Updated from 1:08 p.m. EST
Thinking about a spring-fling getaway? As you plan your travels, remember that
money is sometimes the ultimate expression of "The Good Life."
Traveling on the cheap doesn't necessarily mean you'll be hitchhiking alongside beatniks and college kids. Many tried and true cost-saving methods can be used to simplify the dizzying array of travel options. These methods not only save money -- they also can lead to far more satisfying experiences for the adventurous tourist, according to Arthur Frommer, the longtime travel guru whose name now adorns over 300 guidebooks. Appearing with his daughter Pauline, Frommer offered a slew of tips for travelers from all walks of life at the third annual
New York Times
Travel Show in Manhattan last month.
Travelers spend the bulk of their money on three main ingredients: transportation, accommodations and sustenance. In each of these areas, the Frommers offered up some tricks from their trade.
In lining up plane tickets to get to faraway places, many deskbound vacation seekers have become indoctrinated into using popular airfare search engines like Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com and Expedia.com. But in some ways, the quality of these search engines has become the victim of their success. Due to the web of relationships they've developed with various carriers, "these companies are being paid to give preferential treatment" to certain airlines, Frommer observed.
An Orbitz spokesman denied this, saying the company never gives preferential treatment to any particular airlines.
Furthermore, some search engines don't include fares offered by cut-rate airlines like
, which offer cheap flights to a growing number of destinations. Sometimes, the discount flyers get short shrift because it's time-consuming to visit each of their sites individually to search for fares.
Enter the aggregators, including SideStep.com, Mobissimo.com and Kayak.com.
"These are the new brand of travel sites on the Internet," Frommer said. "They don't sell fares. They just aggregate information about all the fares available, so they're just advising you on what the airlines are offering. Everyone should become familiar with them."
Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine
When traveling to Europe, Frommer recommends flying through London and connecting to your final destination from there for the best value. London is usually the cheapest flight destination in Europe from the U.S., and there are a number of cut-rate carriers offering flights to other Euro hot spots. CheapestFlights.co.uk is a good place to find connections. Also, BMIbaby.com and EuroFlyUSA.com are good places to find cheap European air-travel options.
Another way to find deals is to explore U.S. travel firms that specialize in connecting immigrant communities with their country of origin. These companies usually come from within the community, so they often offer customers an inside track on travel options. For example, the
Nippon Travel Agency specializes in travel to Japan.
Also, CheapFlights.com offers discounted fares to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Cancun, Delhi, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, San Juan, Tokyo and Toronto.
Travelers who are willing to pick up and go at the last minute can find deals at sites like Moment's-Notice.com for a Caribbean cruise or package-deal vacation in Mexico or the Bahamas. Frommer said Moment's Notice Travel will book people at any Club Med for $85 per night a person if they're willing to depart within seven weeks.
For a last-minute weekend getaway, log on to Site59.com, where New Yorkers could recently score a three-day trip to Los Angeles for $359 per person. That price includes the flight, hotel stay, taxes and other fees. Trips are available to and from a wide variety of U.S. cities and international destinations like Europe, South America, Mexico, Central America, Canada and the Caribbean.
Hang Your Hat
Once you've got your transport nailed down, the second hurdle is finding an affordable place to stay. Most people think immediately of hotels, but nice hotel rooms have become staggeringly expensive at tourist destinations. Frommer recommends finding an authentic bed & breakfast-- not the kind of small, pricey inn that is commonly referred to as a "B&B." He's talking about the sort of private home that takes in travelers, for a small fee, to stay in an extra room. It may sound invasive and awkward, but for a sociable person looking for a genuine cultural experience, this is the kind of option that can greatly enrich a travel experience.
"Sometimes, you actually become part of a person's family
at a real B&B," said Pauline Frommer. "This is the kind of incredibly personal and unique experience in a place that you just don't get at a fancy hotel chain."
The authentic B&B experience can introduce people to foods, local customs, events and sight-seeing destinations that they would otherwise miss. It can also result in a lasting friendship.
While private homes that take in travelers can be hard to find, they are prevalent in many places. For an Internet search for B&Bs, try Venere.com. Sometimes the best way to find one is to ask around after you arrive at your destination. Frommer said that in most European cities and towns you can actually present yourself at a local tourism board and request a list of B&Bs.
"That's the way you can truly become a travel genius," Frommer said.
Another way to avoid the hotel scene is to rent a house. This often motivates travelers to use an eat-in kitchen, which can be a money-saver, and it's perfect for families and larger groups. For finding vacation rentals, try VRVO.com. Or, Frommer recommended just typing the name of a city followed by "vacation homes" into Google. It often yields a long list of possibilities.
Another option is to orchestrate a house swap with another homeowner, whereby both parties can switch places and get free lodging. The rise of the Internet and a booming real estate market has turned house-swapping into a regular pastime for many homeowners. Sites like InterVac.com and HomeExchange.com have flourished into worldwide networks for house swappers.
Meanwhile, youth hostels have grown to be much less youthful in recent years. Aside from spring break and the summer holiday, hostels have become a haven for middle-aged baby boomers. They're cheap and they're open to all. The same goes for monasteries and convents. No religious beliefs are required to stay in many of these places, and they often open a peephole into a world of peace, beauty and culture that you wouldn't otherwise see.
The House of the Redeemer
In New York City, for example, travelers can stay at The House of the Redeemer on the Upper East Side for $75 per night for a single or $100 for a double. A quick Internet search can yield other such religious-affiliated lodgings for similar prices all over the world. Just keep the noise level down and the libations at the local tavern, where an entirely different cultural experience is inevitably available.
Women travelers can visit WomenWelcomeWomen.org.uk to find B&Bs and other travel networks that are available worldwide.
And if you must resort to a hotel stay, there are a few Web sites for travel in Europe that contain hidden gems, including VisitLondon.com and EuroCheapo.com.
And Be Merry
Once you have lodging, the next step is obvious: You need food and drink. Frommer offered two pieces of advice. First, when you go to restaurants as a couple, buy one entree and share it. In many parts of the world, diners are regularly served in excess, and budgeting travelers can exploit that by turning the house specialty into a two-for-one (there are some high-end restaurants, however, where this is not an option). Secondly, large groups should visit the local delicatessens and buy ingredients for a park-bench picnic.
"Buy fresh breads, specialty meats and local cheeses," Frommer advised. "You'll usually end up with a great meal and a chance to enjoy the scenery."
For dining options and other cultural pastimes, guidebooks like Frommer's offer an excellent reference, but he recommends doing other kinds of reading as well in the lead-up to your trip.
"Books of cultural explanation and history are as important a resource as any to liven up your trip and increase your satisfaction," he said.
One final tip: as you get your plans together, avoid packing too many events into the schedule. Leave some time for fate to guide you where it may, and remember that, despite rising prices in the most desirable destinations, the world remains your oyster.