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When to scrimp, how to splurge... abroad

    Traveling with kids abroad you won't often see the kid-friendly deals American hotels and restaurants offer. So – with a budget stretched thin by the cost of international travel, you can't really afford to splurge, right? And of course you should constantly keep an eye out for how to scrimp a bit...
      The best way to save is by planning ahead. Travel expenses can be grouped into five categories: transportation, lodging, meals, entertainment, purchases. If you've done a little homework and made reservations in advance of the trip, transportation and lodging expenses can be half of the standard rates.
      Travel
Scrimping
  Airfare – Lots of people are having great success with on-line ticket bargain hunting – but sometimes you'll find all the great deals sold out. Here's a great tip: if the discount ticket you saw advertised is "sold out" when you try for it, try again just after midnight – that's when reservations that haven't been paid for are canceled and become available again.
    Trains –Trains (especially in Europe) are a wonderful way to combine travel and sight seeing. Check season/travel zone/family discounts. Every imaginable combination and variable exists in different areas – find out about those variables before you plot out your itinerary. And sleeping on the train saves on a hotel bill for the night.
Splurging
Car rentals – If you're traveling outside a metropolitan area, a car rental is well worth it. Most car rental agencies have a "weekend rate" that may start as early as 1 p.m. on Thursday and go through late Sunday night. If you plan your itinerary so that you only need car rentals during the weekend-rate period, you can save considerably on rates – and still enjoy that freedom on your travels.
Boats and ferries – Consider over-night boat and ferry trips. Often, the cost of a ferry trip including a sleeping birth is not much above a hotel room – so if you plan that trip from Spain to Morocco or up the heart of England for night-time travel, you'll have the fun of a night "on board."
  Lodging
Scrimping
Season rates – Check carefully for what the "high" "middle" and "low" seasons are for the areas you want to visit. They aren't always the same from country to country or even city to city – by checking out the variables, you can plan a route that takes advantage of "low" or at least "mid" rates and avoid getting stung by "high" season rates. For example, in Venice and Florence, hotel rates can double or triple in high season.
Plan to spend more time in the less expensive areas on your itinerary. You won't want to do without visiting the "must do" spots – but they may well cost twice as much as equally charming but less well-known spots. For example, England and France cost far more than Portugal or the Czech Republic.
Family hostels – Don't laugh, hostels they aren't just for teens and twenty-something travelers. In Great Britain, one summer we stayed exclusively in family rooms that sleep 4, with bunk beds and private baths. One hostel was located in a Norman castle in Wales, one in Inverness (not far from Loch Ness), another 10 minutes from Heathrow airport. Check out Hostelling International.
Splurging
Balancing Act – Location, location, location. Stay in reasonably priced hotels, but upon arriving in Paris, you might want to splurge for a hotel across from Notre Dame, for a memorable experience. Or in London, if you want to be close to Hyde Park, there are very nice high-end family-friendly hotels in Knightsbridge, but there's also reasonably priced hotels in Bayswater, also close to the park. Tip: In all our hotel lists on Travel for Kids, we always include a variety of choices, from modest priced hotels to fancy hotels welcome families.
  Meals
  Consider which places on your itinerary are likely to be the most expensive for meals, and plan on picnics at least once a day. Then, when you're in the less-expensive spots, let the kids indulge in restaurant and cafe meals. Don't scrimp on every meal plan to scrimp where it counts.
Scrimping
Halfsies and sharing While not many restaurants outside of North America offer "kids menus" the alternative is to ask for "a half plate." It is quite common throughout the world to offer smaller portions at a reduced price to accommodate children, snackers, the elderly. Or ask to split a dish (there will probably be a modest charge for the extra plate – but it beats paying for two full meals your 6 and 9 year old barely touch...)
Picnics – In most parts of the world, breakfast is a simple but elegant meal. Why not skip the hotel restaurant and go in search of some really good coffee, duck into a bakery and let everyone pick out their own bun or roll, stop by a deli and get a little local cheese, some wonderfully ripe fruit. You'll mingle with the locals, discover special treats and relax in a wonderful park to savor all your finds while enjoying the scenery. Actually, this tip is great for all times of the day.

Museums and department Stores – When you're planning a trip to a museum or a shopping expedition, ask the concierge if there's a restaurant or cafe there. Many museums and some department stores have inexpensive cafes attached that offer simple meals – if you plan the expedition close to lunchtime, it will give you a great break for touring, and you won't have to "hunt" for your next meal.

Splurging

Afternoon Tea – Most hotels and many fancy cafes in Europe offer elaborate "teas." This isn't a bag of black tea in a white cup – it's a meal meant to be eaten in the late afternoon that can consist of sandwiches, pastries, cheese & fruit plates. Have fun going somewhere really ritzy and indulging everyone in all that wonderful elegance without the cost of an exorbitant lunch or dinner in the same room.

Location – If you are traveling through different areas, why not plan to enjoy a really wonderful meal in a lakeside restaurant, mountaintop resort, or elegant mid-town spot when you're in a less pricey stop? Let yourselves indulge where it doesn't hurt! The kids won't know that dinner for five in that beautiful Spanish village costs 1/3 of what tea was in Paris – they'll just remember the elegance of white table cloths and waiters in black jackets.
  Tip: For more ideas about meals while traveling, read our "Tips for eating out - How to have fun and save money."
  Shopping
  Who doesn't want to come back home with a dozen mementos of your grand tour? Well – but those Venetian glass bottles, French tapestry pillows, and Swiss clocks may lose their charm when the Visa bill and the reality of your home decor come back into focus.
Small things count – Let kids pick out things that appeal to them, some of the least expensive things are those that the kids treasure most, wooden carvings from Costa Rica, miniature bronze golems from Prague, black London taxis, dolls in traditional costumes from Ecuador, fluffy llamas from Peru.
Plan ahead – Do a little research and find out what each spot on your itinerary is famous for making. Everywhere has pride in some special craft – crystal or textiles or carvings or leather goods. Add to the adventure by finding out about factory tours – while the factory store may or may not have "bargains," it is fun to buy something right after you've seen it made! The kids will love it, whether it's musical instruments or rugs.
  Entertainment
Last minute deals – Theaters, opera houses, music halls around the world offer discount (usually half-price) tickets to people willing to buy in the last 15 minutes before the curtain goes up. Whether you're going to the National Theatre for a wonderful play in London, or an evening of opera in Austria or Italy, you can indulge in some of the most glamorous places on earth at a discount by going last-minute (especially on "off" days Monday through Thursday). You may not even have to wait for last minute: throughout Europe theater is not nearly as expensive as what we pay in New York, Chicago, San Francisco.
travel for kids | travel tips | when to scrimp, how to splurge
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