Travel Sidekick: The Fine Print of Bargains

In the spirit of embracing cheap opportunities to travel, I accompanied my husband on a whirlwind 2-day business trip to New Jersey a while back. We stayed at the Residence Inn in East Rutherford, which I would highly recommend – free breakfast, lovely rooms, and right across the street from a bus stop into Manhattan.

This brought to mind an important consideration for budget travel planning. Unless you’re the extreme budget traveler who would embrace sharing a bunk in a hostel in the middle of New York City, your best deal could be staying outside the city and using public transportation to make your way into the city. Before you make that decision for any destination, however, spend some time looking up local transportation costs.

I’ve noticed that many times travelers grab a great deal – whether on airfare or hotel – only to wind up spending more on the total trip than they might have otherwise. For example, the bus fare into NYC from our hotel was $8.50 round trip. Say you have a family of four sharing one room. Suddenly, the hotel that cost $120 a night in New Jersey is actually costing $154 a day for you to get downtown. In this case, it’s still probably cheaper than you’d find for a room in Manhattan, but that might not be true with other cities. You are also giving up the convenience of popping back to the room for a clothing change or nap (especially important if you’re traveling with children). A few more examples:

  • Consider the cost of parking and fuel when deciding whether to rent a car or use public transportation, and how far out of the city to stay. If you’re in the position where your time is more valuable than dollars, you should also consider the time lost commuting to your sightseeing destination versus what you’d save.
  • That red-eye flight at a discount price might look good, but you probably won’t be able to use public transportation to/from the airport in the middle of the night, and thus will be paying for a cab or parking. Same thing with flying back a day later/earlier for a cheaper flight – you’ll be adding on the cost of extra hotel, car rental, and parking fees (plus kennel fees, if you’re boarding a pet).
  • Packaged tours can be a great option if you don’t have the time or knowledge to search for all of your trip components individually. However, make sure you don’t wind up paying for features you wouldn’t have used otherwise. You don’t want to waste your precious three weeks a year going on tour of historical homes (or worse, visiting an extra city you’re not interested in) if you really don’t care about them, just to save $10 overall on your trip package.
  • Look for hotels with free breakfasts. You not only save $5-15 per day per person, but it’s so much more convenient to eat before you head out for the day. Plus, they often have fruit or small packaged items that you can take with you for a snack later.
  • If you’re not a foodie, consider spending an extra $10-$20 a day for a place with a small kitchen. You can find a local market and get supplies for sandwiches, which can be thrown into your bag and enjoyed for lunch.You could even have a few dinners in the room, which can be a nice break in the middle of the trip.

Bottom line: Think big picture before you grab up a great-sounding deal. Sometimes the fine print can add up in both money and convenience.

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