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By now, if you're taking a summer trip, you've probably bought your air tickets, reserved your hotel or vacation rental accommodations, and arranged a rental car (if you plan to use one).
And you probably diligently looked for the best deals on those big-ticket items. Your challenge now is to tame the day-to-day costs of living, sightseeing, and entertainment wherever you're heading. Although each individual outlay may be small, in aggregate, these expenses can really inflate your total trip cost. Here are some suggestions about how to approach that challenge.
The objective is not to stop eating well; it's to eat well without overspending:
- The obvious first recommendation here (not very original) is to get a vacation rental or hotel room with kitchen facilities and prepare at least some of your meals yourself. If your hotel doesn't include free breakfast, that's the time to cut your costs most easily.
- Don't avoid restaurants entirely; dining around is one of the great pleasures of travel. But avoid the currently publicized "hot" spots and three-star operations that are typically wildly overpriced, and instead go for the places the locals go when they aren't splurging or on an expense account. When you do decide to hit a famous place, lunch is usually a lot less expensive than dinner, often for the same menus.
- Consider using coupons. Coupon distributors often feature restaurant deals. Also, the venerable Entertainment books continue to offer a long list of discounted and "second free" restaurant and fast food deals in most major U.S. and Canadian cities. This year, prices for any book have been cut to a standard $9.99 each.
- Check local promotions. Local areas often run special restaurant deals.
Avoid taxis as much as you can. Instead, transport systems in many of the world's major cities sell unlimited-ride daily, several-day, or weekly passes. Prices are usually set at a bit more than two to three regular rides—high enough that the passes aren't attractive to local commuters—but they're great for all-day running around town. You can even hop on a bus or subway for just a stop or two.
You see lots of options for various discounts and promotions for local visitor attractions:
- Many attractions issue promotional coupons through various outlets; many also offer discounts through the Entertainment books.
- In many of the world's major cities, you can buy "city cards" that provide admissions to a laundry list of local attractions and facilities. But be careful: They're typically fairly expensive, and they save you money only if you actually want to visit most of the attractions the card covers. If not, stick to the coupons or other promotional deals for just the things you really want to see or do.
Commercial sightseeing excursions tend to be overpriced—and they almost always make irritatingly long stops at souvenir shops chosen because of the kickbacks they give the tour company or tour guide.
Moreover, a tour's pace is always dictated by the slowest member of the group—and that can be agonizingly slow. Better alternatives:
- Some public transportation systems run their own city tours that are a lot less expensive than the commercial counterparts.
- On-and-off buses that circulate within many large cities can be a good deal—pay once, ride around all day.
- Don't forget do-it-yourself walking tours. Many guidebooks provide suggestions.
- For longer day excursions, rent a car.
Before you buy anything, apply the "six-month rule" I previously posted. Ask yourself, "If I buy this, where will it be in six months: in use or put aside on a shelf somewhere?" All too often, something that looked cute on vacation becomes a white elephant once you get home.
Evaluate Discounts Critically
Whenever you see some big discount, keep in mind: The reason most outfits discount is that they aren't selling enough at their regular prices—which may say something about what they're selling, their regular prices, or both. Caveat emptor knows no geographical limits.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)