Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Real Girls Don't Pay Full Price on Travel

One time, while shopping with my mom, she stated: “It’s not enough that I find something I like, I also have to get a deal.” This is a philosophy she passed on to me holistically. I love shopping; I love travelling; I love eating out; but I HATE spending money. Getting a great deal just makes me feel like I've EARNED that thing a little more. Does this sound like you? If so, here some tips on how I've scored some great travel deals: 

  • Put in your time: Start your search early. I’m talking about 3-4 months before your planned trip. Experiment with different departure days or weeks to see if you can find a certain sweet spot (I almost always travel on weekdays).
  • Set a goal: Figure out a good price for you based on the recent rates that also fits your budget. When you see rates close to, or under that price you can let loose on booking. You’ll save yourself time trying to guess how low or high the price will go. Stop price checking after you’ve booked, allot that time to daydreaming about your awesome vacation! 
  • Know your brands: Keep in mind not all hotels, airlines, car rental companies, etc. are created equal. I’d rather spend more money on a company I know is going to treat me right then get the lowest price on an unknown with sketchy ratings. If you are looking at booking with an unknown, do a little research before you pull the trigger. 
  • Start with the deal sites: I have scored many a great rate with Priceline, so they are always my go-to for getting a feel for how much something is going to cost. Techy fun-fact: When using deal sites, tracking pixels are not your friend, so always use the private option on your browser. If a deal site knows you keep coming back and running the same dates, they might not show you their rock-bottom rates. Download a few deal apps as well, sometimes you’ll find mobile-exclusive deals.
  • Don’t forget the source: Compare any deal site prices to the rates on the company website, just to make sure a deal is really the best deal.
  • Go coupon hunting: A simple Google search will turn up useful coupon codes for a lot of major companies. Also, look to see if the company you want to book with is running any contests as these can come with coupons. Over Christmas, Air Canada was running a game where you revealed flight discounts, I played over and over and finally, on the last day, scored a 20% off promo coupon. 

Still too expensive?

  • Location, location, location: It’s the good ol’ rules of supply and demand. Depending on your situation, try looking in nearby bigger and smaller markets. For my most recent trip I was looking at rental car rates way higher than I wanted to pay. So, I switched my hunting ground from directly at the airport to the smaller city where I was staying. The price difference was hundreds of dollars.
  • Try talking to a real person. I was about to book that rental car on a deal site, but I had a technical question, so I phoned their reservation line. The representative asked if I had a discount code, and I told him I did not, but I would love it if he had one I could use. He quoted me a lower price than the deal site, PLUS another $20 off just for asking about a discount. This, in my case, is the key to getting good service. ALWAYS be nice to people who are looking after you. Say please and thank you, remember their names. People like to do nice things for people who make them feel good - be a bright spot in their day. 

Get upgraded

  • Show up early, be nice, dress well, travel alone: Be on your best behaviour in line. On my trip to Germany I was carefully winding my way through the empty cue. A family skipped the rope line and cut me off at the agent. I didn't call them out or act annoyed, I just stood and waited for my (their) turn in line. They got a two minute head start on me, but I got a free upgrade to business class. 

Look for savings elsewhere

  • Sometimes, you can throw your best deal-hunter game at a trip, but you still blow your budget on one of the basics: Hit up your destination’s LivingSocial or Groupon page to see if you can save on local attractions, restaurants or activities. Most major chains throw in a coupon (such as a free appetizer with meal purchase) when you sign up for their e-newsletter.
  • Get happy: If you are travelling to the US, see if any of the bars in the area do happy hour. This is usually a period of time before or after (or both!) the dinner rush where you can score cheap drinks and appetizers.  
So there you go, happy money savings and happy travels!

Do you have a great money saving travel tip? Share it in the comments!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Exploring Rome with Walks of Italy

Taking a walk in a city you have never been to is exciting. You don't know what to expect and feel a sense of history as the place unfolds around you. That's how I felt as I walked past the spectacular monuments that line the streets of Rome; the eternal city with the Pope's house right next door. When I was looking up what to do in Rome, I found myself in need of guidance. I had questions like: Where do we start? What should we see? Why is everything a ten minute walk when you ask locals for directions? Where are the best views of the city? That's where our friends at Walks of Italy came into play. 

We had the privilege of experiencing the Walks of Italy three hour driving tour, one of a rather impressive number of different tours they offer. In a whirlwind of history and beauty our tour guide, Amy, took us in a luxurious limo van to the outskirts of town away from the hustle and bustle of city centre. Here are some of the highlights of the tour, and it all ends with a big bang (literally)!

Our first stop was the Circus Maximus, which used to be the main stage for chariot racing where the audience would sit and watch from the hills.

We stopped by the wonderfully quiet Parco Savello that had a few fountains at its gateway. As we entered, the smell of citrus filled the air. The park is home to dozens of orange trees that apparently produce redundant non-edible oranges. There is a large lookout over the city as well.  It is the perfect place to propose to that special someone, if that's what you're looking to do while in Rome (though my friend Scott chose a different park in Rome to pop the question, read about that here).

At our next stop I was a little puzzled as we pulled up to a giant green door. We were told that it was the Piazza of the Knights of Malta and that we were to bend down and look through a tiny key hole. It may have seemed silly, but when my eye focused on the view of St. Peter's Basilica the hole provided, my breath was taken away.

From there we headed outside the city walls to the ancient Appian Way. The "Queen of Roads" as it's called, is the reason why it's said that all roads lead to Rome. Engineered in the fifth century, it ran from Rome to the Port of Brindisi, along the Adriatic coast, where boats departed for Egypt, Greece and North Africa, among other places. According to Christian legend, it was on the Appian Way that Jesus Christ appeared to St. Peter. 

Our second last stop was the ancient aqueducts, also located on the outskirts of the city. The aqueducts were used to bring water into the city from sources outside of Rome. When no one was around, the area made us feel as if  we were living in ancient Rome, though locals seemed to use the area for jogging and walking. 

For our last stop, we found ourselves at the highest spot in Rome's historical district of Janiculum Hill on a balcony overlooking three soldiers loading a howitzer. The firing of this howitzer signals midday and locals make sure they check their watches when they hear this peculiar alarm go off!

At the end of the tour we were dropped off at our meeting point and said our goodbyes to the nice people we had met. We thanked our tour guide and driver and set out to find a nice Italian lunch.

A post by Chris