Hit The Road
Couch surfing helps offset high airfares
A few nights ago I searched online for airfares for over the holidays and let out an audible gasp when the results appeared on my screen. Flights were $300 to $500 more expensive than I had expected! I looked everywhere, and the best deal actually happened to be on the American Airlines Web site -- but even then, with nine-hour layovers in cities that will inevitably be covered in delay-causing snow, prices were astronomical.
It's nearly enough to make the frequent flier in me dream of Star Trekkian travel. Of course, being beamed up by Scottie would probably have its own hefty price tag.
In a time when we have to think twice about driving around the island, it can be difficult to even start thinking about a plane ride. But if you have the travel bug like I do, the only thing you can do is suck it up and figure out other ways to cut costs.
» Pack like you're going camping. On a trip across the Pacific and over the mainland, I can spend up to $75 without even thinking about it. After paying for magazines, $4 bottles of water, snacks, lunch, whatever they're serving on the plane, and things that I've just plain forgotten to bring (toothpaste, movies, neck pillow), I could probably have paid for an extra night in a hotel.
I suggest packing twice as much food as you think you'll eat, just because getting rid of all of that stuff in your carry-on will be incentive enough to eat it, avoiding the expensive airport food. Bring your own headphones and enough entertainment to last you through at least half the plane ride. Skip any books that will totally bore you and bring that paperback that you can't put down -- boredom is the biggest culprit when it comes to spending money on random stuff while traveling.
» Couch surf. I have to admit that I've never stayed on a stranger's couch before, but I am a fan of staying with friends instead of staying in hotels, and the idea on the Web site couchsurfing.com is roughly the same. The online community links travelers who are vouched for by other members.
The idea is that you are eventually part of a Web of travelers who know each other -- so instead of staying with random Bob, you're staying with Jane, who is a friend of Ira, whose couch you stayed on when you visited Vermont last month. You let people stay on your couch, you stay on theirs, and the whole cost of lodging flies out the window. Of course, if you actually have friends in the places you want to visit, it probably would be easier to stay with them.
» Research your food. Check out what the locals are saying about local joints by checking out Zagat guides, perusing the Yelp pages (yelp.com) or hitting Citysearch (citysearch.com) to learn where you can get the most bang for your buck.
When you're exhausted from flying and sick of dry sandwiches, the last thing you'll want to do is search for a restaurant, and without knowing the area you'll likely end up at McDonald's. If you know what's around you, you'll be more inclined to find some quality, wallet-friendly food. Your stomach will thank you, and you'll be guaranteed a much richer travel experience.
Joy Uyeno travels frequently throughout the year, and her column geared toward beginning travelers or youths experiencing their first extended stay abroad appears the second Sunday each month in the Star-Bulletin Travel section.