Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and we’ll be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March. That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*. On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more. You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes even we wonder). While Jess and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement funds, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.
So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults. Check out Tip #1: Timing is Everything here, Tip #2: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles here, Tip #3: Hotels and Rentals and B&Bs, Oh My! here, and Tip #4: Wine and Dine on a Dime here!
Tips for Trips: Turn a day of sight-seeing into an adventure!
- TripAdvisor…City Guides. You all know and love TripAdvisor. So do we! However, did you know they have an awesome app called City Guides? I recommend their “suggested itineraries” for free walking city guides. Also look up reviews and save all the places you go in your journal. Built in metro guides and maps help navigate the city. Best of all: download all of this info at home and you don’t have to use any data abroad. It’s like having the whole TripAdvisor website downloaded to your phone.
- You don’t need to pay for the tour or audio guide for a specific attraction. Traveling to a top tourist site? Stream or download the FREE audio guide online to your phone. Plug some headphones in and listen to an expert guide you through the castle/church/museum at your own pace. Our favorite audio guides for Europe are from Rick Steve found here. We listened to them in the cathedrals of Rome and found a seat overlooking the Roman Forum, rested our feet, and listened. It was great!
- Find a city card. When we were in Innsbruck last year, we went to the city tourism office and were offered an Innsbruck Card. For few Euros each, we got admittance to all of the top attractions in the city, free internet, and discounted food. We counted our total savings at over 50 Euros each. Plus, this gave a rather unprepared couple a ready-made itinerary for the day. What we found out later is that a TON of cities have them. A lot of times you get FREE bike rental included, which may be the coolest way to see a city.
- Look for custom city tours. In Rome, we took a 5 hour bike tour for 50 Euros. Can’t beat a local’s knowledge and the customization of a private tour. One of our best memories of the last trip.
- Know when to book in advance and when to just show up. Have you ever been to your favorite attraction and waited in line for an hour just to go in? This happened to me on my first trip to Paris. I was unprepared to visit the Eiffel Tower in July, and I lost 5 lbs waiting in line for 2 hours. It was hot. It was uncomfortable. It was totally avoidable. The Eiffel Tower, along with many of the most popular sites in the world, allows you to purchase tickets in advance. You usually have to specify a date and time, so plan ahead and make sure you allow for travel delays (don’t book an event for 2 hours after your plane lands!). However, there is another option. If you really want to see a sight and haven’t booked anything, go during the slow times. Typically, great times to go are right at opening, during the lunch hour, or right after a rain (this is a favorite of ours, as attractions are oddly empty after a rain).
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. If you wanted to stay comfortable you could have stayed home. We travel to experience a different slice of life… so experience it!
This only skims the surface of site-seeing’s full potential. What are your best tips? Have you ever had to wait in line forever like me?
*For the curious, we’ve visited French Polynesia, the UK, Belgium, France, the Bahamas, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Vatican City and will be visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Japan (and potentially Cambodia) in March.