Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesdays Travels: Overview

As I mentioned before, I will be starting a Tuesdays Travels Series tomorrow. I told you that I love to travel, but I hate to spend the money to do so, so I try to travel as cheaply as I can. I want to preface this by saying that I am NOT a travel expert, and I am simply sharing travel tips and tricks I have figured out through my own experiences or through my research. I hope that you will help me out by sending me your travel tips and tricks as well. I WILL miss things that you know about so make sure to help me out! :)

That being said, I wanted to just start out with some general travel tips and tricks I have learned along the way in my life before I start focusing on the specific destinations.

First and foremost to save money when traveling, plan ahead and do your homework! By that I mean get to know your destination before you go. The Internet is a great tool we have these days to find out just about anything we need to know at our fingertips. Do not rely solely on it though. I ALWAYS ask friends, or friends of friends about a destination before I go. You never know what great tips others have up their sleeves!

When I plan a trip I consider the following categories:
  • Getting there 
  • Accommodations 
  • Transportation 
  • Food
  • Attractions and activities
  • Shopping
Let me take this a category at a time. 

Getting There

To drive or to Fly? For me this is what getting there  usually consists of: deciding whether to fly or drive. We have in the past considered taking a train, boat or bus but these options have not worked for us in the past, and I think drive or fly is the most likely in most cases of travel.  Of course on the East Coast you will have more train options between cities, and on islands you will want to look at boat options.

When we drive, I first get out my trusty Rand McNally Road Altas (yes I actually own a paper copy).  I bought it at Walmart for like $10 and it was the best investment ever! I check out the different possible routes, then I get online and double check the routes I found using Google Maps and/or Mapquest.  I plan out my route, including where we will stop to sleep if it is a long drive.  There are sites where you can find the cheapest gas along your route as well, but I have not done that in the past (I should).  What we DO thought is watch for certain gas stations along the way that tend to be less expensive overall (in our experience). The 2 we watch for are Flying J and Pilot.

When we fly, I start looking early for the best deal, and I try to have somewhat flexible dates. Usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays have cheaper flights that weekends.  I always check a few sites I trust first like Expedia, Hotwire and Travelocity.  And I just talked to my mom who said to also check Cheap Tickets. I used to use another popular site always but their changes in policy have made it so I won't use them.  Once, I  have checked 2 or 3 of the above mentioned sites, I have a good idea of what airline has the best deal for my travel plans. Then I go to that airlines website to see if they have a better deal. A lot of the airlines will have the best deals on their flights if you go through them directly so it is always worth checking!

A note about flying. With all the new baggage fees and restrictions, you want to pack fairly light to fly.  I was worried that car seats and strollers would cost extra just like extra bags do which for me traveling with 4 kids would really rack up a lot of additional cost. My friend Merrilyn who also has 4 kids recently when on a vacation with her family and she let me know that strollers and car seats are actually considered special equipment and to not cost extra! Phew! Merrilyn also had a good tip when you are traveling with kids and have to pack limited baggage, it is cheaper to buy things like diapers and wipes at your destination than it is to pack and pay for an extra bag. Good tip! Thanks Merrilyn!!

 Accommodations

Wow-this one is always hard-where will you stay? Again, do homework. Find the location you want (be flexible if you can). Look on the sites listed above for their best hotel deals, and check the hotels to see what accommodations they have.  My husband is ALWAYS upset if I get a 3 star hotel versus a 2 1/2 star hotel! Want to know why?! In our experience, 2 1/2 star hotels often have fridges in rooms, free breakfasts, pools, exercise rooms and laundry facilities on site. 3 star hotels might have some of the same accommodations, but they will be less likely to be included in the price. And we found the higher the star rating, the more EVERYTHING cost! We stayed in one of the fanciest 5 star hotels in Vancouver last year and we had to tip for everything, pay extra for just about everything, and the food available was 3-4 times more expensive than it was to walk down the street.  If you want a fancy hotel, go for it, but know that you will be paying for the "luxury".  For us, we were not impressed and are happy with our 2 1/2 star hotels.

Just decide for yourself what accommodations are absolutely necessary for you (it will differ for all of us and for each trip). When I go to Disneyland for example, it is absolutely necessary that my hotel is either within walking distance or it has a shuttle to Disneyland (Even if I did rent a car, I am NOT paying to park).  I always want a pool, a fridge in the room and I hope for free breakfast.  The location matters as well. Those are my must haves-you figure out what yours are and look for those things in a hotel.

When we can, we stay with family when we travel, but with 4 kids we tend to be overwhelming. So, we try to make sure we balance it out so if we do stay with family we are not in their hair all the time, and we do not stay too long.  We try to be good house guests. If staying with family or friends is possible-go so but with caution-by that I mean be grateful, be clean, be helpful, and just be the kind of house guest you would want to have! Just some advice!  :)

Transportation

This is a tricky one to write as a general topic.  If you drive to your location, you have a car and are set. If you need to rent a car, once again, check out prices on the sites listed in the "Getting There" section for the best deal! Then check with the cheapest car rental place to see if they offer a better deal directly from them. Also if you have an Entertainment book there are a lot of car rental coupons in there!

If you are going to a destination where you will be walking mostly, you should asses whether you truly need to rent a car. You can generally get from the airport to your hotel by hotel shuttle, Super Shuttle or public transportation.  Look into all your options for that before you spend the money to rent a car. Assess how much you will really be driving. Maybe you only really need a rental car one day-why pay for a full week?!  Maybe the place you are visiting has great public transportation. When we drove to New York City to visit my aunt, our van sat parked on the street for the week (well we had to move it once a day to abide by the parking/street rules). We used the subway or walked everywhere there and it would be a waste of money to rent a car.

Food

As I mentioned above, Wes likes to stay in 2 1/2 star hotels with fridges. This becomes really useful for us when we are trying to save money on food.  One of the first things I do after deciding on our hotel is to find a Super Walmart, Super Target, or grocery store near by.  Often the hotels will also have a microwave as well. So, we will get some east microwave meals and fresh fruits and veggies and crackers and have those around to eat.

Some of you are thinking that you do not go on vacation to have to still prepare meals, and let me tell you, I hear you! I like to have a break too, so we generally plan to go out at least a couple times while we are on our vacation.  So, ow do we save money on that? Again-plan ahead. When you are doing your research, go online and find out what restaurants are near your hotel or near attractions you plan to visit. See if there are online coupons available for places you might want to try.  Check websites like Groupon to see if they have Groupons in that city and start watching them every day for restaurant or attraction deals in that city! 

When you check in at your hotel, ask your desk clerk or concierge for recommendations and ask if there are any discounts available-often they have discount books at the hotel.  And if you have a chance, ask locals to tell you where they eat-you can avoid the tourist traps and get advice for real local gems!

Attractions and Activities and Shopping are pretty localized and I will address these two topics in the location by location travels to come!

Recap:
  • Overall: Plan ahead, research/do your homework, ASK friends and family about location
  • Getting There: Fly or Drive? Plan ahead and research your route/flight options. 
  • Accommodations: Decide what your Must Have's are, find hotels that have them, then look for the best deal! If you can stay with friends or family-go for it (be a great house guest)
  • Transportation: Assess whether you need a rental car and look into public transportation options!
  • Food: Grocery stores and eating in hotel room, find coupons before you go for restaurants, ask at hotel for recommendations or better yet, ask locals!

I hope this is some help to someone, and I look forward to writing about New York City tomorrow!

Photobucket

1 comments:

Andrea said...

Great tip about buying wipes and d iapers at your destination-that's probably an idea I would never think of on my own-thanks!

To get cheap airfare, I am signed up on EVERY travel website and airline website to get deals and promotions AND price drop notifications via email to my favorite destinations. We got $39 each way airfare from SLC to Long Beach that way (which is a great deal). I also check my top 5 travel sites EVERY day when I KNOW I'm traveling somewhere and know what dates I'm traveling.

Also, when you book a hotel, MAKE SURE you know if they charge for parking-there are some hotels that charge upwards of $30 a day for PARKING! I made the mistake once of booking a cheaper hotel (cheaper by about $10) to save a little money only to find out they charge $25 a night for parking-luckily we were only staying there for one night and the nice man at the front desk gave us parking for half price since I complained so much about it. :)

We normally stay in a hotel with free breakfast and pack food for lunches (to keep in the mini-fridge, we won't stay in a hotel without a mini fridge) and plan to eat out for dinners (mostly fast food but we normally do 1 nice dinner on vacation).

Awesome tips-thanks!