Friday, January 27, 2012

Wheels for Less

For getting around in the city, this woman in Florence, Italy, has the right idea!  

The countryside is another matter, though. Bike riding means you cover little territory per day while you cannot rely on public transportation because it is often non-existent. Getting from one village to the next is problematic unless you rent a car.

But which car rental company offers the best deal?

A 23 January 2012, e-mail article on Budget Travel suggests using a car consolidator. In the article, "Can You Spot the Travel Rip-Off?" (Click here if you'd like to take the quiz.), the author says, "...many agencies act as consolidators, or legitimate brokers, for rental-car brands. These include Argus Rentals, Auto Europe, Kemwel (a sister company to Auto Europe), Nova, and Tiger Car Rental. Because consolidators buy deals in bulk, the savings they're able to offer can be dramatic."

I agree with Budget Travel that this has often been true in the past, but the advice doesn't seem to be on target this year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Free Pet-Sitting Revisited

 Last January we worried about leaving our beloved pets behind, especially our shy cat, while we toured Europe, but we certainly couldn't afford professional house sitters on a Tightwadder's budget.  Our solution was to recruit a pet-sitting couple using the website  This is the article I wrote about the process.  At the end of the article, I'll tell you how it all turned out.

When David and I returned from a month in Mexico last summer, [July of 2010] Guido the Cat let us know he had not appreciated our absence. He sat on the steps all afternoon as we unpacked and loudly meowed the entire time. Either he was bawling us out for having the audacity to leave for a month, or he was catching us up on all the cat-news he'd been storing up for thirty days. In any case, by the time it was dark, poor Guido was completely hoarse. His raspy, barely audible voice continued until midnight, though, so great was his need to communicate.

Our dog, Lena, on the other hand, was happy to see us but a little blasé about welcoming us home. She'd been at Club Med for Dogs, after all, so we could have stayed away for another month or two as far as she was concerned. Life with our wonderful neighbors meant lots of walks and lavish attention from two adults and two children. Even if she had to contend with Legos in her water bowl and afternoons dressed in elaborate costumes complete with bandanas, she had enjoyed affection 24 hours a day.

Guido had none of that.

It really wasn't anyone's fault. Our neighbors came in every day to give Guido water and food and clean his litter box, but because Guido is shy, he hid every time he heard the door open. They never saw him. Not once. No wonder the poor guy was lonely.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Plan Early to Save Big

January is traditionally the month for money-saving tips, and this year I'll start off with a great one that can save you big bucks when planning a European trip.  Even better, I can summarize the tip in two words: plan early!

The sooner you start making reservations, the better. David and I usually bandy around destination ideas at least a year in advance, pick up a few guidebooks at yard sales to read about areas in our chosen location for the next several months, and then hunker down in the dead of winter for serious planning so we can make reservations at least four to six months before we plan to leave.

The trip we're taking this spring was in the hazy planning stage most of last summer, but after perusing guidebooks and deciding on our destinations, we began making reservations in December.

We set an alert on Kayak, but, really, after last year's experience, we knew we had to get a non-stop flight to London even if it cost a few dollars more. (After spending close to 23 hours in transit last spring to reach Rome, we almost got divorced during a four-hour layover in the Madrid Airport--and we haven't even gotten married yet!) It will be worth the extra $50 to avoid that experience again.

So that we can explore the Normandy and Brittany areas of France, as well as the great city of London, we'll be taking the Eurostar across the channel. That's where early reservations truly save money. By buying our tickets three months in advance instead of three weeks, we paid £56 each instead of £112 for the London to Paris rail trip. We saved 50% just by making our reservations early!

We love getting train tickets for half price, but the early bird rewards don't end there. Unlike friends of mine who cobbled together a trip to Europe a couple weeks in advance and had to take what they could get in terms of rentals, we had the pick of the choicest apartments with the most reasonable prices. More details about the rentals will be posted later, but I'd like to note here that our apartments in France will average €78 per day while we managed to snag a lovely one-bedroom apartment in ridiculously expensive London for £83 a day.

I've said many times in previous blog posts that apartments are as cheap or cheaper for two people than private rooms in hostels and this is no exception.  One of the top-rated hostels in London is the Travel Joy Hostel where a private room for David and myself would cost the exact same price as our one-bedroom flat.  But instead of sharing a building with a hundred others, we will have peace and quiet along with a garden terrace, full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath!

So, don't delay. Get busy planning your trip today. Cut the cost of the two most expensive aspects of travel--transportation and accommodations--by making reservations as early as possible.

Practicalities -

Unlike airlines, where you may luck into a flash sale at the last minute, train tickets are guaranteed to be cheapest several months in advance. Purchase 60-90 days in advance for most trains and 120 days in advance for the Eurostar.  But note that it is pointless to try to reserve earlier than these time frames because routes and prices will not be posted yet.

If you haven't already bookmarked the website, The Man in Seat, do so now. His award-winning site will tell you everything you need to know about trains, including seating, ticket purchasing, and routing, for trips all over the world.