Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Travel cheap: Visit a friend or family member

Okay, travel is becoming almost ridiculous this year, thanks to economic factors. The sagging dollar makes European travel crazy-expensive. Record oil prices have caused fuel costs—and therefore air fares—to skyrocket, making domestic travel cost-prohibitive. Those same fuel costs are even pushing local travel—to destinations within driving distance—out of reach, as gasoline prices also hit record levels. Factor in the lackluster economy ("recession," as some call it, though I think the R word is unwarranted), and it's making it hard to travel this year.

So, short of exploring our own backyards, how do we get away affordably? That's easy: visit family and friends. Let's call it "The Year of the Air Mattress" or "The Year of Calling in Favors." Think of how much you can save by sleeping on a friend's couch or crashing on your brother's pull-out bed. Sure, the Sheraton "Heavenly Bed" or a suite at the Marriott would make a more comfortable getaway, but don't let the lack of a concierge and daily maid service keep you from traveling this year.

My brother is planning a trip to New York City for a family of three, and is trying to stick to a budget of $500 or less. Sacrificing a little comfort and using some creativity, they can use Southwest rewards to fly free into Long Island, take the Long Island Railroad to Brooklyn, sleep on an air mattress in my one-bedroom apartment and visit museums for free thanks to my corporate connections.

If you too apply a little creativity and resourcefulness, I'm sure you can think of friends who owe you a favor, family you'd like to visit, or friends-of-friends who'd love to host you and show you around. It may be hard to get around the expense of air fare, but if you can save big by staying with a local (and perhaps even eating in part of the time, for additional savings) and finding free stuff to do, you can still travel in these economic hard times.

Think about it: you can get free room service (your sister-in-law making breakfast); an always-available concierge (your friend answering your 20 questions about what to see and where to go); and complimentary cocktails (your cousin offering you a glass of wine when you return from the day's sightseeing). Maybe you'll have to make your own bed, but how hard is it to roll up a sleeping bag?

Better yet, kick-start this idea of goodwill travel by calling up a friend or family member you haven't seen in a long time and inviting him or her to visit you. If you get the ball rolling, people will start paying it forward by inviting their friends and family to visit, and before you know it, we'll all be traveling on the cheap this year!

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