If you want to travel better for less, the simple solution is usually to avoid painting yourself into a corner with your plans.
I get interviewed a lot by the media as a value travel expert, usually looking for tips and tricks on how to travel better for less money, how to squeeze more out of a limited budget.
One of my goals with the Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune book was to show infrequent travelers how to travel better using some basic strategies. One key one is understanding that the more variables you leave open, the greater your savings are going to be.
For anything from a 3-day vacation to a year-long trip around the world, here are the factors that always impact the price:
1) Where you go
2) When you go
3) How you get there
4) Where you stay
5) How you eat, drink, and get around after arrival
Most of the time when people ask me for advice, they’ve already locked down three of these five variables, so there’s not much left to work with. “I’m going to Florence and Venice for a week this summer. Can you help me find a good deal?”
Ummm, no. If you must go to x country in y period, leaving z day and stay in a certain kind of lodging, what’s left? You’re now just fiddling with the margins: where to eat, what to see, and whether to take the metro or a taxi.
Or someone writes on a message board that they don’t think their trip around the world will cost very much because “we’re going to stay in hostels the whole time.” Good for you, but that’s only one factor—and has a much smaller impact than where you go to start with. If you’re trying to hit five continents in six months and the itinerary includes Western Europe and Japan, you’re going to spend a fortune even if you sleep on strangers’ sofas every night.
Keep all five of these variables open, however, and you can travel very well indeed. Choose your destination after you’ve looked at flight deals and got a sense of what it’s going to cost you for local food and transportation. Take your time to find good hotel values by going beyond the big booking engines. Go during shoulder season instead of when everyone else is heading there. Be open-minded, be flexible, and you’ll look like a travel deals guru in no time.