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HostelbookersWhat is a Hostel Like? 

Just like restaurants, hotels, schools, and bars, hostels run the gamut.  Some are fabulous, some not so much, but they tend to have some things in common.

Hostels are social. They are place to mingle with other travelers.

Hostels are inexpensive.  Most hostels have dorm beds (reduced rate) and private rooms available.  Bathrooms are usually shared. These days, hostels do not require you to vacate during the day, nor do they require you to be a “youth”.

Many hostels offer more than just a place to sleep.  There are common areas which may include, TV, internet, book exchanges, cooking and laundry facilities. Hostels can hook you up with day tours, advise you on local transportation and maybe even help you with your booking for next town.  Many hostels include restaurants and bars.

young shanahan's photo of the common area in Abhrams Hostel, Jerusalem.

Common areas for “hanging out” are a special feature of hostels. Photo by young shanahan.

Hostels are not the creepy places depicted in horror movies.  Indeed, as a woman traveling alone, I always feel safer in a hostel.  If something bad is happening, there are other people around to help me.  And if I’m unsure about journeying out after dark, I can find fellow travelers to join.

Many of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been in spectacular settings such as the 12th-century castle on the Rhine at Bacharach, Germany; the Zhengjia International Youth Hostel, a historic home with a charming courtyard  in Ping Yao, China; or the residence of a master jade carver in New Zealand (travelers would sit around in the dining room table in the evenings drinking beer and sanding down a jade necklace which had been cut just for them).

Should I stay in a Hostel?

Stay in a hostel if:

–       You are on a budget.  Hostels are substantially cheaper than hotels and second only to sleeping free, they can really help to stretch the your lodging funds.

–       You’re traveling solo and are in need of some conversation (or are not traveling solo, but really like contact with other travelers).  Of course, you’re always welcome to hide away alone on your bunk. But if you need some contact with other travelers, this is a good way to get it.

–       You’re desperate for some “home” cooked food.  Amazingly enough, a person can get really sick of eating out, especially if you’re someplace where every restaurant seems to offer the same the menu.  Access to a kitchen can be truly priceless.

–       You just want to.  When I fantasize about a future in which money is less of a factor in my decisions, I still imagine staying in hostels.  They’re fun.  A richer me might splurge on a private room, but I wouldn’t want the isolation of a hotel.

Roger Wollstadt's photo of Burg Stahleck, a 12th century castle turned youth hostel in Bacharach, Germany.

The “castle hostel” in Bacharach, Germany. Photo by Roger Wollstadt.

–       When might you not want to stay in a hostel? When you’re on a romantic getaway and looking for privacy with that special someone; or when you’re suffering from “Bali belly,” “Montezuma’s revenge,” or any other euphemism for diarrhea and would really be better off with your own room, and more importantly, your own bathroom; or when you’re just extra crabby and absolutely can’t stand to be around other people.

How to book a Hostel: 

These days there are a million and one ways to book a hostel.

Consider which hostel is right for you, then head to any of the following sites:

Hostel Bookers

Hostelling International

HostelWorld.com 

Hostels.com

Tips for Staying in a Hostel:

–       Ear plugs will serve you well. Years of travel and hostelling have taught me – snoring is a universal language, and one you really don’t really want to hear.  Be prepared.  Other essential items include a flashlight (you may find yourself stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night while trying not to wake anyone) and pad lock. Most hostels have lockers where you can leave your pack during the day. Some travelers carry a sleeping sheet. This is a good idea if you’re freaked out by the idea of less than impeccable linens (of course, you’d be running that risk in a hotel too).

Henry Burrows photo of a hostel in Florence.

If you don’t mind shared sleeping quarters, a hostel might be right for you. Photo by Henry Burrows.

–       Chat up the staff.  These are locals who know the travel business.  They also know that you are on a budget and if they’ve been at their jobs for a while, they have a feel for what kind of activities different types of travelers like. Make use of their knowledge.

–       Chat up other travelers.  This is one of the main advantages of staying in hostel.  When you arrive, spend some time the first evening in one of the hostel’s common areas talking to travelers about their recent experiences.  These are people who have just been to the place that you’re about to go to.  There is no better resource.  They will know if the day tour offered by the hostel really gets back by 5:00, how much a taxi really costs, and whether or not the attractions in the next town over live up to the hype.  Since they, like you, are just passing through, you can trust that they have no stake in selling you something and will give you an honest assessment of their experiences.

–       Eat in.  Staying in a hostel will not only save you money on lodging, it can also save you a lot on food.  Most hostels have kitchens and many provide breakfast.  Hostelling makes it easy to only eat out one meal per day.  It also means that if you want to top off an adventurous day of traveling with some pleasant conversation and a couple of cold beers, you can get those beers at supermarket prices rather than bar prices.

Staying in a hostel is an excellent way to extend your travel budget, and take advantage of other traveler’s knowledge.  Once in a while, you may have a bad night, but that could happen anywhere.  And if it does happen, it will make a funny story later.  Happy hosteling!

It’s loud and dirty, but a lot of people seem to really like it anyway,” the guidebook said of my hostel in Jerusalem.  That was exactly how I felt about the place.  It had a good vibe.

What worked for me back then, might not work for me now, but I have learned that really liking the place you stay in matters. You will enjoy a locale more if you like your lodging. Therefore, it’s only fair to your destination to stay in a decent place.  So, beyond the basics of clean and safe, how do sniff out a good place to spend the night? Here are a few thoughts on how to choose the right hostel for your needs:

Location, Location, Location

The best place to stay depends on why you’ve decided to come this corner of the world in the first place.  Are you only planning to stay one or two nights? Blowing into to town to see that one famous site that’s been on your bucket list for years and then leaving? If so, you may be best off staying in the hostel that is closest to the bus/train station or airport.

If you’re going to be hanging out for a while then location is all about access- access to the town, to the sights, to restaurants and grocery stores, to the beach.  Look for a central location.  If you’re in an isolated place than you may find yourself stuck eating at only one restaurant, which can get old fast.

What you don’t know can hurt you – so try to be as observant as possible.  A friend and I arrived in Yangshou at five in the morning and checked into a quite and cozy hotel room.  I remember thinking that since we were checking in so early, I was really getting my money’s worth. That evening we had a rude awakening.  The hotel was above a nightclub that blasted techno music until 4:00 AM.

Hostel. Photo by Henry Burrows

Party Animal or Party Pooper

Many hostel rating sites have a “fun” factor.  This can give you an idea of whether a particular hostel is the place to get a good night’s sleep or the place to drink all night with fellow travelers.  “Fun” equals noise.  On the other hand, if you’re going to be hanging out in town for several days, a comfortable public area (TV room, garden, etc) will make your stay much more pleasant and relaxed (and possibly cheaper as you won’t need to  be hanging out in a restaurant).

Size Does Matter

You need to have enough space to get in and out of your bed without crashing into strangers.  Too many bunks in a room means an overload of body order, snoring and tripping over other people’s packs.  Also, after a certain age, you might find yourself unwilling to climb into an upper bunk.

A well-planned hostel, can make all of this easier.  I once stayed at a place that had a reading light for every bunk, curtains that you could pull around your bunk, and large lockers to put your pack in. (This was Sims Cozy Hostel in Chendu-  and they also had one of the best hostel restaurants I’ve ever eaten at.)

The Air in There

Heat, air conditioning, ceiling fan? The air conditioning in a lot of tropical places smells musty and a night of sucking it in will leave me sick for a week.  On the other hand, I’m likely to spontaneously combust if there isn’t a ceiling fan.  You need to be comfortable so you can get a good night’s sleep and have energy for the next day’s activities.

And for Breakfast…

If a hostel serves breakfast and has a kitchen where you can prepare lunch or dinner, than it’s pretty easy to limit your eating out to one meal a day.  This can save you a lot of money.  A six-pack of eggs, a few veggies, some instant rice, soy sauce packets carted along from the last time I ordered take-out Chinese.  I’ve got a couple of fried rice dinners and can hard boil some eggs to supplement the bread, fruit and coffee breakfast that the hostel provides.

And if you happen to be in Merida, Mexico, the Hostel Zocolo has an awesome breakfast which includes made to order omelets and crapes.!

Extras

Hostels that are on a major travel circuit compete with each. Therefore, they frequently offer extra conveniences such as Wifi, travel booking services, lockers, laundry service, and book exchanges.  These little extras can go a long way towards making your stay more pleasant.  And of course, the most important commodity a place can offer is friendly professional staff.  Check reviews on the internet and talk to other travelers.  Word of mouth is your best bet for getting information in advance.

I know all parents have an idea on how to make this possible. It is in a parent’s blood to know how to manage their children, but there are times that parents may lose their confidence especially when they have too much to handle. That is why help like this is needed in times of trouble.

Here are some tips that I can recommend. I am confident to say that they are effective because I have tried travelling with kids of different ages, and when I was a kid, I have also had my share of travelling experiences.

http://cheapflightstolagosnigeria.blog.com

Know the Age Group

As a parent, you should know what type of activities your children will enjoy. This is where your planning begins. You must choose the right place that is safe, accessible, and fun. If you have different age groups (toddlers, grade-schoolers, and teenagers) in your family, choose one that will be most relatable to everyone like beaches, amusement parks, or reserve parks. Toddlers will just play and run around, grade-schoolers are very curious and will always want to explore, while teenagers easily get bored and are always looking for thrill. It is good news that there are now several destinations that are child friendly. The top places to go to when travelling with children are Australia and Africa.

http://scm-l3.technorati.com

Know the Budget

It is very important to know your destination and itinerary ahead of time to correctly plan a budget. Always remember that children have student privileges, do not forget possible discounts they can get anywhere. Plane tickets, land transportations, and entrance fees may have student discounts.

http://farm3.static.flickr.com

Be a Girl Scout

If you have older children, you can assign some of these tasks to them. You can let them carry it and instill a sense of responsibility in them. You should bring a first aid kit composed of a first aid manual, thermometer, band aids, bandages, antiseptics, bandage tape, safety scissors, and cotton balls. A medicine box is also important and should contain paracetamol or acetaminophen for fever, sulfadiazine for burns, anesthetic spray or lotion for skin irritation, diphenhydramine for allergies, aspirin or ibuprofen for mild pain, loperamide (for older children) for diarrhea, and some sunscreen.

It is also very important to carry snacks around while travelling. Children should have enough energy throughout the day. This will also save you from buying unreasonably expensive snacks along the way. Yet, it is still important that you let them experience food from different places, and make them experience the culture.

http://inflightinsider.com

That’s just about it. Children are not very hard to please when it comes to travelling, just like adults; they want to experience things that are new to them. Since they are children, there are limitations to their travel destinations. It is the parents’ job to know precautions to avoid accidents. Activities such as hiking in the forest where there are slippery rocks, mountain trekking in the heat of the sun, swimming during high tide, should very obviously be avoided. As a parent, know every angle of the travel destination and always look ahead for possible accidents that may come. Know and study the place because you do not want to get lost with a bunch of children with you. A planned trip will always be fun and successful, and I know that you are capable enough to make this happen.

Saving money…it’s not for all of us. However, there are definitely ways anyone can save money before heading out on the road. My mom (my inspiration for this post) had always nagged me about the way money adds up quick, but of course it wasn’t until I started paying my own bills that I realized how right she really was. So a little strategy I’ve learned over my years of traveling is to take her ‘money adds up quick’ speech and apply it to my saving-for-the-road mentality. Yes, sometimes saving is a little easier said than done (and even harder to admit she’s been right all along) but the end effect is truly satisfying. I’ve put together my own list of ways I save before a big road trip (since that is my favorite way of exploring) but of course these ideas can be used for any upcoming trip you’d like to save for.

No More Starbucks

This is a big one! Normally people spend about $5 a day (sometimes more) at Starbucks or some type of coffee place just to keep energized throughout the day. Now I know you can’t just altogether stop having coffee but making your own coffee in the morning, replacing caffeine with some good vitamins or even just simply going to bed earlier and you will save over $100 a month! Now if you think about that with a road trip mentality that $100 can fill up your car quite a few times, depending on the type of car you have.

Cut Down the Phone Bill

As technology becomes more and more advanced, so do the prices. I don’t know about you but I was spending $80 a month (plus tax and insurance) for a cell phone plan and that is just way too much for the amount of non-talking that I do. So my advice is to take a look at how many minutes you are really using each month, how many people are you talking to, what times are you talking to them and finally do you really need internet on your phone? Now this all depends on your carrier and what is available to you but I went to my local cell phone store and asked about the different options for a plan. I cut my minutes in half since I only texted mostly anyways.  I then got the plan where everyone with my carrier is free and selected people were free as well during the day, bumped up my nighttime calling to 7pm.  I did keep the internet because I like to stay on top of my emails. So with just a little negotiating my cell phone bill dropped down to $50 a month! Now if you are going overseas or a long-term journey it may even be best to resort to a prepaid phone. This way of saving really depends on you but if you can find a way to cut down that cell phone bill, do it!

Coupons are Your Friend

The coupon business, although sometimes overwhelming, can really save you some big bucks! Just browse through your local newspaper ads and you are almost bound to find coupons on products you use all the time. In fact, even if you don’t have time to grab a newspaper there are plenty of websites where you can simply type in what you’d like to save on and BAM there’s a coupon for it! There’s no need to become an ‘extreme coupon-er’ but collecting some coupons will definitely save you some big bucks. Websites to check out: www.CouponMom.com and www.Coupons.com are both really great and even when you go online shopping try Googling discount codes.

Evaluate What is Most Important

Going out with friends is great, but when it becomes an everyday or even weekly costly adventure you need to evaluate what is most important to you. There’s no need to stop being a social butterfly but just pick and choose which spots are really worth it in the end. If you want to really be shocked just look at your bank statement and see all the random here and there eat out costs and how much going to the bar adds up to be. In the end it will totally be worth it and you will have much better memories on your big road trip or vacation than having a burger at your favorite restaurant.

Be Prepared

I am still working on this trait but the times I have been prepared are the times I have saved the most. After all there’s that saying, “The early bird gets the worm”. This really goes for everything; start saving early, start getting your documents prepared, hotel accommodations should be booked in advanced, all these things and whatever you specifically need for your trip should really be prepared beforehand. This way you know how much money you have for your trip and if you need to save more. There have been times I completely forgot a simple bill that was coming up and I had to reevaluate how much money could be spent on the trip. So stay organized and prepared and you won’t need to be frantic about money during your vacation.

These are just a few key money saving tips I do when planning a big road trip. I hope this helped better your saving mentality for whatever big trip you plan on taking. And if you’re a master at saving money or have some additional tips for saving money I would love to hear them! Comment below and let me know :) 

For the ardent traveler, buying a new backpack is a serious affair. Proper research is needed, and many factors should be taken into consideration; the size, style frame, fit, and so on before one “takes the plunge.” Nowadays, we are lucky to have, at our convenience, in-store experts and online reviews to help in the process. So, before I was to embark on my first cross country trip in China I choose to buy a backpack for the well-reasoned and thoughtful fact that it was orange. I liked orange.

The expert that helped me with the decision was a fellow ex-pat living in Nanjing. He was a lanky Southern who had bought a nice looking blue pack at the outdoor market and loved it.

“And heck man, it was only like twelve bucks.” he said with big goofy grin.

“”Perfect,” I thought, “This is shoe string travel at its best.”

I took a taxi to the market, found a vender and a backpack, and started with the negotiations. Keep in mind that bargaining in China goes something like this:

You: How much for this one?

Clerk: Very nice price. 500 yuan.

The best bet is to start hamming it up right away.

You: Holy crap! Highway robbery.–Too Expensive. Too Expensive. I’ll give you 5 yuan.

Now the clerk will collapse into a chair and grab at his heart reminiscent of Red Fox in Sanford and Son.

Clerk: You’re killing my children! No no no no. 490!

You: Now way bud. I’ll give 10.

At some point you should throw your hands in the air and storm out of the shop. He will chase you down and the routine will continue. Actually, you should probably use this strategy a few times during the whole escapade.

After 30 minutes or so, a price will be agreed upon. The final price should fall around 80-90% less than the original asking price. Like Dave Berry would say “I’m not making this up.” Following my bargaining exercise I was feeling pretty satisfied. I had just bought a brand new backpack for $10. Oh yes, high spirits after that—the Haggle Master.

I went back to my place and packed the new orange pack full of gear and clothing. It looked wonderful. I was now ready for the trip, which was to be a sizable one of train hopping, hiking, and camping. I was shooting for Inner Mongolia, then Xinjiang, Kunming, Yangshuo, and back to Nanjing. I had the pack, the train tickets, and now I was out the door.

I had almost reached the street when “Snap!” The left shoulder strap busted off. I didn’t worry though. The previous Christmas I was given a sewing kit to carry on my travels—Mom’s always looking out. Once on the train I unzipped the front pocket to retrieve the kit. I ripped the zipper off in the process. “Son of a…no no, calm down. These things happen.”

I sewed the strap back with thick purple string, and fixed the pocket with safety pins that came with the kit. When the train arrived at the station several hours later, I laced my left arm through the strap, and then the right arm and…”POP!” There went the right shoulder strap. I one-armed the bag to the other platform and waited for the next train. While waiting, I used up the rest of the purple string and some of the yellow thread, it was thinner, but held well enough.

After that train ride, I needed to transfer to a bus. I was walking from the station when the straps snapped again, only this time the break was from the bottom. “Mother…aghh, shh…no worries. It’s part of the journey.”

I used the rest of the yellow thread and all of the fine pink thread. The pink was too fine to be durable so I employed the rest of the safety pins, box tape (I don’t know why I even had box tape, but I did), and dental floss. The combination seemed to work. Add resourceful to the Haggle Master title.

On the bus, I put my pack in the rack and reached in a pocket for a book. I had read a few pages when I realized that the zipper was still in my hand. “Forget that pocket! It can stay open.”

I arrived at my destination and set out for a hike. The way the straps had been sewn caused the pack to tilt to the side and pinch my shoulders enough to cause my arms to fluctuate between slightly asleep and completely useless…but the rigging held. And for the next couple of days, though uncomfortable, I was moving along.

A few nights later, I readied to drop the pack to the ground and set up camp when the whole right side blew out. Not my stitching—the whole damn side. My gear went everywhere, and just to rub a bit of salt in, I split my pants in the clean-up effort.

To show that worthless pack that it wouldn’t get the best of me, I borrowed some yarn, blue this time, cut my ruined britches, green, into strips, and sewed the side back together. I even went ahead and reinforced the left side as a preemptive effort. The ordeal took hours. I didn’t even care about hiking or sightseeing any more. I wanted to get back to “civilization,” buy a new pack, and kill this one.

When I got to a hostel late the next day, my arms were asleep, my shoulders were sore and worn raw, and my back hurt from the lopsided sit of the pack. I was beat. Inside the hostel, another traveler caught sight of the multicolored monster of a sack.

“Whoa, mate! That’s the craziest looking backpack I’ve ever seen.”

“You can have it.” I said.

“That thing looks like it has seen some things. How long have you had it?”

“About a week.”

The comment set off a round of laughter

“Where you heading in such a hurry?” someone asked.

“I am headed to the roof to burn this rotten thing. Wanna watch?”

They did, so with the permission of the hostel we went to the roof and burned it in a big chimney type thing—a sacrifice to the gods of raw deals and needling thread. Afterward, I got online and skyped that friend back in Nanjing.

“You idiot! That backpack was a real piece. Nothing but trouble. I thought you said you’re backpack was great!”

“You mean that blue one I got at the market? Hah, come to think of it I never used it, but it does look good. I love the color.”

It’s a good thing that a fun adventure doesn’t always require you to spend. Sometimes, all it takes is a little imagination and creativity.

I remember staying in one of the most cost-effective hotel in Negros, Philippines which is MO2 Westown Hotel Bacolod to save a bit in our travel expense. Saving is good, but perhaps there are other options we haven’t tried yet where we don’t need to spend anything at all.

Thinking about it reminded me of the gift I gave my wife that she appreciated the most—not the most expensive one, but the short comic book I made for her. This comic book contains the story of how we became friends which ended up in a love story.

It’s amazing how common household materials can turn into priceless gifts. I’ve only used a pencil, a stapler and some bond papers plus a drop of creativity and it turned into a gift that my wife will cherish forever.

Just this December 2011, I’ve used a grocery bag, some sticks and a thread to make a kite then I went outdoors with my three-year-old son. It was his first time to see a kite fly. He was shouting out of excitement and his friends came along and had fun watching the kite fly as well.

So while he’s still young and video games/social media hasn’t locked him in yet, I’m planning to teach him some fun outdoor activities that I’ve enjoyed as a kid. I remember hunting birds using a slingshot, catching spiders to make them rumble in a stick, catching bees (I’ll skip teaching that), catching frogs with worm bait, going up a hill, etc.

Now as an adult, I had some mini-adventures near our home which cost me nothing as well. I was riding a motorcycle where there are jets flying around and the music Highway to the Danger Zone is playing in the background. I was getting ready for another adventure after winning an aerial combat (scene from the movie Top Gun).

That’s what my imagination told me when I was riding a bicycle, while enjoying a great view of the sugarcane fields and noticing a commercial plane pass by. I was enjoying the place while breathing fresh air that only countryside can offer.

I’ve reached an area which has a great view of Mt. Kanlaon near La Castellana, Philippines. This volcano has a marvelous shape and has a splendid combination of lush green trees and a grayish tip which is truly captivating.

Surrounded by a clear blue sky, white clouds and brown soil, this magnificent volcano has that killer view will make you appreciate the fact that we’re living in a world full of beauty in spite of its sad realities. This is just one of its many astounding masterpieces.

Unfortunately, like a flower with thorns, this volcano is now being closely watched by seismologists because it’s near the epicenter of an earthquake which hit a nearby town last Feb. 6, 2012. The earthquake killed a total of 113 people.

I’m praying for the safety of my family there because La Castellana is within the volcano’s range.  The nearby towns experienced water discoloration problems after the earthquake and there were several aftershocks that followed it. I’m thankful that no one was hurt this town.

Moving on to another adventure—one morning, while I was walking with my wife in the open field to enjoy the healthy sunlight, we’ve stumbled to a friend riding a water buffalo. I asked him if I can try to ride it and he let me.

It may not be as grandiose as the elephants of Thailand strapped with a comfy chair matching umbrellas, the fact that I never spent anything for that fun experience made a huge difference.  I just had to use my imagination to amplify its size to a mammoth and dress myself as a soldier with a long spear. I’m ready for battle after getting lost in the medieval time.

I have to admit that I got a bit scared of its big horns because it might suddenly go wild and I might end up getting hit by those horns. Maybe that’s what you get for imagining things too much.

Would love to make this car purr

Mom’s new Peugeot that I am itching to drive!

Mobility has always been a major consideration when I travel and it’s never been a problem for me whenever I go to Sydney. My mom would always lend me her car for the duration of the trip, provided that it is only within the Sydney metro and nearby locations.  If ever I need to go out of town she usually joins me, so car hire in Australia has never been an option before.

Kinda reminds me when she gave me my first pushbike, I am not to go farther than the street where we lived! But bikes and cars have wheels and those round things tend to just keep rolling on and on and my wandering nature has a natural aversion to hitting on the brakes. My mom has gotten smarter though and she started accounting for the mileage used, especially when it’s the Mini Cooper or the Range Rover, and I’d be so lucky to even drive the new Peugeot 206cc convertible out of the garage.

I need to have options for my February trip to Sydney. Sure, Australia has one of the most organized public transport systems but I’ve never been any good at following timetables, determining which train or bus to take, or getting off at the right stop. Luckily, hiring in Australia is also one of the most advanced in the world that one is only limited by the sophistication he wants to experience.

I only need the car for my out of town trip since my mom is lending me one of hers for the Sydney metro trips, which means I can do the flea market runs, café and food about town hops, and limited great outdoor adventures in beaches, and national parks at no additional cost. So I only need a car for that out-of-town drive to Gold Coast, since it kinda feels funny still traveling with your mom at the age of 43, plus the fact that she turns into a human GPS that I could never turn off!

I am no stranger to car rentals, having lived there for more than 12 years I have hired utility vehicles (utes as we call it fondly) for those do-it-yourself house moving events, and the usual sedans for formal events like weddings. But back then the Internet was still in its infancy and I would still let my fingers do the walking on the trusty yellow pages and newspaper ads…shopping for good rates and the best deals in town. Now, I am surprised at how it has become even easier to find the right car to hire.

Exploring the web for car hire in Australia I shopped for the right one. The most obvious site to go to are comparison sites where I was given choices on the type of cars available for the inclusive dates and purpose of the travel. My itinerary is to drive from Sydney to North Stradbroke Island in Queensland, stay there for a couple of days, then to Gold Coast where I will drop off the car at the airport to take a flight back to Sydney.  I also want to drive in style so I eliminated compact and economy cars from my choices, leaving me with a four-wheel drive, a luxury sedan, a sports car, a mini elite, and a few full-sized sedans. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with these categories because there are specific car models identified per category.

Audi A4

Audi A4

The trip to North Stradbroke Island would take me about 14 hours so I need to consider the comfort of the ride and leg room for power naps. I like driving with the radio in full blast as it plays the best of the Carpenters (NOT!), preferably with an iPod dock so I don’t have to bring CD’s or search through radio stations. The car has to be powerful enough to overtake with ease but should be easy to handle in all terrains, although I am not expecting to go off-road driving. The deal should give me value like unlimited mileage or best price for mileage, insurance, reasonable excess in case of accidents, road support, and other extras.

It’s a toss up between the RAV4 and the Audi A4 Sedan. Initial price comparison of total rental cost gives a AUD54.00 difference

RAV4

RAV4 SUV

with the RAV4 fetching at AUD 580.00 and the Audi A4 at AUD 635.00. The comparison site however provides more information than just the rental cost. Upon closer examination the Audi has limited free mileage, additional charges for usage of GPS, a higher excess rate, and additional airport charges. The choice will now depend on my financial resources and competing experience items like food and drinks, accommodation, souvenirs, a dive maybe and other incidentals. And with all my travels the Excel spreadsheet is invaluable in planning and estimating how much cash I can dispense, there will be some tradeoffs.

So off to the bank I go, which is also done through the Internet, to make sense of my finances before I make a decision on which car to hire. The good thing is I am now armed with information to base my decision on, thanks to the wonderful wide world of the web!

There’s just something about New York City that captivates me each and every time I go there. In all my travels I have never found a more diverse and entertaining city as this (if you have I’m more than welcomed to suggestions) so as I write this article roughly 5,715 miles away I begin planning my next trip to the Big Apple which will be in November. Now I know that may be quite some time away, but with so many things to do and places to see the possibilities in New York are truly endless and even with two seasons of planning I’m sure to leave a few things out. So just like any money-savvy traveler out there I begin my planning by attempting to find as many New York deals out there as I can find. Surprisingly this turned out better than expected (yay me!) and I want to share a few things I’ve learned about finding good deals in this city.

Now because I am originally from New Jersey I know the good, the bad and the ugly known areas of NYC. So when I begin to search through cheap hotels and I quickly find a room for under $100 in the Bronx or Queens I know that’s a no no. However, a person from a foreign country is not going to know that and while you may be saving some cash on a room each night, gun shots and gang fights are the norm in certain parts of those areas.

Also, if you want to see Times Square or visit Central Park a few times during your stay the transportation fares will considerably add up and you really won’t be saving too much money in the long run. I suggest searching for hotels specifically in Times Square or Midtown since those areas attract plenty of tourists. If you do a little searching you can find some good deals out there (a little over $100 a night) and possibly score a coupon for a free night if there’s some sort of special going on. New York’s official guide has plenty of money saving coupons for hotels, attractions, restaurants, etc. You will then save on the outrageous taxi fares and in turn able to splurge on some more exciting ventures this crazy city has to offer.

So we’ve decided we want to get a room close to all the action, so what adventures are ones we just keep coming back to? The Statue of Liberty is a fascinating site and although I vowed (when I was 10) I’d never climb those horrid stairs to the top again, you can still have the same experience and take the elevator to the top. Although the site from the Staten Island Ferry (which is free) is just as great to capture the grace Lady Liberty brings to NYC. Times Square (another famous yet free site) is great no matter what time of the day you visit. I genuinely enjoy all the crazy, fun street performances and I must admit I search for The Naked Cowboy every time I visit. The admission to tour the Empire State Building is relatively inexpensive and for all you photographers out there this is a great place to take beautiful shots of NYC. Now although I have seen all of these close to a hundred times for all you first-time visitors these are must-see places and really don’t have to cost you anything if you chose.

Some of you may prefer a traditional tour guide type of ordeal and there’s this great hop-on, hop-off tour that allows you to literally hop on and off the 2-tiered tour bus as you visit a variety of different sites in the city. There’s a bunch of different tickets available but what I suggest is purchasing the ticket that also includes 3 additional options. You will be able to be as flexible as you want plus still learn all about the city’s rich history and (drumroll please…) save money on 3 other things to do!

Just as you have been saving money on things to do around the city, you can extend all those New York deals you’ve been getting to your food menu. You can easily find a McDonald’s when visiting Manhattan (since there’s about 9 of them in a one mile radius) but if you’re searching for some authentic foods, skip the greasy burgers and opt for the selection of pizzerias from Little Italy. A slice of pizza from just about any of these places are amazing (trust me, I’ve tried just about all of them) and won’t cost anywhere near the price of any restaurant you will find but will taste just as great. After all, New York is known for their pizza!

So as I finish writing this post I must say I cannot wait for November to get here! Not only will I get to visit this crazy city once again, I already know it’s not going to cost me a fortune to do all the fun things NYC has to offer. If you want to save money in NYC it is possible and can really cost you close to nothing depending on what you’re attracted to. There are hundreds of possibilities of things to do and with those options, more ways to save!

What ways have you cut costs during your travels?