Savvy traveler shares cash-saving secrets
POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009
Lucy Inouye has traveled for as long as she can remember. In the past eight years alone, she has visited Japan, Australia, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Mexico and Malaysia, plus made numerous trips to Boston, San Diego, New York and Portland, Ore.
TRAVEL WRITERS ALSO OFFER TIPS
The Society of American Travel Writers recently polled its 1,300 members, who came up with the following tips for saving on travel:
» Travel in the off-season or on the edges of popular seasons.
» Get to know local bus/metro transportation for city stays. Ask about multiday specials. Some international rail and travel cards must be purchased before you arrive in that country. Look at transportation Web sites for the cities and countries you will visit.
» Picnic instead of eating every meal in restaurants. Visit markets, bakeries, local shops and delis, but avoid uncooked street food and wash fruit with bottled water.
» Eat your big meal at lunch when prices are cheaper and go light on dinner.
» Use public transportation between airports and cities. Don't rent cars in a city and pay for parking.
» Make your first stop the local visitors center and collect coupons, brochures, free maps, etc. Ask the staff about insider tips such as free days at museums, free parking and money-saving programs like City Pass, http://www.citypass.com. Also, study the Web sites of convention bureaus and state tourism offices before your visit. They often offer discount information.
» Stay in accommodations that offer free breakfast and that have a refrigerator for storing snacks.
» Head to lesser-known destinations.
» Do a home swap or rent a vacation home rather than stay at a hotel.
» In cities, stay at business hotels on the weekends when there are often better room rates and restaurant deals. Shop for hotels near, not on, the biggest street. When booking your room, ask, "Do you have any specials?" Also, inquire about discounts for AAA, AARP or other membership programs.
"Each year I go on at least one two- to three-week vacation to a foreign destination, and on three four- to eight-day ones to visit friends and family on the mainland," said the 53-year-old Manoa Realtor. "My husband and I took our two daughters on trips from the time they were a few months old. Now they're as addicted to traveling as I am, and they make great companions!"
Inouye admits a person must be dogged, flexible, adventurous and willing to invest a lot of time in research to travel on a budget. But, in her opinion, the effort is well worth the savings. Among her top tips:
» Use the Internet. You can find information online about hotels, restaurants and rental cars in even the smallest, most remote locations. The more you shop around in advance, the more you'll save. Web sites like kayak.com and sidestep.com compare many airfares, and, even better, you can enter parameters for your list such as only airlines for which you're collecting frequent-flier miles.
» Check company Web sites to find deals. With hotels, go one step further and call direct. They'll often beat their Web site offers.
» No matter what site you use, check prices often because they are constantly updated. Within a half-hour the difference could be hundreds of dollars!
» Seek candid advice on travel forums. Three of the best are fodors.com/community, tripadvisor.com and lonelyplanet.com/thorntree. You'll get better answers with specific questions such as "Is there a nice hotel near the convention center in the $150-per-night range?" rather than "Where's a good hotel in San Diego?"
» Buy guidebooks at garage sales and the Friends of the Library sale in July. Although prices might be out of date in older editions, the general information will be helpful.
» Exchange rates in foreign countries affect prices across the board. Right now, for example, you'll receive 20 percent more for your dollar in Vietnam and India.
» Use ATM machines in foreign countries to get the cash you'll need for a few days of shopping. You'll find them at airports, banks, shopping centers, hotels and convenience stores (note that high service fees usually apply at the latter two). Merchants often will offer discounts for cash payments. Also, ATM cards are safer than credit cards because nobody else can use them if they're lost or stolen. They'd need your PIN number to do so.
» If traveling by train, book an overnight sleeper car to combine your transportation and lodging costs. It isn't worth the savings for an upright seat if you end up sore and cranky the next day.
» Travel light. If you can't carry your own bags, you'll be paying more for taxis, tips for bellmen and luggage cart rentals at airports.
» Ask hotel bellboys or doormen where they go for delicious, reasonable meals. In countries where prices on many goods and services are negotiable, also ask how much they would pay for a taxi. You might not always be able to get that rate, but at least you'll know what to aim for.
» Hotel chains sometimes offer multiple-night discounts, and you don't have to use all the nights at the same property. Inouye kept $1,200 in her pocket by booking eight nights at Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in India this way. Be aware that participating properties might only be in a certain class or a specific region.
» Join hotels' "frequent stay" program. You'll be apprised of member-only specials and receive room upgrades more often.
» Sometimes, a small change in your itinerary can make a big difference in savings. Every month is low season somewhere. During that time, hotels are more willing to toss in extras such as breakfast, airport transportation or a room upgrade. Smile and ASK!