Monday, 19 March 2012

Traveling on the Cheap

The key to traveling on the cheap is scoring as many discounts as possible. This may seem obvious, as some discounts are familiar, such as using your frequent flier miles or joining a hotel loyalty program. With a little finesse, you can even use your credit card to rack up bonus points or miles. Other common discounts are for senior citizens, children, military, or students. If any of these apply to you, carry your ID everywhere and don’t be afraid to ask about a discount even if it’s not posted. You’d be surprised how many places will give you 10-15% off without a second glance. Be on the lookout for special “student nights” and similar promotions at restaurants where you can get a deeply discounted meal, simply for flashing your ID and a courteous smile.

When calculating your expenses, know that tourist attractions add up quickly and for good reason. Yes, you could swear off all attractions and hang out in your hotel room but let’s be honest, it’s not like you’re going to fly all the way to Dublin just to skip the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Brewery. What’s a mid-30’s, non student to do?

Your first stop should always be the tourist office. Not only will they have free maps and great recommendations, they usually offer promotional discounts. This might be a free day of public transportation or a bundle deal where you and your adventure partner can get two tickets for a show for the price of one.

The tourist office may also have city passes for you to purchase, which is an excellent deal if you know you’re going to be visiting several attractions. For a great example of this, check out the Edinburgh City Pass. I’ve personally used this pass and cannot emphasize enough how happy I was with it. Google your destination before you go to see if you can purchase a pass online and possibly score yourself free or discounted travel from the airport. A little research can save you a decent amount, and planning ahead is key: don’t waste your money on a 3-day pass if you’re going to see everything in one day and spend the next two on the beach.

Similar to the city pass is the themed pass. If you know you’re going to be visiting several attractions of a similar nature (i.e. castles in England), do a little research and see if you can’t find a discount card for your particular genre of attractions. I used to think that planning ahead ruined the spontaneity of the travel experience. Who wants to follow an itinerary when they’re on vacation? Luckily, there are bundled discount packages for people just like me. Road tripping Ireland should be an open-ended adventure, and I’ve done it on the cheap a few times by using Visit Ireland’s self-drive packages. If you want spontaneity without the hassle of driving, why not try a train pass? Whatever your style, there’s a discount for you!

Some discounts will be less obvious than others. On my first long term trip to England, I was purchasing train tickets at the window when I had the following exchange with the clerk:

Clerk:  “You know, you’d save a lot of money if you had a youth rail card.”

Me:      “Thanks, but I’m an adult.”

Clerk:   “How old are you?”

Me:      “23.”

Clerk:   “You qualify for a youth rail card until you’re 26.”

Me:      “Wait. So you’re telling me that I can drink at 18 but I’m still a child until I’m 26?”

Clerk:   “Well if you want to look at it that way, then yes.”

Me:      “This just might be the greatest country in the world!”

Five minutes later, I returned with the completed application in hand and a passport sized photo. That rail card paid for itself in the first week of use. By taking my bicycle on the train with me, I was able to see most of my destinations without ever paying for a taxi or gas for my car. In cities such as London that have user-friendly public transportation, I would purchase my underground pass as a combination package with my train ticket and save even more.

In short, traveling doesn’t have to be expensive! With a little research and planning, you can see far more of the world than you ever expected and still have some cash left over for an “I Love Nessie!” T-shirt and an Eiffel Tower shot glass.

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