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Back in 2000 I took early retirement so I could travel while I was still healthy, and until I was grounded in 2017 I traveled almost every year, usually for two to three months at a time, sometimes longer, almost always outside the US. I traveled towards the budget end, but still in reasonable comfort. I never used a travel agent, and booking travel has gotten easier and easier as technology has progressed (no more need for internet cafes!).
For long distance flights I use American Airlines frequent flier miles, either on AA or a OneWorld partner. Initially they were from prior business travel, but later from an affinity credit card I use for almost everything I buy in the US – abroad I use Capital One credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees. I research flights on https://www.skyscanner.com/ and https://www.kayak.com/flights. I also have a travel bank account with no conversion fees. I haven’t rented a car abroad since 2004, public transport is usually fine, plus an occasional car and driver in places like India where they are cheap. Everything you need to know about train travel anywhere in the world is on https://www.seat61.com/index.html, including how to buy tickets (and sometimes passes) cheaply. The site https://www.rome2rio.com/ is useful for initial research, but all information should be checked. Google maps also includes information on public transport.
I used to say that I slept cheaply so I could eat well, but I actually prefer small, locally owned hotels, B&Bs and pensions to chain or high-end hotels. I have used Airbnb a few times, but I object to the impact they have had on cities like Barcelona, instead I sometimes use an apartment hotel. In the summers in England I often stay in student dorms, which provide en suite singles and sometimes doubles – see https://www.universityrooms.com/en-GB/. These days I often use https://www.booking.com/, but I also use guidebooks – Lonely Planet most often, but also Rough Guide, Moon, Bradt, Odyssey and sometimes Footprints or Trailblazer. I occasionally use a tour group – Rick Steves for Europe or Intrepid for Asia – but I usually travel solo. I like walking tours but in general I prefer to do without a guide. I would rather read up on a site ahead of time than stand around listening to a lot of facts and figures I will likely forget.
first thought that pops into my head is
buy a travel book/novel and crack it open
on the back deck. save the $ and the heart
ache and live the adventure in your head.
Last year, when car rental rates went through the roof (if you could even find one available), I did some research and discovered Turo. I would describe Turo as the VRBO of car rentals. In other words, it is private vehicle owners who rent out their vehicle. It has been around for several years, has a website with an extensive list of all the vehicles and owners, and includes a ratings system of all the owners. You can rent any type of vehicle, from compact cars, to mini-vans, or sports cars. Not only were the rates much less, but it was very convenient. No standing in long lines at the airport, no lengthy forms to fill out, no high-pressure sales pitches to buy extra insurance, etc. Each owner’s policies/ procedures can vary slightly (for example, some deliver to the airport and some do not) but some even offer car seats and other extras for a small fee. I may never rent from a commercial car rental agency again.
I typically splurge on one meal per trip, then save on other meals. I balance out that splurge meal by staying at a mid-range chain hotel that provides a basic breakfast and has refrigerator and microwave in room. I can usually buy a salad or soup at local grocery, which is less expensive and healthier than constant eating out. Staying at the same chain also helps earn rewards points for free nights.
Priceline operates a web site called American Forces Travel for active duty military which was just opened up to a broader audience to include the 16 million honorably discharged veterans in the USA.
The discounts, especially for cruise lines, are significant.
When we travel, we’ll rarely pay for 3 meals per day. We do our best to stay places with a kitchen and/or leverage the breakfasts offered by the hotel.
Time to bring about my extreme frugality. I often wait for a business trip or some kind of professional event that is largely paid for by someone else. Of course, I play by all the rules and don’t bend them either. Often, I’ll take a “third leg” after the business function to enjoy a few days of R&R. I also use hotel points earned on business. I’d also rather spend a couple of days with family rather than hotels–then treat them to a nice meal or send them a gift card afterward.
Too cheapskate of me? Borderline. I see it kind of like a game to minimize costs while still enjoying myself and being around loved ones.
I’ve used Costco Travel extensively for some of our vacations. I’m never disappointed with the price, quality, and the extra add-ons. The customer service has also been great. We also try to use public transport and small restaurants in the destination cities. This adds to the experience and saves quite a bit of money.
For some other destinations, I did most of the planning and research myself – something I enjoy doing. Travel guides like Lonely Planet usually have contacts for local tour operators. I’ve had good luck in contacting them directly and arranging guided tours with them. The customized, private tours are often more enjoyable and flexible, and less expensive compared to big tour companies. Our trips to Egypt, Thailand, Costa Rica, etc., were surprisingly affordable and safe by using local operators directly.