Budget Travel

December 16, 2009

Getting Home for the Holidays the Budget Travel Way

Every year I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

Every year, I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

By Meg Hoppe

When I was in college, my friends talked about this great bus that took them home for $1. Yes, one bonafied US dollar to take a bus from Chicago, IL to Clevland, OH. Completely floored and excited that I could traverse the open Midwest for $1, I did some of my own research on this mythical Megabus.

What I found out was that this awesome service not only could cost as low as a dollar, but they provided free Wi-Fi, it was an express bus, and it was clean. I kept envisioning this tattered old beater sputtering around the Midwest. Imagine my surprise when I got quite the opposite.

For budget travel over the holidays, there is really no other way to go. Now, you’re not gauranteed a ticket for $1 or a spot on the bus. The tickets are bought out quickly, and you only get the steeply discounted ticket if you buy a month or so in advance. However, if today I were to book a one-way ticket on the Megabus, leaving December 21st from Chicago Union Station to Kansas City I would pay between $51.00 and $58.00. Whereas that same ticket with Amtrak would cost between $68.00 and 116.00.

The MegaBus serves states in the Midwest, Notheast, and some of Canada.

The holidays are supposed to be relaxing and full of laughter. You have enough stress at home; everyone has those awkward uncles and socially strange cousins. I really see no point in making traveling to get to them all a hassle. Personally, when my mom guilts me about not coming home to celebrate the small holidays like Columbus Day, I know that ditching Christmas will nix me from the birthday call list for a year or so.

So look for alternate ways home. Flights can be expensive and sometimes you can find a great deal with a great story somewhere else. Car pool with friends, grab seats on the Megabus, or Amtrak your way back. Any way you can, get home for the holidays and enjoy the laughter and jokes that will be told every year after.

Happy Holidays everyone!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

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December 4, 2009

Twitter’s Saving You on Travel

By Meg Hoppe

Changing the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" to "If don't have anything to say under 140 characters, don't say anything at all."

Welcome to December everyone!

I noticed that I’ve been really letting myself go lately. I’ve stopped budgeting, stopped writing about budgeting and started shopping. I could tell you all it’s been the holidays, the sweet fall leaves, or the over abundance of turkey in my life as of late. Whatever the reason, holidays can be killer on everyone’s wallets. So, in my attempt to re-join the land of the fiscally responsible, Black Friday deals have their sway on even the strongest, I stumbled across this article discussing the benefits of Twitter on travel.

Most friends rolled their eyes when I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. At first I used it to challenge my writing. If I can write a concise and witty 140 update, I’ve chosen the right profession. However, now this social networking giant has become a tool that everyone should explore.

Aside from taking the place of a news wire for a journalist, Twitter is a great place to find deals, savings, and freebies. I’ve been on for almost a year and have gotten free CDs and invites to events. I did some digging and found tons, and I mean tons of tweets advertising cheaper prices for or giveaways for almost everything you can imagine.

And apparently traveling is no exception to this. According to an MSNBC article, last summer some lucky followers were able to get $9 JetBlue tickets from JFK to Nantucket and $444 round–trips on United from the West Coast to Australia. You might ask yourself how they were able to get them. Twitter folks, it’s all about Twitter. By following JetBlue and United a few lucky travelers were able to check out steep sales first.

I really think it’s time for you to get off your anti-Twitter rampage and step on over to the dark side. We have cookies and cheaper plane tickets, so why are you waiting? Get your own 140 character soap box and join the movement.

Some great people to follow for the best travel deals:

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

September 18, 2009

The Mecca of Money-Saving Lists

By Meg Hoppe

money saving

While taking in my daily 5th cup of coffee and reading the new tweets from my Twitter crowd, I stumbled across this great post from TIME magazine. Someone at the lovely TIME magazine spent a few hours [or minutes, whatever] compiling a list of my favorite things: Money Saving Tips. The writer then went the extra mile and put them all on one easy to read page entitled, A List of Money-Saving Lists: 422 Ways to Save in Total for me to peruse at my leisure.

Now, if you read my previous post on this, you’ll remember that when it comes to money saving tips, I’ve heard just about all of them. There are those few that actually make a difference, but for the most part they are meant to placate us. Whatever, sometimes I need placating so I read the article and clicked the links and here’s what I found:

There is little to nothing new to say about saving money. Sorry Forbes, Oprah, and whoever else. Ideas like shopping around for prices, haggling [a tactic my mother takes very seriously which quickly escalates to mortifying], and coupon cutting [come on, it’s been around since the dawn of time]. Personally, I think that wasting space for those ideas in an article about saving money should be put into an article about wasting time. Common sense, I know it’s a dime a dozen, but these things are second nature now.

There were of course some interesting ones. There is a pretty good piece about saving green at Starbucks; and for a Banana Strawberry Vivanno lover, this is important. However, The Huffington Post’s article entitled, The 7 Most Inappropriate Products for Children made me belt out in a mortified laughter that topped all else. As I perused the Pole Dance Doll, Shave the Baby [the caption makes it], and one of my favorites the breast feeding doll I thought, clearly, this holiday season we’re all saving money not buying the kids on our lists a darned thing. Their toys are getting out of control.

Brad Tuttle of TIME did a really good job getting together a great list of lists. Maybe my cynicsm just stems from the fact that I’m a budget writer and I’ve read about 200 of these lists.  The article is definitely worth a solid read through, if not just for that Huffington Post piece. Maybe you will find something helpful that I overlooked. Make sure to leave a comment if you do!

And share with me, either here or on my twitter,@CallMeHoppe your best budget tips!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

July 9, 2009

Audrey Isn’t the Only One Taking a Roman Holiday This Year

By Meg Hoppe

With the American dollar being worth about as much as Monopoly money, planning_tripyou might be asking yourself how you can possibly afford to travel this year. You’ve become so consumed with paying off your mounting debt and saving, saving, saving. In the midst of all of this, you have forgotten to take some time to enjoy all of your hard work. What better way to treat yourself than by taking that relaxing European vacation you’ve been dreaming of.

It’s no secret that Europe is one of the most popular vacation spots in the world. It’s also no secret that even before our currency took a nosedive, Europe is also one of the most expensive vacation spots in the world. So how precisely are you supposed to travel Europe without undoing all of your tedious budgeting? While it might take some time, a European vacation just might be in the cards for this year if you do it right.

Plan Ahead: For keeping in budget when traveling this is always my first suggestion. Often times I will get a rather unhappy sigh or an argument that over-planning sucks the fun out of a vacation. For all of those naysayers, I remain steadfast that a well planned vacation is a well spent vacation. Would you rather spend time while on vacation wondering what the best way to get to your next destination is? Or possibly trying to find the lowest exchange rate or a place to change currency for the best price while on a walking tour of Rome? Worrying about whether or not you’re over budget, if you’ve booked a room, etc. while on vacation is exhausting. And quite frankly, if there is a fun sucker during a vacation, stressing out about your vacation is most definitely it.

Since the birth of the Internet and Google search, there is no reason why you should pay full price for anything. There are enough deals, bundles, coupons, discounts and economical solutions to traveling you just have to take the time to find, research, and compare them. When you’re haggling for higher pay in your job, do you just walk away with the first offer put on the table? If you do, we need to have an entirely different conversation. No, you don’t; you counter with at least 2 offers until your employer arrives at their third and final offer. Until you hear those words, you’re far from done. So why would paying for a vacation be any different? Check out some of the links at the bottom of the blog entry for some places to start planning your European vacation.

Travel during Off-Peak Times: When you hear someone talking about traveling during peak season, it’s a sure bet that they’re paying through the nose for their trip. The key to budget traveling is researching the right time to buy tickets and travel. For instance, when you buy plane tickets, fly on a weekday. If you avoid flying Thursday night through Sunday morning you will steer clear of higher plane costs. The same rings true when you’re planning a vacation. If you avoid the peak seasons of your location you will find cheaper transportation and hotel rates. For some more information about peak travel times check out this website or for a list of some peak travel days in 2009 look here.

Rooms Deluxe Hostel Valencia Spain

Rooms Deluxe Hostel Valencia Spain

Don’t Waste Your Time with Luxury Hotels: When you’re traveling through Europe but don’t want to give up a moment’s luxury, consider staying at a hostel. I realize that hostels have a long standing reputation as being the dirty vagrant’s equivalent of a good time. Dorms packed like sardines that used to smell something similar have gone through a major face lift in the past 10 years. Hostels are now boasting top of the line economically friendly luxury and designer decorating. Hostels are a great place to stay if you’re looking to spend a few nights in a location, however, if you’re spending a few weeks to a month in a city it might be more beneficial to look into renting a flat.

Traveling with your family or friends for an extended period of time is the ideal situation for renting a flat. It is almost always more economically sound to stay in an apartment and it gives you immensely more freedom. For example, instead of going out to eat every night or staying in to expensive hotel food, you now have the option to peruse the gorgeous local open air markets and make a five star meal at home. You can also make a great night in with locals that you meet instead of going out and spending money at a bar. For more information on luxury hostels, check out my other blog entry and for more information on renting apartments in Europe, check out this site.

Take Advantage of Locals’ Suggestions: Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how many expensive travel guides you have, you will never have the insight into your vacation spot that a local has. If you’re looking for a great place to get a decently priced meal, chances are asking someone who lives around the area will yield great results. For the most part, they won’t be eating at all of the tourist traps, so they will know what’s good and what’s not. If you want to know if there’s anything that’s a must see in the town you’re in, start a conversation with someone and just ask. You could be wondering what to do in cases of theft from tourists. Well, be careful who you ask. Never tell someone that you’re alone in a foreign country. If you’re not traveling in a group, lie and say you are. However, for the most part, not everyone is out to get you. Keep a reasonable level of caution, but never rule out talking to locals.

Consider Traveling Outside of the Eurozone: With the American dollar exchanging for about .72 in European Union, it might be time to consider looking at alternative travel routes. The Eurozone is comprised of 16 European states that make up the EU. It is these states that have adopted the euro as their legal form of tender and it’s these states that tend to be more expensive. When traveling to Europe on a budget, you might want to consider traveling outside of these 16 countries. Eastern Europe has so much culture and tourism to offer that is forgotten amidst the fanfare of its western counterpart.

Know How to Spend Money: This section has to do solely with where to exchange money and how to spend it while on your vacation. If you’ve never traveled overseas before, you might not be aware that there are several different ways to pay for items. For the most part, the three major ways of paying overseas are cash, credit, and travelers checks. When you’re working with cash, I would suggest exchanging a small portion, about $100.00 before you travel so you have some money for a cab ride, initial restaurant, etc. However, for the rest, exchange it when you’re overseas. You’re likely to get a better deal if you don’t exchange it in the airport exchange counter as opposed to taking out cash from an ATM affiliated with your bank. You will likely pay a fee for it being overseas, but it won’t be as large a fee. For more examples, I’ve included an older [but still valuable] NYT article. Take a look.

Check out some of these great websites for European and other vacation deals and savings.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

June 2, 2009

Summer Fun on a Budget

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 7:55 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

By Meg Hoppe

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

From vacations to concerts and festivals, summer is the time to travel.  Kids are off of school and meandering around and the weather is perfect for weekend trips downtown or out of town.  If you’re at all like me, you find that come Labor Day, you bank account has gone through the ringer. A few days at the Taste of Chicago, some baseball games or concerts, and a summer vacation with the girls can put a dent in my credit card bill that even I have trouble looking at. So, this year as my social calendar fills up I’ve decided to try something a little different.

Being a rather young writer, my bank account doesn’t have the bang for its buck that I would like.  Knowing that most of my friends have the same problem, I have resided myself to the notion of stretching what I can for as long as I can without compromising. You might find yourself wondering how I plan on stretching a rather slim regular income while not compromising my plans for the summer. To be honest, I found myself wondering the same thing when I made the suggestion. The answer to that lies in the little nuances of event planning.

Living in Chicago affords me the luxury of having a decent amount of free events to attend all year long. Aside from hitting up local museums on their free days, which they all have, I can check out the Botanic Gardens any time I want, picnic in the parks, check out local festivals and neighborhood parties.

For those of you who love sports and concerts, but don’t really want to dish out $40.00-$100.00 for tickets; utilize your local Craigslist. I have found that for most events just looking a few days prior, even the day of given enough time, can prove to be both frugal and fruitful. The closer you get to the actual event, the more willing people are to bend a little on the ticket price. I’ve paid next to nothing for sold out shows and games because people just needed to get rid of their tickets. Just note that if you’re going to use Craigslist, you need to have a back-up plan in place in case you can’t score great tickets.

Now we come to the vacationing section of the cheap summer fun plan. I have found that vacationing can be a pleasure for your bank account when done correctly. First off, think about where you want to stay. Do you really need to book a room at the Four Seasons in New York when you have those second cousins who have a pretty decent size brownstone? Bring home some wine and flowers during your stay, offer to help clean, do some chores, and you have free digs to call your own while on vacation.

When it comes to travel to and from, choose the cheapest route available. If you have a group of friends, do your research on car rentals, vans, cheap airlines, etc. When my friends and I travel, we do lots of research. We buy any plane tickets well ahead of time and plan our trips on non-peak days to avoid higher costs. When we are on vacation, we have a researched cheap mid sized vehicle that when split between us is reasonably priced. If you’re in a big city, utilize public transportation. City transit normally offers weekend passes that are a bargain if you do the math and see you’re using it enough.

Vacations can sometimes seem like the check-out aisle in a grocery store. They’re littered with “impulse buys” or “impulse trips.” In order to avoid spending more money than you had originally set out to I’ve found that it is important to have a plan laid out before you go. If you make a note of the main attractions or events you want to attend, you are eliminating lots of “impulse trips.” Now, that’s not to say that every moment of every day has to be planned. Remember those cousins you’re staying with? They live there and have a wealth of information for things to see and do. Ask them for ideas on cheap things to do and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Offer to take them out with you and you can end up having the best vacation of the summer.

In the end, summer vacations and trips are all about the people you’re with. So don’t forget to just spend some nights at home. Break out some citronella candles, margaritas, and call your best friends for a night of good food, good drinks, and good company. Good friends are the best and cheapest summer event you could possibly plan.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

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