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The easiest way to control costs and expectations of actual experience (for control freaks out there) is to take a package tour. I know that doesn’t sound sexy necessarily, and conjures up images of being in an air conditioned bus for long stretches seeing a country through glass and herded in and out of tourist attractions but it’s not always like that. Package tours make things easy for the very busy person. You don’t need to buy a hotel separate from the air (in some cases), some meals are included, along with ground transportation and the activities of course.
Also Groupon and LivingSocial and Kayak have vacation package emails you can sign up for, like this recent deal: Groupon Moscow hotel & air package for $900 pp (April, May, June).In addition to these I sign up with airlines e-newsletters. It’s not always a relevant deal for my airport base but — when I am starting to look (or when people ask me, because they do!), I have inspiration and sales coming to my inbox.Also!! You might need a visa depending on where you fly.If you just are flying, one tool I like to use is Google Flight. (Yes, they even have that.) You still have to verify (like Kayak) that the actual fare is available, but the map feature is what I really like. Set the budget and the time frame and zoom around the map to see what’s available. Fewer bells and whistles, but still cool is Fly.
Using Google Flight I found fares from Chicago to Istanbul in February. I know that recently there were protests there earlier this year and recently, and folks should always be concerned about their safety traveling. (Another tip: I always check the US State Department’s Advisories, along with reports from the media, and of course word from bloggers, social media and friends/contacts there.)Dublin has consistently been the one EU capitol that’s cheapest to fly into as I’ve checked many times over the past few months with routes from multiple American and European carriers. Dublin is a happening town in a beautiful country. Lots of young entrepreneurs — restaurateurs, designers and other creatives — have found the capital a great place to put down roots and fight the financial crisis.
No, I didn’t forget about a place to stay. Wanna get really cheap? Hostels. $17/night in Istanbul. What.Airbnb. A great deal to feel like you’re ‘at home’ when traveling, and save money if you do some cooking in. Airbnb even hooks up to Facebook so you can see if you have friends in common with the host or if your friends have stayed or rated the accomodations. For a stay for two in Dublin under $35 per person per night in the city center.
Keep eating budget friendly by doing what you do at home. Limit restaurant eating — maybe splurge for a nice lunch, which are usually cheaper than dinners. Don’t eat in high rent areas. Look for open-air markets, bakeries and street food! Long lines of locals at street food vendors, where they make food in front of you (food isn’t sitting out) keeps you healthy. And if you have a kitchen at your disposal, use it! (Even the supermarket will be cheaper than the restaurant usually!) And if you want an at-home experience, consider cooking with locals with Cookening (Europe) or Voulez vouz dînez (various worldwide locations).
And, what to do? Find cool and fun (and cheap!) things to do by asking your friends and the Internet (and travel bloggers like me).I didn’t go to Istanbul with my friends last January, but I took all my friends’ notes for when I do. In Istanbul, besides the obvious historical sites which are free/low cost (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Market), you can consider the Cappodocia Caves as a side trip.Dublin. I was here in October. Trinity college library is cooler than your college library, if you love books you must stop here. Dublin has a long history of literary tradition (James Joyce, Oscar Wilde et al). Tons of local music venues, both traditional and contemporary, I went to the Hard Working Class Heroes Festival in October, live music is more than Riverdance stereotypes. Vintage flea market shopping (complete with bar!) near the Ha’Penny Bridge. Day trips to the country and seaside can be done on the bus visiting the shore. (I can put together an itinerary /post on my blog)Can’t afford a tour guide? Or just don’t like guided tours? Use an app (with wi-fi)! Try Google Field Trip and Like Where to find fun things. Download guides to use on your smartphone without wifi (hello Amazon), or pick up a guidebook! Pick up a local free paper and see what looks interesting (even if you don’t know the language). Ask the tourist board, they’re there to help you. If you do nothing, always make new friends.