Budget Travel

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.

April 22, 2009

The Luxury Hostel: Budget Travel’s Newest Trend

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 1:56 am
Tags: , , ,

By: Megan Hoppe

Forget everything you thought that you knew about hostels. The long blank corridors smelling very reminiscent of a gym locker room with rows of dreary bunk beds mark the hostels of years past. Newer, trendier hostels are popping up all over Europe making budget travel once again a pleasurable experience.

If you have ever traveled on a shoestring budget, you have probably experienced a night in a hostel. While the average hostel has a reputation for being less than habitable, the truth is, for $10.00 a night you get what you pay for. Much like cafeteria meatloaf, hostels have been the mystery meat of vacation lodging. However, with the emergence of younger and architecturally stunning hostels, we see a change in the way you can travel both on a budget and in style.

So, grab your map, a cup of coffee, and add these 15 great boutique hostels to your list.

Lisbon’s LoungeLisbon Lounge
97% Rating

Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, 15
50219 Florence, Italy
+39 055 462 8934

$25.00-$41.00

If you want gorgeous, artistic, chic, and service oriented while staying within a budget that wouldn’t force you to sell a kidney, then Lisbon Lounge is the hostel for you. Owned and designed by four Portuguese artists, you know walking into Lisbon Lounge that there is something beautifully elegant about this hostel. The Living Lounge features bedrooms that have been individually designed to reflect different aspects of Lisbon’s culture.

Don’t let the design alone speak for the hostel. With a 97% rating based on hotelbookers.com rating system, Lisbon Lounge is a chic and quality choice for any traveler. Supplying backpackers with complimentary breakfast, a bar, WiFi, a DVD room and of course public telephones, it will be hard to leave this resort hostel.

Check out other hostels on Lisbon’s website. Lisbon has some really fantastic options for chic, budget accommodations.

Greg & Tom 3Greg & Tom
96% Rating

Pawia 12
31-154 Krakόw, Poland
+48 602 378 180

Greg & Tom 1: $16.00-$77.00
Greg & Tom 2: $40.00-$77.00
św. Jana lux Apartments: $62.00-$100.00

Winner of the Most Secure & Best Small Hostel in 2007 and Best Hostel in Poland 2008, Greg & Tom hostels give backpackers options in budget accommodations with high tech features. If you’re traveling in a small group Greg & Tom 1 gives you a more communal space that is decorated with a contemporary sense. However, if you’re a couple looking for a more intimate setting, Tom & Greg 2 along with the św Jana lux Apartments offer just that at affordable prices and comfortable residences.

Greg & Tom provides breakfast and dinner complimentary to their guests, with hot Polish meals on Tuesdays and Saturdays along with renovated bathrooms, WiFi, and large cable television with a DVD collection that makes your Netflix queue look like a weekend grocery list.

Mandragora HostelMandragora
92% Rating

Budapest H-1088
VIII District
Krúdy utca 12
+36 1 7899515

$11.00-$43.00

You won’t find dorm style bunk beds in this Budapest hostel; instead you can find Zen lofts, double, and single lofts. From the outside, Mandragora Hostel looks more like a school, or an apartment complex, drapes and laundry included. However, when you walk in you find that Mandragora is a hipster traveler’s dream.

The MUSH-room proudly says it offers no bunk beds, instead it has lofts for ample privacy. While the Zen room asks that you not eat or wear your shoes in the tranquil environment that calls for peace and harmony. If you’re there as a couple, check out the gorgeous double rooms and call it a night. Whatever you’re looking for, don’t overlook this diamond in the rough. Located right behind the National Museum, make sure you find Mandragora for a beautiful and affordable place to stay.

Hostel Celica

Hostel Celica
91% Rating

8 Metelkova Ulica
Ljubjana, 1000, Solvenia
+386 1 230 97 00

$22.00-$37.00

Hostel Celica, literally meaning Hostel Cell, is a rehabbed prison turned hostel. The 20 different cells have maintained the original bars on the windows and doors, but that is about all that will remind you of what they used to be. Each prison cell has been designed by an individual artist or group of artists to reflect a personal style that is classic and classy. While it might make you nervous to check into an old prison, Celica offers the utmost luxury for being an institution of reform in earlier years. If you’re in the mood for a different type of stay, you can find your favorite cell here!

If you’re interested in seeing all of the individual cells and choosing what room you would like, go to the website and if you have Java installed you will be able to see a panoramic 360° view of each room.

St. Christopher’s InnSt. Christopher's Inn
91% Rating

Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 39-41
10178 Berlin, Germany
030 81453960

$17.00-$67.00

St. Christopher’s has hostels in various locations around Europe, and quite frankly, they are all worth a look if you’re in the area. The Berlin location is an exceptionally hip and versatile one. The clean, urban chic décor in the hostel is welcoming and youthful. While you’re there St. Christopher’s urges you to check out Belushi’s, the bar that is located in the lower level of the building, as it often has food and drink specials.

You can find Belushi’s restaurants scattered throughout Europe. The name is Queen’s English for “great times” according to their website. I however, immediately thought of the Blues Brothers and home, sweet home, Chicago. There is something about those black Ray Bans and cheap suits that just conjure up great memories

Red Nest HostelRed Nest Hostel
91% Rating

C/Paz 36
46003, Valencia, Spain
+34 963 427 168

$18.00-$62.00

There are a few Nest Hostels in Valencia to choose from, but I’ve noticed that Red Nest seems to be the best. Vivaciously colored rooms have pop art spanning the walls in this elegant 19th-century building. Since Valencia is a phenomenal city to visit when traveling, Red Nest gives you the benefit of being in the thick of it.

Red Nest Hostel boasts a large kitchen and dining room ready for 40 people, a terrace bar, and a game room fully loaded with pool tables and TV/DVD areas.

La Controra Flashpackers HostelLa Controra Flashpacker's Hostel
90% Rating

Piazzetta Trinita alla Cesaera, 231
80136 Napoli, Italy
+39 0815494014

$22.00-$63.00

La Controra is the only flashpackers hostel in Italy. Located in Naples, this revitalized monastery was originally built as a part of a convent early in the 18th century. Today, you’re able to see the history throughout the hostel with complementing chic and contemporary elements. The rooms are decorated with art sculptures, the floor tiles feature images of shells, Neapolitan coffee pots, garlic, chili peppers, “ex-voto” and red coral horns. The bar inside of the hostel is often used for contemporary art exhibits and multimedia events on top of being a casual lounge for travelers.

Plus FlorencePlus Florence
89% Rating

Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, 15
50219 Florence, Italy
+39 055 462 8934

$25.00-$45.00

Plus Florence is a wonderful hostel located in the heart of Florence, Italy. True to Italian architecture and style, Plus Florence combines comfort and fashion in its accommodations. When you walk into the hostel, it is bound to remind you more of an upscale hotel rather than a budget hostel. With chic and vibrant colors on the walls and a clean modern look, Plus Florence makes you feel like you’re heading into a spa weekend with the girls. To continue this feeling, Plus offers female only dormitories so women can kick off their shoes and spend some time together.

The location offers a swimming pool, a terrace bar, large contemporary styled café, WiFi, air conditioning, laundry facilities, storage space, and key card security access.

YHA London CentralYHA London Central
88% Rating

104 Bolsover Street
London, UK
W1W 5NU
+44 20 7580 1173

Adults: $36.04
Under 18: $27.23

The Youth Hostel Association or YHA, has re-vamped its image with a new $2.2 million hostel located in London. The hostel, aptly named London Central, boasts seven contemporary styled floors of budget accommodation within five minutes of Oxford Street.
The 24-hour café/bar is decorated with boldly colored furniture, large plasma screens playing music videos, and smatterings of pop art. It is loaded with free WiFi, organic cider, and Nintendo Wii.

YHA hasn’t abandoned all of its principles however. They still offer contemporary bedrooms that are en-suite, a communal dining area, and a free travel desk with destination suggestions along with free daily walking tours.

Miss Sophie'sMiss Sophie’s Hostel
88% Rating

Melounová 3
120 00 Praha 2, Czech Republic
+420 296 303 530

$21.00-$193.00
*Note Miss Sophie’s only accepts Czech Crowns CZK or Euros EUR. If you pay by credit there is a 4% charge.

If you’re in Prague, then you should be staying in Miss Sophie’s Hostel. Located in the heart of the city, Miss Sophie’s is a great place to lay your head. With a wide array of accommodation choices, a larger group can pay more for the luxury of an apartment or simply opt for the dorm style rooms. Styled more like a New York SoHo apartment or nightclub, Miss Sophie’s offers travelers a posh and affordable place to stay.

Being centrally located, Miss Sophie’s also offers the best sights and nightlife in the city within walking distance. Exposed brick in the cellar lounge sets the mood, while the terrace allows for parties with friends and fellow travelers. With hostels like Miss Sophie’s it is a wonder why people pay thousands for a hotel.

Rooms Deluxe HostelRooms Deluxe
87% Rating

Av. Instiuto Obrero n° 20
46013 Valencia, Spain
+34 963 356 793

$30.00-$37.00

Rooms Deluxe Hostel offers travelers a buffet of room choices. With 28 rooms decorated by 28 artists you won’t be let down. Each room is hand crafted to perfection. Some of the rooms remind me of bedrooms that you could see on Extreme Home Makeover. The rooms are intense and a work of art just as much as they are functional. Instead of counting sheep, feel free to find the lemurs in the 100 Lemur room, or spend the night in Morocco in Le Riad.

The website offers virtual tours of each room so take a look around and make your choice!

Centric PointCentric Point
87% Rating

c/ Passeig de Garcia 33
08007 Barcelona, Spain
+34 93 215 65 38

$23.00-$128.00

While Barcelona isn’t on most backpacker’s routes, it’s worth a detour to make a stop at this great hostel. Centric Point looks like the new kid on the block with a very gothic exterior among extremely modern buildings. The inside of Centric Point is just as modern as the rest of Barcelona with art scrawled on the walls, bright colors, and comfortable rooms for travelers.

Equity PointEquity Point
86% Rating

80, Derb el Hammam
Mouassine Marrakech Medina
(00212) 524440793

$21.00-$132.00

Equity Point offers various hostels throughout Spain; however, I have found the Marrakech location to be my favorite. The hostel, which was once a luxury riad, Moroccan palace, is located in the heart of Marrakech and is ornately decorated in an exquisitely elegant and traditional fashion. The hostel provides a Moroccan breakfast and offers locations for lunch and dinner.

If you’re ever in the Spain, make a stop in Marrakech and spend some time at Equity Point. You don’t be disappointed.

Mleczarnia HostelMleczarnia Hostel
85% Rating

Włodkowica Street 5
50-072 Wrocław
+48 71 787 75 70

$13.00-$106.00

The Mleczarnia Hostel is very reminiscent of a dollhouse that a girl would have had while growing up. With the meticulous antique details in every piece of furniture and vase placement, it’s hard not to gape in awe. This Polish hostel is a beautiful addition to the list, and boasts ornate and historical decorations. It offers dorm style rooms to apartments for couples or small groups looking for some privacy.

Långholmen HostelLångholmen Hostel
84% Rating

Alstaviksv. 15
10272 Stockholm, Sweden
+46 8 720 85 00

$14.00-$76.00

Hostelling International (HI) member, Långholmen Hostel, is a great place to stay if you’re heading to Stockholm. Sitting on a green island close to public transportation, the building is a perfect place for a get away. Built in the 1840’s the hostel and hotel served as the Crown Prison until 1975 when the last convict left. Guests are given accommodation in the rehabbed prison rooms, and are able to tour the rest of the historic location.

Långholmen offers free bikes, WiFi, laundry, restaurant, and a bar on site. Note that since Långholmen is a HI location, if you are not a card-carrying member of HI, you will be charged an extra $7.00 for check in.

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

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