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Finding Online Travel Deals

By Karen Keller
Quick Tips

  1. Find cheap housing – Hostels and camping are always an option, but more adventurous and budget-conscious travelers can check out Couch Surfing or Craigslist to stay in someone’s home for free. Just use common sense and be careful.
  2. Comparison shop tickets – Not all travel sites quote the same fares. Aggressively browse the likes of Kayak and Expedia, use meta-search engines Mobissimo and Sidestep, and consider traveling by Eurail if you’re in Europe.
  3. Avoid high season – Everything from hotels, restaurants, and attractions cut their prices during off season. Different destinations have different “high seasons,” so do a little research. In addition, make sure you aren’t traveling during any major festivals, unless they are what you are going for in the first place (e.g., Rio during Carnaval).
  4. Student savings – If you have an international student identification card (ISIC), keep it. You can pick one up for $22 from STA Travel, which has locations near most major college campuses. You can also try sweet-talking any place that offers student discounts – if your morals agree, of course.
  5. Volunteer – Many organizations will host you in a foreign country in exchange for providing them with your time. There are a ton of opportunities to volunteer abroad.

That spring semester in Australia gave you a taste for travel: the culture (i.e., drinking), the sights (i.e., surfers and beach babes), the food (i.e., more drinking). But how can you afford it now that your parents have stopped paying for you to “learn”? Luckily, travel doesn’t necessarily mean forking over

the equivalent of Botswana’s GDP. There are many ways to see the world on the cheap while not sacrificing safety or too much comfort in the process.

Crash on a Stranger’s Couch

  • To pay zip for lodging while getting to know a local scroll through potential new housemates at Couch Surfing, where very, very nice strangers offer up their couch to travelers. Also try Global Freeloaders or Hospitality Club. (As a woman, however, I would be a bit wary about accepting an invitation from Sven the Conquerer. If you’re traveling without a thick-necked escort, better to limit your search to female-only couch givers.)
  • If you want to find a longer stay, you can try logging onto Craigslist and checking out the “housing swap” message board. Just remember that this requires having a “house” of your own to exchange, and your parents might not be too happy when Olga shows up out of nowhere.

Ferret Out Low Fares

  • Meta-search engines Mobissimo and Sidestep aggregate fares from several travel search sites, including: Orbitz, CheapTickets, Kayak, Expedia, CheapoAir, UltimateFares, Hotwire, and Farechase.
  • Don’t forget to check Southwest Airlines for domestic flights because the company doesn’t allow its fares to be advertised on any third-party site.
  • Check out TravelZoo for great deals on trip packages.
  • Sign up for e-mail alerts at SmarterTravel, for low-priced last minute deals.
  • Don’t forget Priceline, where people bid on flights (and other services) but don’t get to pick the time of day that the flight departs/returns.
  • The adventurous who can take a trip on short notice may want to consider paying an annual fee (around $45) to join a courier association. The deal is, fares are dirt cheap (think NYC-Hong Kong for $200), but you can’t carry any baggage—just carry-on. The two main courier associations are International Association of Travel Couriers (IATA) and Air Courier. Sometimes flights are even free.
  • For on-the-ground transportation in Europe, get a youth Eurail pass. Check out Bootsnall to get more information on and buy Eurail passes on the cheap.
  • Learn to travel like a ninja to get the best deals on short notice.

If the options are still too pricey, consider the old travel staple—the roadtrip, and check out The Gradspot.com Guide to Life After College to brainstorm trips ideas. And no, we do not advocate taking drugs for alternative “trips.”

Around the World Ticket

The “Around the World” ticket is the stuff of legend amongst travelers. For better or for worse, there are a lot of myths circulated about ATW fares, but don’t worry—you don’t have to make it around in 80 days, and you don’t have to sit in the cargo department. Let’s nip those rumors right in the bud. The good news is that they do exist, and for about $2,000 you can wend your way around the globe and see some truly amazing places. The bad news is that they come with restrictions galore, so you have to be flexible and red-eye ready. Check out world fares from airline alliances like Star Alliance, OneWorld Explorer, and SkyTeam, but make sure to pay close attention to the conditions, which usually include a mileage limit, a 12-month time limit, a minimum (generally 3) and maximum (5-10) number of stops, and an eventual return to the starting point. Most tickets also stipulate that you must travel in one direction, so you can’t just get one to visit your ladyfriend in Paris for a year. All that said, the net result is monumentally more budget-friendly than buying a gang of one-way tickets, and you can pimp the system to get your penny-pinching self to some traditionally expensive locales. It pays to be flexible.

Do Your Research to Find Alternative Festivals

  • Trying to book a hotel and plane headed for Rio during Carnival (usually five days in February) isn’t easy. But Brazil has at least three other alternative Carnivals during the year. Get hip to these lesser-known festivals, anywhere they may be in the world. In the case of Brazil try the alternative Carnaval which is usually held in July in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, Fortal, or head to the Amazon to party for the festivities in Parintins. Here’s the official website.
  • Another example—Mexican independence day, Sept. 16, is arguably the best cultural party day anywhere in the country—and September ain’t high season in Mexico. Here’s information about that day, El Grito (“The Shout”) in Mexico.
  • For far-flung alternative festivals written about by readers of UK newspaper The Guardian, see I’ve Been There.

Milk Your "Student" Years

  • Sta Travel specializes in air/lodging/tour/other goody deals for people ages 18 to 26.
  • For current students or those who’ve wisely stashed away a college ID for noble endeavors like bumming around Europe, visit the International Student Travel Confederation (ISTC) or STA Travel to get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC). They also have an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC), which requires that you are under 26). Each card has different random discounts in each country, from local fast-food joints to hostels.
  • Join Hostelling International to get cheap hostel prices by finding the nearest home office. Check out a list of affiliated hostels or use the list to book a reservation. Also, try Hostel World.
  • There’s no age limit for staying at so-called youth hostels. But the reality is that once you hit 30, it becomes slightly embarrassing. So make the most of it while you can. Intimate friendships with chatty Italians and wise-ass Brits are ripe for the picking in between the bunk beds and smelly socks.

Work Abroad

  • Find a job picking fruit, working at a ski resort or being an au pair at Any Work Anywhere.
  • Expatriates is like a Craigslist for expats. Members place ads for home exchanges, services, and jobs. Also, try the jobs board at the UK gap-year site Find A Gap.
  • WWOOF is an organization that links travelers with organic farmers around the world who will provide room and board in exchange for labor.

Other Travelers: Your Best Resource

The only problem with visiting “hidden” gems listed by major travel guides like Lonely Planet and Rough Guide is that they are often no longer hidden and are probably full during high season. To get more immediate suggestions, use discussion boards on sites geared toward budget travelers (e.g., Bootsnall, Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and Virtual Tourist. What’s better than getting to ask questions about that next destination to people who were just there last week? Also, check out budget travel blogs like Bootblog, Smarter Travel, and Tim Leffel's Cheapest Destinations.

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