After years of scrimping and saving and digging out of debt, I can at last afford to let loose a little and enjoy myself. For me, that means travel. Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, I want to shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and see the world. But still, it ain’t cheap.
In fact, it can be downright expensive. My wife and I have done a couple of organized tours already, and the cost makes my frugal heart break. So what’s a penny pincher to do?
Well, this penny pincher has spent the past few months getting a crash-course in finding the best deals on lodging and airfare. Here are some handy web tools I’ve uncovered.
Air Ninja lets you find flights on low-cost airlines around the world. It’ll also hook you up with traditional travel aggregation tools such as Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia. It’s worth checking every airfare tool you can find. I just bought a one-way ticket to London for August. While every other site wanted to charge me $1,400 or more, I found the identical flight for less than $900 on Airfare.com.
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Airfare Watchdog is a fun site for flexible fliers. Enter the cities you want to travel to and/or from, and Airfare Watchdog will send you email updates about the cheapest available flights. (The site also lists its top 50 fares, topped at the moment by an $18 round-trip ticket between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.)
One last tip for air travel: When you book your flight, visit SeatGuru, which offers layouts of hundreds of aircraft from different airlines. Want more legroom? A power outlet? Someplace far from the toilets? SeatGuru can help you find the perfect seat on your next trip.
Once you reach your destination, you’ll need a place to stay. Veteran traveler Chris Guillebeau (who is trying to visit every country in the world by the time he turns 35) says Priceline is a good source for discounted hotel rooms but notes the site doesn’t disclose minimum successful bids. Guillebeau says you can often get around this by searching Google for “Priceline winning hotel bids” to locate sites that list this info.
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If you don’t need pampering, consider staying in a hostel. Hostels offer budget-priced accommodation for independent travelers. Rooms are generally dormitory-style, but many hostels also have a few single or double rooms available. For my upcoming trip to London, I’ve been browsing the listings at Hostel World and Hostel Bookers, two sites that provide hostel ratings, reviews, and more. (In my searches, Hostel Bookers usually had the better prices.) Travel-planning site BootsnAll also provides a hostel search, as well as tools for finding flights and hotels.
Here are a handful of other sites that provide useful info for travelers:
- The U.S. Department of State publishes a list of tips for traveling abroad. I plan to review this site before each trip and to carry the URL with me as I go. If something goes awry, I want quick access to the information.
- Jodi Ettenberg at Legal Nomads has compiled her own list of tips and resources for world travel, including helpful hints on how to stay healthy while on the road. Her info is useful for travelers of all stripes, whether you’re planning a two-week vacation in Paris or a two-year round-the-world odyssey.
- If you have a travel question, visit Flyertalk. The forums there are filled with experienced travelers, and you can pick up free advice on your itinerary or travel issue.
- Finally, at Fluent in 3 Months, Benny Lewis shares tips for learning languages quickly. Lewis sells a Language Hacking Guide if you’re serious about learning, but his site offers tons of tips for just getting by. Inspired by his methods, I’ve begun to learn Spanish.
Using these tools and resources, I’m all set. I’ve booked a flight to England in August and am eyeing Ecuador in October. If all goes according to plan, I’ll spend a part of my summer hiking Hadrian’s wall. And in the fall, I’ll find a hostel room waiting for me in Quito. I’m eager to practice my (poor) Spanish with the locals and to make my way to the Galapagos to look at the giant tortoises.