If you read my site regularly or follow me on Twitter, then you no doubt know that I recently returned from a trip to Israel. It was a remarkable adventure that created memories which I will carry for a lifetime. Given the location and length of the trip, it is even more remarkable that it was the most budget friendly trip I have ever planned.
I started LandLopers for a variety of reasons, one of which was to help people travel more often, more comfortably and more affordably. The opportunities I took advantage of in planning this trip were available to anyone and are not the result of any special deals or offers afforded to just me. I will detail the major cost points of the trip and along with each of these components you will see ways in which you too can travel the world without spending a fortune. (Lord, I sound like an infomercial – Call in the next 5 minutes!)
Without question, the most expensive part of a trip like this is usually airfare. In general, airfare at the time of year in which I traveled ranges from $1,000 – $1,400, for the same itinerary. I paid $277.69 round trip, all taxes and fees included. There is no doubt that this was a phenomenal deal – it costs more to fly to Florida.
I was able to get this special fare thanks to a promotion U.S. Airways ran in June/July 2010. For a week, US Air ran special Twitter only deals for routes all over the US and a few international ones as well. There were many restrictions as well though. Each amazing deal was only available to a limited number of people, usually 15-20, had to be used during a very specific window and were usually originating only from their hubs or airports of interest. That being said, on the last day of their promotion they announced a nonstop flight from Philadelphia – Tel Aviv for $99 each way.
There were no additional hidden fees or fine print tricks related to these deals. My grand total was $277.69 and that was it. There’s no reason why anyone reading this post couldn’t have participated in the offer. The key is how to find out about these deals.
Most people don’t have all day to play around on Twitter – I certainly don’t. I found out about the Twitter specials from the US Airways newsletter. One of the best ways to find deals is to simply ask for them by signing up for newsletters. Long ago, I signed up for the newsletter of every hotel and airline I could find. Do they get annoying sometimes? You bet. But it’s not difficult to click the Delete button, especially when compared to the great deals offered in the newsletters. You also have to be flexible with these deals and keep an open travel mind. The US Airways Twitter deals were restrictive, but I found a way to make it work.
Once I had the airfare in place, I had to find somewhere to stay. My research quickly unearthed the fact that Israel is a pricey country. What I would normally consider average hotels were very expensive and I was shocked at the prices. It took me a while to find a budget travel solution to this conundrum, but just a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave, the muse of travel inspiration paid me a visit.
When I fly, I try to use the same airline in order to maximize miles, as long as it’s the same price as the lowest option and makes sense for my travel destination. Of course it doesn’t always work out and sometimes I have to fly another airline. When I first entered the work world, I opened frequent flier accounts with all of the major airlines and over time, I accumulated a fair amount of miles on several airlines. Not necessarily enough for a great trip but, as it would turn out, more than enough to pay for a few nights at a hotel.
I had miles with two airlines in particular that I knew I would never redeem for airfare and so I used one to pay for four nights in Jerusalem and the other to pay for my Tel Aviv stay. A lot of people won’t bother to open accounts with airlines they only use once or twice a year, but it’s foolish to let these miles disappear. While it may take a few years, periodic use of the accounts can really pay off.
Ok, so far the two major travel expenses were under control. For $277 I had purchased a round trip, nonstop flight to Tel Aviv and 5 nights lodging. Not bad for a week away.
The only remaining costs were incidentals while traveling. I know from past experience that slow nickel and diming on trips can add up to a lot of money. A bottle of water here, a cab ride there and suddenly you have spent a fair amount of cash.
Israel is an expensive country, but I did a good job of keeping expenses down. I first made sure that both of my hotels included breakfast in the rates. I’ve mentioned this before, but free breakfast is pretty common to find outside of the U.S. and is essential when traveling. If you’re anything like me, you usually get up early to go play tourist. Not to sound like your mom, but a proper breakfast really does make a huge difference and there is no reason to pay for it when many hotels include it in the room rate.
I also minimized my use of cabs by walking more and using public transportation. Public transportation obviously varies from city to city, but this is almost always a feasible and low cost way to get around town. Hotel location is also key. Even if it means a few more dollars a night, choosing a well situated hotel will not only save you money in the long run, but a lot of headache as well.
Meals are another budget travel danger area, so I made sure that lunch was always low key. I love street food, so this wasn’t hard for me to accomplish, but there’s no reason to go to a mid-range restaurant for lunch when there are many other low cost alternatives. The best lunch I had in Jerusalem was when I bought a shawarma pita and sat down at the Jaffa gate to people watch. That travel experience was infinitely more satisfying than having generic food at a generic restaurant.
Overall, the grand total for a week in Israel, EVERYTHING included from airfare to an iced coffee at the Café Hillel, was less than $1,000. Not too shabby if I say so myself. But more importantly, everything I did you can do. I wasn’t offered anything special or took advantage of some secret deal. As long you plan, you can find these opportunities too.