13 secrets for stretching your travel dollar

/ Source: Tripso.com

If you haven’t been on an international trip for a while, brace yourself for sticker shock. As many of us know, the dollar is at an all-time low against most currencies and there is not much relief in sight.

Should you call off that overseas vacation? No, hang on. If you are open to a little ingenuity or thriftiness, you could lessen the pain on your bank account.

I guess I am getting old when I can remember such classic guidebooks as "Europe on $5 a Day". Some inflation over time is inevitable, but if you add in the painful weakness of the greenback we are now talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 a day, excluding airfare.

On some of my recent layovers I made a list of some of my shocking expenses:

  • London — Gas at $10.45 a gallon.
  • Rome — A pint of beer $9.75 and no, no entertainment was included.
  • Spain — A meal of Tapas came to $85 and I was still kind of hungry.
  • Germany — I paid over $12 for a cappuccino.
  • Singapore — A whopping $25 for a Singapore Sling.
  • Zurich — I went to Starbucks to buy a coffee mug for my collection, but when they wanted $33 for one normally priced $7 at home, I decided to pass.

These are real prices, translated into dollars. Granted, there were optional cheaper alternatives, but come on, this is getting a bit ridiculous. So it’s time to change your way of thinking when traveling abroad.

The following are some suggestions on minimizing the red from your bank account and saving a little while you’re overseas. Take them for what they are worth — and best of all, these tips are free.

1. Be mentally ready
Discuss with your traveling party the need for being thrifty in order to enjoy more. Make a game out of saving money or getting a discount and don’t finger Dad as the tightwad. Make it a group effort.

2. Fly to cheaper horizons
Though they are getting fewer and farther between, there are some destinations that are still fairly kind to American currency, such as China, Peru, Buenos Aires, and Vietnam. Do some research and discover some out of the way destination that could lead to a great adventure.

3. Grocery shop
Go to the local supermarket and stock up on food, picnic and sandwich materials, and try to limit your restaurant visits to one a day. Get a room with a refrigerator or better yet, see how much more a kitchenette option would be.

4. Flea for free
Flea markets are fun, interesting, and free. See the native people in action, spend hours roaming through the different stalls and perhaps pick up some bargains along the way.

5. Skip the bar
Have your cocktail, wine or beer, in the park or on the balcony. Store-bought hooch is always significantly cheaper than the restaurant or pub.

6. Phone home
Free Wi-Fi (the common name for a popular wireless technology) has gone global. You just have to know where to look. Do a Google search for free Wi-Fi near your hotel. For one, Starbucks has decided to entice coffee drinkers with this service. Then sign up to Skype for free VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) and phone home at no cost. Recently, I was in Zurich having a cup of coffee and having a video conversation with my wife and boys in the U.S. It was perfect reception, great fun, and best of all free.

7. Coffee
Most people like a coffee in the morning to get started. Use the coffeemaker in your room more. All you need is some good coffee from the store, flavored creamer and bottled water. Fill an extra-large cup and go to your favorite spot outside and continue to enjoy people watching, but this time on the thrift.

8. ATM
Avoid changing money at the hotel or the nearest money exchange and use the automated teller machines instead. They will give you the rate of the day and most of the time you will not incur much of a surcharge.

9. Pass on room service
It’s expensive, anti-social, anti-cultural, and should be reserved for a special occasion or in desperate times, such as: romantic interludes, sickness, sunburn, or exhaustion.

10. Go to the dives
The restaurants or taverns frequented by the locals are definitely the way to go. What it lacks in flair exceeds in authenticity, savings, and atmosphere. See the real country and the real people, not some vision of how a tourist thinks it should be.

11. Say no go to the show
Why not people watch or go on a walking tour instead? Sometimes plays, ballets, and operas can be upwards of $200 a ticket. Unless you have been looking forward to a special performance for years, it probably could go a miss.

12. Included
I am normally one to shy away from all-inclusive vacations, but with prices the way they are, I have altered my opinion. Some places offer free meals and/or drinks. I always take advantage of all free breakfasts as a way to load up before a full day’s touring.

13. Book early
The earlier you book, the bigger the savings. Look for a price match as many airlines will match other airline flight prices. Sometimes you can get a cheaper ticket on a code-share airline that flies on the same flight. So while your ticket may say ABC it could be on XYZ, only cheaper.

Don’t let the shrinking dollar cancel your air travel plans. Instead, adopt new techniques when traveling abroad. Along with the saying the best things in life are free, keep in mind that cheaper is often many times better, and you are ready for new adventures — and hopefully, some substantial savings.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.