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.

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

Camping: Mother Nature’s Way of Giving Back

By: Meg Hoppe

Getting wrapped up in the fast paced lifestyles that we’ve become so accustomed to we forget that we don’t need a five star hotel to have a perfect vacation. Sometimes all we need is a tent, a backpack, and a sleeping bag. As a whole, our planet provides us with thousands of natural travel locations. State parks, wildlife preserves, sanctuaries, and forest preserves are among some of the most beautiful and oldest monuments to Mother Earth. Personally, I am of the opinion that camping gets a bad rap in this day in age.

Badlands National ParkPeople have this stigma that camping is a cold, hard torture that only the thrill fanatics seek out. When in reality, camping is the perfect way to get out and see some of the most beautiful places on the planet while doing it in a way that is healthy for the environment. As a subway patron, I have no fear of germs and grime. However, I know that some people do. When it comes to camping there are so many alternatives to the primal and dirty vision that people commonly get.

I can hear it now, the complaints of bears, mosquitoes, sleeping on the ground, going to the bathroom outside, etc. There are solutions to all of those problems that are easily found in books and online. If you pack correctly and plan for the weather and natural terrain you will be pleasantly surprised. A positive camping outcome is almost always in the tent, clothing, and sleeping bags that are packed. I know that there has been a few times where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to find myself in the middle of a small lake from rain water.

If you research before you go, especially as a first time camper, you can come across great resources like Love the Outdoors and How to Camp. Both websites have information for the campers from beginner level to exCongaree National Parkpert.

Don’t be afraid to trek out into the expansive wilderness. Often times as city people, we forget that there are more stars in the sky than the one we can see on a monthly basis. So when you get the chance, pack for a weekend and pack friends into a small car and make your way to a campground.

In the end, you need to realize that for every drawback, there is a positive. Just imagine sitting around a fire with family or friends looking up at the sky and seeing what it’s meant to be; an endless expanse of stars and planets. When you listen, you can hear the soft calls of animals that you didn’t realize shared the ground around you. And as you share a vacation with people you care about, you’re able to really take in all that this planet has to offer. Living in silent solidarity with nature is an experience that no one ever forgets.

Here are 10 national parks that every traveler should visit sometime:

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

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