Aside from "how do you get along so well" and "how do I make money and travel" sorts of questions, here's what we get asked all of the time. 1) What travel deals are you finding right now? 2) You always seem to get great discounts on quality travel. How do you do it? 3) What tips can you share regarding not breaking the bank while on the road?
As we chill in Seattle and round out our summer travel plans (and beyond), we want to pass along some tips/ideas that shape the way we're currently planning and traveling.
We actually brainstormed this post one evening over happy hour in Palm Springs. We had just been to Joshua Tree National Park, the margaritas were good and we were pumped to have found an incredible food deal. In talking, we quickly realized that we don't share much about the killer happy hours we stumble across on the road.
"Oh good, we can finally prove to people that we don't always eat oatmeal in the room," said the other half of NVR.
"With our red, plastic camping gear," I shot back.
We erupted with laughter as we vowed not to bore readers with yet another picture of us proudly eating bagels in our room. So we will give you this instead.
The truth is, if you want to save a lot of money, you really should eat breakfast in your room. We get ginormous boxes of oatmeal at Costco and bring packets along whenever we hit the road. For other meals, we make a habit of relying on low cost food from the market or grab some street food.
But you already know that. This is about those times that you want to go to a restaurant without it being murder on the wallet. With the still flatlined economy, happy hours are increasingly common and a great option for travelers. At Trio, our find in Palm Springs, drinks are $3.00 to $5.00 and, during happy hour, they offer a 3 course meal for $19. Even better, the waiter told us that the portions are huge and advised us to split the meal. That's the final course, banana bread pudding, above. Yes, it was good.
We ate and drank at one of the best restaurants in the area for about a quarter of what diners would pay just an hour later.
Are you discouraged by the unfriendly airfares you're seeing out there? We are too. Here's how we deal with it...
First, we keep a travel wish list; it's full of places we want to get to. We then set up "alerts" for the airfares to these dream destinations. For instance, we have Kayak auto e-mail us with the status of airfares to our dream destinations. When we see that the fares in a particular market have gone down, we can investigate further.
Also, be sure to follow "tip" sites like Airfare Watchdog (also on Twitter). Doing so will help ensure that you get the lowdown on the latest and greatest airfares. Last week, we were alerted to possible $500 RT airfares from Seattle to Spain. Unheard of. We then spent far too much time looking into the possibility of a journey to Spain. (Good thing we didn't get too excited - we've since learned that the fare may have been unbookable.)
We love Priceline. Despite things like (oh, where do I start...) getting a room that faced a parking structure and another above a mob of strikers, we still believe that Priceline usually delivers.
What we haven't talked about is that – even with a Priceline rate – we were recently upgraded to suites at both a Sheraton and a Hilton. Bottom line... we think sites like Priceline and Hotwire are well worth the risk. Check out the view from our "Priceline" room in Chicago.
More good news. Lately, we have been getting even deeper discounts on Priceline. They say "Save up to 60%." We say aim higher. Begin your bidding at closer to 70% below the list price.
Here is the key. Go for higher star hotels and begin bidding far enough in advance to start very low. Recently, we secured Hiltons in both Oregon and California for $60. Both were retailing for $180+ at the time.
We continue to have the best luck with Alamo and Hertz. Sign up for e-deals and don't forget to link any affiliations when booking. We got a $40 e-coupon from Alamo and applied our Costco membership when booking for Palm Springs. We ended up paying only $12.00 a day (including taxes). Almost unheard of for summer travel.
Here's another helpful tip. Thanks (again) to the stagnant economic climate, people are renting fewer intermediate and full size cars. Gas is too spendy. With an excess of these larger vehicles on their lots, car rental companies have gotten into the habit of offering free upgrades. This is not always a good thing.
A while back in Denver, we started searching for our economy rental car and found an SUV in its place. We did not need to be driving a huge Escalade around Denver. Unless you need it, don't accept "surprise" upgrades. It's not a gift, it's bad for your budget and it's horrible for the environment.
Take our approach and see how you can creatively shove yourself and all your stuff into the smallest car possible.
As we prepare for our yearly outdoor adventure, it has to be said. Consider camping. There are few things more gratifying than constructing the budget for a camping trip. It is so inexpensive and the payoff is tremendous.
Think about it... You're paying anywhere from around $0 to $20.00 for a campsite, and you're cooking about as inexpensively as possible. What's better? The settings are often unrivaled.
If you are in the United States, make your camping trip really special and head to a National Park. We believe that the NP system is the best thing this country has to offer. A yearly pass for entry is only $80.00 (camping is extra, of course). You can't beat that.
Now, go start planning! But before you do...
What tips/deals do you want to pass along?