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Whenever I tell my friends that I’m traveling with my family on a budget, they start thinking the most outlandish things: I’m going to sleep on the street, starve myself, go to a foreign city, backpack with only 3 changes of clothes, and forego baths for the next two weeks. Little do they know that I’ve gone to wonderful places in Europe, the U.S., and Asia, all on a budget. Well, not for free, of course – but a budget trip, when well planned, can help you save money while making the most of your vacation. When I was younger, I availed of my dad’s free tickets – he worked with an airline – so we were able to travel a lot as a family. Now that I’m older and there are no more free tickets, I’ve found a few tips that can help you have a fun trip on a budget. Money isn’t always equal to enjoyment – especially when you can take advantage of a lot of free or budget stuff!
1. Hunt, hunt, hunt!
When it comes to budget travel, the Internet is your best friend. Sites such as www.hotwire.com can help you select low-priced accommodations and flights. Sites such as www.tripadvisor.com can help you balance price with quality based on people’s opinions and experiences.
Before I hunt for budget hotels, I make a list of the things that I need: a breakfast package with accommodations, walking distance from major sights, clean bathrooms, clean rooms, and good reviews from tourists who have the same priorities that I do. I look for these things in people’s reviews as I sort hotels from lowest to highest priced. Then, I pick the most inexpensive hotel that meets my needs. This, of course, means that I have to be strategic. I need to hunt through as many sites as possible. I need to set a budget and stay within that budget. I also have to start my hunt months in advance, since that’s when lots of promos come out.
2. Find a friend!
One of the benefits of studying abroad is having a wide network of friends from different countries. If you have friends from other countries that you can visit, you can ask them for help, whether you need them to check out a hotel for you, or ask if you can crash at their place. Chances are, your friends will be privy to discounts at hotels. Moreover, you could save money and learn more about their culture if you sleep at their house! Of course, there are going to be cultural traits that might prevent this from happening. So make sure you do research before imposing yourself upon your friends.
3. Get a breakfast package with accommodations
What’s the most important meal of the day? Breakfast. And what can breakfast do? If you eat enough, at the right time, you probably can have a lighter, less expensive lunch – and more time to spend out of doors! Whenever we book hotels abroad, my parents and I look for a good, hearty buffet breakfast. Research says that a hearty, but healthy breakfast filled with proteins and fruit can actually help you lose weight while powering you the entire day. So what better way to see Europe than all jazzed up and ready to rumble? Another tip: instead of going to restaurants every single day, visit a grocery store and buy food that the locals eat. You’ll find that tourist fare and local fare do taste different, and have a different feel. Sometimes, grocery food is cheaper, too!
4. Save on the Commute: Get a Hotel Close to Major Sights
Of course, this rule might change depending on the city that you’re in. You’ll need to employ a bit of math on this one. Ask yourself, which is cheaper: getting a pricier hotel but going to major sights for free because you’ll simply walk; or getting a less expensive hotel but spending more on the commute? So far, I’ve found that getting slightly pricier, but higher quality hotels close to major sights is cheaper than staying a long distance away and relying on mass transportation. This is especially important for cities that have a lot of sights, such as Rome, Prague, or Paris. Spending a lot of time on public transport can cut away time that you should spend in making the most out of your trip.
5. Do Research and Plan Your Route
A well-planned route will do you wonders long before you land. You won’t stray into unknown streets and get lost, you won’t spend hours in a restaurant, and you won’t keep on thinking, “Where to next?” While spontaneity is laudable, saving money is more practical. You want to make the most of your vacation, not waste your time.
6. Concentrate on the journey, not the destination
A lot of people often make the mistake of going to as many sights as possible for the sheer purpose of saying that they’ve been there. But how can you enjoy your vacation if all you’re doing is running from one place to the other? Saving money shouldn’t be about blindly taking tickets and using them. Saving money is about making the most of discounts so that you can experience a whole other place, a whole other culture. Make the most of each vacation by breathing in the sights, learning more about the places that you visit, and planning ahead. Not only will you save money, you’ll get a richer experience as well.
About the author: Inez Ponce de Leon holds a PhD in Science Communication. She works as a science communication specialist, and loves to write on a variety of topics, including belly dance, culture, Happy Calm Focused, science communication, sociology, movies, and novels.