Top 5 Monday: Stretch your travel budget

Whether it’s a double-dip recession, recovery mode, or the burst-bubble effect, we can probably all agree that the dollars, yen, euros, pesos, or baht aren’t flowing as freely as they might have before. In these extra-stingy times, how can travel junkies like us CCC-ers still get our fix? In addition to stretching the company dime, I enjoy reading the plentiful tips and suggestions provided by all of the other travel writers and bloggers out there (some of our favorites are Rick Steves and Gadling). By now, most of us know to travel in the off-season and stay in smaller B&B’s or inns. But after reading and following all of that advice, if you want to take a trip, you still have to bite the bullet and budget for the extra expenses. Outside of the obvious and already-explored tips, here are my top five ways to stretch your (already thin) travel budget:

1. Where to go: Consider off-the-beaten-road alternate destinations

Sometimes we want to go where we want to go, and that’s that. But if you’re more flexible, often there are alternatives that can provide similar experiences for less moolah. Interested in the culture and history of a European Grand Tour? Consider stops in the Czech Republic, Poland, and other Eastern European gems for the same rich history and cultural significance without the overcrowded and overpriced tourist business. Looking for an exotic Thailand getaway? Vietnam has nice beaches, friendly people, and requires less dong for your dollar. Itching for a rockin’ Rio weekend? Colombia is a budget-friendly South American location with the beaches, landscape, and culture of Brazil all only a cheap two hour flight from southern Florida.

2. Getting there: Web 2.0 it up and check out the internets

When it comes to airfare, getting a good deal often comes down to patience, perserverance, and a little bit of luck. An interesting new trend for the internet-savvy among you, is that many airlines are now offering special deals through social media outlets like the Twitters. Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue and Ryan Air are just a few of the latest I’ve seen to offer exclusive deals to Twitter followers. So if you’re brave enough, join the Miley Cyrus’s and Charlie Sheen’s and you could score some sweet airfare deals (and ahem, follow us).

3. Once you’re there: Utilize base cities to save on hotel costs

If you’re planning a multi-city or multi-country trip, moving from city to city every day can be not only tiring but also a strain on your wallet. Most hotels, inns, B&B’s, hostels, and camp sites all offer better rates if you stay more than 1 or 2 nights. Also, if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal like me, you can often find better deals by waiting until you arrive to book your accommodation. The local scoop from a tourist information booth or train station can sometimes be a bigger help than your computer.

4. Once you’re there: Eat like a local

There’s no reason that you have to choose between eating out at a nice restaurant or starving while you’re on vacation. Take a cue from the locals and pretend like you’re at home. One of my favorite ways to spend a day in Europe is starting at a local grocery store or market. Pick up what you need for a quick breakfast and picnic lunch, and you’ve probably gotten two meals for the price of one. If you’re utilizing tip #3 and staying in the same place for a few days, you can even stock up and store some fixin’s in your hotel room.

5. What to do once you’re there: Pick up a local publication for inside deals

Planning activities in a new city can sometimes make the costs add up – those who operate the major tourist destinations quickly figured out that lots of money could be made charging people to climb up stairs or an elevator to the top of any building, bridge, or monument. Many museums are free or cheap, and can provide an afternoon or two of affordable entertainment. But local guides available in most train stations, airports or news stands also usually have more information on special events that are taking place or coupons for good deals. Cities in the U.S. have thesee guides (like TimeOut, etc.) and just about any tourist destination has them too, so take a look around at the newspapers littering the train!

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