Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Frugal Fifteen - Another Fabulous Five

We are up and running! Continue along with the next five of the Frugal Fifteen, or travel tips for tightwads.

6. Walk
Well, that seems self-evident, doesn't it? Most of us do much of our sightseeing on foot. But there are times when it's just easier or more convenient to hop the nearest tram or (shudder!) even catch a cab. Or are there? While I'll grant that in many cities it's hard to avoid public transportation, there's a lot to be said for schlepping around on our own two feet, even when it's not the quickest option. While most would consider Budapest, for example, a city that's not readily walkable, I spent a great two and a half days there last year, and managed to only take public transportation once, and that was only because I needed the ride in from the airport. If you have the time, why not walk? You'll see the back streets and get to know the lay of the land, and perhaps burn enough calories to enjoy a guilt-free gelato. OK, I admit that if you're buying the gelato you may not have saved much money. But how would you rather spend that money: packed like a sardine (in a place that also smells suspiciously fishy) on the local bus, or walking footloose and fancy free with a cone of creamy goodness in hand? I thought so.

7. Skip the Souvenirs
What? No shopping?! While I realize that for some this can be a travel highlight, think carefully before you buy. For me, photos are generally the only souvenir I need, and since I already own the camera and store them on my computer rather than make prints, they're virtually free. But for others, especially those experiencing a place for the first time, everything from little trinkets to leather jackets can add up to one spendy budget breaker. Do you really need so many refrigerator magnets? Would a free beer coaster from the pub be just as good of a memento? Ultimately, the time and money you spend shopping can be a real drain on your time and money if you don't reign it in.

8. Use Cash
This is the year 2009, and traveler's checks are so last century. And as for credit cards, who wants to pay those 3% fees on top of the exchange rate? When it comes to traveling frugally, cash is king, and the ATM is the castle. Sure, you'll be charged when you make an ATM withdrawal, but you will almost certainly be charged more using any other method to exchange money. Traveler's checks are particularly a pain because no one wants to accept them and so few places, other than the ones that gouge you with particularly high fees, will exchange them. Plus, since credit cards charge merchants fees every time you make a transaction, some businesses, including quite a few hotels, may offer you a discount for paying in cash. Just be sure that you notify your bank ahead of time of where and when you will be traveling and find out exactly what fees you will incur (there's really no way to completely avoid all exchange fees). You can also check with your credit card company, because some cards really do give you a better deal when making foreign purchases. But even if you're one of the few whose card gives them a stellar rate, keep in mind that many of the smaller, more budget friendly places won't accept credit cards anyway - but they do take cash!

9. Choose Your Splurges
Unless you are on the tightest of budgets, you'll probably want to tuck into a few good meals out on your travels, and such splurges can be well worth it. But to get the most for your money, think about where to head out for that three course dinner, and where to lay low. Off the beaten track in a lazy Tuscan hill town you can enjoy an amazing feast for less than the cost of a mediocre - or possibly downright terrible - meal in Venice. And any place away from the tourist hordes is bound to be a better deal and probably offer better service, too. Sometimes this means only moving over a matter of blocks. Another option is to head to a restaurant for lunch, then dine in style with a grocery star picnic. In Paris you can find terrific lunch deals in the local bistros, especially when sticking with the Plats du Jour, and enjoy the cafe life for ten euros per person, then spend only five euros apiece (less for a take away doner kebab!) for dinner on the Champs du Mars with an Eiffel Tower view.

10. Use the Internet
The Internet, as we all know, can be a great tool, but it takes sifting through a lot of garbage at times to find any pearls. Like guidebooks, the Internet can be an essential planning resource, but keep in mind that all the many, many, many reviews posted by fellow travelers on sites like Trip Adviser and Boots'n'All are inherently biased and what one person loved another hated. Still, there is so much information available that wasn't around even ten years ago that it's a shame not to utilize it. Plus, Internet connections are commonplace in Europe now, and often offer a cheap or even free way to keep in touch with friends and family and to make advance reservations while on the road (you'll find that many hostels, for example, offer free Internet access, although their terminals can be a bit temperamental). Use it to find deals and save on postage and phone fees.

Note: In the photo above, Michael once again demonstrates tightwad travel tips, enjoying a well-earned gelato after trooping through Rome all morning - with our luggage, no less!

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