Monday, August 29, 2011

Travel Tips

J's Photo of the View of Verona

I love travel. There are few things better to me than discovering a new place or experiencing a culture different from my own. Since I often talk travel, many people excitedly tell me about a place and then let me in on the fact that they never managed to make it happen or trip plans fell through once. Why not go? In this post, I hope to motivate you to actually have a plan along with provide you with savvy ways to implement it. I hope it helps people with their next day trip or their dream trip!

Decide. I'm quick to make a decision and most people I talk to know where they want to go, so if you're in that category, great. But, if you don't know where you want to go, do some research and decide. Consider a place a couple of hours away; it doesn't have to be the trip of a lifetime every time. Once you have a decision, write it down, type it up, or tell someone. That way, it's more concrete. I do not advocate traveling solo, but I often do. I say, "When it's in between not going or going alone, go." I find that people will often drop out of the planned trip and then you won't go because you have no one to go with. This world is amazing, go on ...and make 'em insanely jealous.

My biggest obstacle to travel is funding, so most of the remainder of this post will discuss overcoming "I can't afford it." I had shared my story of budget for the sake of travel in a previous post entitled "Just Go." Here is what I said:

Before my trip to Italy, I had been pretty boring. I wasn't going on trips like the ones mentioned above [in that post] because I was saving for Italy, which was so beyond worth it! I also truly enjoy going out to dinner. Before I bought the airfare in October, I would dine in restaurants once or twice a week. The six months I was on a budget, however, I think I ate out once a month, ...that I paid for anyway. I found that I enjoyed it more because it was an occasional treat. Plus I truly splurged, I would go all out on two or three courses and a drink, spending $35. Back when I was eating out multiple times a week, I would choose the cheapest thing on the menu if I were also ordering an adult beverage and spend $20. If I only spent $20 a week for a month, that's $80 and much more expensive than my once-a-month satisfying splurge. ...and I was going out more than 4 times a month! I also didn't go out so much those six months. I would often find myself sitting at home on a Friday night, giving myself a pedicure in front of an episode of What Not To Wear. Again, worth it... Do you think I'd remember sitting in the bar at Friday's as fondly as I would my short, sweet little trip to Italy? I think not. Plus it was only five and a half months. I still had a good time over those winter months. I walk with a friend once a week and don't spend a dime doing that! I've even done girls nights on the cheap. And Miss Independent over here even let the guy pay for the date sometimes!

Going back to Italy was important to me. Who am I kidding?! I hadn't been in four years and had to have it! Talking about travel all day at my old job, talking about other people's trips, it was time for me to have an exciting international excursion of my own. And since finances were my main obstacle with a really low paying job, I made sacrifices to make it happen. I stopped going out all the time. In addition, I designed the trip itself to be budgeted. (J did immensely help me out and add to my trip by paying for so many things.) There are so many people out there who dream of places and never go. I just hope I can help someone out there with my story so they are inspired to make it happen for themselves. Trust me, it's so worth it!
 
I posted that in March and still want to comment on the topic again. I'm kinda appalled that you have to make Americans use their accrued vacation time, which is much lower than what employees get in other countries. Most Italians take off for the entire month of August. With vacation time, you can be paid while traveling. Vacation pay or not, make it happen, people.
 
As with most things in life, the little things seriously build up into something big. You need to work alittle each day toward your goal. Anything worth having takes work. For poor me, that means spending less everyday.
 
And also becoming savvy makes it easier. Thus, I have the following travel budget tips.
 
Budget your Trip. I sat down and examined what everything would cost for my last international excurison, which I highly recommend. My trip to Italy in March was originally conceived as a bigger trip to Prague, Munich, Venice and Vienna. Drawing a line between these cities made up a diamond on the map, all 8 hours apart and each city was located in another country. I always travel to Italy and even though I had to go there, I always said I would visit other countries as well. After some research, I deemed that trip too expensive. I was becoming discouraged. One day my co-worker asked me, "Why don't you just spend five days in Venice?" After I let this sink in, I saw that that was doable and realized I could go overseas afterall. I decided on four days in Italy and two travel days because it was cheaper to fly on those terms. After some research, I saw that it was cheaper to fly into Milan rather than into Venice. Plus, the connections were better. I studied the train line between the two cities and decided to stop in two stops on that very line, Padua and Verona. I highly recommend the European travel guides by Rick Steves, which truly helped me figure all this out. Speaking of proximity, you could also take a trip to somewhere close to where you live. It would be nice to spend the night, but I also love a day trip.
 
Travel During the Off or Shoulder Season. The off season, in most cases, is winter and the shoulder season is spring or fall. Your destination will not be nearly as crowded in its off or shoulder seasons when compared to its high season. I really wanted to be in Italy for my April 15th birthday, which is during the spring, thus shoulder season, but flights were $250 cheaper during mid-March, so I decided to go then instead. Not into extreme temperatures myself, I love traveling in fairly pleasant 50-70 degree weather. Why would you want to go during the dog days of August? Plus, Europeans leave the cities for the seashore for the month. It wouldn't be an authentic experience there.

Do your Research. As a former Art History student, I love my research. Reading up on a dreamy location is fun research to me. It is my recommendation that you do a substantial amount of research. That way, you have a ton of ideas and you don't look at your travel partner(s)  while there and both of you are dumbfounded as to what to do next. You would have a list of options ...at that time. Creating possible itineraries helps because then you can include what's open or closed or happening when. These itineraries also put close friends and families at ease if you're traveling alone; they could generally know where you are on a given day and know that you've thought it out. Just a resource, I usually don't follow these on the trip, and simply do what I feel like doing at any given moment. For flights, hotels, car rentals, and more, I love kayak whose motto is "Search One and Done." It searches many travel sites for you. You may not have heard of my other love ITA Software. Please bookmark it now because you might not remember its name! It provides all the travel sites with their flight information. I love how you can see the lowest round trip fare per passenger for an entire calendar month. As a big fan of the Roaming Gnome, I like travelocity. In the past, I've set up alerts so that I'm emailed when my desired flight falls below a certain cost. I love books, both travel guides and travel narratives, too! Towards the back of the magazine Budget Travel, there are many vacation deals. These usually include a guided tour, which is especially nice when it's the first time you've visited a particular place or country. I've also read that the best time to shop for flights is Tuesday afternoon. Set each of your travel dates on less-traveled days of the week like Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday; it's often cheaper. Plus, the airport'll be less busy.

Stretch Your Dollar. I am well aware that the dollar is weak, but there are still many countries from Argentina to Turkey where it can buy a lot of the local currency. Live like a King or Queen. The September issue of Budget Travel just named Ireland as the Number 1 European country where inflation for American tourists isn't so bad (13).

Take the Train. I adore AmTrak. I signed up for their loyalty program, GuestRewards, so I earn points with every trip and hope to eventually take a free ride. Trains are the way to go in many countries throughout the world. If you're travelling to Europe from the US, you may want to consider flying into say London and then taking a cheaper train to your destination(s). (Or fly from London using the discount airline over there Ryanair.)

Take The Bus. I've used Megabus for a couple of trips. These buses are not only a good price, but a good value. It's a pretty nice bus... You can book way in advance for fares as low as a dollar plus a 50 cent booking fee. Their drop off points tend to be city centers, which is convenient. Plus, I always see that they're adding new routes. Megabus' competition is Bolt Bus and you always have Greyhound.

Stay in Hostels. Going to Europe? Stay in hostels instead of hotels. Book on or simply research from http://www.hostelworld.com/. If you've graduated from hostels, you could also consider renting an apartment, which may not only be more economical but more local as well.

Stay with a Friend. I took that trip to New Haven, Connecticut in July to visit an old college friend. It was so great to visit her and to get away as well. I also found more of the local experience with her. I still think that three days should be the maximum in most cases though. Even if you're the most grateful guest ever, you do not want to wear out your welcome. I stayed three days and three nights in New Haven and it was perfect.

Carryon. Airlines are being ridiculous with their baggage fees. When I worked in a luggage store for 21 months, it was one of the my guests' biggest complaints. To escape those fees while flying, pack as lightly as possible and consider only packing a carryon bag. Plus, when you carry on, after you arrive, you're not waiting at baggage claim (hoping your bag isn't ripped to shreds (yeah, you just paid them to (mis)handle your luggage!)), you can start your vacation, which might be all the more important if you budgetted your trip and limited the number of days gone. And my carryon is usually only tightly packed on the way back when it's filled with souvenirs. Loosely pack going so you have the space. The golden rule of packing is to lay out all the clothing and all the money you plan to take on the bed. Then, take half the clothes and double the money. Read my plea for packing less here.
 
Do As the Romans Do. Tourist traps are often overpriced and expensive. Venture out from the city center for cheaper prices and a more authentic experience. Hit the restaurant or bakery which has a long line of locals outside it. You can even choose to visit a less popular town or city. Also in America, lunch is often cheaper than dinner, so eat a bigger lunch. However, this is not always the case; lunch is often the main meal in other countries. For example, in Italy, businesses close from 1 to 4 in the afternoon for this important meal.

I hope this is a more helpful list than what's out there. Please, just go. And enjoy!

1 comment:

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