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9 Ways to Travel Overseas on the Cheap

If you can be flexible with dates and activities, you won't have to spend a bundle on your next vacation abroad

My wife and I recently returned from two glorious months of traveling through Eastern Europe. That's the kind of extended international travel adventure we like to treat ourselves to at least every year or two since we became semiretired. But it's also something that sometimes gets me accused of being a cheap-fake, as opposed to a cheapskate.

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Couple in front of the River Thames in London. How to be a frugal international traveler. (Age Fotostock)

It can be cheaper to see the sights using a bike or public transportation. — Age Fotostock

However the reality is that this trip ended up costing us only about $100 per day, total — for the two of us combined — including all transportation, lodging, food, incidentals and sightseeing.

When you consider that when we're at home we have living expenses as well (including a couple of hundred dollars a month just to keep gas in the car), a trip of that length doesn't cost us a whole lot more than we'd spend if we stayed home in Maryland. In fact, sometimes when we've traveled for protracted periods like this we've managed to rent out our house while we're away and actually turn a profit on our trip!

Of course when we travel the world we don't stay in five-star resorts or fly first-class. But we do typically enjoy a level of comfort that's at least on par with the lifestyle we have when we're not traveling.

Over the years we've also mastered some cheapskate tips that make world travel a lot more affordable than you might think. Here's our short list:

1. Maximize credit card reward points and frequent flyer miles

The cost of our round-trip airline tickets from Washington, D.C., to Vienna was a big fat ZERO, my favorite price. We redeemed credit reward points to cover the entire cost of the two tickets. There is no single "best" credit card rewards program or frequent flyer program, because it depends on many factors, including your spending and travel habits. However, you can compare different card offers and frequent flyer programs to find the ones that best fit your needs at websites like CreditCards.com/reward.php and webflyer.com.

2. Get creative with travel routing

We decided to fly round-trip to Vienna because, of the possible arrival/departure points for our journey, Vienna had the lowest airfare options. We then found that by flying through Istanbul then into Vienna, we could reduce the price by an additional $400 per ticket, to a mere $830. On other trips, we've saved on hotel costs by planning our itineraries to stay during the weekends in urban hotels frequented by business travelers — weekend rates are sometimes lower because their main clients are at home with their families — and we've even saved on overland transportation costs simply by reversing our course of travel on itineraries suggested in popular guide books. ("Everyone goes the other way around, because it says so in the book," a private bus driver told me in Guatemala once. "So we charge less this way to get more passengers.")

3. Timing is everything 

Traveling in the off-season (or, in the case of our most recent trip, in the so called shoulder season just prior to the peak season) can make your travel dollars go a lot further. Remember, it's always the off-season somewhere in the world! On our recent trip, we found that lodging and many transportation costs were scheduled to increase by 20 percent or more once peak season arrived, in some cases just a week after our visit. And even a little flexibility in the dates you can travel can result in big savings when it comes to booking airline tickets; we've saved hundreds of dollars on international tickets just by being able to leave or return within a day or two of what we'd originally planned.

4. The lowdown on lodging

For many years, our preference when traveling internationally was to only book lodging arrangements in advance for the first night or two following our arrival, so that we could recover from jet lag without having to find a place to stay. From there on out, we'd follow our noses and find accommodations as we went, which allowed us to get some terrific deals on rooms that would otherwise be vacant for the night. This approach still works well, particularly since we travel in the off-season and prefer inexpensive mom-and-pop establishments, like pensions, B&Bs, hostels, and private rooms/apartments to let, facilities which can't always easily be booked from back home. However, with the advent of the Internet, we now also travel with a mini-laptop computer and use websites like bookings.com and airbnb.com to sometimes nail down places to stay a day or two ahead of time, still allowing us the flexibility to determine our itinerary as we travel and also take advantage of last-minute deals on accommodations.

Next page: Money-saving tips about public transportation, food and more. »

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REUSING HOUSEHOLD ITEMS: Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate, shows you how to save money by reusing household items in surprising new ways. You may never look at old tire tubes, pantyhose, and even used fabric softener sheets the same way again!

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