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Friday, April 20, 2012

How to travel on almost nothing: Tours

I've been talking about how to get the most out of your travel dollar so that you can travel for a longer period of time. That's especially valuable for a long-term traveler like me. But even if you're just looking to make the most out of your annual vacation, saving money where you can allows you to spend it where it counts.

I've already discussed ways to save on accommodation & transportation. Today let's talk about cutting the cost of tours.

Tours are one of the ideas I struggle with while traveling. On the one hand, I'm traveling so I can see amazing things, & tours help me do that in a pre-planned, concise, organized manner. On the other hand, tours are freakin' expensive. Thankfully, there are ways around that.

Of course, doing your research is essential when traveling, but that's especially true when it comes to tours. Trip Advisor is a great place to start looking at the options. It lists the top-rated attractions at your destination with first-hand information on local tour companies.

If you find a tour that sounds good, look closer at what it offers you. A lot of times, a tour is just a bus ride to a point of interest, possibly with lunch included. Once you have the tour's itinerary, check the local transportation system. There could be a public bus going to the same destination for a fraction of the cost. The difference in price could pay for a night or two in a hostel.

Admittedly, this only works if you speak the local language, since local bus systems don't expect to have to cater to tourists. They expect the tourists to take the tourist busses.

Speaking of, be wary of hop-on-hop-off busses. They go to all your points of interest of course, but charge you out the nose to get there. Again, check the local transportation system. You could save a bundle just by being able to read a subway map.

For example, in Rotorua, New Zealand, the hop-on-hop-off bus costs $35, with the attractions grouped around three major stops. The local bus will take you to those same three stops for $2.50 each way.

In Sydney, you can take a harbor cruise tourist style for $100, or you can take the commuter ferry for $15 return, with the added benefit of getting a glipse of what life in Sydney is really like. You may even start a conversation with a local & get some insider information on the city.

If you really do want to go on a tour, do an internet search for sites offering last-minute discounts. New Zealand has a site called Book Me, where I got a $120 river rafting trip for $60. In Australia, check out Last Minute or Ouffer for similar deals.

The key to making your travel dollar last longer is creativity. I like to make a game of it - see how long I can go on the least amount of dough.

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