Sometimes you splurge during a trip because a unique opportunity presents itself right then, right there. I splurged on a day trip to Greenland, for example, because I happened to be nearby in Iceland and when else was I ever going to get to Greenland? My husband and sons splurged on an excursion deep inside an Icelandic volcano because it was the only place in the world they could do it. But there are opportunities that arise during every trip to make it significantly better without paying significantly more. Here are 10 tactics that travel experts and savvy frequent travelers use to upgrade a trip when they don’t have a luxury budget:
- Replace dinner with lunch as your blow-out meal.
If you want to try a famous/trendy/hot restaurant, go at lunch, when prices are lower but food quality is the same.
—Ed Perkins, contributing editor, Smarter Travel
- V.I.P. yourself at the airport.
If I don’t have automatic access to an airline’s V.I.P. lounge and my layover is longer than three hours, I will happily look into the local airport’s version of a V.I.P. lounge. In Ecuador, for example, V.I.P. lounge access can be had for as little as $15.
—Allie Almario of Myths and Mountains
- 3. Bypass lines.
Avoid long lines at top sights with multi-museum passes in cities and skip-the-line or advance-ticket purchases.
—Martha Rhodes of Travel With Martha
- Book lunch or a spa treatment and stay for the afternoon.
I sometimes book a lunch in a five-star hotel, then spend time by the pool reading and having a beverage. Or I’ll book a spa treatment at a place that lets me use facilities like the pool and sauna before or after.
—Michelle Snow of Zengrrl
- Expedite your airport arrival.
If you’re flying more than 12 hours in economy, arrange an airside VIP meet and greet. You will come off that plane feeling like a zombie, and there is no better way to start off a trip than to have a friendly representative holding a sign with your name to take your handbags, whisk you to the front of the customs and immigration line, and get your bags off the belt. It’s usually just $100 to $150 and will start your trip off on the right foot.
—Louisa Gehring of Gehring Travel
- Hire a guide for less.
Go on a small-group tour to share the cost of a guide.
—Steve Solosky of The Traveling Professor
- Picnic like the locals.
The best way to upgrade a trip on a slim budget is to stay away from pricey restaurants. You’ll dive deeper into the local culture and eat better if you go to a grocery store or neighborhood market, buy what the locals are buying, and have your meal in a park.
—Chris McGinnis, founder of Travel Skills
- Find inexpensive ways to get inside expensive places.
I typically look for an alternative way of seeing a popular attraction. For example, if you can’t afford box seats at the opera, take a tour of the opera house earlier in the day, or catch a lunchtime show.
- Think brunch.
If I’m at a less expensive hotel, I will upgrade my trip by at least having breakfast at the closest luxury 5-star property. In Rio, that would be al fresco at the Pergula Restaurant next to the legendary pool at the Belmond Copacabana Palace. The breakfast buffet is enormous—it really counts as brunch—and I won’t have to eat again till dinner.
—Jill Ann Siegel of South American Escapes
- Upgrade your airline ticket one way.
Go from the cheapest seat on the plane to premium economy, even if it’s just one way.
—Joe Brancatelli, editor and publisher of Joe Sent Me
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