On a Budget, a Travel Reporter Learns Invaluable Lessons

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Before I set off on any reporting trip, I conduct weeks of research on where to stay, eat and what to do. I schedule dozens of activities, tours and interviews. My limited budget — this column is, after all, called Frugal Traveler — means I sometimes must move fast and with flexibility.

When people learn that I travel for a living, there are a few things they most often ask me. Here are a few of those questions, answered:

Alas, no. I follow the news in budget travel, reading travel blogs and talking to industry experts for inspiration. I look for destinations that offer travelers one-of-a-kind experiences they won’t regret after seeing their credit card statement. In October, I visited Key West, Fla., where I split a room at a hostel with three strangers, all in the name of cost-effectiveness. Last spring, I traveled to Aspen, Colo., a city known for its luxurious amenities. I stayed at a relatively affordable, family-run lodge and visited art museums for free.

As travelers look to reduce their carbon footprint, I frequently look for places that offer greener and more affordable transportation options. Last summer, I embarked on an ambitious voyage: to see much of Los Angeles — a city known for its gridlock traffic — by subway. I couldn’t use it to reach the Hollywood sign, but I visited most of the city’s highlights, including the beaches of Santa Monica.

Sometimes — but if you’re patient and look for good deals, it doesn’t have to be. For my column, I regularly report on budget-spending strategies, like how to bid on first-class airline seats, avoid pesky resort fees and make the most of Black Friday travel sales. Sometimes, these articles come from my own experiences; I once bid $400 on a business-class upgrade and won. I spent nine hours in the comfort of a lie-flat bed.

I also test out inexpensive offerings that sound too good to be true. In 2019, I saw an advertisement for a three-day cruise to the Bahamas for under $150. I wondered what that experience was like and booked the cruise to find out. For the price of a one-night stay at a moderately priced hotel, the cruise was surprisingly fun; not so surprisingly, “upgrade fees” onboard were in no short supply.

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