Thursday, November 5, 2009

Saving on travel, part 5

You've arranged for your plane tickets and hotels, now it's time to figure out what you're going to see at your destination. And, yes, it's possible to cut costs here.

If you've booked through an agency, they'll give you lots of options for day tours. However, it's generally cheaper if you book them once you arrive at your destination. Or, it likely is possible to get to an attraction by public transportation, which means you can sightsee on your schedule, not a tour company's.

First, do an online search for free things to do at your destination. You'll be surprised at what comes up. For our trip to London in 2003, we snagged free tickets to a performance at a top West End theatre. That show turned out to be the highlight of our trip. If you're going to New York City or Los Angeles, you can get free tickets to tapings of game and talk shows, and sitcoms. This involves planning ahead with ticket requests, however.

Many museums have free days or stay open late one night a week when admission is free. We saw a wonderful exhibition of photos by Charles Dodgson who, using the pen name Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland, at a San Francisco art museum; the exhibit even included a picture of the little girl who was his Alice.

If you can't get in free, get in with a discount. After you've checked out the free things to do, do a search for discount tickets for attractions. We saved big this way when we visited Cadbury World in Birmingham, England, last spring. I'd printed out a page of discounts to attractions around England, including one for a 20 percent discount at Cadbury World (I later found out no one pays full price at Cadbury because hotels have discount tickets to distribute to guests.). On top of that, Cadbury gave us their senior discount, so we ended up paying 8 pounds for a 13-pound ticket. Plus, we were given so much chocolate, we suffered from chocolate overload!

If it's available, always use a senior discount. In some countries, the discount is only offered to residents, but in others, the discount applies to anyone. Always ask, especially if the admission board does not list senior discounts. (In England, senior discounts come under "concession" or "OAP" ticket prices.) In China, where only the Chinese can read ticket prices, just show your passport for discounts of up to 50 percent. The senior discount there is only good for basic admission; a lot of attractions inside charge a separate fee, so you'll need to figure out if you want a regular full-meal deal ticket or just pay separate admissions to one or two things inside.

In the United States, American citizens can buy lifetime passes for free admission to federal facilities, such as national parks and interpretive sites. The passes, which are not very expensive, also are good for discounted campground frees.

Looking for Christmas gift ideas?

My travel guides, Parents Guide to Beijing and DIY Beijing, make perfect gifts for anyone contemplating a trip to the Chinese capital. Or how about a CD of a walking tour in Beijing -- I've written seven. Check them out on my website.

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