9 Great Tips For Budget-Conscious Travelers
International travel can seem like a luxury affair, but that doesn't have to be the case. If you're a budget traveler determined to see the world without breaking the bank, you're in luck. Here are nine of my easy, money-saving tips for traveling overseas.
Avoid foreign conversion fees.
Sneaky foreign conversion fees can put a dent in a travel budget, adding an additional 1 to 3 percent to every transaction made with a debit or credit card overseas. Before traveling, find out if your bank charges a fee for international debit or credit card use. If so, consider applying for a card like the Capital One Visa or any of the other cards that are free of foreign transaction fees.
Document your expenses.
It's easy to get swept up in the romance of travel and end up paying 50 euros for a hand-pressed bottle of olive oil or 100 euros for a carafe of local wine, but expensive impulse buys can quickly add up. Instead, create a budget for yourself before departure. Try to decide in advance approximately how much you'd like to spend on food, tours, and even those unexpected items. Then document your daily spending as you travel. This simple strategy will allow you to see how much you're spending, and help curb excess purchases along the way.
Shop off the beaten path.
Traveling on a budget doesn't mean you have to forgo souvenirs. Rather than picking up trinkets at the entrance of well-known attractions like the Great Wall of China or the Roman Collosseum, shop at local street markets instead. Not only will you purchase more authentic gifts, but you'll have fun putting your bartering skills to the test.
Choose a hotel with breakfast.
By simply choosing to stay in a hotel with a complimentary breakfast, you can save between $10 and $20 per person per day. I suggest eating a big meal in the morning, and even grabbing some fruit from the breakfast buffet on your way out to munch on throughout the day. You'll save money by enjoying a smaller lunch, and maybe save enough to splurge on dinner at a nice restaurant.
Travel during low season.
One of my best money savings tips is to travel during off-peak seasons. You'll not only save on airfare and accommodations, but you'll also avoid swarms of tourists and be able to get closer to many sites. For example, book European vacations between mid-September and early November or between mid-January and the end of March for the lowest airfares. Also, consider spending holidays abroad! You can often find great deals on flights and hotels during the Thanksgiving weekend and on Christmas Day. But do your homework. You might not want to travel to a new destination during its holiday season. It might be the dead of winter in the U.S., but if you travel to China during the Chinese New Year, you'll pay more and be mobbed everywhere you go.
Research prices ahead of time.
I can't stress how important it is to research a destination before you travel. Most travelers compare accommodations before booking a hotel, but what about restaurants, admission fees, and transportation costs? This research will give you a broad view of differing costs. For example, comparing transportation prices will allow you make the sound financial choice between purchasing a one-day metro pass or a multiple-day hop-on-hop-off bus pass. Your research will help you decide whether it's cheaper to travel alone or purchase a tour package. Tour packages often offer the best value for your money, because the basics are all included in the price, leaving only the extras as variables in your travel budget.
Hit the supermarket.
All-day excursions can leave travelers with a big appetite, and when you begin to feel ravenous, you'll shell out cash for a snack even if it's absurdly overpriced. Instead, load up on healthy snacks at a local grocery store. You will save money and ward off hunger before it begins. It's very easy to find fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, and other healthy snacks, no matter where you go. Just be sure to select foods that are safe to eat according to the standards of the country you're visiting.
Avoid baggage fees at all costs.
As tempting as it is to slip in a few extra pairs of jeans or shoes into your suitcase, try to limit packing to the essentials so you don't exceed airline baggage weight limits. My best packing tip is to lay out everything you want to bring and then cut it in half. That goes for things like toiletries too, since most hotels provide you with shampoo and conditioner. You'll be surprised how little you actually need when traveling abroad! Take only what you absolutely can't live without because if you discover you left an item behind, chances are very good you'll find it at your destination.
Bundle when possible.
When researching potential vacations, keep an eye out for packaged deals. Tour operators specialize in packaging airfare, accommodations, meals, and touring, and they can usually offer prices that average consumers can't get by bundling all of these elements on their own. Just be sure to compare your options in order to make an informed decision before you purchase.
There you have it, proof that international travel doesn't have to break the bank. Do you have any other tips for saving money while traveling? Sound off below!
What Are Your Favorite Things To Do In Amsterdam And Barcelona?
By this time next week, I'll be sailing the scenic canals of Amsterdam, strolling down the Seine in Paris, enjoying Swiss fondue for lunch, living the high life in Monaco, and seeing the Sagrada Familia, among other impressive Gaudi creations, in Barcelona. I'm going on vacation, this time with some friends on Contiki's 10-day Amsterdam to Barcelona tour, which also includes stops in Paris, Lucerne, and the French Riviera (do I really have to mention how excited I am about this trip?!) The good news is, you can come, too! Follow along with my adventures as I post photos from the road to our brand new Instagram page, @budgettravel. Contiki specializes in vacations for 18-35-year-olds and recently launched Contiki Storytellers, a collaboration with The Matador Network and Céline Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau's granddaughter), to help protect and conserve the world's oceans. The #ContikiStorytellers crew created a seven-minute video highlighting the conservancy project in Costa Rica and if the video gets 250,000 views, Contiki will sponsor another turtle. Not only that, if you share your story with the ocean via Instagram and tag #contikistorytellers by May 31st, you could win a trip to Costa Rica, so get snapping! This is going to be my third time taking a group tour—last October I went on Contiki's London & Paris, Plus Paris Extension tour, and more recently, I went to Peru on the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures—as I've gotten used to taking solo trips around the U.S. or family vacations abroad that required tons of planning ahead of time, so I'm excited to sit back and not have to worry about all the big details like hotels and sightseeing for a change. The package price includes a ton of perks, like 10 nights' accommodations in five different European cities; transportation between cities in a swanky, air conditioned bus; most meals (ten breakfasts and five three-course dinners); an extensive sightseeing tour including a day-trip from Amsterdam to Edam to visit a cheese farm and clog maker's house; a guided tour of the Eiffel Tower at night (this was also part of their London & Paris tour, and it was amazing to see the city lit up at night from the top!); a trip to a French perfumery; an Italian fashion experience at the Serravalle Designer Designer outlet mall (75% off Dolce & Gabbana, yes please!); a visit to the Monte Carlo casino; and a guided tour of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and Las Ramblas. While the tour includes a lot of sightseeing, there is also a decent amount of free time built in, especially during the first and last days of the trip. That's where you come in. Before I travel to a new place, I always ask my friends and family for recommendations for great places to eat, things I shouldn't miss, and other off-the-beaten-path spots that I'd never know about otherwise. Our intrepid Budget Travel audience has traveled all over the world and always has great advice, so now I'm asking you. What are your favorite places to visit in Amsterdam and Barcelona? Sound off below!
Wishful Wednesday in… Florence!
On Wishful Wednesdays, we like to ask our audience "If you could be anywhere in the world today, where would it be?" For me, this beautiful picture of the Duomo in Florence, framed by a distinctive carved window, always makes me feel as if I'm standing there looking at the real thing! For some literary travel inspiration set in Florence, I highly recommend E.M. Forster's quirky, romantic novel A Room With a View.
5 Things To Eat In Japan
This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. The Land of the Rising Sun is known for crazy manga, super-punctual trains and a penchant for raw fish. Many a time, I've heard friends grouse about not going to Japan because they do not enjoy sushi. Even if you're not a fan of sliced fish on rice and seaweed, Japan has whole host of delicious offerings. Here are some of my favorites. RamenThe ramen in Japan tastes nothing like its air-dried and pre-packed cousin college students are known to consume excessively. Instead, imagine chewy noodles and a thick, rich broth that fills your tummy like no other on a cold night. There are many different soup bases—miso, shio, shoya being the most popular—and purveyors of a certain type may vehemently decry the others. If the first bowl you tried was not to your liking, simply note down the type of soup base it is, and try another kind out when you stumble upon another ramen restaurant. A bowl of ramen typically comes with chicken or pork chasu (a type of marinated and sliced meat), an egg (a well-executed ramen egg should always have a gooey yolk and savoury white) and all sorts of garnishing such as spring onions, leek and sesame seeds. TonkatsuThis is the Japanese version of the fried pork chop, cut into thin strips and served alongside rice, a salad of shredded lettuce, and miso soup. If you're into guilty pleasures, this crispy, tasty piece of goodness will be your go-to meal when it comes to Japanese cuisine. Many people fear that the cutlet may be tough and greasy, but the Japanese have perfected the art of deep-frying, so put aside that worry and tuck in. TempuraSpeaking of Japanese deep-frying techniques, tempura is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Prawns, sliced pumpkin or eggplant, and or even whole soft-shell crabs, are dipped in a starchy batter and deep fried. Instead of tasting heavy and filling, though, a well-executed tempura is always light, grease-free, and a delicious snack or finger food. Tempuras go great with Japanese cold noodles, or soba, as the hot and cold contrast nicely. Tempuras are often dipped in a savoury broth not unlike a thin, watery version of soya sauce, and topped with grated daikon and ginger. OkonomiyakiThe name of this pancake-like dish translates to 'grill-as-you-like'—and that is exactly how the dish works. Anything from cabbage to sliced octopus, or bacon and shrimp, may be wrapped inside a floury batter and grilled until it becomes a thick, fluffy pancake. It is then topped with a variety of sauces, such as Japanese mayonnaise and ketchup. Dried bonito flakes (parmesan thin slices of dried, fermented tuna) and seaweed may also be added into the mix. The result is a wholesome, sure-fire crowd pleaser that even fussy kids will love—even the most squeamish person will not notice the octopus in there. Some okonomiyaki restaurants have tabled with hotplates installed, which allow diners to grill their own pancakes. After feeling the heat of grilling your own pancake, down a couple of cold Japanese beers to round off your perfect dinner. Gyu-donIf you're a fan of beef, you have to try Japan's gyu-don, or beef bowl, at least once. A bowl of fluffy rice would be topped with thinly sliced beef and onion simmered in a flavourful broth. The beef and onion may taste mildly sweet, almost as though caramelised, and chili flakes may sometimes be added to give this dish a spicy kick. Some also like to crack a raw egg atop the rice bowl, which makes the rice rich and slick, giving the dish another dimension. Those who are sick of rice or prefer something soupy may want to try out the beef udon—just as warming and delicious as the beef bowl, you can enjoy your egg half-cooked in this steaming hot dish.
How to Pick Your Perfect Machu Picchu Trek
This article was written by Zoe Smith on behalf of Viator.com. Few bucket lists are complete without a trip to the Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites and Peru’s number one tourist attraction. Built in the 15th century, the site is not only world-renowned as an architectural masterpiece but also known for its dramatic location, perched on a 2,430-meter high mountaintop high above the city of Cusco. Few travelers pass through Cusco without visiting the magnificent Lost City of the Incas, but for adventurous travelers, the ultimate challenge is hiking the legendary Inca trail, a high-altitude, multi-day hike through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. With Machu Picchu’s popularity soaring, dozens of tour operators and guides now offer tours to the Inca city, and with numerous trekking routes to choose from, plus government restrictions to contend with, it can be hard to know where to start planning your trip. To help you decide, here’s a breakdown of the different options to help you pick your perfect Machu Picchu trek. Getting to Machu PicchuMachu Picchu is located 112 km northeast of Cusco in southeastern Peru and the archaeological site is open all year-round, typically from around 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The easiest way to visit Machu Picchu is to take the bus or train from Cusco, a scenic two-hour journey, stopping in the mountain resort town of Aguas Calientes, from where it’s a 20-minute bus ride up the mountain to the Inca city. For hikers there are also a number of options, the most popular of which is the classic 4-day Inca Trail, renowned as one of the world’s most spectacular hikes, showing off numerous sights and ruins of the Sacred Valley of the Incas en-route to the final destination. When to GoIf you’ve decided to hike to Machu Picchu, the next thing to consider is when to go. The classic Inca Trail is closed for maintenance during the whole month of February, but if you must visit at this time, you’ll still be able to get to the site by train or via an alternative trekking route. The most popular time for trekking is between May and September, the driest months of the year, but it’s still possible to trek throughout the rest of the year. The shoulder seasons of March-April and October-November have the benefit of warm weather and fewer crowds, but there’s also a good chance of rain. Due to government regulations, visitors on the classic Inca Trail are restricted to 500 hikers per day (typically around 200 tourists and 300 guides and porters) and the trail must be booked in advance with a registered tour company. You’ll need to book at least two months in advance, but as permits are given on a first-come first-served basis, you might need to book up to six months in advance for the most popular time slots like June-August. You’ll also need to provide correct passport information upon booking, so that you can be allotted a space. Choosing a tourThe next thing you need to think about is what kind of trek you want to do, starting with which route to take. The classic Inca Trail takes four days and is unquestionably the most popular, but there are a number of other options that offer the chance to explore more off-the-beaten-track places, challenge yourself with a longer or tougher trek, or combine your trek with a multi-day tour of Cusco or Peru. Less-experienced hikers could even opt for a one- or two-day ‘mini-Inca-trail’ hike instead [Editor's Note: the Machu Picchu Adventure tour by G Adventures offers this one-day trek option]. When choosing a tour, there are also other things to consider, like accommodation options, cost, and the availability of porters. While many travelers will be looking to save money, the cheapest treks are not always the best choices, and you should think carefully about the camping facilities, porters (to carry your luggage) and food provided before selecting a cheaper tour. Choosing a trekking routeThere are now a number of increasingly popular treks to Machu Picchu, only one of which is the classic Inca Trail and if you have the time and money to hire a private guide, you will find a whole network of alternate trails and possible routes waiting to be discovered. To help you choose, here’s a rundown of the five most common trails. The Classic Inca TrailWhen you hear ‘Inca Trail’ this is the route that they’re talking about: the official 4–day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. A tough but manageable 43-kilometer (26-mile) trail, starting out at Qorihuayrachina near Ollantaytambo and climbing through the Sacred Valley (Urubamba Valley) to Aguas Calientes, you’ll hike steep mountain passes, rock-hewn stairs and cloud forest trails, taking in Inca sites like Q’entimarka, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca and Winaywayna along the way. You’ll spend three nights camping out in the mountains on the route before making the final climb to Machu Picchu in time for the sunrise. While the distance might not sound long, the altitude and steep climbs mean you’ll need to be fit and used to hiking to complete the trek—you should also give yourself at least a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatize to the higher altitude before setting off. Salkantay TrekAn increasingly popular alternative to the Inca Trail is the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, known for its more challenging route and higher altitude. Climbing to heights of 4,600 meters and offering jaw-dropping views of the imposing Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range (include the 6,271-meter tall Mt. Salkantay) this is not a trek for the faint-hearted, but those up for a challenge can’t help but be impressed by the natural sights on-route—waterfalls, glacial lakes, looming mountain peaks, and lush valleys filled with wildflowers. Inca Quarry TrailThose looking to take the road less traveled should opt for the Viator Exclusive 6-Night Quarry Trail to Machu Picchu, a unique route that climbs the 4,400 meter Chancachuco mountain pass and the Inca quarry of Kachiqta, taking in smaller archaeological sites like the Inti Punku (Sun Gate) along the way. A good option for adventurous types that still like to travel in style, there’s less camping and hiking on this trek than the others, but still plenty of stunning views. Lares TrekA shorter and less busy alternative to the classic Inca Trail, the Lares Trail to Machu Picchu is a 33 kilometer, 2- or 3-day trek running through the Lares Valley and taking in many of the highlights of the Sacred Valley. Passing beneath the Vilcanota mountain range, trekkers get the chance to follow ancient Inca Trails through traditional Andean villages, take a dip in the Lares hot springs and visit the Inca ruins of Pumamarca. Ancascocha TrekFollowing a similar path to the main Inca Trail, the Ancascocha Trail is often nicknamed the “hidden Inca Trail” and the rewarding route remains largely free from tourists. Taking four or five days to reach Machu Picchu, this is a challenging route with undulating terrain, passing through traditional villages like Usutapampa, past the Ancascocha lagoon and over the 4,876 meter Inca Chiriaska.