Sunday, January 17, 2016

10 Tips for Budget Travel

Two years ago I stopped making new year's resolutions and instead decided to start making a travel wish list and the results have been amazing. In the past couple of years I've been able to:
- Visit the Taj Mahal under a full moon, experience Holi, see the Venice of India and spend spiritual time in Varanasi
- See where the Monarch butterflies go for the winter, discover the amazing city of Guanajuato, eat some incredible food (street food too) and finally see Freda Khalo's home in Mexico
- Relax and enjoy time on the French Riviera
- Spend spring break in St. Petersburg. Not Florida,...Russia
- Vacation in Ireland
- Watch the sun rise and set in the Sahara Desert in Morocco
- Enjoy a weekend in Montreal, Canada.
Three years ago I was inspired by a young friend who in our conversation as I was daydreaming out loud about being able to see the Taj Mahal simply said, "you are never going to go until you buy a ticket."  It hit me like a bolt of lightening.  From that day on I made up my mind to actually work to fulfill my travel dreams. Now I don't just dream about travel. I buy my ticket.
Do you daydream about traveling?  If so this post is for you. Today I want to share a few of my budget tips to help you make your travel dreams come true.  If you are a luxury traveler you can stop reading here.

Getting Started
I've found it really helpful to make a list of places in the world that I'd like to see. One thing I don't do is lock in to any one destination, ever. Sales pop up all the time and my goal is to find one of my destinations on sale. I am a loyal Delta traveler so I keep up with their sales and I use the Kayak EXPLORE feature to be able to track where the best prices can be found. Have you played around with the EXPLORE feature?  Love it.

 I take advantage of Delta Vacations - a lot.  Our trip to Nice, France and our summer trip to Ireland were all thanks to incredible packages put together by Delta Vacations. And when I say great, I do mean great.  It is so hard to believe that the vacation package to Nice which included hotel stay in a 4-star hotel and airfare was $998!  Yes, you read that correctly.  Our trip to Ireland was $200 more but we were traveling during the peak summer season so the added cost was to be expected.  Delta vacations won't work for every trip but if you plan to use one city as a base, the package deals can save you a boatload of money.
Guanajuato Mexico
Figure out the most expensive cities to fly into and don't go there!  Some cities like London are always expensive to visit because of various taxes. But is there a way to access London from another UK or European city? Flexibility is key to be able to maximize your travel experience, your time and most of all, your budget.

And be sure to keep up with economic news and monitor the exchange rate. I use which has a tab to also provide historical data. When the economy is in your favor, take advantage of it.

Speaking of the news, watch international news for inspiring places to visit and for world news.  We are huge fans of BBC International and Al-Jazeera America (sad to see it go).  I feel I'm a much better ambassador for my country if I'm informed and have a broader understanding of the world.
Got My Ticket, Now What?
I'm typically not a traveler who wants to be part of a tour group and I really enjoy spending time learning about the target destination and detailing out an itinerary. For me it is part of the journey and I will spend hours combing websites and reading through travel forums to help with the planning. But I've learned that sometimes I need help. Some traveler friends use agencies to help them with their journeys but when I've needed help my best sources of information have been friends who've already been to the target country.  Don't get me wrong, agencies can be great and most of my friends who have used agencies do so because they don't have the time to do the research but that is a part of the journey that I love.  Calling on friends who've recently traveled makes the planning process more fun. Friends are usually very excited to share their travel knowledge, connections and photos. When planning my trip to India I was determined to do it alone but after two months of lunches with friends it became apparent that help was needed.  Lucky for me my husband's cousin leads tour groups on trips to India and she connected me with an Indian tour company that was incredible.  Last year I spent 2 months emailing tour companies in Morocco to find a company that would let me customize our trip and luckily we found a small family-owned group that not only let us customize our journey, they are now like extended family (seriously, we have our own private Whats App chat group)!
Study up on the foods and local places before you travel and try to keep an open mind. I heard nothing but bad things about Russian food before I left for St. Petersburg last year and got there and loved it! The Georgian food was a complete surprise and absolutely delicious.  Locals are an incredible resource.  I love seeing the sights, learning new things and meeting the people but I absolutely love trying new food. Instead of taking a cooking class (travel cooking classes are expensive) ask some of the locals for recipes. One of my favorite things to do is to bring my travels back home and being able to cook some of my favorite foods allows me bring the trip home.

Four years ago we went to Italy and stayed in a B&B in a tiny town on the hilltop above Positano. Believe me, it was such an affordable stay.  And the restaurant in our tiny hilltop village invited us to join mama in the kitchen to make pasta!  Now THAT was a cooking lesson and we didn't pay a thing.

Developing Budget Travel Tips
I follow travel bloggers and subscribe to various travel publications to continuously learn about destinations around the globe.  I also try to connect with other travelers when I travel. Travelers from other parts of the world have some great suggestions for on the ground discounts, locally owned companies and cost-savings we might not hear about.  Do your homework before you go to determine ground transportation options. On our recent trip to Ireland at the last minute we decided to rent a car.  I located a local Irish car company that cost us under $100 (with insurance).  In Mexico some of my most memorable experiences have
been taking the local bus to get from city-to-city. What you probably don't want to do is wait until you get there to figure it out.  Sometimes that can work but not planning tends to be a lot more costly and can sometimes throw your travel schedule off course.
Oh the cafes of Montreal!
My best advice is spend time exploring online, monitor prices and take advantage of the readily available travel forums for some current cost-saving ideas.

Try to be flexible.  This is the most important tip of all. Travel means things will be different and being flexible can help you enjoy your trip, even when things go wrong.  My husband and I arrived in Casablanca this fall expecting to take a three hour train ride to get to Marrakesh. We were departing Marrakesh early the next morning.  Unfortunately the train was delayed for hours and by 7 o'clock that night we were panicked about how we would make it.  Luckily we met the NICEST young woman who helped us get to the train station, bought us dinner and made sure we arrived safely. We couldn't thank her enough.  Had it not been for her kindness and our flexibility, I would have ended up paying about $600 for a driver to get us there. Instead, it cost us $22.

Learning About Places
Don't let the news scare you too much.  Yes, there is evil in the world but the more I travel the more I realize that most people everywhere want the same things I do - a happy life.  And, remember there are so many more amazing places in the world that just Europe.  Don't get me wrong, Europe is beautiful but the world is full of beautiful places! On recent trips I've met a traveler returning from Iran, another from Rwanda who just returned from a visit with the Silverback Gorillas and a member of the Masaai tribe who lives in the U.S. for six months of the year but returns home for six months each year so that he can maintain his tribal status. I've been inspired to meet numerous workers with NGOs doing incredible work around the globe. I was moved to tears to spend an hour in a waiting area visiting with the sister of a gentleman who was on the MH17 Malaysia Air plane crash and completely amazed by the secretary I met who lives in DC but has spent the last 4 years making frequent trips to France. A secretary by day, yes, but in partnership with a local book store she is soon to launch her travel company leading French tours.  How's that for a fun retirement at the age of 63?

About two years ago my husband and I would wake up early on Sunday morning to watch a beautiful travel series called World From Above.  It was incredibly beautiful and I added so many experiences to my travel wish list. Because of this travel program I made it a point to travel to the Balkan sea and bought a beautiful keepsake piece of amber.

And my best piece of advice - Start planning your next trip before you return from your current trip. I got a few things lined up for the first quarter of the year.  Because of my travel wish list I was able to get some budget travels booked last fall.

Good luck with your travel planning.  If you ever want to share experiences let me know.  I'm always happy to share my tips and I love learning from other travelers. I would love to hear from you.

Bon voyage!


  1. I am so thankful we did so much travelling before my husband became too frail to go off abroad. We never went with tour groups, and managed to visit Australia, Canada, Hawaii, Bangkok, Dubai and lots of Europe. I am sure you are wise to go ahead and just 'do it'!

  2. Thank you for your comment Elizabeth and I couldn't agree more. Travel isn't easy and neither is always being flexible. My mom reminds me all the time that in my old age I'm going to enjoy spending time with all my travel memories. And she is so right.

  3. I love to travel and hope to be off on an adventure eventually. I'm a little house bound taking care of a few family members. But your suggestion that there are more places than Europe is on spot. I enjoyed going to Europe. But Europe did not compare to Peru and a few other destinations I've been to.

  4. Ann, I'm sure your traveling days are coming. Just keep your wish list up-to-date. Peru is on my list! Hope we can get together one of these days. I'd love to hear about that trip.

  5. Your pleasure in travel just leaps off the screen! Like you, I love to travel too. We try to make a plan each year. I also like to go back to places I've already visited - sometimes for a more leisurely stay, to enjoy the restaurants and local pleasures a little more thoroughly. I would like to go back to the Baltic countries and stay for a month or so, just to tour slowly. Great post!

  6. We love to travel, too. In fact, we just purchased tickets to England for July. We don't know exactly where we are going once we get there, but we'll figure that out between now and then. Wales, for certain, to visit a cousin, and then possibly Spain since flights in Europe are so economical. We don't do the tour bus thing but like to get around on our own. Such fun. Great tips here, Jojo.

  7. We have never traveled beyond Canada or Mexico but are dying to Italy. We're going to try and figure it out this year.

    1. You will do it I'm sure. Just be prepared to gain weight. On my first trip to Italy I gained 6 pounds!!

  8. Oh Cheryl (JoJo)- I'm lost in these photos this in bed (still recovering) - I'm just tickled with your travels :) Mike and I want to do a trip this year to celebrate our 30 year anniversary- I have Celiac though, so we have to go somewhere that has gluten free options- if I get gluten, I get very sick and it will ruin the whole trip - At some point when you have a minute---- later- anytime- I'd love your advice if you have any - sending love and saying a prayer that you enjoy EVERY moment my friend xo

    1. Robin there are so many places where cuisine would meet your dietary needs though kitchen prep might still be a challenge. Still there are plenty of ways to travel and enjoy the food. I have a friend who was diagnosed 30 years ago and she has traveled extensively. Her motto, "I always pack an auxiliary lunch." Anywhere in the Mediterranean would offer amazing options and would provide a beautiful locations to choose from. Some friends a few years back were wanting to travel but had similar concerns. They rented a place in the south of France that was in a great location for day trips. They bought a cookbook for the region, went to local markets and had fun preparing their own local cuisine each night.

      Do you follow Corey's blog, Tongue in Cheek? She is in southern France and may have other recommendations if you are interested in traveling there. I follow an Italian blogger who owns a small B&B and you might enjoy connecting with her. If you are interest in Portugal (I love Portugal). I have a very good friend who is an organic farmer. She will have incredible suggestions for you.

      You might want to decide on a location first and then hone in on the cuisine. What a wonderful reason to celebrate!!! Thirty years!!!!

    2. I happened to think of another blogger that I've followed for years, Valdirose and she owns a B&B in the Florence area. If you are interested in visiting Italy, you might contact her for ideas I've always wanted to visit her. I love her inn photos.