
  • Baby B'airSave money on an entire airline seat by not buying one for your baby. If your child is under two years old, they can travel for free, providing you hold them on your lap. Sure, it can be inconvenient for a few hours, but that's hundreds of dollars in your pocket that could be spent elsewhere. If you're worried about your baby's safety, sitting on your lap, or your little one is especially squirmy, invest in the Baby B'air safety harness for them that attaches to your seatbelt. It is a cute little vest that holds them securely: www.babybair.com

Sleep for cheap
There are a lot of things to consider when finding a place to stow your belongings and lay your head at night. Price may be the biggest factor, but it doesn't mean the less you pay the crappier your stay. There are plenty of budget and moderate hotels that offer wonderful service and surroundings if you know where and how to look. I like to weigh all my options when deciding on where to sleep: does it have a restaurant? Is it close to what I want to do? Is it convenient to public transportation? Does it offer free breakfast? Free WiFi? Is it on a busy street? Do the rooms offer kitchenettes? All these questions are important, but here are some ways to save on hotels you want to stay in at your chosen destination:
  • If your travels will take you to the Southwest, stay from only $26/night in great hotels in Reno, Tucson, along Route 66 and more! Where else can you stay for less than dinner? Not many that I know of...that I would want to STAY in. Visit casinos, historic roadside diners and Tombstone. Book soon! http://bit.ly/cqMVpg
  • With the economic downturn still affecting travelers and businesses, tourist destinations like Las Vegas are hurting for business right now and rooms can be found for super cheap, even at nice hotels like Trump International and MGM Grand. Deals can be found every day on hotel sites. Try http://www.bookit.com/ and http://www.hotels.com/.
  • Remember how I said that www.Yapta.com was great for tracking airline prices? Well, you can also use them to track hotel rates. The only difference is, you need to search for the hotel(s) you are interested in and then track those specific ones. Even if you have reservations with them already, keep them on your list and keep checking for prices to drop. If they do, get on the phone with them and see if you can change your reservation to reflect the lower rate.
  • Hotel rates are almost always cheaper on Sunday through Thursday nights. Most people travel on the weekend. They know this, just like the airlines, so they make prices for Friday and Saturday stays more expensive. In some cases, they can be twice as much as on weeknights.
  • Alright, so we've all heard about the Gulf oil spill crisis and seen the pictures of the black water and marshes. This has caused a lot of people to change their travel plans. That's great for YOU! The Southeastern area of the U.S. is experiencing a devastating drop in tourism. Places that aren't even affected by the spill, like the beaches of Florida, are deserted. Because of this, they are offering rock-bottom prices on beachfront hotels and cruises right now.
  • Sign up for www.hotels.com Welcome Rewards and get free hotel nights. For every 10 nights you book through Hotels.com, you get one free night. You don't need to stay 10 nights in a row, in the same hotel or even in the same year. Your credits just accumulate until you've reached 10 nights and then you are eligible to receive your free night. The price will be based on the average of the price per night you stayed for each of your 10 paid nights. If you wish to stay at a hotel that costs more than that, you will just pay the difference.
  • Find a hotel with a kitchenette and save money on fancy extras and fix some of your own meals. Food can really add up on vacation, especially if you have children. Groceries are usually very convenient and much cheaper than eating out every meal. I carry along a reusable grocery bag (since every store near me sells them and I have a bunch, plus they are easier to carry than plastic bags and can be used for a multitude of other things on vacation, such as a laundry bag or a beach bag). Even if you just buy food for breakfasts and snacks for between meals, you are saving a ton of money.
Going on a sea cruise
Cruising can be a great way to vacation in many places all on one trip without ever having to change rooms or drag your bags around. Your food and most drinks are included. You also get free entertainment, activities, and awesome scenery. If you think cruising is expensive, think again, because there are serious deals to be had.
  • Have you been trying to decide between a cruise and a Disney vacation? Why not combine them?! Take a 4-night cruise on Disney Cruises in September from $499/pp. Enjoy Disney shows, character meet and greets, gourmet dining, the first water coaster at sea and more! http://bit.ly/aYO9iJ
  • Sail on big ships. The bigger the ship, the more cabins to fill and the more deals to be found. Think of it as Las Vegas on the ocean. Those huge hotels have so many rooms to fill that even with some of them going for half price the regular rate, they are still making a ton of money...at least much more than they would make if those rooms were empty.
  • Turn to Cruise Critic if you have ANY kind of questions about cruising or ships. They tell you everything from how to pick the right cabin for you to what kind of entertainment you'll look forward to on each ship. I love reading all the cruiser reviews of the ship I'll be sailing on and what they thought was good and not so good, plus what they thought of the excursions that were offered. Sadly, I also found more information on my ship here than I did on the actual cruiseline's website. www.cruisecritic.com
  • Just like with hotels in the Gulf, cruises going to that part of the world are being offered at big discounts, because lots of people have changed their travel plans and have decided to go elsewhere. Many waters and beaches are unspoiled and waiting for you to sail. This might mean that the ships will be less crowded, too. Always a plus in my book.
  • Get the most out of your cruise, by not spending the whole time laying around by the pool. Your rate is mostly-inclusive, so the more you do, the further your dollar goes. See the shows, play mini-golf, go to the clubs and use the workout room. If it's included, try it out. You need to work off your buffet meals somehow. Besides, you went on vacation to see and do new things...and you can sit at home for free!
  • Did you know that cabins located on different decks on cruise ships have different prices even though the room is exactly the same? You could save hundreds of dollars by just moving up or down a "floor"! Make sure you price compare cabins before making your final decision.
  • Cruise in the off-season instead of peak times. There may be fewer choices of cruises to your desired destination, but there will also be fewer travelers, which means lower prices and less crowded ships. You might also be able to get some extra perks by booking when the cruise companies are not as busy and really want to fill cabins. Everyone likes freebies, like spa credits and drink coupons.
Getting around
You aren't always lucky enough to be in a place where you can walk all over, or even want to if you could. There are many transportation options that are inexpensive, no matter where you are headed. Look at your options and weigh the pros and cons. I don't usually take taxis on vacation, because they cost a fortune, but some places they are really reasonable. In Quito, Ecuador we took a cab ride up to the Teleferiqo, which would have cost us at least $30-40 at home, but only cost us $10, including tip!
  • I count my feet as a mode of transporation, since I walk so much on most of my trips. Crap shoes can make or break a vacation, especially if you plan to do a lot of walking. You can't just leave your feet in the hotel room or back in the car. Right now, you can take an extra 25% off sale shoes at http://www.shoes.com/ with promo code: 25SALE. Valid on everyone's shoes for the whole family.
  • Take a compass with you, especially if you plan to walk a lot. This has saved us at least one major time while trying to figure out a city map in the middle of a city park and needing to get somewhere on time.
  • This is one of my favorite websites! Find all maps to public transportation across the globe on UrbanRail. From Boston to Shanghai, use it on your iPhone and laptop. Print out maps before you leave home! The maps are in color and complete...and FREE! http://www.urbanrail.net/
  • We rent cars a lot on vacation. It saves us time when we are going places where we can't possibly walk and our plans aren't convenient for public transportation. Rental companies don't charge you ahead of time to reserve a car online, so keep checking rates up to the day before you leave. There are no penalties to cancel your previous one if you find a better deal and rebook.
  • If you have car insurance at home, skip taking the insurance at the rental company, because you are already covered under your own policy. (This does not apply to rentals out of the country. Also, double-check with your auto insurance to make sure you are covered in any vehicle you drive.)
  • Do you plan on taking the train between cities? This can be fun, fast and a great way to take the scenic route quickly, but there are many extra costs on trains that can add up, just like on the airplane. Bring your own snacks on the train, as just a sandwich in the dining car could cost you $10. Imagine how much you'll spend with any sides and a drink, times however many people are in your party. Ouch.
  • Get a multi-day pass for public transportation. It is usually much cheaper than buying a ticket for each trip if you plan to do quite a bit of sightseeing. Look into cards at your particular destination and see if they offer anything like the London Travelcard or Oyster Card. Each has it's own advantages, but both are cheaper than paying for each trip individually.
...or lunch or breakfast or a snack? I don't know about you, but I am always excited about eating somewhere new and trying potentially delicious food. I mean, food can be one of the most memorable aspects of your vacation and a bad meal can stay with you for years. You don't want to look back on your week in Spain and remember nothing but all the bad meals you had, because you didn't research any restaurants or ask any locals for recommendations.
  • I love food. I can't help it. I plan out almost all of my vacation meals before I leave home, including where I'm going to eat at the airport(s). Maybe I'm weird, but I don't think I can be the only one. Sign up for your destination city's Groupon. They are available in selected cities in the U.S., Canada and over 15 other countries. It's one of the best daily deal sites I've come across and they offer many widely varied food deals, including percentage off and 2-for-1. http://www.groupon.com/
  • So...uh...ask the locals for recommendations. It's probable that they won't point you towards Taco Bell or Applebees, but to their favorite local spots that have great regional food.
  • The first stop I always make in my travel plans is TripAdvisor. You can find candid reviews for almost any restaurant around the globe. Sort by price, cuisine and meal (i.e., breakfast, lunch, dinner or late night). I always look for sugestions by actual travelers before deciding to make a reservation. The best ones are super detailed and tell you what they ate, what the restaurant looked like, if it was crowded, if the staff was friendly/attentive and the price range. Usually, there will even be a website for you to check out. There are so many options on here that you probably wouldn't find them in all the guidebooks put together. http://www.tripadvisor.com/
  • Avoid ordering off the kids' menu by sharing adult entrees. Not only will you save money, but your children will have better dining options when they don't have just grilled cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza to choose from.
  • There are a lot of restaurants that have Kids Eat Free deals. Check out the website KidsEatFor to find them and save money on food on your trip. www.KidsEatFor.com
  • Are you or any of your traveling companions vegetarian? It's hard enough to communicate your order or decipher your menu when you eat meat, but if you have special dietary needs, this can be even more challenging. Use your phone to help you out. With the Veggie Passport app from iTunes, you can pick from a list of 33 languages and phrases that is translated, so you can show your waiter, companion or host.
  • Buy discounted restaurant gift certificates for your destination at Restaurant.com. For $10 (and lost of times cheaper with coupon codes found online) for a $25 gift certificate, you can't beat that for lunch or dinner. www.Restaurant.com
  • Take a picnic lunch and eat in a nearby park while relaxing and enjoying the nice weather and an inexpensive meal.
  • Look for restaurant deals in Europe, and also make reservations, on TopTable. It is the equivalent of OpenTable, but has many dining specials and discounts. http://www.opentable.co.uk/ for U.S. restaurants, use http://www.opentable.com/.
Are We There Yet?
This, and "I'm bored" are among the worst things to hear when you get to your destination and realize that you haven't planned enough stuff to keep your family amused. Getting there is just the first job on your to-do list for your holiday. I'm not saying you have to pack your days to the gills until your family curses you as they crawl into the hotel room, clutching their aching feet and wishing they had stayed home, but enough to be busy doing something at least part of every day. This gives you the flexibility to do other things you find along the way or just relax the rest of the day.
  • Entertainment Books are awesome for your hometown's entertainment and events, but did you know if you register your book online, it gets you discounts to theme parks and other entertainment wherever Entertainment is offered? You can also buy books for other regions, if you plan to spend a significant amount of time in any of the selected cities in the U.S. and Canada.
  • This is a great website! Find some excellent discounts on plays, shows and other entertainment in London, New York and Las Vegas on Broadway Box. Find 2-for-1 deals for many shows or even dinner and show packages. http://www.broadwaybox.com/
  • Daily Deal sites are all the rage now. Everyone has one, practically. Check out Groupon for your destination city and find daily deals on entertainment, dining, tours and personal services (like spa services).http://www.groupon.com/

  • I hate paying $8-10 for show tickets. I don't know about you, but I don't think printing those things out cost that much. Avoid paying service fees on entertainment tickets by buying direct at the venue box office, instead of through Ticketmaster or other ticket sites.

  • Use TimeOut guides to find out the current entertainment choices available in cities around the world. TimeOut is everywhere and bring you the ULTIMATE guides to anywhere you could possibly want to travel. www.TimeOut.com
Packing Tips
If you're like me, packing is a super fun challenge to get as much useful stuff in my bag in as little space as possible. If you're like a lot of other people, packing is just a challenge. The more you practice, the better you'll get at it and you'll be a packing master! Here are some great tips to make the process go more smoothly for you.

  • Purchase a packable rain jacket for each person in your party. They take up less room than umbrellas and are more convenient, because they can also be used as an outer layer if it gets chilly.
  • Convertible dressPurchase a convertible dress that can be worn in a variety of ways so you only need to bring one dress with you. Pack some extra accessories to change it up even more. Look at the Infinite Dress (www.infinitedress.com) and the 8-in-1 dress and skirt on Amazon (http://amzn.to/9aXkj8) They come in a variety of colors and fabrics, depending on where you look. They are available in different price points, too.
  • Did you know that clothing with bamboo and soy are naturally cooler and wick away moisture and also don't retain odors in the fiber? You can wear that same shirt for 4 days straight if you want.
  • Done!Roll your clothes to avoid wrinkles and also get more into your suitcase. Works great when more than one person are sharing a carry-on and you need to get a week or more worth of clothes into it. See how I do it by seeing my photo album on Facebook for my current vacation. http://bit.ly/cwtoO4
  • Buy travel sized toiletries and personal products, like flat irons and hair dryers. These will save a lot of room in your bag and also allow you to take more in your 3-1-1 bag.
  • Make two piles of clothes before you pack: and absolute essentials and a would be nice to have pile. Pack your absolute essentials and leave the other stuff at home. This ensures that you don't overpack.

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