Budget Travel Tips 101
By Peter Cullen
Everyone loves to travel (almost everyone). I certainly do. Believe it or not, doing it right and doing it on a budget takes a little skill, knowledge and practice. But the required skills are not difficult, the knowledge required is easy to obtain, and the fun is in the practice!
This past spring my wife and I were lucky enough to be able to spend 10 days in Italy. We didn't spend a fortune, we scrimped on a few things and spent on others, and the net result was a very pleasing travel experience. Planning, of course, is key. We had agreed to our general itinerary and had a limited amount of time to spend, so the general outline of the trip was pretty clear from the start. We flew to Rome, spent a few days taking care of the biggies like St. Peter's, and the Vatican Museum, and did lots of strolling around the city.
Where did we stay? At a "budget" hotel. How did we find it? The Internet. There are so many choices of reasonably-priced hotels, that the biggest problem is narrowing down the list. If you have even minimal Web-surfing skills, finding your accomodations this way is really pretty easy to do. Many establishments even offer a discount for reservations made online. Oh, by the way, when we paid the bill on the way out, we paid in cash - another discount!
How did we get from the airport in Rome to the hotel? (Hint: not by taxi.) We took the train! Much cheaper, more fun, and in fact, easier. Even if you can't actually read the signs in the airport, finding the station is very easy. How did we really know it was so easy to get to the city from the airport on the train? We cheated. We read a travel guide before we left! I'm not pitching a travel book here, and I honestly don't remember which one it was, but the point is, a little research in advance can save you a lot of money, time, aggravation, fear, uncertainty and all those other negative emotions brought on by arriving in a foreign place and suddenly realizing you have no idea what to do next. And finally, from the train station in the city to our hotel was a short walk because we planned it that way - no taxi fare. The walk to the hotel was made even more pleasant by the fact that we were not over-burdened with luggage, which brings us to the next practical tip - packing.
Ten days in Europe (or anywhere else) doesn't require a mountain of baggage - at least not for two adults. Bags with handles and wheels are essential. Walking to the hotel with our luggage was a breeze. Packing, like the other parts of a trip, requires a little planning. If you're careful, and are clear about your plans for touring and socializing, you can get by with less than you think.
Keeping your travel documents and money secure is always a concern. I learned an important lesson a few years ago during a trip to Europe. Having done a lot of business travel all over the world, I made the mistake of thinking I was immune from pick pockets. I won't mention the city the event took place in, but afterwards I was stunned at the skill demonstrated by the "team" that got my wallet - out of a jacket pocket that was zipped closed! It happened in a revolving door - and thinking back on the episode, I realize that I was expertly sized up for the "hit" beforehand. In short, realize that anyone can be "fooled" even if you think you're an expert. Lesson - I NEVER travel now without a money belt. On our last trip to Italy, all valuables were in the money belt at all times, and there were no incidents. Even the "gypsy kids" at the Coliseum were not a threat (if you go to Rome, be sure to read about the area around the Coliseum - you must see it, but it's prime territory for expert young thieves).
In summary, a little thought and some careful planning can make a huge difference in the level of pleasure you derive from your next trip - whether it's a European jaunt or a car trip with your whole family to mountains. I think letting someone else do it all and spending your days sealed up in a tour bus or following someone else around all day deprives you of half the fun. So plan your next trip carefully and you'll enjoy it a lot more.
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