In my closet, you will not find a sparkly Juicy Couture handbag or chic dresses by Michael Kors. You won’t find leather Coach wallets or Gucci sunglasses. But instead, you might find some piles of maps, an old purple suitcase, and some postcards.
This is because I would much rather spend my hard-earned cash on trips to Rome, London, Paris, the Bahamas, or Oslo than on a pile of fabric from the Monmouth Mall. Unfortunately, when traveling, I’m still on a student’s budget, also known as the budget of someone who asks for ten dollars of gas at the Exxon on Second Avenue. Even with an $8.25 hourly wage, however, it is still possible to see the world while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. That is, if you know when to save and when to scrape as you go about planning your next big excursion.
If you’re planning a big trip across the pond, a travel agent is a great tool and starting point that many wrongly see as a silly luxury. According to “When Using a Travel Agent Might Be a Good Idea” from preferredconsumer.com, “While they may use many of the same web sites as the ordinary consumer when planning a trip, they do have the added advantage of having access to the latest sale and promotional information. Travel agents generally have a cache of upgrades and other perks at their disposal that they can offer to their clients. This is especially true if you are a repeat customer. And, many of these perks are not advertised or available to those booking their trip via the Internet.”
Budgettravel.com suggests making sure you book an agent that is certified by the American Association of Travel Agents and is one who works close to you so you can meet face-to-face rather than over the web. This is also helpful when the time comes for your next trip: you want your travel agent to be your friend and want to help you get the best deals down the line.
Also, you have to figure out what’s worth the extra buck when traveling and what you can save on. For example, you shouldn’t be taking taxis unless you absolutely have to. Always search out the bus and subway stops when you hit a new city. It cost $28 to get from New York Penn Station to LaGuardia Airport, when in comparison it would cost $2 by subway. And, if you can, walk to that museum a few blocks down instead of getting a ride at all. This is also a great way to experience the hidden gems of a city while saving money, too.
Another thing that you can save on is city tours. How many times have you sat through a boring, unenthusiastic tour by a kid about your age? It’s much more fun (not to mention time-efficient) to give yourself your own tour. “Frommer’s New York City 2012” guidebook, consistently given five stars by Amazon.com users, cost about $15, while the price of an “All New York Tours” guided walking tour is about $100 per person. Who wants to be led around like a bunch of third-graders anyway?
Rick Steves, author of several European guide books, said on his website, “Before buying a book, study it. How old is the information? The cheapest books are often the oldest — which is no bargain. Who wrote it? What’s the author’s experience? For whom is it written? Does the book work for you or for the tourist industry? Does it specialize in hard opinions — or superlatives? Is it readable? It should have personality without chattiness and information without fluff.”
Everybody likes getting new stuff. Everyone likes funny t-shirts, cheap jewelry, and cheesy magnets… right? You’ll be doing your wallet, and your friends, a favor if you scrimp on the lame souvenirs and send out some handwritten postcards with what you’ve been up to instead, even if you’re only gone for a few days. Postcards are much more friendly and personal than yet another shot glass. Postcards will cost under $5 for quite a few, while souvenirs will cost more than $10 per item and they will take up space, and possibly break, in your bag when it’s time to journey back home. Donna Roth, frequent recipient of my own postcards, said, “Getting postcards makes me smile and laugh and they’re something nice to look back on as the years pass, while souvenirs tend to be kind of useless and just collect dust in our house.”
Sometimes when looking forward, going on trips and seeing what the world has to offer can seem like an impossible dream in the face of tuition, rent, and bills. However, if you do a little research before you embark with your travel agent and think outside the box in order to score some great deals, you’ll have much more to show for your summer than a pile of tank tops in the closet.