Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Travel Tips: Keeping it Cheap(er)

Day 1 of Travel Week is here!

While I'm not going to post about it as often as I'd like (I have a full-time job and only so much vacation), TRAVEL is super important to us. When we go on trips, sure, we like to have fun and relax but really, we want to see the world -- almost all of it. Unfortunately, we don't have unlimited resources so I try to get the best rates possible. And why start Travel Week after Labor Day? Because that's when the off-season begins and the best deals are found (most of the time, consider stuff like hurricane season, holidays, etc.).

So here are some "rules" for finding good rates:

1. Be flexible. Since I teach, we can only travel in the Summer. That sucks because it's super crazy expensive to fly to Europe in June. But it's cheap to fly to the Caribbean because it's so hot. When I search for airfares, I make sure to use sites that let me put in a wide margin of time so that I can select the cheapest times/days to fly.

2. Take your time. I spend at least 2 weeks searching for fares and doing research before making a commitment.

3. Be prepared. If there is something that you really really really want to do on a trip. Make sure you book ahead (if possible) and try to do it early in your trip. That way if a tropical storm hovers directly over your vacation rental for 3 days and washes out all the roads and the rainforest that's only 20 minutes away (see photo above), you'll have already been there, done that, instead of checking out a waterfall on the side of the road the day you need to head to the airport.

4. Find a good forum. You can get the best information from people who have already been to the places you want to go. Unfortunately, there is no one site for the entire world. You have to search around for some good ones by location. I found Tripadvisor to be great for Puerto Rico, TTOL to be an excellent resource for St. Martin, and I've long been a fan of the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Travel Forum. Spend some time reading posts before you start asking questions and get to "know" the frequent posters.

Sites I love:

Kayak has this amazing feature called Buzz that lets you see the top 25 locations and also the lowest fares to places. They have a new search called Explore that is looking very promising and I can't wait to try it out. We've chosen our destinations based on the cheapest flights for several years now and that method hasn't let us down. Of course Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia have their own features and you can decide which one is best for you based on how you like to search. I prefer Orbitz because they have an excellent flexible dates search (limit 30 days, but still good).

Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), HomeAway, and Cyberrentals all seem to be the same website somehow but each (like the fare finders above) has their own little pros and cons. One has a better amenities limit, one has unedited reviews. Again, it takes some time and a good map. The thing about staying at a vacation rental rather than a hotel is that you're not going to have someone changing your sheets everyday or all that other good stuff. On the plus side, you will save a lot of money and have the use of a kitchen. We save a lot of money when we travel by buying groceries and I really don't need someone changing my own toilet paper.

Since travel is so important to us, we are as frugal as possible the rest of the year. We don't buy DVDs or CDs, we don't go out to eat very often, we buy used cars and rarely, among other things. I can't remember the last time I paid full price for a piece of clothing and I have extreme guilt when I buy a new piece of furniture. Right now we're living pretty much on one income but we make sacrifices in a lot of ways to be able to see little slices of the world once a year. Crazy I feel compelled to justify all that but anyway. One day I want to be able to travel even more -- like for weeks or months at a time.