|Budget Travel |
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Adventure travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, but it is often difficult to find good bargains when booking adventure travel. With so many people itching to go on the adventure of a lifetime, the prices in those travel brochures can lead you to believe that adventure travel is beyond your means.
That does not have to be the case, however. The key to affordable adventure travel is to book directly from the providers of the adventure, instead of going through multiple layers of travel agents, tour operators and tour guides.
Booking a tour directly has many benefits besides monetary ones, including meeting wonderful local people and enjoying the local culture. Often the best way to enjoy a vacation on a budget is to book low cost airfare to the destination of your choice, take the local bus into town, and start asking around about the best adventure guides in town. Local tour operators know the area, they know how to please their clientele, and best of all they are inexpensive. U.S. currency goes quite a long way in many exotic locations in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, so dealing with local tour guides is the best way to make your adventure travel dollar stretch even further.
Many inexperienced adventure travelers are unsure how they can possibly book an adventure tour on their own. For one thing, there is often a language barrier in far off locations, and you may be many thousands of miles from home in an unfamiliar location.
What these first time travelers often don't realize, however, is that finding a tour operator is often the easiest part of the journey. In many cases, the tour operators will find you as soon as you land, without you having to seek them out. And in most places, especially those frequented by American tourists, the guides will speak at least a little bit of English. Listed below are some of the best tips for booking your own budget travel adventure.
Ø Be sure to ask around before you leave. Get opinions from other travelers who have done the adventure you plan on.
Ø Refer to your guidebook for references. Guidebook writers are often quite knowledgeable about which tour operators are good and which are more questionable.
Ø Check on the message boards, both virtual and real. Real message boards are available at hostels and local guesthouses, and they can provide excellent information on local tours and tour operators. The staff at local hostels can also provide excellent information about adventure travel. And Internet message boards devoted to travel can be great sources of information, both before you leave home and after you arrive in your far off location.
Ø Interview your potential trip leaders carefully. Ask lots of open ended and probing questions about the equipment used, the experience level of the guides, the lodging the food, and what is and is not included. Be sure to negotiate everything in advance, since you will have little leverage once the adventure trip has begun.
Ø Finally, if your crew did a great job, be sure to tip them generously after the tour has come to an end. Good tour operators rely on these tips to supplement their often-meager wages, and this helps to keep the best tour guides in business and the best tour operators in operation.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
One of the least expensive, yet most fulfilling, types of vacations is the camping and backpacking trip. Hiking through the back country at one of the nation's magnificent national parks, or just wandering around the wilderness of a state park closer to home, can be a great way to commune with nature, and a wonderful way for families to get away and enjoy being together.
One of the things that make backpacking so attractive to budget minded trailers is the low cost it takes to get started. Little is needed other than a good quality backpack, a top quality tent and maybe a camp stove or similar appliance. Other than that, the main thing to pack is your sense of spirit and adventure. This article provides some valuable tips for the first time backpacker on a budget.
Ø Invest in a good quality hiking map or guide and get to know the area you will be traveling to. Pay careful attention to the notes and precautions and try your best to match the terrain to your level of ability and experience. When estimating the time it will take to hike to your destination, always overestimate.
Ø Be sure to obtain all necessary permits, and reserve the campsite you want, in advance of your trip. It is not unusual for campsites to sell out, particularly in popular national park destinations.
Ø Always check local regulations regarding campfires, smoking, cleanup, etc. to avoid paying fines.
Ø Research the weather patterns of the area and always be prepared for the worst weather. Always pack some sort of rain gear.
Ø Dress appropriately, in layered clothing, no matter what time of year. Be sure to pack clothing that will allow you to be prepared for sudden changes in temperature or weather. It is best to wear breathable materials, such as polypropylene or wool, to allow perspiration and moisture to be wicked away quickly.
Ø Learn how to operate your equipment before you hit the trail. It is important, for instance, to set up your tent at least once or twice at home. Get familiar with how everything goes together. Learn how to operate your camp stove before you leave home.
Ø Determine how much weight you can comfortably carry, and pack appropriately. Many first time backpackers try to take too much gear, and end up unable to carry that gear during the trip. The weight of the backpack should be no more than one quarter of your weight, and it is best to take only what you need.
Ø Pack more food than you think you will need. Hikers and backpackers burn far more calories than the average person, so be sure to eat sufficient amounts of high quality foods while on your journey. The best foods to pack are those that are high in carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These high quality-backpacking foods include peanut butter, instant oatmeal, trail mix, pasta and dried fruit.
Ø Learn where the water sources are on the trail and be sure to keep your water bottles filled in case the next source of water is farther away than anticipated. It is important to drink plenty of water when backpacking, even when the weather is cool.
Ø Always cook your evening meal before it gets too dark. Extra food should always be stored in a bag and hung from a tree limb at night to protect it from local wildlife. Raccoons, skunks and bears have learned to look at backpackers, hikers and campers as easy sources of free meals.
Ø Always pack a first aid kit and be prepared with some basic first aid training. Carry a GPS system or satellite phone if you will be traveling far into the backcountry, and leave a schedule with the local trail ranger and with friends at home.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
While the public transportation systems in many international destinations are safe, clean, cheap and reliable, many seasoned travelers prefer having their own transportation, and in many areas it is necessary to rent a car to get from place to place. There are a number of things to remember to make renting a car internationally less costly and less of a hassle.
One of the most important things to remember involves traveling to Canada and Mexico in an American based rental car. In most cases, the insurance that comes with the rental car does not cover you once the car has left the country. If you are not sure about your coverage, always be sure to check your rental agreement. While this is important in Canada, it is vital in Mexico. While it is possible to buy special Mexican car insurance when traveling there, it is generally not recommended that casual visitors drive into Mexico. It is generally better to park in one of the border lots and take the shuttle bus to the border.
If you plan to drive abroad, either in Canada, Mexico, Europe or anywhere else outside the United States, it is a good idea to obtain an international drivers permit. While an international drivers permit is not required everywhere, it is a good idea to get one. The fee to obtain an international drivers permit is low, and the literature that comes along with it is quite valuable. An international drivers permit can be obtained through an AAA office.
It is also important to check with the company that provides your auto insurance to see if you are covered for international driving. If your normal policy does not cover you, inquire about purchasing a special policy for your trip. Also check with your credit card company to see if the rental car collision coverage they offer is good outside the country.
When arranging for a rental car, it is usually less costly to do so before you leave the United States. It can also be considerably more trouble to wait until you arrive to rent a car, and you always run the risk that the type of car you want is not available.
When renting cars in Europe, it is generally best to choose a compact or subcompact car, as many of the streets in European cities are quite narrow, and parking is often very limited. It is best to rent the smallest car you feel comfortable with.
If you plan to combine a car rental with a rail pass, there may be discounts available. Always be sure to check with your travel agent and take advantage of any discounts to which you are entitled. Some hotels and airlines also have special deals on rental cars for their customers.
If you will be dropping off your rental car in a different location that where you picked it up, which is common in European rentals, be sure to choose a rental agency that offers a low drop off fee.
When planning your trip, always keep in mind that prices for gas and diesel fuel are generally much higher than those in the United States, often as much as three times as expensive. Be sure to factor fuel costs into your travel budget. This is yet another reason to rent the smallest car you can find.
Another reason a small car is important is the frequent lack of available parking in many resort areas and near many major tourist attractions. Even if you have a car, you may want to leave it at the hotel and take public transportation to these types of destinations.
When you pick up your car, be sure that you get the terms you agreed to before you left home. If the terms are not agreeable when you get there, be prepared to cancel the deal and make alternate arrangements.
It is also important to take a company representative with you and carefully examine the car's exterior for dings and scratches. Be sure to note any preexisting damage to avoid being charged for it when the car is returned.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Hostelling was once thought of as the exclusive province of college kids traveling through Europe for the first time. However, hostelling has grown to include all ages, and all types of people. When traveling on a budget, staying at a hostel can be a great experience for the traveler with a sense of adventure.
Of course, hostel travel is not for everyone, and some travelers would rather spend extra money for solo accommodations. In general, hostel traveling is best suited to solo travelers, or to groups of young people traveling together. Hostel stays are generally not recommended for families traveling with young children, and many hostels do not accept children under a certain age.
Most hostels are set up as dormitory style rooms, with a number of bunk beds arranged throughout the room. The number of bunk beds in a single room varies, with the average from four to ten bunks per room. Each traveler is assigned a specific bunk upon check-in.
Almost all hostels in the United States divide their accommodations according to gender, with the female guests in one block of rooms and the male guests in another. In multi-floor hostels, each gender is often assigned a specific floor or group of floors.
In many European locations and elsewhere around the world, however, many hostel rooms have mixed genders sharing a room. If this is a concern, be sure to ask about it. I, as a woman traveling alone, have personally never encountered a problem with these arrangements, and I have stayed in hostels throughout Europe, including Rome, London and Amsterdam. Some visitors, however, are surprised at these arrangements.
The bathroom accommodations at hostels vary as well, with some rooms containing a shared bathroom and shower, while other hostels will have shower and bathroom facilities located in the hallway. If this is an important consideration, you should make sure to ask about bathroom facilities when making the reservation.
And reservations are becoming increasingly important at hostels, especially during the summer months in popular locations. Where once it was common for travelers simply to drop by the hostel and get a bed, it is now not at all unusual for hostels in popular tourist destinations to be booked solid for months.
The main appeal of staying at hostels, of course, is the price. The nightly rate for a hostel rarely rises above $25 or $30 per night, with most hostel accommodations costing far less. With the average hotel room hovering around $100 to $150 in many locations, it is easy to see why hostels are becoming so popular.
In addition, the staff at most hostels are extremely accommodating and knowledgeable about the local area. Unlike many staff members of some luxury hotels, who travel in from the suburbs and rarely see the city in which the live, hostel staff tend to live in their city, and they have an intimate knowledge of the local attractions, including which attractions are can't miss and which ones are a waste of money.
In addition, hostels often have access to discounts and coupons for local area attractions and restaurants, and they can provide valuable information on the best, lowest priced restaurants in the area.
While staying at a hostel is not for everyone, and the local hostel will never be mistaken for a Ritz Carlton, hostels can be wonderful budget accommodations for the budget minded traveler. After all, the goal of travel is to get out and see the world, and hostel travel lets you spend your limited travel dollars doing just that.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
One of the most popular strategies for budget traveling is to make what is traditionally one of the most expensive parts of travel - the airfare - free. One great way to score free flights without tediously collecting frequent flier miles is to get yourself bumped off of the flight on which you are booked. While getting bumped won't make your current flight free, it will traditionally score you a free ticket you can use at a later date of your choosing.
Getting bumped is such a popular money saving strategy that there is a definite art and science behind it. Remember that you may not be the only person on your flight hoping to get bumped. It is important to follow the guidelines listed below to increase your chances.
Ø Book your flight with the intention of getting bumped. For instance, you may want to choose one of the first flights of the day, knowing that you will be able to get on a later flight after you are bumped and still reach your destination.
Ø Always ask if the flight is overbooked. It may be a good idea to call your travel agent the night before the scheduled flight to inquire. Always ask the gate agent if the flight is overbooked as soon as you arrive and let him or her know you will volunteer to be bumped.
Ø Always back a flight schedule for your departure and destination airport. Be sure to get a schedule that includes all airlines, not just the one on which you are booked.
Ø Always arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes prior to scheduled departure. Try to be the first one in the check in line. Being the first in line will ensure that you are the first on the list of volunteers to be bumped.
Ø Before you agree to be bumped, be sure that the airline will offer a free ticket or other significant compensation. Individual airline policies vary, so be sure you know what is being offered. Some airlines offer vouchers in $100 increments, according to the time you must wait for another flight. For instance, a one hour wait entitles you to a $100 voucher, two hours means you get $200, etc.
Ø Before accepting your free ticket or travel voucher, let the gate agent know that you need to be sure of your arrangements for your current flight. Always make sure you are holding a confirmed reservation and boarding pass for a later flight before signing the agreement and accepting the free ticket.
Ø Tell the gate agent that you want a guaranteed, confirmed reservation on the next flight to your destination.
Ø If there are no guaranteed seats available on the next flight, inform the agent that you want a guaranteed seat on another airline.
Ø Use the flight schedule you packed to choose an alternative flight and airline.
Ø If the wait for the next flight exceeds two hours, ask the gate agent for meal vouchers. Most airlines make these vouchers available, but they do not always offer them without being asked.
Ø If you get bumped from your next flight, you could score another free ticket. It pays to be flexible any time you are flying on a budget.
Ø Remember there are no hard and fast rules everyone must follow. There are some regulations, but each airline sets its own policy with regard to bumping policy and compensation.
Ø The bumping rules are generally different for international flights, so be sure to ask the airline about their policies before volunteering.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
One of the biggest parts of a travel and vacation budget is often the cost of getting from one place to another. It is important to budget for this important expense, and to consider some unique options, in order to make your travel dollars stretch as far as possible.
When choosing a rental car, it is important to choose the most economical and fuel efficient car that meets your needs. Obviously, the size of your family will impact the choice of rental car, but compact and even subcompact cars can be great for motoring around cities, particularly when it comes time to park in those tight spots.
In addition, a smaller car will get better gas mileage, which is no small consideration, especially if you plan to do a lot of daily driving. And if you plan to travel far and wide, it may be important to choose a rental deal that provides unlimited miles, since charges for mileage overages can be quite costly.
When it comes to the decision of whether to accept or decline the optional collision coverage on a rental car, always be sure to see if you are already covered elsewhere. For instance, your auto insurance company may already provide insurance coverage for rental cars, as may your credit card company. If you are covered by these policies, there is no need to accept the costly collision insurance offered by the rental car company. And of course you will always want to top off your rental car with gasoline before dropping it off, as refueling charges by rental car companies are generally quite high.
Of course, there is a far less alternative to rental cars that few people take advantage of, but in many cities public transportation can be a far less costly, and far more convenient, alternative to paying to drive, and to park, a rental car.
Of course public transportation does not make sense in every location. Many small towns, and even some larger cities have public transportation systems that are infrequent, inefficient, inconvenient or even nonexistent. In other locations, however, using public transportation makes a lot of sense. In New York City, for instance, visitors can buy a pass that it good on all subways, buses and trains. The cost of a weekly pass can be less than what a visitor would pay to rent a car for a single day.
And public transportation provides an additional benefit as well; it frees the tourist from the hassles, and expense, of parking the rental car. Many locations in New York, for instance, charge $20, $30 or even more for parking, and other major cities are almost as costly.
Getting around using public transportation is not as difficult as many people imagine either. Many public transportation companies, particularly those located in major tourist destinations, publish guides which give the route numbers to popular destinations, and bus drivers a train conductors in these locations are often quite adept at getting tourists where they need to go.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
When most people think of ski resorts, they naturally picture mountains full of fresh fallen snow and people huddled around a roaring fire enjoying a cup of hot cocoa. While this image is certainly accurate, and ski resorts are some of the most popular of all vacation destinations, the prices of these resort getaways can often be beyond the means of the budget traveler.
There is another way, however, to enjoy these upscale resorts for a fraction of their in season costs. Many ski resort locations stay open all year round, and the price of lodging, meals and local entertainment often drops precipitously after winter has passed.
Visiting a ski resort in the middle of the summer does not mean there will be nothing to do. In fact, many people prefer visiting these resorts in the off-season, since their mountain locations provides for a comfortable, activity packed getaway.
For instance, most ski resorts have ample hiking trails through beautiful mountain vistas. All those great cross-country ski trails become wonderful hiking and biking trails after the snow has melted, and the scenery can be even more spectacular, and more comfortable, without the cold and snow of winter.
Besides hiking and biking, there are a great many other activities to be offered as well, including horseback riding, fishing swimming, and other outdoor activities. In addition, many ski resorts use their ski lifts as fun summer sky rides, and open their slopes to such summertime activities as tobogganing down the side of the mountain. The kids in particular love these fun rides.
Another great thing about visiting a ski resort area in summer is that the mountain location often means cooler temperatures. Even when the lowland temperature is stiflingly hot, the temperature in the mountains can be refreshingly cool and comfortable. Of course, it is important to check the monthly weather for your destination and to avoid the rainy season
There are ski resorts in many states around the country, and the northeastern and western parts of the country have a great wealth of these resorts. While many of them stay open year round and offer a host of off-season activities, not all do, so it is important to verify the summer activities of the resort you are considering.
It is also a good idea to research the activities that are offered by each resort. With the concentration of ski resorts in some areas of the country, it will be easy to compare the various offerings and choose the one that best suits your individuals' needs.
It is also important to research the surrounding area and see what else there is to do when you are not at the resort. While many ski resorts have plenty of activities to keep you busy for days, you will probably want to venture off the property at least a few times. Choosing a ski resort located near a busy, but not expensive, metropolitan area is a great way to enjoy your vacation while still keeping within your budget.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
The sales of recreational vehicles have really been on fire lately, as more and more people discover the high level of freedom, and low level of cost, that an RV vacation can provide. As air travel becomes more of a hassle, and the cost of hotel stays continues to rise, many people are discovering the convenience of taking their hotel room with them wherever they go.
The attraction of a recreational vehicle, of course, is that it provides the budget traveler with the freedom to go where he or she wants, whenever they want to go there. An RV frees the traveler on a budget from rigid schedules, lines at airport security, restrictions on luggage, and so much more. And with over 15,000 RV parks and campgrounds dotting the country, there is bound to be one wherever you want to go.
And many RV's have all the amenities of home, including living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. Many RV's also have rooms that slide out to provide even more living space when the vehicle is parked.
There are some important tips for first time RV'ers to follow to get the biggest bang for their travel buck. Some of our favorite tips for a low cost and hassle free RV trip include:
Ø Hit the web for tons of free information on living the RV lifestyle and keeping costs under control. There are a great many web sites and newsgroups dedicated to recreational vehicles, and they can provide valuable tips for those newcomers.
Ø Try renting an RV before you buy one. The purchase of a recreational vehicle is a big decision, and one that is likely to have a major impact on your lifestyle, especially on how you vacation. With the average RV costing as much as the average house did a couple of decades ago, it is important to know that an RV is the right decision before taking the plunge. There are a number of places that rent RV's, and these rental agencies can provide a low cost alternative to RV ownership, or a way to "try it before you buy it".
Ø Do your research. If you do decide to buy an RV, be sure to research the buyer's guides, and read the reviews on the internet. Doing so will allow you to get the most RV for your money.
Ø Visit a couple of RV dealers, and attend an RV show. RV shows are great ways to see a wide range of models quickly, and it is often possible to strike some very good deals at these events.
Ø Do the math to be sure an RV is right for you. An RV makes sense for a great many people, particularly families traveling together. RV travel can be significantly less costly than travel by car or plane. Fees for campgrounds are considerably lower than hotel room rates, and this can really trim the travel budget.
Ø Be sure to inset in a quality guide to RV campgrounds. Knowing where the campgrounds are, and having good directions for getting there, will save you lots of hassle, as well as gas money.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
When it comes to traveling on a budget, few things are as cost effective as pitching a tent in the wilderness of your favorite national park. The tent campsites at national parks and state parks are among the least expensive to be found, and many intrepid travelers spend summer after summer hiking, fishing and enjoying the scenery at our country's magnificent national parks.
Just because you are roughing it in the wilderness, however, does not mean that you will need to do no planning. The least expensive and most desirable tent campgrounds at popular national parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion and Yellowstone, often fill up quickly in the popular summer months, so it pays to book as far ahead as possible.
The Internet makes the process of both finding and booking a campsite much easier, since most national parks have their own web sites, and their own reservations system. Travel agents can also make reservations, for tent campsites, cabins and national park hotel properties.
And that brings us to our next subject. Not all national park travel involves camping in the wilderness. There are a number of cabins and hotel rooms available in almost every national park, and some of them are quite affordable. As a matter of fact, unless you go far upscale, it is often less expensive to stay within the park than to book a motel or hotel in an adjoining community. And of course staying in the park is more convenient as well.
It is of course important to do plenty of research when booking any type of lodging at a national park, be it the most basic tent site or the most upscale hotel room. One thing that it is a definite must is knowledge of the weather at the time of the year you plan to visit. When planning a visit to a national park, it is important to remember that such parks are often located in the mountains, and the weather conditions at these elevations can be quite different from that found at sea level.
For example, there are parts of Yosemite national park that never lose snow cover, and autumn and even late summer visitors should not be surprised to encounter a fresh coating of snow in some parts of the park.
The accessibility of the campground is another consideration. Many of the least expensive campsites at major national parks are quite remote, and considerable hiking and backpacking may be required to reach these locations. It is vital to inquire about such considerations when booking the reservation, and it may be necessary to make some compromises between price and convenience, especially if you are not an accomplished outdoorsman.
There is no doubt that camping or staying in a national park can be a relaxing, exhilarating and magical experience. As with any budget travel, however, it is important to thoroughly research your destination, and to shop around for the best deal you can find.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
For many people, autumn is the time of year when the nights get colder, the days get shorter, and the leaves change color and the year heads rapidly toward the cold winter months. The fall of the year is the time when the kids are heading back to school and anxious travelers are no longer dreaming of beach resort towns.
For the smart budget traveler, however, the autumn season offers some tremendous opportunities for lower prices, smaller crowds and an overall better vacation value. The very items cited above make fall a great time for budget minded travelers to head to some of the best known resorts and enjoy lower prices on airfares, rental cars, food and hotel rooms.
Every vacation destination has its own high and low season, but the autumn of the year has the advantage of being the off-season for both summer and winter destinations. For instance, while winter is the high season for ski resort towns and other winter destinations, the mountain locations of these resorts often mean that skiing and other activities are available in late autumn, while prices for lodging, meals and rental cars are still much lower.
Likewise, resorts and travel destinations that enjoy great popularity in the summer months are still quite pleasurable, and often more so, in the fall of the year. For instance, autumn offers such benefits as cooler temperatures and fewer crowds in addition to lower prices. The same restaurant at which reservations were impossible to come by in the busy summer months may suddenly be available in the fall, and that pricey summer hotel room may be quite affordable once summer has ended.
When looking for the best possible deal on fall travel, it is important to thoroughly research your particular destination. While fall is the off-season for most locations, this is not true for every destination. Be sure that there really are better values in the autumn season before booking your trip.
It is also important to check the weather, including average temperatures and average rainfall levels, for your fall travel destination. After all, lower autumn prices will do you no good if rain or uncomfortable temperatures ruin your long anticipated vacation.
If the average temperature and precipitation levels are to your liking, it is time to start searching for the perfect fall travel deals. The obvious first place to start for many people is the Internet. There are a number of very good web sites and newsgroups devoted to the best in budget travel, and they are a great place to start.
It is also important to start planning early for your fall vacation. While the heat of summer is still around, be sure to start shopping for the best fall deals. Airlines often start promoting their lower fall airfares while summer is still in full swing, and it is important to act fast to get the lowest fares. The same goes for rental cars and hotel rooms, and those fall specials are often snapped up very quickly by other budget minded travelers.