You’ve mastered the art of modern travel savings: Your airfare alerts are set up on Kayak; you flit around Europe on cheap carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair (with vacuum-packed clothing in a carry-on to avoid baggage fees). You stay in apartments rented through Airbnb when you’re not bunking with locals through CouchSurfing, bidding on Priceline or snapping up last-minute rooms on HotelTonight. From the remotest corners of the earth, you stay in touch with your significant other over Gchat and your folks over Skype — when Grandma will let you off FaceTime, that is.
You could probably shave a few more cents off travel costs by downloading five new apps and bookmarking 10 new sites. But in 2013, the real savings will come to those who go retro — not by sending postcards with actual stamps (that’s what the Postagram app is for), but by stepping away from the screen, or using it differently, to find old-fashioned tactics that can save you big.
Here are nine old-school tips for getting the most out of your travel buck this year.
• Pick up the phone. We think we can get everything done online these days, but sometimes a simple phone call is your best bet for saving money.
Speak with an innkeeper and learn of potential discounts on extended stays or information on how to get there from the airport by public transit. Contact the specific location where you’ll pick up your rental car and reserve a compact to avoid getting “upgraded” to a bigger vehicle that will increase (sometimes even double) your gas costs. Call travel agencies that strike special deals with airlines to get you prices below anything you’ll find online.
• Choose cheap countries. Goodbye Norway, hello Bolivia. Or as Gary Arndt of the Everything Everywhere blog put it, “Cheapest dorm bed in Zurich = nice room in Bangkok.” Extrapolate that to tour guides, museum entries, food and more, and the savings start to add up.
Of course, keep in mind how much it will cost you to get there in the first place. Luckily, a lot of the cheaper countries are also cheap to fly to; Matthew Kepnes, the blogger known as Nomadic Matt, put together a list of 10 “Cheap Places to Travel on the U.S. Dollar,” which includes Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Hungary and Romania.
Another option: put together the 10 places you’d most like to go and price out the basics — a task most easily done by browsing guides in the travel section of your local bookstore.
• Splurge when it matters. Most travelers will never be across-the-board cheapskates. Street food, nosebleed theater seats and bunk beds are not for everyone. But you don’t have to be a purist. For each trip, decide on a themed splurge or two — transportation, food, arts, lodging — and save on the rest.
You don’t need to fly business class, stay at the Four Seasons, sit in the front row on Broadway and have the 27-course tasting menu at Chez Truffle. You’ll be surprised what a thrill it is to ride a crowded public bus to a Michelin-starred restaurant, or step out of a Vienna youth hostel gussied up for the Opera Ball.
• Pick up the local paper. No listings are more up-to-the-minute than Friday arts supplements, alternative weeklies or the local editions of Time Out magazine (now free in London, by the way). Get ’em on actual paper while they last. You’ll not only find the nontouristy (read: cheaper) scene laid out for you in one handy package, but often come across coupons or specials you certainly won’t find on Yelp.