Sunday, January 1, 2012

How To Be a Frugal and Fabulous Jetsetter

Frugal and fabulous. Do they belong in the same sentence? Absolutely, especially if you’re a travel junkie who’s feeling the pinch of the recession-or, let’s face it, the sucker punch of the recession-and realizing you will go insane if you don’t get away somewhere, somehow, soon.

My travels, for both business and pleasure, have taken me to Berlin, Beijing, Amsterdam, London, and Brussels, to name just a few places. And seeing my family typically involves flying everywhere from Atlanta to D.C. to Omaha. Along the way, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that have helped me enjoy my trips to the fullest without completely killing my budget. 

Off-season travel can be AMAZING and very affordable 

If you want to travel overseas, going during the off-season, like winter, can be a great bargain. Ticket prices are jaw-droppingly lower during winter months than the summer, when most European cities are mobbed by tourists and can feel like giant, sweaty amusement parks. My husband and I found tickets for a January trip to Istanbul that are comparable to what you would pay to fly from D.C. to Seattle. Last year we spent Christmas in Berlin, where we not only enjoyed deeply discounted hotels, but we also had the city’s sights to ourselves, often waltzing into amazing museums that under normal circumstances would have had hour-long lines. It was so nice to linger in front of art works and artifacts and really take them in without visitors moving us along or blocking our view.

There is also something magical about a city in its bare-bones simplicity, without the distraction of crowds, something that makes it easier to meet and talk to people who live there, to walk up and down the streets and really see it. There are so many places I want to visit, and I love savoring the sights, culture and community of international cities during the off-season, when things are typically less expensive. 

Pack light and curate clothing carefully 

Travel is about completely immersing yourself in the world around you. You can’t do that if you’re stressed out hauling around a couple of heavy suitcases, a carry-on, your purse or briefcase, etc. And really, few people can afford to have that much stuff, with those hefty fees airlines charge us to check our bags. If you have a connecting flight, who wants to give the airlines an opportunity to lose your luggage? Not me.

When I fly, I try to pack everything in one of those rolling suitcases that are just small enough to pass carry-on regulations (be sure to check the specific regulations of the countries where you’re traveling ahead of time, as they can be different from place to place). I accomplish this by bringing a few basic black pieces that don’t require dry cleaning and can work well with colorful accessories like scarves and statement necklaces, which are much lighter and easier to pack in abundance. If I do bring a few clothes that aren’t black, I keep them in the same color range, like blue or purple, so I can mix and match and wear them in different ways. If I’m staying in hotels, I bring a tiny bottle of Woolite, so I can hand-wash my clothes in the sink and wear them over and over again rather than pay to send out laundry. Yeah, washing stuff by hand isn’t super glamorous, but smelling clean is! If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll bring this pair of snug black tights that are lined with fleece and look great with dresses and skirts but can double as an extra layer under pants. A simple black merino wool cardigan, to throw over a T-shirt or a dress, is also good. You can find merino wool at stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s if you look around carefully, and it’s a fabulous find because it’s so light but very warm.

Shoes are the hardest part ... it’s difficult to decide what you have room to bring with limited space. Last year, I invested in a pair of Salomon weatherproof knee-high black boots that are comfortable, can be worn with everything and will hopefully last several years. I also tend to bring one pair of heels for dressier occasions and maybe my running shoes, if I think I’ll be able to squeeze in a workout while I’m traveling. I usually wear the bulkiest pair, like my boots, on the plane, so there’s more room in my suitcase, and stuff my other shoes I pack with smaller items, so every bit of space is used. Whatever shoes I bring, they all have to be comfortable, as I tend to walk everywhere and don’t have time for blisters, and they all have to go with my limited wardrobe.

There are a few beauty products I swear by that go with me everywhere, and save room in my tiny plastic bag for other stuff: Smith’s Rosebud Salve, which can be everything from a lip balm to a moisturizer on rough patches of skin. Benefit’s benetint rose-tinted lip and cheek stain, which goes on beautifully and is very natural looking. Benetint is nearly $30, but my current bottle has lasted me several years. I also love wearing perfume for special occasions, like a night out with my husband in a foreign city! Thierry Mugler’s Angel is my favorite, but you better believe I don’t tote that expensive, star-shaped hunk of glass in my luggage! Instead, I measure out a non-scented lotion, like Neutrogena’s Norwegian formula lotion, squirt some perfume in it and mix it up a bit, and voila, I’ve got my favorite perfume and a lotion in 3 oz.! 

Eat well and stay healthy 

If you are traveling overseas, you don’t have to torture yourself by trying to eat the meals they serve you on flights, which can be truly disgusting and unhealthy, especially during those twilight hours when your body isn’t sure what time it is. Instead of forcing down airline food, I'll stash a plastic spoon and one or two of those portable paper organic soup cups in my purse and ask the flight attendant for hot water, so I can hydrate them. I also sometimes brown-bag snacks from home like apples or nutrition bars, so I don’t have to buy overpriced airport food while waiting for my flight.

I’m a huge foodie and enjoy great meals when I finally get to my destination, but if I need to, I’ll splurge on cocktails or wine, and eat an appetizer instead of an entree, to savor something delicious but less expensive. I also drink tons of water and have a few packets of Emergen-C with me at all times, which I can down if I feel a cold coming on. 

Live in the world, not on it 

Don’t be afraid to walk around and take public transportation in the city where you're traveling, provided those areas are relatively safe. You can learn and experience so much more when you get out there and explore on your own, without a tour bus or taxi separating you from what’s going on around you, not to mention save money on cab fees. Exploring cities on foot also means burning more calories, meaning you’ll work on maintaining your weight while enjoying amazing meals.

Read up on places and their history, check out local websites and news, keep your eyes out for random fliers advertising events that might interest you. Don’t rely just on what guidebooks tell you to visit, but what catches your eye and what you hear about on the street. Wandering is the best, and often leads to the greatest adventures and memories. If you’re going to a country where residents speak a different language than you do, be sure to learn some phrases, especially hello, goodbye, please and thank you. In the end, you’ll probably make some terrific new friends who will appreciate your interest in their country and who will invite you back to stay with them-for free!

So these are some of my travel tips I’ve learned over the years. What are yours? Share them in the comments below! And get inspired for your next trip by enjoying this "Jetsetter" playlist on Spotify.


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Joy said...

Love the tips! I totally agree with packing light the more we travel. For my 24-day trip in the U.S., I packed 2 pants, 5 lightweight tops, 2 cardigans, 1 boots and 1 tennis shoes. Clothes that can be layered together always work & provide more room and options. Luckily, I could do laundry while I visited family and friends.

See ya soon! =)

Katherine said...

Great article. Well written and great tips! Thank you! :)