Here is one of my best travel tricks to upgrade your hotel experience (or whatever you like splurging on) without having to change your budget:
Decide what you value most.
I can research and plan until my head explodes, but unfortunately, there are some things I can’t control. If Aunt Flow comes to town, or if Mother Nature decides to literally rain on our parade, we like to be somewhere that’s beautiful and close to main attractions so we can run back for shelter (or a mid-day nap). So, for us, what we value the most are location and ambiance.
Set a budget.
What is the most fabulous experience you can create without exceeding that number? I look at a budget like a sculptor looks at a chunk of clay. That number is my muse, my challenge – a test to my creativity and internet research prowess. Challenge accepted.
Next, look at other areas that you are willing to be flexible with in your budget. For us, it’s transportation. And this, my friends, is where the magic happens…
The cost for a taxi to/from the airport to/from our apartment is about 80 euros roundtrip. Instead, we found a bus that picks us up five blocks away and goes directly to the airport for 24 euros roundtrip for both of us. Savings = 56 euros
The water bus to/from the airport to Venice is 54 euros (roundtrip for two), while the regular bus is 30 euros (roundtrip for two). Savings = 24 euros
By taking the bus, we saved 80 euros! If our hotel budget was 60 euros/night, we could bump that up to 100 euros/night. Total Savings = 80 euros = Ciao hostel, and buongiorno hotel!
TRADEOFF: Taking a bus is not glamorous. We have to walk to a bus stop and sometimes wait in less than ideal weather conditions. But, to us, that’s worth it if it means we can afford to stay at a nicer hotel in a convenient location.
PERK: A bigger hotel budget, plus stalking Hotwire for deals, allowed us to upgrade to a beautiful hotel on the Grand Canal without exceeding our trip budget.
Your preference might be upgrading from food trucks to fine dining or self-guided tours to group excursions. Whatever you want, there is a way to make it happen by being open-minded and creative.
Find alternative ways to check off your must-see list.
We were floored to find out how expensive gondola rides cost. We opted to take a 4 euro ferry ride (for 2 people) instead of an 80 euro gondola ride. Side note, they charge 30-50 euros more if you want them to sing. Savings = 78 euros
TRADEOFF: Your experience might be different, but not necessarily bad. We didn’t have a lot of time in Venice and the weather was cold and rainy. So, going on a gondola ride would have taken up a big chunk of time that we preferred to use walking around.
PERK: After a short ferry ride, I realized I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a full, traditional ride. A few minutes in a low, shaky gondola was enough for me. Also, it was nice to do as the locals do. But the best part was that the ferry gondolier sang my favorite song, “O Sole Mio,” as we crossed the canal, and we didn’t have to pay him an extra 50 euros like the regular gondolas!
Travel during the low season.
Being in Europe, we thought that traveling would be super cheap. Well, during the summer, that was not the case at all. However, most of the cities that are popular during the summer are much more affordable during the winter.
TRADEOFF: The weather may be different, but this can be a good thing. I hate summer heat, so for me, traveling in the fall is perfection. During the winter, I like going to places that are tolerably cold, but not snowy.
PERK: A few years ago we went to Thailand during our (U.S.) summer and it happened to be their low season. That’s when we discovered the amazing perks of low-season travel. We were able to take amazing excursions and stay in a swanky hotel for half the price. Also, if you enjoy visiting museums or seeing big attractions, low-season travel is ideal so you don’t have to fight crowds and wait in long lines everywhere you go.
Clear your cache.
Play around with different dates, times and flight combinations, but remember to periodically clear your cache and try to search on different browsers. Travel sites are like that creepy Elf on the Shelf. They are always watching and tell “the big guy” what you’re doing. However, instead of presents, you get coal in the form of higher prices. We found the same flight on the same website for a lot less just by using a different browser. Savings = Potentially Hundreds
TRADEOFF: If you can’t use flexible dates because of time constraints, be flexible with your flight times. Downside, the cheapest flight might be at the crack of dawn, but it may be worth saving money or upgrading a different portion of your trip.
PERK: The airports and planes tend to be calmer at this hour. So, grab a latte and catch up on your favorite travel blogs (hint, hint), or grab a quick cat nap before your adventure begins.
Regardless of whether you’re travel budget is a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars, there’s always room for improvement. Hopefully, these tips will help you upgrade your next travel experience. Bon voyage!