Friday, March 27, 2009
The Frugal Fifteen - First Five
The combination of being in travel mode and the influence of all the budgeting advice that is surfacing in the wake of our downtrodden economy got me thinking about travel tips for the budget conscious. While I doubt any of my suggestions are unique or new, one never knows when a new insight might be gained. Also, while these tips are geared specifically towards European travel, many can also be applied to travel at home.
As a final caveat: no one size fits all, and some of these tips may not work for you, but they are all tips that I personally have tried or use routinely, so they have been tested.
Without further ado, here are the first five:
1. Pack Light
OK, anyone who knows anything about the Rick Steves' style of travel has heard this. But is this really a budget tip? To my mind, one of the most important results of packing light is that it changes your mindset; it's freeing not to be weighed down with more than you can easily carry, and rather than worrying about your stuff, you can focus on having the best experience possible. Plus, it makes it much easier to stay in cheaper places, like hostels or inexpensive hotels that don't have elevators, if you can handle your own luggage. It's a good reminder that some of the best things in life have nothing to do with our possessions.
2. Buy a Guidebook
While I am usually the first to point out that you can't save money by spending money, the fact is that if you're going to visit some far-off land, you really need a guidebook to help you make the most of your time and money (after all, time is money, right?). You'll learn when you can peek into the cathedral for free, if it's worth your while to the get the museum pass or not, and where to find the cheapest hostels that you wouldn't be scared to sleep in. You may be the type that doesn't like to plan in advance, but you still need a guidebook so that when you do take that spur-of-the-moment jaunt to London you won't be stuck paying too much for your tube tickets, eating an overpriced Big Mac because you never heard of Pret a Manger, and spending half the day trying to find a hotel that fits your budget.
3. Drink the Tap Water
This one is applicable to most of Western Europe, but I'll admit you shouldn't try it in places like Mexico, Turkey, or south Asia. But in Western Europe most of the tap water is actually pretty good (better than even the filtered tap water I've had in L.A. and Las Vegas), so don't be fooled if it seems the locals don't drink it. I buy a bottle of water at a grocery store the day I arrive, then carry it with me for the entire trip, refilling as I go. In Italy there's also the fun option of outdoor fountains that offer potable water. These are great - and don't be surprised if you see the locals filling up their own bottles, too.
4. Forgo Water at Dinner
Now, as you may have heard, it's typical to be charged for water with a restaurant meal in Europe and tap water does not come automatically. Sure, you can ask for it, but in some places that can feel a little gauche. Wine, on the other hand, while not free, is a great bargain. In Italy, Michael and I would split a carafe of wine with lunch or dinner, and just skip the water. We didn't want to miss out on the wine, especially since a half liter of house wine in Italy cost less than a single glass does in most Seattle restaurants, and since we'd been drinking water (free tap water!) all day, we just didn't miss it at dinner.
5. Go Grocery Shopping
Ah, picnics! What a way to enjoy a meal, and to do it for a minimum of cash. Step outside of the tourist zone a block or so, and visit a local grocery mart for great deals on bread, cheese, meats, fruit, yogurt, and all manner of snacks. It's also fun and lets you feel (almost) like a local. Deli counters in Europe are fantastic, offering all manner of cheese and meats that they will slice at your request. 100 grams of each is generally good for two people, unless you have a large appetite. Many discount chains, such as Aldi in Germany, offer even less expensive prepackaged slices. Of course, don't forget about the farmer's markets. These are the most fun, and you're sure to find great quality food. Putting together a picnic for two for ten euros or under (I've even done it for about five) is a snap.
Note: In the photo above Michael demonstrates two of the fabulous Frugal Fifteen tips - picnicking and using a refilled water bottle. And with that view, could you ask for a better meal?