With the economic state as it is, a budget is increasingly important. This also applies when traveling. I thought some of you might be interested in how we travel here, while staying within our means.
-Plan. This may seem simple, but it is important. We already have a rough sketch of our travel for the next year and a half. This allows us to know what we need to save, and also allows us to hit the big places in shoulder season.
-Utilize shoulder season travel. For instance, by taking our cruise in October instead of August, we save A LOT of money. By seeing Paris in February we saved, and were also able to avoid many of the hour+ long lines for popular places.
-Budget your travel into your monthly budget. Even if you are only taking one big trip a year. We use Dave Ramsey's system for budgeting, each month we have a certain amount set aside for travel. We try to travel every month. However, if we plan a big trip, like Egypt, we typically don't travel the month before, and add the 2 month's budget together. If you plan to take a Jamaican vacation in December, split the cost up over the year and save for it. This will keep you from charging expenses, and having to pay interest on a trip.
-Invest in a good guidebook. Our guidebook of choice for Europe is Rick Steves. (Side note: We buy them used or check them out from the library. He is a non-military supporting guy, so we in turn will not directly support him with our money.) Knowing tips like museum passes, line shortcuts, budget hotels, free bathrooms, and traps to avoid can save you money in the long run. We also utilize Rick Steves free audio guides, downloaded to our ipods. These are walking tours of major museums and cities, and allow us to skip purchasing them for 6 euro a piece!
-In Europe, Bed and Breakfasts are the way to go. Well, for us they are. If we had a General's salary, this might be different. However, for the money we pay, we have really been happy. The service is better than big hotels, because you usually have the owners there at all times. We also like the small boutique atmosphere of the places. Our thought is that we would rather take 2 trips than stay in a 5 star hotel for one trip! That being said, I am NOT a hostel girl. I draw the line somewhere.
-Within Europe, check out low-cost airlines such as Ryan Air, German Wings, and TUI Fly. These airlines offer deals depending on the day, so check back often. If you see a good price, book it right then, it may be gone the next day. Also, plan accordingly for these flights. J and I always try to check just a carry on for weekend trips. This saves us on the cost of checking a bag.
-Use tripadvisor.com to check out your place. We have always had good luck with Trip Advisor recommendations, and have saved a lot of heartache by not just booking from a random sight.
-When booking, book directly with the airline or hotel. I have NEVER been able to find a lower rate on a travel site. Check the sites, and check direct. I promise you will see direct is the way to go.
-Find a good travel agent. Here in Europe, find one on the economy. When researching Spring Break trips, most of the ones offered by on-base agents were pretty pricey, and would essentially be like taking a trip with everyone we know from base. Our agent found us a great deal on a Nile cruise. That being said, do you research as well. For my flight to the states, the agent wasn't the best way to go.
-Don't be afraid to get lost. You will see so much more of a city by exploring back streets and peeking into little shops. Staying only on "tourist trap" type routes, you won't get the entire experience. The only place I was scared to venture off the beaten path was Sicily, it got a little hairy for a bit!
If we can travel like we do on a 2LT's and a teacher's salaries, then you can travel too!
Questions? Let me know!