Save $ Thousands On Your Next Vacation
Do you remember Europe on 5 Dollars a Day, the travel guide first published in 1957 by Arthur Frommer? Later it became 25 dollars. Today it would be over 100 dollars.
You can stay in absolute comfort for FREE
Including a FREE car.
Homelink.org is your passport. This home exchange site (you stay in their home, while they occupy yours) has been operating since 1953 by book, and has been online for years. There are 18,000 listings – mostly from Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. A $100 annual fee is the only cost.
The advantages go way beyond free home and auto. Staying in someone’s home means you have all the comforts of your own space, in some cases more, think: great views, hot tubs, bicycles, electronic games, fireplaces, pools, etc. We’ve eaten many a fine dinner with and learned a great deal from friendly and helpful neighbors. And, since there’s a ready-to-cook larder, all you have to do for a meal is buy fresh food.
Restaurant meals, museums, theaters, public transportation, souvenirs, etc. cost about the same as it does if you stayed home. So in effect, it’s free. All you pay is airfare (see hints on saving below.) Of course, that’s theoretical. We spend more on vacation than we would at home because we do more, but exchanging makes small luxuries affordable.
In the past ten years, we’ve spent 26 weeks on 12 exchanges, each ranging from one to three weeks. Some people exchange for longer periods. It would be difficult to name a favorite, but our first in Great Massingham, England (pop. 750) was special. We enjoyed Munich during the 2014 World Cup when Germany won. We suffered the noisy, “Orange Head” Dutch in Paris during the 2010 World Cup. But who cares. I’ll take a free apartment in Paris anytime. (See “Urban Borderlands” xx link for more about that trip.) Amsterdam, facing an inner canal is worth repeating. If pressed for best: Vancouver Island. Hot tub, hidden from neighbors, on a deck facing the Strait of Georgia, which separates the island from the Canadian mainland. A clear view of the snow-capped coastal range. Eagles and hummingbirds. A wood-burning fireplace. Great ganja. Paradise.
You can exchange from wherever you live. The East and West Coasts, New England and especially NYC and Florida are the most sought destinations. Have a look at the properties complete with description and pics at www.homelink.org Check out other exchange sites on the Web.
Cruising On my first cruise, I learned the value of having an astute travel agent – remember them? He got me a free upgrade. At minimum rate, we had a full size bed in a room maybe ten by twelve feet as opposed to a closet with upper and lower bunk beds.
In the past 40 years I’ve spent 34 weeks cruising, and I’ve learned ways to maximize the experience while saving huge sums. Cruise prices (not necessarily quality) range from cheap to outrageous. Our last eight cruises (140 days) have been aboard Holland America ships. Nice quality. Great customer service. And there are amazing deals to be had. Here’s how:
1) Fares drop 60 or 90 days before departure (last cancellation date for earlier bookings) and will keep falling until every room is filled. That’s their business model. The cost to the cruise line is the same whether the rooms are full or not. They make their money on extras.
2) Avoid the extras. All food, sports facilities, pools, hot tubs, lectures, and entertainment are free. Wine and liquor are reasonably priced. The shops rob you. The art auction is a phony. The spa is expensive, but why not? It won’t break you. The big extra to avoid are the tours.
3) Especially avoid ship tours. Their markup is absurd, not to mention, do you want to travel on their schedule with fellow tourists in a bubble? On our cruise down the west coast of South America, the ship ran a three-day, two night excursion to Machu Picchu. Their price: $3000. A passenger on the ship booked the same trip on the Internet for $500. At every port, there’s local transportation to anywhere the ship’s tours go and more at one’s own pace. And why travel if not to mix in with natives.
4) Companies sometimes make pricing errors on their websites or sales brochures. Pay attention. Twice we saved thousands.
Last year we received a brochure from Holland America, discounting their 23-day cruise: Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina including 3-days in Antarctica waters. The original book price was $3300, which in the past had dropped to $2200 close to sailing date. The price in the brochure: $1100. We called the next day and the salesman said it was a mistake. I responded, “Then you should fire your proofreader,” and pressed my case. He asked his boss, who said they had put aside five cabins at that price and they were already taken. I said, “I think we have a credibility problem here.” They called us the following day, honoring the price. Two of our friends also came, taking advantage of a deal that with port fees and taxes, cost a total of $1500 each for a 23-day cruise. Exclusive of airfare, of course. Book your own. Going through the cruise line will cost more and limit your flexibility.
Airfare Shop around. You can often save by Googling airlines within the country you’re going to. Especially if you plan to fly locally or regionally. We found that travel from Singapore, using airlines that didn’t appear in Expedia or similar, saved us plenty.
On cruises, one often has to fly into one city and out from another. For our recent South American cruise, the best price I could find into Santiago and out from Buenos Aires was $2200. I subsequently, priced a round trip to Buenos Aires and a separate one-way between there and Santiago. $1600. Before we booked, I noticed one of the round trip flights to Buenos Aires, stopped in Santiago on the way, eliminating the one-way flight. Price: $941.
A footnote. When I called the airline as a courtesy to let them know we’d be deplaning in Santiago, they wanted us to rebook at a cost of $200 each. I hung up. We got off in Santiago. (We travel light and had only carry-ons.)
Airline prices fluctuate with time and don’t always go down like ships. I don’t have a formula to gauge best times, I just search for the best deal. It also helps if you’re flexible about dates.
Scalpers When I was just a teen, my friend Tom and I trained from our hamlet 50 miles into Manhattan to see a Knicks basketball game. As we approached the ticket window, an old guy signaled us to follow him, telling us on the way to a ticket taker, to slip the taker a couple of bucks – less than half the price of a ticket – for entry. Welcome to the big city. Any city.
Since then, I’ve done business with scalpers, who do us regular, not corporate, fans a favor. In New York: Yankee, Knick, and Ranger games. US Open Tennis. New York Philharmonic. In St Petersburg, Russia: Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre. The opera in Paris. Most of the time, I’ve gotten better seats than were available at the box office and at a lower price.
I was burned once with counterfeit tickets to a playoff game, but overall I’ve saved tons without having to plan in advance. There are almost always tickets available, though prices will be jacked for sold out events. If there’s something you have to attend, don’t take a chance.
Airbnb. Couchsurfing. Uber. I’m sure you’ve heard of these. We’ve used Airbnb to cut our housing costs around the world when we’re not exchanging or cruising. Highly recommended. Couchsurfing is not our style, but I know people who use and like it. We’re just beginning to use Uber when we travel.