I am glad to be back and blogging after my trip to Argentina! I love to see different corners of the world and experience different cultures. But being a globetrotter can get expensive, fast, so I regulate myself to traveling internationally every other year. So, I won’t be leaving the lower 48 states for awhile. Italy 2014?
My personal belief, if you want to become financially independent, is that you shouldn’t spend your everyday dollars vacationing or traveling if you have credit card debt, auto loans or other short-term debt. Back when I was fresh out of college, I was working hard to retire my student loan debt and save for a house so I rarely traveled. Instead, I found simpler pleasures for my vacation days with things like camping.
Now that I can justify it, traveling to foreign countries adds a richness to my life so I don’t mind spending money doing it. I have to admit though, that seeing all those everyday dollars, or pesos, or euros, or raccoon pelts flying out of my wallet when I’m traveling does give me some anxiety because I never spend money so quickly.
But then I remind myself how much more I could be spending if I hadn’t been smart when planning the trip.
My favorite site to use for airfare is a little search engine called the Matrix Airfare Search by ITA Software. ITA has been around for years and was recently acquired by Google. It powers well-known sites like Orbitz and Kayak but I like using ITA search because it’s a clean, powerful and easy to use interface.
The biggest reason I like ITA is because I can do a month-long search to find the dates with the lowest priced airfares. I knew I wanted to go to Argentina this fall – good weather plus it’s a shoulder season so airfare and hotels are cheaper – so with ITA I was able to search for a trip of 13-15 nights across September, October and November to find the absolutely lowest airfare.
The con with ITA is that you can’t book tickets on it – it would compete with its customers then – but it’s easy enough to take the flight details directly to the airlines website to book.
After I purchase airfare, I always go to Yapta to put in my flight details. Yapta will track the price of your flight and if it drops below what you paid, Yapta will alert you so that you can get a refund (voucher or credit) for the difference! All the airlines differ with how much the price needs to drop before you’re eligible for a refund; with some it’s any drop and with others it’s up to $150.00. But, you can sleep a little easier knowing if you bought at the wrong time there’s price protection.
Here’s where you can really rack up the everyday dollars. I don’t mind staying in very basic accommodations as long as they’re clean. I figure I’m likely to be out and about rather than in my room so why get a fancy place? While I don’t mind staying in hostels, at 33 I’m nearing the point where I appreciate my own space and not walking through a cloud of bong smoke to get to my room.
For Argentina, I wanted to do something new and play the credit card bonus game! As I mentioned in this post about the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I’ve had the same credit card for the last 7 years. I realized I have a great credit score so why not use that to get some cards with nice sign-up bonuses!
Reading my favorite travel points blog – The Points Guy – I decided to apply for 2 cards: the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Hyatt. After being approved, with bonus points and free nights in hand, I was able to book the posh Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires for 4 nights for the grand total of … $0.00!
The room would have cost $530/night or $641.30 with tax, so that’s a savings of $2,565.20! Granted, I would never pay that price but it was awesome to live like a king there and not even pay one everyday peso for the privilege.
Besides the Palacio Duhau, the other accommodations in Argentina we stayed at mainly consisted of basic hotels or hostels with a private room. These ran in the $50-$60/night range.
I didn’t get a chance to use Priceline this trip, but I love their Name Your Own Price feature and here’s how I use it.
3. Getting around
Traveling around a big new city like Buenos Aires is always a unique experience. Learning a bus or subway system, while saving everyday dollars over taxis, can generate awesome travel stories. Like the time we hopped on the Subte at rush hour and battled Argentine commuters for a slot to wedge ourselves into.
Besides pounding the pavement with your 2 feet, take advantage of public transportation. It will be much more interesting and entertaining than staring at the back of a taxi drivers head.
Travel from city to city within a country is often done by airplane. I usually do it by train or bus. There are 3 reasons for this. First, I’ve found staying on the ground is cheaper – in Argentina buses were 75% cheaper. Second, no security or airport hassles. And third, I’m a tall drink of water at 6’4″ so trains and buses are more comfortable with plenty of leg room.
The buses we rode in Argentina – quite different than the Megabus I rode recently – had wide plush seats that reclined nearly flat, nice meal services, free wine, plus saved money on a hotel because they ran overnight.
There are a few strategies I use when traveling to save money here. First, I always carry a water bottle! It’s important to stay hydrated when you travel and you don’t need to shell out everyday dollars for bottles of water.
Second, bring a small bag filled with healthy low cost snacks. I can’t count how many times the snack bag – filled with fruit, energy bars, trail mix, crackers – saved my stomach from eating itself. There were times when it was inconvenient to sit down to eat or there wasn’t a restaurant in sight and that’s when the snack bag came to the rescue!
Third, eat a big meal for lunch and a light dinner. Lunch is usually less expensive so fill up, then dinner can either be appetizers, leftovers from lunch or better yet some dirt-cheap street food.
This is where a guidebook is a must because they have information on when museums and other sites are free to the public. Being able to design an itinerary around this information will save everyday dollars.
We were able to have a handful of experiences for free that would have cost money, including wine tours and tango shows!
Lastly, one of my favorite things to do in a city is a walking tour and most guidebooks offer self-guided walking tours with loads of information and history about the sights.
One more note about guidebooks – they are essential! Spending a chunk of your WAMP on a trip of a lifetime and not having a decent guidebook is being penny-wise and pound foolish. Make sure it’s a recently published guidebook and you won’t waste precious time looking for a restaurant or hotel that closed 2 years ago. My favorites in order are Rick Steves, Lonely Planet and Frommer’s.
What are you favorite money-saving tips and tricks when traveling?