In shopping around for hotels and flights, you’ll usually notice a difference in price between the peak and slow seasons. I usually plan to take a trip within the month immediately before or after peak season.
- It will be cheaper and much less crowded
- You’ll have an easier time booking arrangements
- Better opportunity to mingle with locals (while they’re not overwhelmed by your fellow countrymen)
- Your trip will be groovier. Ever read up on population density studies? Hordes of people do not make for the most relaxing vacation.
- It may be the slow season for a good reason (monsoons? descent of the mosquitos? impassable winter roads?)
- Businesses may take this as an opportunity to renovate.
- There may be fewer English speakers around.
- Green: Buy right now. Prices will be jumping in the near future.
- Red: Wait! This price is coming back down.
3. Stay in Somebody’s Sweet Vacation Home.
Check out www.vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) for a list of houses, condos and studios to rent by the day or week. Since these properties are managed by a normal person instead of a company, you can often find really great deals. Listings are available worldwide, but are most concentrated in the States. I was shocked to see how many places were available within a few hours drive of Portland, making this a great resource for weekend getaways. Outside of camping, this is probably your cheapest option for accommodating a group of people.
- Many vacation rentals include a full kitchen — take advantage of this! Cook your meals at your homebase instead of dropping a small fortune eating at restaurants every day.
- I cannot stress enough how cool and affordable some of the listed houses are.
- Many of these properties will be a bit off the beaten path. If you like seclusion & a unique experience while on vacation, this should work out nicely for you. Make sure to get thorough directions from the home-owner and/or current maps before leaving. You may find yourself in a residential neighborhood without streetlights, or maybe in the middle of the woods off a dirt road. Also it’s somebody’s house, so there usually isn’t a sign.
- Be sure to read the rental contract. Know going in what sort of cleaning you’re expected to take care of before departing.
- VRBO rentals usually need to be planned in advance (shoot for at least two weeks.) Leave enough time to snail-mail payment/contracts/keys.
This may seem obvious, but plan ahead with a travel budget and three (yes, three) cash acquisition plans. Most places in the world have ATMs for cash, but sometimes things go awry. Maybe the ATM keypad is upside-down and you enter your pin number incorrectly, rendering your bank card useless. Perhaps you forget to call your bank and let them know that you’ll be making charges from outside the country and they freeze your account. Sometimes your hotel doesn’t take credit/debit cards and you have to come up with enough cash to cover your stay. Not that I’m talking from experience or anything. (cough cough.) In America, you can purchase most anything by debit card, not so elsewhere. Depending on your bank and destination, different fees (flat transaction fees, exchange fees, or both) will be attached to getting money. Choose three from the list before you leave the country:
- ATMs at your destination – consider both withdrawal and exchange fees.
- Get Visa or American Express travel cards pre-loaded with your destination’s currency.
- Travelers checks. Dated? Yes. Accepted worldwide? Yes.
- Get foreign currency at your bank before leaving. Make sure to get one of those geeky under-the-shirt-money-hiding-pouch-things.
- Airport exchange office – convenient, but often higher exchange rates.
- Line up a trusted friend or family member as your emergency cash backup. Don’t forget to let them know they’re your last hope in an emergency.
You’ve made it to your destination, now go have a real experience! Wander. Notice things. Live like a local. Avoid tourist traps – they’re designed specifically to part you from your money. Make a list of ways to have a new, inexpensive experience, such as:
- Talk to the locals. Go to their favorite cheap restaurants.
- Consider alternate transportation. Drive instead of fly. Take the bus instead of drive. Rent a moped (Ciao!) Avoid cabs unless it’s an emergency.
- Go to the grocery store & grab some local fare. Find a nice spot, eat, and enjoy the view.
- Check out blogs devoted to your destination. Somewhere on the internet, somebody is dying to tell you about all the great things to do there. Listen to them!