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The Frugal Flaneur

Michael Flack

MY WIFE BELIEVES travel is an adventure filled with new food, new adventures and new friends. Others believe it’s a never-ending series of negotiations, surcharges, taxes and exchange rates, and these need to be painstakingly managed to minimize cost and the deep-seated shame associated with overpaying.

I guess I lean a little more in one direction, as evidenced by my recent travel adventure: a road trip to the East Coast followed by a flight to Chile.

Because of my travel savvy, Booking.com has bestowed upon me the honorific “Genius Level 3,” which means I can get up to a 20% discount on the trips I book. It could be that I am indeed a travel genius—though it may also have something to do with using the site to book 15 stays within the past two years.

Either way, the site also generously offered me a $25 voucher for lodgings, as long as those lodgings were booked almost immediately. Well, the joke was on those Booking.com folks, as Springfield, Illinois, happened to lie between me and the East Coast, and I always wanted to walk in the footsteps of the third greatest president.

Next stop was Cincinnati, to celebrate a loyal reader’s birthday. An Airbnb was engaged, except that—through extensive planning—the Air portion, along with its requisite fees and surcharges, was avoided. Basically, my wife became good friends with the bnb-keeper during a prior stay—such good friends that we now just pay her directly.

During the entire road trip, gas was procured via the GasBuddy app on my cell phone, which enables me to find the cheapest gas. This is done to reward low-cost gas stations, thus driving down gas prices for everyone. It also prevents the shame of overpaying for gas, while allowing for the mocking of others who go to more costly stations located just off the prior exit. If my car needs to be run on vapors with fingers crossed, air-conditioning off and windows up for the last few miles, so be it.

The City of Brotherly Love was called upon, with the primary purpose of meeting my editor to discuss possible upcoming projects, including My Money Journey the Movie. The secondary purpose was to partake of that most economic aspect of the Philadelphia culinary experience: no, not the cheesesteak, but the Citywide Special—a shot of Jim Beam and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, all for $4.

The author’s wife catches up on her reading at their pod hotel.

A pod hotel room in New York City was then booked for the slightly less-than-exorbitant $281 a night. It’s not the ubiquitous and eponymous box you see in the driveway of people who refuse to pay movers $5,000 for moving their remaining personal belongings after conducting a cursory garage sale—though it’s only slightly larger. I thought the missus would balk, but she was sold by both the great Midtown location and the fact that she’d be getting the bottom bunk.

Now, what to do with the car? Parking at JFK airport for the month or so that we’d be gone would be ruinous to my wallet and my conscience. My wife reached out to a girlfriend who said we could leave the car with her on the Lower West Side. She would street park it, move it as required to comply with alternate side of the street parking, and keep the battery charged by using it to commute to the Hamptons on weekends.

One of the benefits of owning a 10-year-old compact car is that your wife doesn’t really worry about it. Her friend, though, had some vague apprehensions, though not necessarily about driving a 10-year-old car. I believe it was more about being seen in the Hamptons driving a Hyundai Elantra. I thought she could just mention that her Beemer was in the shop and this “piece of crap” was a loaner. In the end, I decided it would be best for all concerned if it was parked in another friend’s suburban driveway.

We flew on LATAM Airlines to Santiago de Chile for a reasonable $360 one way. While technically it isn’t the de jure national airline of Chile, LATAM is the de facto national airline of Easter Island and therefore charged accordingly for that leg of our journey. After booking our six-hour flight to the home of nearly 1,000 extant moai, I realized that using LATAM’s Spanish language website could have saved me considerable pesos. I will not share how much due to the deep shame I am still feeling.

Our lodgings at the Hotel Ismael in Santiago graciously offered an airport pickup for $50. In a few places—Morocco and Zimbabwe immediately come to mind—this offer should be accepted with thanks. In most places, though, it should be politely declined.

A website called Rome2Rio.com estimated a taxi should run no more than $21, which was confirmed by inputting the Santiago airport and Hotel Ismael into the Uber app well beforehand. Was all this research really required? Well, for me it was, as Robert De Niro’s secret agent character stated in the movie Ronin, “I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of.”

I went with Uber and there’s no better way to start off a Santiago sojourn than by saving $32. I could have saved even more by taking two buses from the airport to the hotel, but after six days in a pod and 10 hours in an airplane, I didn’t want to push my luck.

Easter Island lodgings were booked via the missus via Airbnb via a local named Makohe Akuna, who appeared in a movie called 180 Degrees South and which we watched for research purposes.

Fifteen moai and two Flacks

Initially, I thought she was charging us $25 a night more for using the English language Airbnb website. And following the Easter Island flight debacle, I didn’t think further shame could be stood. But after an hour of “discussion” with the missus, we realized that our host was charging an extra $25 per night for hosting an extra person.

If this had been a U.S. Airbnb, I would have just booked it for one and taken my chances. I usually figure it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. But since it’s the second most isolated island in the world, I decided not to. Oh, yeah, and why was she charging an extra $25? I don’t know because the missus forbade me from asking.

As I type this, I’m enjoying a Pisco Sour in Santiago, while planning the next stop on our grand tour of South America. I’ve always wanted to visit Bogota, though Buenos Aries might be another option, with its good steak and better wine. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the Argentine peso is in the crapper.

Meanwhile, you might be wondering about the headline. When I tried to use it on an earlier article, HumbleDollar’s editor nixed it, saying you should never use words that most readers won’t understand. But I finally wore him down. So, what is a flaneur? Here’s Wikipedia’s take.

Michael Flack blogs at AfterActionReport.info. He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.

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