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All Aboard for Adventure

Travel Using These Cost-Cutting Strategies

Article by Nancy C. Hermann

Photography by Nancy and Bill Hermann

Originally published in Tulsa City Lifestyle

"Trip of a lifetime” is the phrase people often use to describe the one big travel adventure they’ve dreamed of taking. The reality is that you needn’t limit your travel to a single blow-out experience. Going places is affordable. International travel can be inexpensive. If you’re longing to see the world, here are a few tips to help you get where you want to go. 

Several years ago, I interviewed travel guru Rick Steves, and we later crossed paths in France. His travel philosophy is that the more money you spend, the farther away you are from the culture you want to explore. My approach to travel is to combine a bit of luxury with cost-cutting measures. It’s like a game to me, moving the pieces of a plan around to obtain the best experience without going overboard.

Much cost-cutting strategy depends on what’s in your wallet. Points earned from credit cards can be your currency for free flights and hotels. The American Express Platinum card membership fee is steep, but it easily pays for itself with lounge access, airline credit, hotel deals, TSA fees and even subscriptions for streaming services, among other perks. Hilton and Marriott offer cardholders free hotel nights that can be used to their advantage, and you can capture mega-point bonuses when you obtain a new card. Credit cards from airlines will help you generate frequent flyer miles, forego luggage fees and give you priority boarding.

People often ask if I use travel agents. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from that. But, if you don’t mind research and computer work, I recommend putting on your waders and getting knee-deep into the details required for trip planning. It can be fun! I do use American Express Travel to book cruises. They can offer onboard credit and other perks when you pay with your card. If you run into trouble, as we did on a recent cruise, they are there with you to sort it out. Always buy travel insurance unless you have an inexpensive fare and you’re willing to gamble. Larger cruise ships don’t offer the boutique hotel-type of experience that some people desire, but it’s also easier to distance yourself from troublesome travelers when there are more people and extra space. We’ve found balcony accommodations and mini-suites to be comfortable. You’ll want to enjoy that fresh sea air even in your cabin and the sound of waves at night.

If you can reach your hotel easily by car or train from where you land or disembark, opt out of the pricey “transfers” offered by some travel companies. I combine air-inclusive deals that begin and end in gateway cities with flights I book myself, using airline points to cover the remaining travel segments.

Want to fly first class? It’s not budget-friendly, but everyone has a preferred level of comfort. Using flyer miles to upgrade is one workaround. For land-based bargain travel, try Globus, Gate 1 and Collette, which offer flight-inclusive packages. Scour travel deals offered by Travelzoo, Zicasso, Kayak, Viator and Google Flights, among many others.

Begin your trip planning by checking for U.S. State Department travel advisories. Sign on with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive alerts.

We usually carry little local currency into a foreign country. Instead, locate a secure ATM that’s affiliated with your bank to get the majority of your travel funds. When paying for anything with a credit card, always choose the “coin of the realm.” Money belts are good investments. Also, be sure to carry restroom admission change and some tissues in your crossbody purse or pocket. In places where tips are customary, use cash when possible.  Saying “thank you” in the local language is always appreciated.

Book train travel online in advance, and keep your luggage close to you, not by a train’s exit doors. Run your hand inside your hotel safe before you check out, and put eyes on your passport often, especially when you change locations. Pack appliances and devices that work on both 120v and 240v, and adapters that match the shapes of local outlets. Try not to leave your chargers behind!

Above all, make friends, be a good ambassador for America, and enjoy learning all there is to know about our glorious world.

Much cost-cutting strategy depends on what’s in your wallet. Points earned from credit cards can be your currency for free flights and hotels.

My approach to travel is to combine a bit of luxury with cost-cutting measures.

  • Poolside in Fiji.
  • Kyoto, Japan
  • Cruising through Antarctica
  • Buenos Aires, Argenta street tango.
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Magellanic penguins on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, Chile.
  • On the coast of Morocco near Asilah.
  • Dunguaire Castle in Kinvarra, a sea port village in County Galway, Ireland
  • A Maori tribesman in Tauranga, New Zealand
  • The "Twelve Apostles" along The Great Ocean Road, Australia
  • Orchids in the Garden of the Sleeping Giant near Nadi, Fiji
  • The island of Procida, Italy, off the coast of Naples
  • Buddha in the Temple of Todaiji, Nara, Japan
  • Belém, Lisbon, Portugal
  • Gdansk, Poland