Reader tips: trail mix, B&Bs and other budget stretchers
The Times Travel section asked readers to share their tips on saving money while still enjoying vacation. Here are some of their recommendations. For more, go to latimes.com/moneytips.
Saving money in Europe
Consider attending a language school in a foreign country. Often, such schools will arrange a home stay with a family that can include meals and/or kitchen privileges. I have visited Venice, Italy, four times this way, once staying a month because it was so affordable. I would never be able to afford to spend two to four weeks in Venice otherwise. Of course, you have to attend classes, usually in the morning, but it is a great way to meet other international travelers and learn the language too.
--Jill Gluck, West Hollywood
Buy local items in charity shops in Ireland, Wales and England. For example, I picked up a Manchester United footballer shirt (for $10), a Burberry purse ($5) and an Irish wool hat ($4). Others in my tour group laughed until they saw my incredible finds.
--Carol Williford, Cedar Creek, Texas
I just came back from France and here are some tips:
If driving, stay in a bed-and-breakfast. The price of the room is for the room, not per person, and breakfast is included. Plus you get the real France.
To save on food, go to a typical French outdoor market and pick up some picnic items; find a glorious spot to sit and take in the countryside without spending lots of euros on a restaurant lunch.
If not driving, stay in a city and make it your home base. Then, immediately go to the tourist office and ask for any passes offered -- bus, train, boat, museum, etc. You can buy them for the amount of time you’re in the city.
I recently spent three weeks there and took 600 euros (about $800) out of my checking account and came back with 150 (about $200). So it can be done.
--Rosemary Chiaverini, Sherman Oaks
Stay in privately owned apartment rentals instead of hotels. Websites such aswww.vrbo.com or www.homeaway.com offer a treasure box of reasonably priced apartment rentals with excellent amenities. Many include daily or midweek maid service. And preparing your own meals and picnics saves a lot of money.
When eating out, in Europe, for example, eat your main meal when the all-inclusive lunch menus are available. I live in Spain part time and travel around Europe quite often. I can get a three- or four-course main meal with included beverage for about $10 to $15 if I look for the tourist menu, usually served between 1 and 5 p.m.
Use local public transportation instead of going on an expensive organized tour. For the price of a bus or Metro ticket and a good travel book or local tourist office information pamphlet, you can see the local sights at a fraction of the cost and have the opportunity to meet and talk with the locals. Isn’t that what traveling is supposed to be about?
Check local papers and ask the locals if they know of any free or low-cost entertainment opportunities. Often, there are free park concerts, church concerts, etc., that only the locals or the local newspapers know about.
Consider doing a home exchange. These are a wonderful way to get to know the locals while saving money. Many include use of automobiles and bikes, and exchangers are often willing to watch your pet if you’ll watch theirs.
--Marcia McCormack, Lake Forest
Eating well -- and wisely
To keep under budget abroad, I never eat breakfast in restaurants. The afternoon before, I eat lunch at a busy street vendor in the local open-air market. (In my mind, this lessens the health risk.) I usually chat up the cook and casually ask about who sells the freshest stuff.
I then get fruit, a small bread equivalent and some bottled water for the next morning.
I sometimes also get salad stuff for lunch the same day, placing it all in one of the 50 or so clear, quart-sized plastic bags I’ve packed (truly an indispensable travel item). It keeps for longer than you might think -- and with my sturdy plastic, camping-gear style fork, knife and spoon, it’s all nicely portable. I then walk around and people-watch.
If I do splurge on a restaurant, it’s usually at lunchtime; dinners tend to run higher.
--Dave Doran, Los Angeles
Using the websitewww.restaurant.com is a great way to save money on eating when traveling with children. We used it recently when in San Francisco with our daughter and it worked out very well.
--Mimi Schector, Tarzana
On our first family trip to Maui, my husband and I were concerned about staying within our allotted travel budget. Like many other families, we chose to stay in a condo to economize by cooking most of our meals. But I was still concerned about the high price of groceries.
My solution? I packed a rollable ice chest with frozen meat, chicken, lunch meat and other high-priced items, wrapped a bungee cord around it and checked it along with our luggage. The ice chest arrived in Hawaii with all the food inside still frozen solid or ice cold. We supplemented our meals with inexpensive locally grown fruits and vegetables and made a daily trip to pick up bargain bread from a nearby bakery.
The payoff was that we had funds to splurge on wonderful activities, including daily afternoon runs for Hawaiian shaved ice (yum!). And on our return flight to the mainland, we filled the ice chest with Hawaiian pineapple, nuts, coffee and chocolate, which we enjoyed for weeks after our return.
--Tamara Reddy, Brea
If we will be staying in one city for a week or more, I checkwww.entertainment.com at our vacation ZIP Code or city to see if the discount book has coupons for restaurants we would frequent while there.
For a nominal cost, we get coupons for “2 for 1" meals and save a lot of money on our vacation. I have also given this as a gift for special occasions -- for instance, when my sister went to Hawaii for her anniversary.
--Lynda Young, Ventura
My husband, Bruce, and I never leave home without trail mix and peanut butter. They have saved us on many adventures around the world. One memorable day, we became stranded on a river in the Amazon basin when our small boat -- carrying passengers and supplies -- had engine trouble. We were forced to tie up next to the shore and spent the night sleeping on a narrow wood bench in the open. We dined quite well on our trail mix, and beer from the supplies headed to the jungle resort.
--Lynn Dickhoff, Topanga
I go nowhere without my stash of dense, space-savvy foods. I tuck snack-sized, self-sealing plastic bags of cashews, almonds, raisins and dried apricots, as well as my favorite protein bars, amid sweaters, socks and underwear in my suitcase. Once I arrive at my destination, I supplement them with apples and bottled water from the local market.
My stash saves me from late-night room service and bridges the gap between a hearty breakfast and an early dinner. Besides, it needs no refrigeration or utensils, is healthful, highly portable and, best of all, cheap.
--Paula Jhung, Rancho Santa Fe
Sleeping easy in hostels
Hostels are no longer destination points just for those under 25. They not only provide basic (or better) accommodations for travelers both in the U.S. and abroad, but they also attract folks who are both friendly and willing to generously share a wide variety of information.
Many include breakfast with the cost of an overnight stay. And if you are not too piggish, you can make up your own doggy bag to help sustain you throughout your daily explorations and excursions. In addition, many offer complete kitchens, where you will encounter folks who whip up gourmet meals featuring the cuisine of their own countries. It’s one more way to explore multicultural cuisines (and tastes) without stressing your budget.
--Ruth Kramer Ziony, Los Feliz
Keeping credit cards working
When traveling anywhere outside the United States, it is a good idea to call your credit card companies before you leave and give them the dates of travel and where you will be. That way they will not disrupt your trip, questioning who is using your card in Istanbul.
I’ve seen people struggle to identify themselves with the credit card company when trying to make a large purchase or for an emergency situation and they will spend hours trying to convince the company that they are who they say they are. In some cases, the credit card company has denied the charge. So, call in advance.
--Susan Widem, Los Angeles
Getting around the Continent
I travel frequently to Europe (the Netherlands) and I always rent a car through a real nice and cheap agency there. An employee of the company awaits you after customs and walks you to the car, which is just outside the terminal. Also, after your trip, you drive yourself to the terminal and the employee is waiting for you. No tips. They have a whole range of very good cars.
You can rent a car (automatic, air conditioning) anywhere from about 30 euros ($40) a day. Great company and very friendly.
BB&L Car Rental, 011-31-20-655-7900, www.bblcarrental.nl.
--Gerda Jain, Buena Park
Driving five miles per hour below the speed limit will save gas and not add that much more time to your trip.
--Gary Key, Riverside
This would be a fabulous place for one of your writers to take the two-mile hike and report on the art scene. The Djerassi Art Tours are out in the middle of a private preserve in San Mateo County, on property used as an artists’ retreat.
You may know of the free tours. I have tried for maybe three years to sign up for a hike offered by this program set on the 580-acre Djerassi property, and they are full months in advance.
For info, call (650) 747-1250. Check the website for spring and summer tour dates (usually posted in February); www.djerassi.org/ .
--Barbra Nystrom, Diablo, Calif.