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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Luxury Budget Travel in 8 Steps

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't travel like a rich person. Some may say that you have an even better experience on your trips, and they mean more, when you have to be creative in planning and paying for them. I find the more work I put into my vacation and the less money I have to spend, the more appreciation I have for it when I get there. With plenty of research and preparation, you can travel better than what your budget would seem to allow.

I know must of us aren’t fortunate enough to have beautiful tropical islands just a short jaunt from our home…and don’t have the luxury of being able to fly in a helicopter there either, but that doesn’t mean that short trips to cool places aren’t possible. Let’s look at some good old-fashioned ways to save you money on your next vacation, which you may not have though of, even if it takes you far from home.

Look for package deals. While package deals aren’t always a “deal”, many of them are and can save you big on your trip. As I’ve said before, it depends on when and where you go, but I’ve been able to book a package for 2 (RT air, hotel and car rental) for less than the price of airfare more than once. If I had to pay for it all separate, it probably would have cost me twice as much. Check sites like BookIt, Expedia, Travelocity, LastMinute, Orbitz, CheapTickets and even the airlines’ websites for package deals. If you think you’ve found a good price, do some research on how much it would cost separately. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, since you can use the same booking site to do it and also you probably have an idea of what you want to spend before you start looking.

Pack light. Yes, I know I keep repeating myself like a broken record on this, but it is the easiest way to save big bucks. Airlines can charge you up to $50 just to check a bag – one way. That means if you have to check it both ways, it’s like you’ve spent an extra $100 on your plane ticket – per traveler who has a bag to check. Unless you’re flying on a discount airline that doesn’t charge you for bags, take half the stuff out of your packing pile. For short trips I recommend packing 3 tops and a pair of pants (and a skirt or dress if you must). You also have what you’re wearing on the plane and, if you layer well, you can get away with a few extra pieces. 

If you’re going on a longer trip, I recommend packing 5 tops and 3-4 bottoms.  Make sure all your pieces mix and match and, if you aren’t opposed to doing laundry, you can get even more wear out of everything you brought. Also, with this kind of packing, you can share a large carry-on with a travel partner. I have packed two week’s worth of clothing for me and my husband, including shoes and toiletries, in my 21” rolling carry-on. I pack snacks and entertainment in a smaller bag and we’re good to go anywhere. Need more help packing smaller? Try these:

  • Spacebags – If you have to take a coat and need to mash it flat, or you find you’ve bought too many souvenirs on your trip, bring yourself some Spacebags. They are like big Ziplock bags designed specifically for your luggage. You put clothes in, zip it up, squeeze all of the air out by rolling it up and then it packs flat in your bag in half the space! I don’t recommend using these TO your destination. If you buy anything, it won’t fit in your bag.
  • Take two pair of shoes, max. As you know, I don’t consider flip flops shoes, since they take up hardly any space and are highly useful on any trip. This said, you have two pair of shoes you can take. One go on your feet on the plane (the bulkiest is the best choice) and the other go in your suitcase and get stuffed with socks, jewelry, ties or whatever else you can fit in there without horrible end results. On my way home, I pack any fragiles in my shoes, like ornaments I might have bought (wrapped in tissue or bubble wrap). They are great at padding those items and I’ve yet to come home to sad broken things.
  • Travel size is the way to go! If you take all your full-size makeup and hair care products, you’re just asking for someone to take away your bag and toss it under the plane. For one, you’re only going to be gone a short time. It takes you months to go through that stuff at home, so you don’t need to take it all with you for two weeks. For another, if liquids/gels/pastes don’t fit in your 3-1-1 bag, you can’t take it on the plane. You can check it or have security throw it in the garbage as you hold back tears. Buy travel sized products, like toothpaste and shampoo, on Minimus.biz or at your local store. Products that don’t come smaller can easily be made that way by purchasing 3oz bottles, tubes, etc., and transferring liquids into them.
  • Pack travel-sized personal grooming products, too! Do you regularly travel with a blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron? Buy the smaller version that you can keep in your travel bag all the time. They take up less space and do just as good a job on the road. This saves packing time and leaves you room in your bag for something else.
  • Pack multi-purpose items. Things like moisturizer with SPF in it or tinted moisturizer let you bring one item instead of two. Other great ideas? A sarong can be used as a skirt, beach cover up, shawl, headscarf, top, belt, picnic/beach blanket or a towel. Because it is so light, it packs easily and can be taken with you everywhere. Your iPod Touch or iPhone can be used to play games, watch movies/videos, take notes, get quick internet access and as a GPS. You get the idea! Travel “gadgets” are one of my favorite topics. 

Get Double Cash Back with Ebates. That’s right! This week is Travel Week on Ebates and there are many travel merchants offering double cash back in honor of it. Before you purchase or book anything online, check to see if they are affiliated with Ebates and make your purchase through their links. If you aren’t yet a member of Ebates, it’s FREE and easy, so do it HERE.

Rent a vacation rental house/condo/apartment. They can be an awesome money-saver if you are staying anywhere for a week or longer. You feel like you’re at home, even on vacation, which can be much more relaxing after a long day of sightseeing. You also don’t have to contend with other vacationers and/or their children being loud in the hallway at all hours. With the kitchen facilities, you can eat in if you want. Stop at the local grocers and pick up some staples to make breakfast or lunch on you own and save money by dining out less.

Take public transportation. While not as glamorous as being driven around town in a taxi, it is much more affordable and probably even more convenient. You can see a bus stop or subway stop and you know that if you stand there, one will come you way. Taxis aren’t always readily available and sometimes you have to call and wait. Public transportation almost always goes to the most touristy and busiest parts of the city. This is great for us tourists, because they go right where we want to go!

Exchange your currency when you get there. You probably won’t always travel to where you need to get new bills, but if you do, exchange money when you get to your destination. You can get by with exchanging just a bit at the airport and then the rest somewhere in the city, where the exchange rate is more advantageous. Probably not a bank, since they sometimes charge a fee (or a higher fee than other places). I’ve had good luck with the front desk of my hotel, but also in small shops that have an exchange desk. They want you to spend more money there, so the fee will be much smaller.

And here’s a General Tip for you. If you find what looks like a fantastic deal on a hotel or vacation rental, research! There might be a reason they are so inexpensive and, even if the pictures look amazing, read the reviews. Not just on the site you’re on, but check out other sites as well, like TripAdvisor. Make sure you can verify that it isn’t infested with mice or in the worst neighborhood in the city. That can make your vacation REALLY interesting, but not in such a good way. You don’t want to be afraid to go to sleep or turn off the lights or leave your belongings there while you’re out.

How do you save money on your trips?

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