Did you know?
According to the Travel Industry Association, summer (especially July and August) is when people travel most. Fall is the season when people travel least, so NOW is an excellent time to book (and enjoy) a trip!
“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.” —Mohammed
Travel is both physically and spiritually transporting. It can take us out of the every day and bring us within kissing distance of the sublime, like eating rich mole poblano in Puebla, Mexico, or gazing at the Pitons in St. Lucia from a sailboat. Travel is also good for our character. It stretches our tolerance (“Why is everyone so friggin’ slow here?”) and makes us feisty (“Whoa Reinaldo! You’re dancing a little too close; that’s my butt you’re holding on to!”).
The only hitch with vacations, really, is that they can be bloody expensive. But let’s focus on the positive, shall we, because with a little forethought and flexibility, visiting your dream destination is more do-able than you think. Repeat after me: “Travel is not a luxury; it is a necessity.”
How to make the exotic accessible and enjoyable
Do you fantasize about tangoing in Buenos Aires or scouting the Serengeti? It will be easier to see the world on your salary once you define your dream. Start by considering the type of vacation you’re looking for. Do you want to ring in the New Year on a beach in Rio, or would you prefer to meditate with monks in Tibet? Honing in on what type of holiday experience you’re hoping to achieve—rugged, romantic, or relaxing—will help you get the most out of your precious time away.
It’s also important to update your dreams to suit your current taste. You may have wanted to hike the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu for as long as you can remember, but do you now prefer refined living to “roughing it?”
“People don’t change their lifestyle when they change location,” Peter Greenberg, travel correspondent for the Today Show, once warned me. So while you don’t have to abandon your Machu Picchu fantasy, just make sure there’s a posh hotel and a pisco sour waiting for you on top.
Embrace which off-season?
Not only will you get about a 50 percent discount on airfare and hotels, you’ll also have great memories of that Thai beach without having to share it with throngs of tourists, or you’ll remember the superb service you received from your not-totally-slammed waiter. In Europe, the low season is generally October through April, and in the Caribbean, it begins in mid-April and continues through mid-December.
ATMs give the best up-to-the-minute exchange rates, so opt those for cash withdrawals, and skip the money exchange booths. Using ATM machines do come with transaction fees though, so find out what your bank fees are before you go, and minimize them by making fewer and larger withdrawals. And get money back on big purchases, often $100 or more, by applying for a Value Added Tax (VAT) refund. South Africa, Canada, and some European countries offer tax back on items you purchased while abroad. Basically, a Value Added Tax (VAT) is included in the price of a product, but because you are a foreigner, you are eligible to get your money back. Ask about it at the store where you bought your item (probably not applicable with street vendors) and they’ll give you a form to fill out or will stamp your receipt. Take this form and your receipt to the VAT window in the airport, and they’ll either give you cash or refund your credit card. It could be up to 15 or 20 percent of the total purchase. They usually want to see your goods, so
A smart way to save money on food when traveling is to hit up the grocery store ASAP. Not only will you feel like a local in the neighborhood store, but you’ll get to discover cool new brands and enjoy the local cuisine cheaply. Stock up on local meats and cheese and enjoy a lunchtime picnic. You can also buy snacks, like nuts and chips, and alcohol, so you can enjoy an aperitif in your room, which saves you money on expensive pre-dinner cocktails.
Plus, I think grocery stores are the best places to buy inexpensive souvenirs. I usually bring back local bars of chocolate or jam, or even jars of French Mustard and Nutella, which doesn’t taste the same here in the U.S. I also like loading up on beauty products like soaps and body washes. My favorite French soap is called Le Petit Marseille— it has a little boy from Marseille in a striped shirt on the label. It’s always a hit when I give it to someone, and it’s only $3!
Go with the flow
Someone stole your passport. You spent the better part of your trip in bed, or in the toilet, with a virus. You spent your romantic holiday fighting with your boyfriend because he kept checking his bloody BlackBerry. You sat in the lobby with your computer all day because you had to schlub work with you. It rained the whole time.
Mishaps occur, and bad luck can find you even on vacation. But while you can’t always control annoying situations, you can control your reaction to them. It’s raining in paradise? At least you’re not at working! You have to work? Better here than in the office! Boyfriends annoying you? Treat yourself to a massage at the spa, and charge it to his credit card.
Besides, the best travel stories come from supposed catastrophes. I once went spring skiing in the French Alps, but it was so gloriously warm and sunny that the snow turned to soup. After trudging along in the mess for a while, we had to admit defeat, and we left the mountain sweaty and pouty. C’est triste! With not much else to do in this adorable but tiny town, we hopped in the car and drove south. We made our way to the wine region of Chateau—neuf-de-pape°©—and wound up having an amazing dinner, complete with a beautiful—and affordable—bottle of wine. In fact, I think we had two. The next day we visited the fortified city of Avignon, and outside the gorgeous village of Beaux-de-Provence, we happened upon a small olive oil farm with a tasting room. As the proud owner excitedly gave us a tour, my thoughts turned toward my new life as an olive oil magnate. Alas, it was not to be, so I returned home with a suitcase full of tapenade and olive soap, and memories of one of my most favorite trips ever.