Question: My son and I are going to London in June, and we were wondering whether you have any great ideas for budget accommodations. We were told that convents are great deals, but there is a curfew and that's not going to work for my 27-year-old son. We could do a room in a house, an apartment for a week, a bed-and-breakfast or a little hotel.
--Patti Black, Pacific Palisades
Answer: "Budget" and "London" these days are almost mutually exclusive. One good yardstick, the U.S. government's per diem — the allowance for federal employees traveling abroad — shows a max of $321 a day for a room and $182 for meals and incidentals. Talk about a major dent in the vacation budget.
I turned to four experts for suggestions on beating the crunch (besides home exchange, which is also an option; see previous stories.
Arthur Frommer, the guidebook author whose budget tomes are responsible for sending millions to Europe, votes for renting a room in a London home. (The owner is also in residence.) He likes Crashpadder.com and AirBnB.com, both of which offer rooms in private residences, and Happy-homes.com, which has short- and long-term rentals. (The challenge may be finding mom-son quarters.)
John DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com, a website with a spectrum of travel resources, is a big believer in Priceline.com. "But don't do it blindly," he says. Instead, "use BiddingforTravel.com as a cheat sheet" or TheBiddingTraveler.com, which help remove some of the opacity from this opaque (you don't see the name of the hotel) site.
Bob Diener, founder of Getaroom.com, says travelers shouldn't be afraid of chain hotels such as Best Western and Holiday Inn, which tend to be nicer than their U.S. counterparts and less expensive. (I found a Comfort Inn listed for $108 a night.) Advance purchase deals — 14 to 21 days ahead — and unpublished deals on the website can be outstanding values, he says. And don't forget to factor in breakfast as a perk; it can save you money and the hassle of foraging for food in unfamiliar surroundings.
That convent idea? A pretty da--, uh, darned good one. Trish Clark, author of two volumes called "Good Night & God Bless," which detail convent and monastery stays in Europe, says such lodgings are newer in Britain than on the Continent. But the British variations, she notes, include lodgings that are run and operated by the monks or nuns (example: http://www.thefriars.org.uk, which offers twin rooms from about $46 a person, including breakfast); religious guesthouses run by members of the local parish or friends of the convent (example: Bar Convent, which has twin rooms from $105 a room, including breakfast); and others run by small hospitality companies employed by a particular religious organization (example: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge which has rooms starting at $90, including breakfast). Also check out Clark's website.
And the curfew? "Curfews [usually generous] still apply to some convent-monastery guesthouses," Clark says, "particularly in Italy. However, best to check when making an inquiry."
Those should be enough avenues to get started. Readers, send other recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll all rest easier knowing savings are out there.
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