On a limited budget, a travel journalist learns invaluable lessons


Before embarking on any informative trip, I do weeks of research on where to stay, eat, and what to do. I schedule dozens of activities, tours and interviews. My limited budget (this column is called Frugal Traveler, after all) means I sometimes have to act quickly and flexibly.

When people find out that I travel for a living, there are a few things they ask me most often. Here are some of those questions, answered:

Unfortunately, no. I follow budget travel news, read travel blogs, and talk to industry experts for inspiration. I look for destinations that offer travelers unique experiences they won't regret after seeing their credit card statement. In October I visited Key West, Florida, where I split a room at a hostel with three strangers, all in the name of profitability. Last spring I traveled to Aspen, Colorado, a city known for its luxurious amenities. I stayed in a relatively affordable family hostel and visited art museums for free.

As travelers look to reduce their carbon footprint, I often look for places that offer greener, more affordable transportation options. Last summer, I embarked on an ambitious trip: seeing much of Los Angeles, a city known for its congested traffic, by subway. I couldn't use it to get to the Hollywood sign, but I visited most of the city's highlights, including the beaches of Santa Monica.

Sometimes, but if you are patient and look for good deals, it doesn't have to be that way. In my column, I regularly report on budget spending strategies, like how to bid on first-class airline seats, avoid pesky resort fees, and make the most of Black Friday travel deals. Sometimes these articles come from my own experiences; I once bid $400 for a business class upgrade and won. I spent nine hours in the comfort of a reclining bed.

I also try cheap deals that sound too good to be true. In 2019, I saw an ad for a three-day cruise to the Bahamas for under $150. I wondered what that experience would be like and booked the cruise to find out. For the price of an overnight stay at a moderately priced hotel, the cruise was surprisingly fun; Not so surprisingly, onboard “upgrade fees” were not in short supply.

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