In our annual budget travel survey, experts offer tips on how to get away on a budget, including what to eat, where to stay and, most important, where to go.
Laura Begley Bloom
Deputy editor, Travel + Leisure
Getting there: Follow the airlines’ Twitter feeds. For instance, JetBlueCheeps offers last-minute deals on flight and travel packages.
Staying there: I’m a big fan of house-swap programs like HomeExchange.com, which only charges a small fee to list a residence. My parents have traded their house in Cape Cod for amazing residences in the Cotswolds, Tuscany, Mexico’s Mayan Riviera — and I’ve had the privilege of joining them on a few trips.
Eating and drinking there: Eat where the locals eat — you’ll get to try authentic dishes, and the prices are usually lower. I’m also a huge fan of farmers markets and food halls, like Borough Market in London, where you can sample farm-to-table cuisine from around the region.
Seeing the sights, getting around: Meet up with a local. Through homefood.it, you can dine in the home of a real Italian nonna. Meetingthefrench.com runs programs like “Meet the Parisians at Work” and “Dinner With French Hosts.” The Melbourne (Australia) Greeter Service is a free walking orientation of the city. When you rent an apartment with plusoneberlin.com, you’re paired with a plugged-in local.
Budget pick for 2013-14: I love Cambodia. In Siem Reap, I loved the Golden Banana (goldenbanana.info), where rates start as low as $50 a night. And at the Pavilion in Phnom Penh (thepavilion.asia), even rooms with plunge pools are affordable.
Editor of Best Western’s “You Must Be Trippin’ ” blog
Getting there: Watch the still-scrappy low-fare carriers like Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant. The big guys almost always match the smaller carriers’ fares, but start with the low-fare carriers to get an idea of the lowest going rate.
Staying there: When comparing hotel prices online, be sure “the big three” amenities are included: breakfast, Wi-Fi and parking.
Eating and drinking there: Stay at a hotel that offers a free breakfast — and ask if the breakfast is substantial and hot, including protein options like eggs, cheese, yogurt or meat. A family of four staying at a hotel that offers free breakfast starts off the day saving around $40 — that’s enough for at least half a tank of gas!
Seeing the sights, getting around: Check out public transportation options from the airport and consider staying at a hotel along the rail line instead of in city center. You can save major bucks but still have access to the key sights.
Budget pick for 2013-14: I’m a big fan of the Colorado Rockies during summer, when high-country weather is fantastic, locals are laid back and prices tumble. Plus there is a ton to do, including hiking, biking, rafting, camping and hot-air ballooning.
Emily K. Wolman
Associate publisher, Lonely Planet Americas
Getting there: Avoid peak travel times, which vary by destination. Don’t fear connecting flights or red-eyes, which can cost less than direct or midday departures. Try to fly midweek; fares are higher Friday to Monday.
Staying there: Try bidding, or look for deals on flash sites like groupon.com/getaways and jetsetter.com. But more often than not, I opt for vacation rentals at sites like airbnb.com, vrbo.com, homeaway.com and flipkey.com.
Eating and drinking there: If you rented a place with a kitchen, use it! Have breakfast at “home” and pack lunches for the day.
Seeing the sights, getting around: Do online searches for terms like “free music in Memphis” or “cheap things to do in Sydney.” Check local websites such as myfreeconcert.com, ilovefreeconcerts.com (in New York City) and sf.funcheap.com (San Francisco).
Budget pick for 2013-14: Bolivia. South America’s best-value option offers public transport as cheap as anywhere on the continent, filling street food and good-buy-for-the-money excursions.
Travel Channel experts
Jodi Bettencourt, vice president of digital editorial, and Anthony Melchiorri, host, “Hotel Impossible.”
Getting there: Be flexible. You can often save money simply by moving your departure or arrival dates by a day or two. Use aggregator booking sites like kayak.com or hipmunk.com that can do the date and fare comparisons for you. (Bettencourt)
Staying there: Franchised hotels have begun offering a “lowest rate guarantee,” meaning that they “promise” that the rate on their website is equal to or lower than rates on the discount sites. If you book directly with the hotel, you are also more likely to have perks included (like breakfast). (Melchiorri)
Eating and drinking there: Seek out the popular, most recommended place for one meal — you know, the one “must visit.” Then, for your next meal, find the mom-and-pop local eatery. (Melchiorri)
Seeing the sights, getting around: Walk. I’ve found some of the best tourist attractions, gift shops, shopping and dining by stumbling across something that had little to no parking or would have been missed had I driven. (Melchiorri)
Budget pick for 2013-14: Nicaragua is perfect for adventure seekers and nature lovers. (Bettencourt)