Traveling is usually a low priority for those busy with families and careers. But with retirement, time and the world open up.
Here, three experienced travelers share tips on how to travel affordably and the most imperative items to bring on a trip.
Shirley Gauthier, 65, began traveling in earnest once she retired three years ago. When she was raising her family, there was minimal budget for traveling. “Our vacation was a trip to the coast for the day, not even overnight,” she says. “I never dreamed I would travel this much.”
She now makes it happen by bartering for housesitting and rides to the airport, and searching online for the ab-solute best deals.
An airport cab ride can be$30, and parking fees of $14 per day add up. She avoids those by asking her friends for rides and helping them out in return. She trades house sitting with friends, which gives the extra assurance of some-one at home looking out for things while you’re gone.
Lane Transit now has a stop near the airport, which allows riders to take the bus and get picked up by a shuttle from the last stop. This works if you’re not traveling with too much luggage. The fare for a single ride is free for those 65 and over.
Gauthier, though, prefers to take the first flight out in the morning, so this service doesn’t work for her. Early morning flights do have other advantages. “It’s usually less expensive and I like to know that if some-thing happens and that flight is late I can always be pushed forward,” she says. “The airport is less crowded and the lines are shorter.”
She lives minimally and puts most of her extra money toward her travel budget. To stretch it as much as possi-ble, she scours online sites such as Priceline.com for the best deals. “There are tricks to it and it’s rather intimidating the first time you do it, but once you get into it, it’s incredible.”
Priceline’s methods let you pick the price you want to pay and “bid” on hotel rooms for that price. The service doesn’t tell you what hotel you’re bidding on but it will tell you how many stars it has, the location and amenities.
“The only surprise I have ever gotten is when I open up that hotel door and it’s way better than I expected,” she says. “I have never been disappointed and I have used Priceline extensively. My safe bet is to bid only on three-stars or up and I’ve never paid more than $75 for three- or four-stars.”
Gauthier says reviews are an important part of the travel experience. They can cover restaurants, museums, hotels, parks or any attraction.
For the most accurate reviews, look for “verified guest” reviews — written by those who have actually stayed at or visited the place. You can also search by review type, says Gauthier, such as “solo traveler.”
“If I’m traveling by myself I look for reviews by solo travelers,” she says. “If I’m traveling with my grandkids or some-one else with kids I go to reviews from people who have traveled with families because they’re going to tell me how far the front desk is from the parking lot or if the hotel was kid friendly. If I’m going as a couple then I want to know if they have a happy hour in the lounge at night or if the neighborhood is safe, things like that.”
For airfare, Gauthier searches online sites like Cheapair.com or Exped-ia.com.
She starts searching about six weeks from her travel date, and checks prices daily. She then calls the airline and asks them to match the lowest price, which they often agree to because then they don’t have to pay the discount site’s fees. It does take some time to do this, she admits.
She recently took a trip to the Philippines, her biggest undertaking so far.
“It was a whole new travel adventure and I read a whole lot more reviews,” she says. To pack light, she took clothes she didn’t plan on bringing home — Gauthier purchases nice but inexpensive clothing items from thrift stores and when they’re dirty, she’ll leave them and make room in her bags for anything she plans on bringing home.
She never travels with a laptop computer anymore, but brings an iPad because of the ease with airport security. When flying with one other person, she recommends to always choose an aisle seat and a window seat
and leave the middle seat empty.
“Those are the tickets that are sold last and there’s a good chance that you might have that empty seat between the two of you,” she says. “And if that seat sells and somebody is there they’ll trade with you so you can sit with your travel partner.”
Sylvia Kirkland and her partner Tom Watson are devoted to Airbnb for finding affordable places to stay when they travel.
Airbnb is a service that connects homeowners with travelers looking for a place to stay. Rather than hotels or actual bed and breakfasts, the rentals are typically small homes or rooms in a home where other people may be living. The couple has used the service eight times over the past three years with good results.
“What I like about Airbnb is you can see a lot of pictures of the property and we have to create a profile for ourselves so the property owners can decide if they want to accept our reservation or not,” Kirkland says.
Watson says the first Airbnb they stayed in had a pass-through bathroom. “We were fine with it but it helped us to know that next time we’d look for a separate bathroom,” he says. “That just made us more comfortable.”
Both agree that a prime benefit of Airbnb is being able to select a rental in the part of town where they want to be. Another benefit is that since both the renters and the tenants have to create pro-files, you feel that you’re engaging with a real person and there’s a greater sense of trust.
“The person who offers the place has a profile so you can look at their comments and what other people have said,” Watson says. “And there are public reviews that anyone can read and you can also leave a review privately for the person.”
Kirkland adds, “And if I stay at a place I put up a review of that place and then our host gives a review for us.”
Tiffany Haugen and her husband, Don, both grew up in Walterville, near where they now live. After they got married they both took teaching jobs in a tiny Eskimo village in Alaska, with virtually no roads and no stores. “One of our goals was to live a subsistence lifestyle,” she says. “We spent seven years doing that and then we went over-seas and continued that feeling of living on the local economy.”
After living in Indonesia and moving back to Walterville, the Haugens began to make a living from teaching and writing about outdoor skills and cooking. Over 11 years, Tiffany Haugen says the family spent summers and vacations going anywhere they could. The most important thing they have learned is that old motto: Be prepared.
“Preparation is a big thing for us,” she says. “We like the idea of being spontaneous say, to go on a hike, but you’ve got that backpack or that toiletries kit that are always at the ready no matter what comes up. That’s the worst thing, to not be prepared if you’ve got a headache or you need some allergy medicine.”
Carry along shelf-stable snacks and pack different toiletries kits for plane or car travel. Take your medicine with you. The Haugens also regularly read reviews.
“No matter what city I land in, I’m instantly on Trip Adviser or Yelp looking at where we should eat or what this hike is really like,” she says.
Some might worry that reviews aren’t truthful, but Haugen says if you read enough of them, you’ll be able to tell the details that set apart a realistic review.
“If someone’s super critical of a restaurant and there’s another one that’s totally glowing, you might think, hmmm, but don’t let those kind of things prevent you from doing something,” she says. The Haugens have traveled to India and Southeast Asia, and twice to Africa.
She says to be aware of travel warnings— never ignore them — but try to ask someone who actually lives there what the situation really is. After all, she says, there are some cities in the United States that travelers might avoid if they only heard what was on the news. No matter where Haugen is going, she always brings a sarong.
“It’s kind of like a sheet but you can use it as a beach towel, a dress, or wrap it around you if you have to change clothes somewhere,” she says, “and people don’t think you’re going to a toga party if you have to wear it somewhere.”
While her children would probably say the most important item to travel with is their phone or iPad, the Haugens rely on Chapstick, eye drops and earplugs.
“Comfort is a big deal,” she says. “Wear comfortable shoes that you already know how they perform. Somebody wears great boots and don’t put them to the test and they hike five miles and they may get blisters that may ruin their entire trip. Buy that new expensive, nice raincoat but go put it on in the rain and walk around in it before you drag it to London and realize it’s too hot.”
And finally, the advice of nearly every experienced traveler everywhere: Don’t over pack.