Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Getting Around and Having Fun

by heather

Welcome back, again, to my Traveling on the Cheap Series!

Some amazing murals in San Francisco

If you’ve missed previous posts, here’s links to catch up:

Today’s focus? Getting around and having fun. On the cheap.

First…that picture…

See that picture on the right there? That’s one of the amazing murals hidden in San Francisco’s Mission District. Andrew and I felt like we’d stumbled onto the Holy Grail when we walked these streets because there was just one amazing piece of art after another.

The entire neighborhood was stunning.

What’s the point?

The point is that if we’d been in a car or a cab, we’d have missed this amazing experience. If we’d been focused on getting to our destination, instead of the journey itself, we never would have seen this wonderful art.

The lesson: Yes, we need to get around. But taking the slow or roundabout way often gives us a far richer experience.

Cheap Tips for Getting Around

When you’re in a large city, getting from one place to another can be problematic. And taking a cab, especially when traffic is bad, can add up big time.

NPR reports that transportation is the one area where travelers regularly get ripped off. So, it pays to hoof it a bit here!

Fortunately, bigger cities give us options.

San Francisco's BART map

1. Public Transportation (Subway/Metro, Buses)

I love, with all my heart, taking the Metro. I wish I lived in a city with one! They’re amazing.

Before you leave for your trip, investigate your destination’s Metro and bus system. Print off maps of routes and stations to take with you; this way you’re not completely at a loss when you step off the plane, and you have maps so you don’t get off at the wrong stop.

Also, make sure you have plenty of singles before you leave the airport. This way you’ll have enough money to buy fare without having to worry about breaking large bills. Most bus drivers do not make change.

The cool thing about public transportation (especially the Metro/Subway line) is that there is usually a way to get from the airport to downtown. This means you don’t have to take an expensive cab to and from the airport.

Andrew and I have done this several times. Seems like cab fare from the airport to downtown (in many cities) hovers around the $30-$40 per trip mark. Ouch.

We took BART to downtown San Francisco for a few bucks each. Instant savings.

You can also usually by a Pass, which is a great bargain if you’re going to be in town for more than a few days. All cities are different, of course, but a Pass is when you buy a certain number of trips (often at a reduced rate per trip).

Or, if you’re traveling through Europe, you can buy a rail pass for a flat fee, and go wherever you want within a set time frame. That’s a huge bargain if you’re on a longer trip.

2. The Rental Car

In many cases, you will need a rental car on vacation.

So how can you save?

First, check sites like Expedia, Priceline and Hotwire. Get an idea how much you’ll pay for the size car you want.

Next, check the car rental company’s site directly. And, do a search online for coupon codes. For instance, you could Google “Hertz coupon code”, “Enterprise car rental coupons”, “Budget coupon codes” etc.

I have saved hundreds of dollars doing this. Most of the time, searching for codes and booking directly through the car rental company is cheaper than going through an online booking site. But prices change all the time, so do both to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

3. Your Feet

By far my favorite way to travel when I’m on vacation is on foot. We usually walk everywhere in our new city. Not only is this a free way to travel, but it’s also great exercise. And we get to experience the city up close and personal when we’re walking around.

I know if you’re vacationing in a rural area then walking around might not be an option. But if you’re in a city, then take to the streets! It’s such an adventure, immersing yourself in a new place and just walking around. However, you do need to be careful. I’ll be covering safety in tomorrow’s post.

Cheap Tips for Having Fun

So, how can you score some awesome experiences on the cheap?

1. Watch Your Restaurants

Of course, when we’re in a new city we don’t know what’s good, and what isn’t. The problem is that we usually don’t start looking for a place to eat until we’re hungry, and we’ll often choose a place that looks good and safe. But often, these are the places that cater to tourists. In my experience, these are the places with mediocre food and high prices.

Combat this by researching restaurants before you leave.

My #1 Favorite site for this is UrbanSpoon. You can put in your city, how much you want to pay (in dollar signs), and even the type of food you want to try, if you want. Urban Spoon gives you a list of restaurants, and how users have rated them in the past.

The site is incredibly popular, so there are tons of reviews up there, even for restaurants in a small town like mine. When you’re in a new city, this information is priceless because it helps you avoid the duds. I have found some incredibly good, incredibly cheap restaurants using this handy site.

Want to eat like a local? Then try UrbanSpoon.

2. Take a Picnic

If you have a large family, then eating out 3 meals a day gets really pricey.

Instead, why not take a picnic out?

Plan for this before you go by packing a very lightweight bag you can tote food around in. A small reusable shopping bag works great for this. Your hotel might be willing to loan you out a thin bedsheet for the excursion. It never hurts to ask!

Next, simply find a market and load up with fresh fruits, sandwich items, and whatever else looks tasty.

Going on a picnic is one of my favorite things to do on vacation. Most cities have an abundance of cool parks, and this can be a wonderful way to eat on the cheap, and enjoy some beautiful scenery.

3. Things to Do

So, what can you DO while you’re on vacation?

It’s easy for costs to skyrocket when you’re looking for ways to fill your time. But they don’t have to.

  • Research museums before you go. Many US cities offer free museum admission on certain days. If you’re a member of a local museum (if it’s a major one) you can probably get in for free at other museums thanks to the Museum Network.
  • Go to a Minor League Game. These are a fraction of the price that Major League games are, and I think they’re far more fun.
  • Summer and early fall often spurs cities to put out free movies and concerts in local parks. Again, research this before you go!
  • If you’re a member of AAA, then check with them before you go. You can get discounted amusement park tickets, golf passes, and all sorts of cool stuff through them. To me, AAA is completely worth the price of membership.

Last Word…

Well, this turned into another long one! If you made it this far, thanks. ­čÖé

If you have any tips for having fun and traveling on the cheap, I’d love to hear them!

{ 2 trackbacks }

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Staying Safe | The Greenest Dollar
July 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm
Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Flights and Hotels | The Greenest Dollar
July 26, 2010 at 12:52 pm

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Doug L. July 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

Great tips on cheap traveling. Looking up restaurants before you leave is definitely key!

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