Tag Archives: budget

SAVINGS on Europe to USA to Australia on Apartments, Hotels, & Amtrak!–Part 3

The previous TRAVEL SAVINGS article discussed looking for promo codes, discount codes, and discount vouchers for everything from ferries to trains to airline flights. Today we’ll discuss MORE train travel, hotel, and apartment reservations.

Our preferred method of saving money whilst travelling is to get an apartment in any city that we will be in for more than 2 days. A 3 day minimum booking is pretty standard for most of the holiday apartment letting sites. But when you have your own full kitchen set-up, you can make and eat the meals you want for a fraction of the cost of eating out each day.

For our upcoming Paris and Brussels stays of 3 nights in each city, I looked at both AirBnB and Roomarama first. Each site has a wonderful variety of apartment styles and sizes. But in the end I went back to AirBnB where I have always had positive experiences in the past during a week in Amsterdam and a week-plus in Barcelona.

Things to check are what the EXTRA fees are on each listing. Some hosts are incredibly flexible and charge no additional fees other than the standard AirBnB booking fee of around £18-20. But other hosts charge security deposits of up to £500 for a 3 night stay AND a cleaning fee of up to £50. I’m a bit too frugal to embrace those costs, so my final list of possible selections all had no cleaning fees and little or no security deposit.

I never did find an apartment on either of the sites above for our Brussels stay and ended up booking an apartment for Brussels on the Booking.com website. We had a specific area that we wanted to stay in since we were coming into the same huge train station from Paris, and then several days later we’d be departing on the EuroStar from that station.

By the way, if you click on that link above for the Eurostar, you’ll see under the current DEALS FROM LONDON a fare of £69 per person for the London to Brussels route. That would have cost us £138 for the two of us — right? I booked with RailEurope instead of with the Eurostar site and paid a total of £80 for the two of us — a £58 savings!

If specific locations or neighbourhoods are important to you when booking an apartment or hotel, input that information into the search bar on the left side of the page at Booking.com and it will produce a list of options that are in or near that specific neighbourhood or site. I used this same website for our overnight hotels in Toronto and Vancouver and put the name of the international airport in each of those cities into the search field and found quite reasonably priced hotels for those one night stays. And in each of the 3 reservations that I made on Booking.com, I was able to save 20-30% off of the price on other booking sites by comparing the prices at the other sites and ALSO ticking on the hotels that were offering 24-48 hour discounts or a mark-down because it was one of the last 3-5 rooms. You have to really keep your eyes open for specials on all of these sites because they can really save you quite a lot when you are planning trips both large and small.

The final element of our upcoming trip was how to get across the continental United States without flying. I found ONE Delta flight from Cincinnati to Seattle with no layovers or plane changes, but I ruled it out immediately when I saw what the baggage sizes and limitations were. Our carry-on bags are the international flight size, not the domestic flight size! Also we carry SO MUCH tech gear and have even more items than we did when we left Australia 2-1/2 years ago — 2 15″ MacBook Pro laptops, 4 passport drives, cables and connectors, 3 Nikon DSLR cameras, 8 lenses, and a small Lumix camera. We carry all of that in our carry-on luggage along with a change of underwear and, if we are lucky, some pajamas and an extra pair of jeans. I use rolled-up t-shirts and socks, and a thin cashmere cardigan to cushion the cameras and lenses.

The Delta flight’s baggage size restrictions meant we would have had to check on 2 extra bags full of essential gear. Nope! That’s how I make my living and it is far too valuable to lose. In case this is news to people flying either domestically or internationally, it is never-ever safe to check on tech gear when flying because it ‘mysteriously goes missing’ rather often from inside your bag or it runs the risk of being irreparably damaged by gorilla-fisted luggage handlers. And if you think your travel insurance policy will reimburse you for missing tech gear — no, they will not. If you read all of the fine print in travel insurance documents, they very specifically state that there will be no reimbursement if you pack valuable items such as cameras, computers, or jewelry inside your check-on luggage.

We thought it might be fun to do a week long cross country drive in a tiny rental car. But then I began to research those options (and spent a full day doing that on website after website!) and I was simply stunned at the costs. Not only have the costs of renting a car risen dramatically in the USA since we were last there over 11 years ago, but the agencies that do allow one-way rentals all charge a one-way drop off fee of £1,000 minimum! That figure was in Great Britain pounds, NOT in dollars. At that point I said to my friend here in Newcastle that we could have purchased an old ‘banger’ car and insured it for the cost of a one way rental plus petrol plus food and hotels on the road PLUS a £1,000 drop-off fee. Sheesh! And did you know that the rental car agencies apply a ‘pick-n-mix’ strategy nowadays and you pay $149 a week for the all-important sat-nav and an additional $10 a day for a second driver? The renting-a-car option went right out the window!

Our final option turned out to be not only the cheapest but has the potential to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that we will always remember. We have always loved travelling by train because it is a gentle and relaxing option compared to flying or driving. I looked at the AMTRAK site in the USA and discovered that we could travel from one side of the United States to the other in complete comfort in the privacy of our own room AND with all meals included for less than the cost of either the Delta flight or the eye-watering car rental option. But wait — there’s more!

I did a web search for “Amtrak Discounts” and came up with several options. Here’s an example of a 42% fare reduction for the second passenger that is running on Amtrak right now. This discount does not apply to the purchase of the sleeper cabins, but it did drop the cost of our complete train ticket by $50. We’re using Amtrak again for the Tacoma to Vancouver section of the trip prior to flying off to Australia, so I used the code again and along with a special that the Amtrak Cascades route is currently running, I saved another $17.50 off the $80.00 original cost for that 6 hour trip. It all adds up!

Here is the main AMTRAK page for current discounts. It will change week after week, but you can set up an email alert and stay apprised of the fare specials so you can grab a bargain.

Adding up ALL of my bits and pieces of discounts, I’ve saved £185 in British money or $280 in US dollars. If hotels are already paid for, that is DAYS of daily expense money. So now do you see why I keep reinforcing that it all adds up?

Hope this series has helped some of you think outside of the one-site-does-it-all mode of travel reservations and you’ll take the plunge into looking for discount codes and promo vouchers, too. Make a game out of it and have some fun adding up those savings!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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SAVINGS on Europe to USA to Australia Via Euro-Trains, Multiple Planes, Cars, Amtrak & Long Haul Flights!–Part 2

Shall we call this next part Money Saving Tips For Travel? Sounds good — here goes!

Yesterday’s article listed the staggering amount of country to country travel we’re about to undertake over a 6 week period. And today’s article will share some of the sites and tips for saving money along with why we made some of the decisions regarding specific airlines or transportation options. The heavyweights cost-wise are the airline tickets and there is almost always some savings to be had on accommodations and trains and daily expenses for everything from food to museum entry.

The first thing I had to do was decide what order to do things in. Once I had a clear idea of where we wanted to go country-wise and in what order, then I could start with the ferry for the English Channel booking, then the land travel portions in Europe, and finally move onto the overseas flights. After that I’d book hotels and apartments along the way.

We are taking a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais in northern France. So I googled Promo vouchers for P&O and scrolled through the list. You have to check carefully to make sure that the codes that you will be inserting at the check-out stage of your P&O Ferry ticket purchase are still valid. I saved £12.00 with one of those codes.

Now in the overall scheme of things, a £12 savings isn’t a lot and some people can’t be bothered looking up discount codes, vouchers, and promo codes. But stick with me through this article as you start to see how it all adds up!

We needed train tickets for 3 segments in Europe — (1) Caen to Paris, (2) Paris to Brussels, (3) the Eurostar from Brussels to London. By booking through Rail Europe inserting our actual ages into the fields where passenger information is filled in (shhh!), and combining it with whatever Special Rate is on that day, I got another £36 savings. Also, ALWAYS look at the opening page of each site for the current specials. Right now Rail Europe is running a 70% off special for certain routes and our Paris to Brussels segment qualified for that discount.

Next I needed to search for reasonably priced airline fares and although I was doing these bookings a month or more in advance of departure, fares sometimes disappear, literally disappear, from the computer screen right as you are doing a booking if there is a lot of demand for a particular route.

My first searches were through Kayak and then Opodo and I input the multiple cities and countries we were travelling to. The choices were less than optimum and there were far too many connecting flights. Air travel is our LEAST favorite aspect of travelling since we travel in Economy seats and can never really get comfortable — so direct flights from point to point with no layovers is always our optimum choice. However, that kind of travel sometimes costs quite a lot more. I was crossing my fingers that I would be able to find a way around that!

Next I went to Airtreks since I had booked with them in the past quite successfully. They did offer a much better price than Kayak or Opodo, but they also included far too many stopovers. I really didn’t want to leave London and then stop in Dublin, New York, and Chicago on my way to Cincinnati! Then on the way to Australia, their only choices all departed from Seattle and had a multi-hour layover in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. That was adding hours and hours to our voyages in each segment AND the idea of having that many ‘encounters’ with the TSA in the United States was certainly not appealing! There had to be another way.

By looking at the map and thinking about where ELSE I could come into the USA from England and not be changing planes within that country, I decided to see what Canadian city was closest to Cincinnati — and that is when it all started to come together beautifully! The best international airfare from London to Toronto was with Icelandair. The flights went via a 2 hour layover in Reykjavik (so no, we won’t be seeing much of Iceland!), but it landed at a civilized dinnertime hour in Toronto and we could spend a night there and recover a bit before flying the tiny 1-1/2 hour journey on Air Canada to Cincinnati. Hooray!

Icelandair wasn’t running any specials, but Air Canada has a link right at the top of their opening page that says SPECIAL OFFERS and we saved a few £££s by going through that link, too.

I knew that Air Canada did direct non-stop flights from Vancouver to Sydney, but when I checked on that option the prices were an eye-watering £3,113 or $4,705 US dollars for the two of us going ONE WAY. The prices at Cathay Pacific were almost identical. Wow! That certainly didn’t fit into my goal of budget travel!

The L-O-N-G flight to Australia over LOTS of water!


I was beginning to think that we were going to have to just grin and bear it and deal with airplane transfers and long, long waits in California, but my final stop was a return trip to BootsnAll and a run-through with their online airfare search-and-map called “indie Multi Country Flight Finder.” What a serendipitous visit that was! Just as I was looking at possibility after possibility from either Seattle or Vancouver into either Sydney or Melbourne, a little chat screen popped up on the lower right-hand side and someone on the other end asked if there was anything they could do to help.

I typed in a response and told them that we were trying to get home to Australia without a 6 hour layover in California and I could not afford the costs with Air Canada or Cathay Pacific. A simply lovely man named Chris Heidrich at BootsnAll then sent me an email with a link to a flight that was the answer to all of our needs — a practically direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney with a tiny 2 hour layover in Auckland (in the early dawn hours — groan!) AND at the simply amazing cost that they offered for BOTH of us in US dollars saved us over $3,000!!!

That was a stunning success and I certainly recommend the folks at BootsnAll for not only excellent prices but excellent customer service. Each and every time I have had one more question, someone gets back to me in a very short time. The most I have ever waited for a response was about an hour-ish, certainly not hours and hours or days for feedback and answers.

In the next article that I post sometime between tomorrow and Tuesday, I will share how to save money on the hotels, apartments and other bits of transportation in various countries. And for travellers from countries outside of the USA who wish to go from coast to coast, I’ll share some important details of how and why each form of transportation might affect your journey.

I’ll also give you a list of all of the savings that I made with discount codes, vouchers, and promo specials. They all added up quite nicely — so stay tuned!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Europe to USA to Australia Via Euro-Trains, Multiple Planes, Cars, Amtrak & Long Haul Flights!–Part 1

Whew — that’s a huge relief! I’ve been having a Planes, Trains, and Boats moment, but with a few exceptions, the ferry tickets, train tickets, and plane tickets for our around the world adventure from the UK to France to Belgium to the UK to Iceland to Canada to the USA and across from side-to-side, back to Canada and on to Australia to are all booked except for a tiny train trip from Washington State to Vancouver and an in-country flight from Sydney to Melbourne.


Tea-stained and crossed-through planning notebook for our marathon Europe to UK to Canada to USA to Australia trip!


I am exhausted and you will soon understand why. For the last 3 straight days I’ve been dealing with website after website since I needed to be saving money everywhere! This trip is costing us a fortune because (a) the round-the-world distances between countries are simply huge and (b) the USA itself is SO BIG and the relatives over there are scattered on both sides of the country. I’ll detail it all a bit so you can see how to save money on these huge trips as long as you are willing to do the legwork, take advantage of every promo code or discount voucher online that you can find, and sit still for days whilst inputting the same information again and again and again. (sigh!)

Here’s the final schedule.

1. Return from Newcastle to Norfolk on 27 March.
2. Shipping company picks up our household goods in Norwich on 30 March and we vacate our storage unit.
3. Spend a few last days with the family here and then head to Dover on the 4th of April for a ferry to France.
4. Spend several days in Normandy with our darling friend Polly and her two daughters. Polly knows our lovely little van and has purchased it from us for her own business and we are happy to deliver it to her and spend some quality time with that charming family.
5. Leave Normandy via Caen on the 10th of April on an express train to Paris for a 2-1/2 day getaway.
6. Leave Paris on a Thalys train for Brussels on the 13th of April for another 2-1/2 day getaway.
7. Leave Brussels on 16th of April on the afternoon Eurostar to London and spend the night in a hotel near Heathrow Airport.
8. Fly from London on the 17th of April to Toronto on Icelandair via a 2 hour layover in Reykjavik. (guess we won’t be seeing much of it!) Overnight in Toronto.
9. Fly from Toronto to Cincinnati on the 18th of April via Air Canada and my daughter Jennifer will drive up from Louisville and pick us up.
10.7-plus days from 19th through 26th of April in Louisville, Kentucky with my daughter Jennifer and her family.
11.Dropped back in Cincinnati on the Friday the 26th of April just before midnight for a 1:23 AM (groan!) 27th April departure by Amtrak for Chicago. And yes, we have a sleeping car for the almost 10 hour journey!
12. Arrive Chicago at 10:05 AM on Saturday the 27th of April and depart again at 2:15 PM for 46 hours on the Amtrak ‘Empire Builder’ to Portland, Oregon. Yes, another cabin of our own to relax in.
13. Arrive Portland on at 10 AM on Monday the 29th of April, have a 2 hour layover, then depart for Tacoma, Washington arriving just before 3 in the afternoon and my son Christopher will pick us up at the station.
14. 7-plus days from 29th of April through 6th of May with Christopher and his family in Tacoma.
15. Depart from Tacoma Amtrak station on 7th of May for Vancouver where we will overnight in the city prior to flying out the next evening.
16. Fly from Vancouver on the 8th of May via Air New Zealand.
17. Arrive in Sydney at 8:30 AM on the 10th of May.
18. 10th of May onward still being planned!

Now do you see why I am tired? There are so many segments to this trip and by some clever juggling and using multiple airlines and discounts, I have saved thousands of £££s off what I would have paid through a standard booking site or even a multiple-carrier-checker like Kayak or Opodo. AND I had to book apartments in Paris and Brussels and hotel rooms for the overnights in London, Toronto, and Vancouver.

May I just say it again — whew!!!

My next post will give you some money saving tips for everything from plane flights to accommodation to train travel and will include links to ALL of those fabbo sites that saved us money. When you are in THIS MANY COUNTRIES in a 6 week period, saving money is essential!

Stay tuned….

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Familiar ‘French’ Foods

Part of our strategy for frugal or budget travel is cooking for ourselves whenever we have a kitchen in a gite or apartment or house. So we had a bit of a giggle two days ago as we did the big weekly shopping excursion.

We noticed some very familiar name brands from our time living in the USA. The packaging might be familiar, but the language describing the Uncle Ben’s Rice and Old El Paso foods were certainly not in the original English!

Uncle Ben's Rice in a French supermarket


Old El Paso ingredients for making Mexican dinners seen in a French supermarket


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Ready For The Continent!

It’s official. We’ll be leaving England again during the first week of October and we’re headed back to Europe for the winter. Onward to some new adventures!

Part of our long term planning involved deciding where we thought we’d be spending the most time — in the United Kingdom or in Europe. It was a decision that needed firming up because we had two vehicles — one for driving on each side of the road — and it was silly to keep paying insurance on one of those when we only planned to use it half the time.

Diesel is king in Europe and more cars over there use diesel than petrol. Also, since our travelling strategy for staying out on the road between countries involves carrying more tools and equipment than we originally began with 9 months ago (not to mention clothing for multiple seasons!), we decided that we’d be better off purchasing the newest diesel van that we could so we’d even have the flexibility to carry bicycles if we wanted to.

We have now traded in our UK right-hand-drive Ford Fusion AND our precious little European left-hand-drive Kia Picanto. And here’s what we purchased last week — a four year old diesel van that we can customise to our own purposes. We’ll be able to get well over 50 miles to the gallon instead of the 40 mpg we were getting with ‘Katie Kia’ on those long drives across Germany and France in the spring. That certainly assists with our favourite mode of travel — the frugal or budget style!


Mark checking the front of the new van.


Back of the new diesel van.


I can almost hear some of you saying, “So what’s the big deal? It’s just a basic white van.” Ahhhhh — but the possibilities that it offers are quite wonderful!

We’re headed back to France soon and we’ll be working in Normandy again for several months. So you’ll see stories and pictures from there once I get past the backlog from here in England! I’ve been ‘off the air’ for weeks at a time as we finish the renovation of a house in London prior to moving on.

Keep posted for the adventures ahead!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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How Wonderful and Quirky Is Edinburgh

Look up, look up! Re-tune your eyes so you fill your memory with the many snippets of marvelous things scattered about the city — tiny pieces of poignant sculpture — partial bits of quotes or poems — monumental architecture with almost-hidden carvings — all of it weaving a mysterious cloak that wraps this city up tightly.

Quirky, quietly beautiful, and never failing to amuse with the non-stop parade of ‘interesting’ residents and visitors alike, Edinburgh has so much going for it as a travel destination.

Squeezed between the shopfronts on the Royal Mile is a perfect example — the carving over Paisley Close which commemorates the survival of one young lad who was found amidst the rubble of several collapsed buildings in 1861. “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet” is inscribed above the arch.

"Heave awa' chaps, I'm no' dead yet" sculpture above Paisley Close arched opening in Edinburgh, Scotland


Under the category of sweetness, where else in the world do you expect to see three charming teenage boys walking across a bridge in the heart of a city, two of them holding hands, and one of them wearing his kilt. It put a smile on the faces of everyone that they passed.

Kilt wearing, hand holding teenagers in Edinburgh, Scotland


Stereotypes exist for a reason, and the sheer determination, outright stubbornness, and frugality of the Scottish nature were all on display in bits and pieces on our travels. Our 2 week visit certainly convinced us that the lovely Scottish friends that we had back in Australia derived their fearless attitude and ferocious tenacity from their ancestry as well as their general personality.

The beauty of Edinburgh manages to mask the occasionally simmering resentment of the governing powers down in London. That historic anger was certainly on display in the National Museum of Scotland where the arresting poster below found quite a few people stopping, nodding their heads up and down in agreement as we watched, and creating a strong impression on me that those decades old resentments are still not forgotten.

National Gallery of Art & Edinburgh Castle Atop The Hill


Margaret Thatcher 'Oil Vampire' poster

But under the category of just-plain-quirky, how about the whiskey store right next door to the health food store? Or the wine shop that is an ‘homage’ to the old sci-fi film, Planet Of The Apes? Click to enlarge them and have a giggle!

Odd choice of shops to be side-by-side

A quirky homage to Cornelius from Planet Of The Apes


Calligraphy on wall of National Museum of Scotland: Declaration of Arbroath - 1320 AD

My most recent visit was my 4th time in Edinburgh and I have still barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do. Trust me, I’ll be going back!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne – Part 3

What to do — what to see. You have arrived in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, so how can you make the best decisions about where to spend your energy and your dollars?

First, wrap your head around the idea that you are going to nibble at the edges of a very LARGE cake full of delights. That will give you some perspective as you begin to realize that you will be coming back to Melbourne again and again before you can begin to say that you ‘know’ the place.

Consider planning your to-do list by going to either of these websites for information prior to your arrival. The first one is the That’s Melbourne site where you can click on the various categories in the left-side column to find out what art, music, festival, sports, or other events in your own particular areas of interest are available during your visit. The second site to check is the What’s On Melbourne Guide which lets you search by DATE or by TOPIC.

You can learn a lot about a city and its ‘vibe’ by people-watching and often this proves to be a highly amusing free activity.

Lunch hour tap dancer on Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Lunch hour tap dancer, Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

A few days ago as I walked down Bourke Street, I saw a young red-haired man with a backpack and a bright yellow milk crate suddenly stop and plonk a portable tape player down on the pavement. Next a flowerpot appeared. Finally, he carefully placed a square of timber halfway between the tram stop and the steps in front of the GPO building. Without saying a word, he began to tap dance vigorously (and well!) for the lunchtime crowd that was milling around, his flowerpot began to fill with coins, and the silent tap dancer smiled sweetly at everyone. It was a tiny bit of magic on a cold and gloomy day.

Having walked a mere few metres further down the street, I began to chuckle quietly when I saw a faux-concrete mime who had removed his hat, thus revealing part of his un-made-up face and hair beneath. As he stood next to his upturned hat, his hand resting on his cart full of props, he dropped all pretense being in character as he made a phone call. As surreptitiously as I could, I raised my camera and began to take pictures of this unguarded and funny moment.

Mime Making Phone Call

If fine arts and culture are as much ‘your thing’ as they are mine, you will be happy to read that Melbourne is quite blessed to have three art museums that charge absolutely NO admission price. The only exception to that statement is for those blockbuster travelling exhibits from overseas that arrive once a year or so.

The permanent collection at the beautifully proportioned bluestone building housing the NGV International – National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road is quite comprehensive and covers several floors of exhibits that range from the ancient through to the contemporary. You can easily allow yourself a half of a day or more to see it all. And as an added bonus, there are wonderful cafes on both the ground floor and the first floor that serve quite good food. Seating areas are tucked around on every level and are much appreciated by those who wish to enjoy the various galleries at a more leisurely pace. The large gift shop on the ground floor, just before you exit next to the wall of water, is a joy for art lovers, book lovers, or anyone who appreciates finely crafted jewelry, stationary, art objects, and educational toys.

Another entirely free (except for those previously mentioned special exhibitions) museum is the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square (corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street). This smaller museum is dedicated to Australian art. Although it is part of the National Gallery of Victoria, it is housed up the street from the main NGV in a light, airy, and very contemporary glass and steel building set amidst the ultra-modern Federation Square complex.

Finally, there is the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art — ACCA (111 Sturt Street in the Southbank area) and it too is completely free of entry charges. The stated goal of this particular institution is as follows. “It is the only major public art gallery in Australia focused on commissioning rather than collecting.” For that reason, there is a non-stop stream of cutting edge exhibitions to entice those interested in contemporary art.

This three-part article on frugal travel in Melbourne has barely scratched the surface of your options for places to stay, places to eat, sights to see, or walks to enjoy. My intention was to allow the reader to fine-tune their trip according to their interests and needs. I also hoped to let you understand that absorbing the media’s ongoing statement that Melbourne is one of the world’s most expensive cities comes at a cost. It closes people’s minds to the alternatives to big-price-ticket travel — alternatives called frugal travel, budget travel, manageable travel that keep those dollars in your pocket to spend as you choose, not as you must if you are booked into 5 star hotels and are only eating at 5 star restaurants. Frugal travel makes the world a better place for all of us because it gives us freedom and choice.