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Wednesday, November 11

How a Frugal Miser Travels on the Cheap

One of my mantras is enjoying life while making wise financial decisions. I don't want to be the stereotype of a miser who never leaves his home and counts tissue squares so as to ration the cost of his bowel movements. That's not for me.

I love to travel. That's my getaway from reality. This morning my partner and I are flying to Tampa for a 5 day getaway. I am attending a conference in Orlando, which I paid for several months ago before losing my job. Truth be told, I wouldn't be going if I had not already plunked down the registration fee and part of my lodging fees.

Of course, a frugal miser can travel glamorously and still live within his means. Here are a few things most anyone can do to save money when traveling:
  • Find the least expensive parking. In the past I have gone so far as parking for free at a nearby supermarket and using a cab to get me the last bit of the way. Either that or get a friend to drive me to the airport. These aren't options, but I did find cheap parking by Googling "cheap parking at my local airport". I located an off airport lot and a coupon for 20% off regular rates. My per day rate will only be 60% of the cost of the cheapest on site parking, plus we are dropped off at the terminal so no trudging our bags through the parking deck.
  • Rent a cheap car. Renting a car was a necessity as my conference is in Orlando but we are flying to Tampa. Often there are one or two rental car companies with offsite facilities. This alone saves you from paying the "facility" fees and other ridiculous charges that come with renting from an airport location, plus the rates are generally less. In this case, however, I was able to get a discount through Budget Car Rental by using a coupon from a book I bought to support the local schools.
  • Be loyal. If you do travel fairly often, it pays to sign up for a hotel loyalty program and to frequent that brand as often as possible. I primarily used Hilton Honors while I was employed, but I may move to a lower cost chain (Choice Hotels comes to mind) now. You will usually come out ahead in the long run by sticking to one (or two at the most) program, even if the hotel is a few dollars more than an alternative, since you can earn more free nights the more often you stay in one brand. Moving from Silver to Gold to Platinum and taking advantage of special offers will expedite your rewards.
  • Use a rewards credit card. I have two: the Chase Southwest card and the American Express Hilton Honors card. I earn several free nights a year at Hilton-branded properties and I rarely pay for my flight. Everything goes on my card, and I always pay the balances on these card each month.
  • Use coupons or eat in. I work to keep my food costs down while still enjoying the local cuisine. First off, always take advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel. Decide whether you can live with yourself if you take an extra banana or granola bar for your afternoon snack. Then alternate between inexpensive eating and treating yourself. We will have at least a couple meals that we prepare ourselves. This means a quick trip to the local supermarket for sandwich ingredients and making sure our hotel room has a refrigerator. If it doesn't, the hotel ice bucket will be used. For meals out, try to use coupons. I buy the Entertainment Book each year. In addition to the printed book I receive, I can access printable coupons online for other cities. If that's too much trouble, just make smart choices. We never order soft drinks at a restaurant - it's always water. Consider splitting an entree. Order sensibly.
  • No souvenirs. I used to shutter at the thought of not taking home some memento of my travel. But now I realize the memories of the experience are all I need and I rarely ever bring home more than I came with. Who needs extra clutter to keep up with and maintain for the rest of your days? I don't. A few digital pictures will suffice.
Being smart about travel expenses means I'm not paying for my vacation months after coming home. It also means I can take MORE vacations, and that makes this frugal miser happy!

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