We consider ourselves thrifty travelers. Sure, we won't think twice about the admission price to that famous historic attraction, but if funds are limited, it's nice to trim the travel costs when possible. We (well, one of us) spend a ridiculous amount of time scouring the internet to understand the best and cheapest ways to travel to and enjoy our destination of interest without compromising the quality of the trip. This is our current strategy for keeping the costs low without sacrificing too much of our vacation:

Consider the off-season.
We rarely visit a country during its high season for tourism. The prices of flights and accommodations during the off-season tend to be much cheaper. Yes, you take a chance that the local weather might not be totally in your favor, but a slight chill or light rain never prevents us from enjoying our destination. Plus, the off-season means you can enjoy your destination without the hordes of tourists the peak season brings.

We found that many hotels offer additional promotions in the off-season to attract visitors. For example, with a three-night stay at one of our resorts in Costa Rica, we scored $250 towards the luxury spa. This allowed us to enjoy a massage at nearly no out-of-pocket expense. Bonus!

Watch the travel listings.
Subscribe to the travel sites. These sites search the internet for the best deals and compile a list in a weekly email. They can also point you to travel companies that offer vacation packages with discounted rates. This is my preferred method for planning any vacation. Travelzoo and Shermans Travel are fantastic. 

Make realistic choices.
Your travel plan and budget should be in line with your vacation expectations. If you're booking a budget hotel but expecting a five-star experience, you will be disappointed. Spend the bulk of your budget on what matters the most to you and make concessions elsewhere.

Research, research, research.
Research everything about your journey and destination. It provides the knowledge you need to plan a cost-efficient trip and eliminates potential monetary surprises.

Research airline policies. Are there extra fees you will be responsible for paying? Is there an extra fee to carry-on or check a bag? We tend to pack light and carry-on our luggage, but I will check a bag to avoid a fee.

Research accommodations. Read the reviews on TripAdvisor to ensure you book the best hotel/resort in your price range. Research the alternatives to the hotel/resort. It might be cheaper to rent an apartment or villa, especially if you have travel companions to share the cost. Are you staying at an all-inclusive resort? Find out exactly what is and is not included in the premium.

Research the location of your accommodation. If we're traveling to a European city, for instance, I prefer a hotel with a central location close to the main attractions. While it's usually less expensive to stay outside the city limits, the extra expense is usually worth the time and money spent commuting from an outside location. Also, don't be the fool that automatically gets in a taxi at the train station when your hotel is located around the block. Walking is free.
Research public transportation. While the metro, train or bus transit systems might be intimidating, the public transportation systems are usually easy to use and are most definitely cheaper than taxis or car rentals [consider prices for gas, insurance and parking]. In Venice, for example, the fare for the "Aerobus" [€6/person] is substantially cheaper than hiring a private water taxi [€70-100!] to the airport. Never assume you need a taxi. 

Research discount options. Some cities have transportation passes that are valid for multiple days or tourist passes that allow access to major sites and museums at a discount. These passes may or may not be a cost-effective option depending on the number of uses and the time you have available. Some attractions also offer discounts to students if you have proper identification.

Research payment options. Do you need to exchange money for the local currency? What is the exchange rate? Avoid converting money at the airport, if possible, since conversion rates are usually poor. Banks, ATMs and credit cards tend to offer the most current rates but sometimes charge fees for every transaction. Understand how you will be charged so there are no surprises later.

Research tipping etiquette. Many countries include the service fee in the check, so an additional tip is not necessary. By Italian law, the gratuity is always included in the bill but locals tend to leave a little extra if the server warrants it. 
Curb meal expenses.
Unless you're staying at an all-inclusive resort, meal expenses add up quickly, especially if you dine at fancy restaurants three times a day. The guides say to eat your largest meal at lunchtime since the dinner menu tends to be more expensive, but I enjoy a real dinner at the end of a long day of sight-seeing and almost always ignore that advice. This means we find other ways to be thrifty with food expenses. 

Be selective with restaurants. Check out several menus before you decide on a place to eat. Find restaurants located off the tourist path for more reasonably-priced and authentic dishes. Ask if there are meal specials and try the local cuisine. The house wine in Italy is fabulous.

Visit the local grocery store. We typically buy beverages, snacks and/or sandwich ingredients to cut down on daytime meal expenses. Buy the local brands. If you're renting an apartment or villa, you can buy ingredients and cook meals at home during your stay, but despite our best intentions, the most we usually end up making is toast. Buy only enough food that you know you will eat.

Try the street food. Outdoor vendors typically offer inexpensive meal options and allow you to taste a variety of local cuisine. This is Gabe's favorite vacation pastime.

Refill water bottles [if the local water is safe to drink!]. 

Purchase tickets in advance.
Ticket prices are sometimes cheaper if you pay in advance of the gate, and the pre-purchased ticket often allows you to skip the queue in line. This also allows you to spread out some of the costs of the trip over time, allowing the expenses to be more manageable. Search the internet for promotional codes when buying tickets online.

Ask the locals.
The locals know best. When in doubt, ask for their recommendations.

Do you have any other tips on how to be a thrifty traveler?


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