The snow has melted in most of the mid-Atlantic and with spring here many are making their travel plans. I have noticed a big problem for those of us wanting to see the far-flung regions of the world; the trip to work is costing us more and more.
I personally spend a minimum of $125 a week on gas, so with my best Bill Clinton impersonation I say, “I feel your pain”. Those of us who have truly been bitten by the travel bug – so badly it has caused travel fever – won’t let the price of going to work cause us to take the dreaded “Stay-cation”, but the money has to come from somewhere.
The first money saving suggestion I have is to avoid simply picking the first travel package you see. I find packages and tours tempting because they’re easy to book, but they aren’t the best way to save. The first thing you might notice is the “Gateway” fee. The price your airline ticket will cost if you don’t leave from a particular hub, like New York, L.A., or Chicago. You’ll often have to pony up money to leave from an airport near you, then fly to the hub and leave from there for your destination. I’ve found avoiding this extra step is one of the best ways to save. Start your search with trusted travel websites like Orbitz.com or Kayak.com and find a direct or semi-direct flight from an airport near your home to your destination.
The second way building your own itinerary is better is that most tours double back at the end. For example on a tour of Italy you land in Venice and then go to Rome, Naples, Florence and back to Venice, completely wasting a day of travel gong back to your arrival point to depart. When you build your own itinerary you can fly into Venice and out of Rome, Florence, or Naples. Hell, you could take the ferry to Sicily and fly out of Palermo adding one more amazing stop to your trip.
The third reason I recommend building your own itinerary is you won’t find any of the boutique hotels or boarding houses (or their cheaper prices) on a pre-fabricated list of accommodations. Tour groups generally stay in western-style hotels with continental breakfasts. Not bad, but if you stay there you’ll never have the joy of learning how to shower with a European showerhead. Those of you who have, you know what I’m talking about.
On a tour, you will often find yourself traveling in a bubble, surrounded by other tourists eating at restaurants catering to the selective pallet of most of them. You will be cut off from the more authentic travel experience.
Another great reason to build your own itinerary is time. You get more of it. If you’re visiting a museum or a ruin and decide you have had enough, you can bail. You can walk out the entrance and not worry about where you’ll have to meet up with the bus or the group or the very chipper tour guide carrying an umbrella in the middle of the summer.
Instead, you can find a café, order a drink in your best attempt at not butchering the local language and watch the herds of tourists being shepherded from point A to B on a well-timed schedule.
It might seem like I think the concept of a package is the devil. I don’t. I know there are many people who love the structure and never having to lift a bag or fight with the showerhead, and that’s okay – for them. There are places a tour is a good thing, Egypt for one, because the group provides security that traveling alone can’t.
You also may find that booking your flight and hotel together can save cash – at least in some of the bigger cities and popular destinations. Travel expert Pauline Frommer says it’s all about competition between the big hotels, so if you’re going that route, be sure to take advantage of that edge.