Thursday, November 18, 2010

Travel Tips For The Cheapskate

If you knew anything about me, you'd probably know I'm more than qualified to give advice on cheap travel. In order to make travel possible on a small income (or no income in my current state) I have learned to travel completely bare bones and still have a memorable time, probably more so than a plush resort vacation.  Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who spent two months traveling Europe as a broke college student spending only $2000 (including plane and train tickets). And so, without further ado, the list.

(disclaimer: it's a fairly disjointed list covering domestic and international travel, expect more specific advice shortly)
  • Volunteer to get bumped on a flight and earn a free ticket.  I've only bought two of my past four round trip cross country flights all thanks to volunteering to be bumped on full flights when I heard the gate attendants ask for volunteers.  Bonus: Onetime I was upgraded to first class and booked on a flight that got me to La Guardia earlier than my previously planned trip.  Let's face it, sometimes it's worth calling in sick, but shhh don't tell my old bosses.
  • Don't check bags. It's a money (and time) suck. Don't do it if at all possible.  I wear my coat and heavy boots while flying just to make a carry-on possible.
  • Bring food from home. Airport food is expensive (and not so tasty)!! Swallow your pride and bust out that homemade burrito.  On long travel days, I've been known to pack two full meals plus snacks. 
  • If overseas, try to stay in "private rooms".  This is area specific and not an option in many countries.  However, when I was traveling throughout the former Yugoslavia, there were usually a group of people waiting at bus stations offering a room to rent.  This may sound slightly sketchy, but I've yet to have a bad experience.  Private rooms are what they sound like. Private, but in or near the family house. I stayed in a great little room in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. It was the equivalent of $4 a night complete with a mini kitchen, private bathroom and cute little bedroom.  and bonus: a lively owner who worshiped George W. Bush. Definitely made for some interesting discussion. In summary: seek out rooms, or at least stick to hostels.
 Church of St. John in Lake Ohrid
  • Camp. I grew up camping with my family and have very fond memories of week long camp outs along the west coast.  Camping is affordable at less than $20 a campsite (except for California which is a whopping $35 a night) and one of my favorite pastimes.  Even when I was working, I had a hard time paying for hotels.  It seems like such a waste to me to spend $50+ on a adequate room. Why not save that money, camp and travel for a few extra days?  Of course, camping can scare some people off, I'll post in more detail in a later post.
show me the hotel restaurant that beats this
  • Network.  Do you know someone who knows someone who went to school with someone in Tennessee? Well call 'em up and hope for some hospitality.  I quickly learned to hide my awkwardness when camping in an almost-stranger's living room.  These situations usually lead to the best adventures and best stories to tell.  Just remember to return the favor next time your friend's brother's girlfriend is traveling thru.
  • Accept the generosity of strangers (within reason).  I'm more wary than many travels and most likely would not stay at the house (or yard) of a stranger by myself.  However, on my recent cross-country road trip I was traveling with my boyfriend which opened up new options.  In Chattanooga we met a middle aged woman outside a restaurant, chatted for some time and quickly found ourselves accepting the invitation to stay a night in her spare room (which turned into a spare floor to ourselves) and waking up to a lovely Tennessee morning.

So there you have it, a very short list of the many ways to save on travel.  I have so many other things I do in life to allow for travel, what are yours?

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