Jet setting 101: a guide to cheap travel

AMHERST – Is inexpensive international travel an oxymoron? Not for Marcy Yeager.

Yeager, who has been all over the world in her 38 years, told an overflow audience at the Amherst Town Library last week that they can go to London, Borneo, South America or Australia on a budget.

Planning for budget travel is about manipulating time, money and destination, she explained. For example, we all wanted to get out of New England in February, and St. John U.S. Virgin Islands might seem like a good choice: It’s gorgeous, but very expensive.

If you only need a warm place with a nice beach, there are less expensive alternatives, including the Dominican Republic.

Disneyland is the classic family vacation, but it’s not a bargain. It costs about $6,000 for a family of four to go to Disneyland for a week. Compare that to the $4,000 it would cost the same family to go to Belize – for 12 days.

“I understand the draw of Mickey and Minnie, but I chose Belize,” she said.

And saving money does not necessarily mean sacrificing the pleasures of travel, but it can sometimes mean getting out of your comfort zone.

“I like pretty places and things and I like to be selfish and have it all,” Yeager said, but she also likes to push herself physically and does not object to some discomfort when she’s traveling.

Some of the keys to budget travel are flexibility , advance research and using advice from seasoned travelers.

Volunteer vacations can be good, but the well-known ones, like Sierra Club’s, are not bargains. Not long ago Yeager spent four weeks in Peru and Ecudor for $400, which involved four hours a day of work at a local sustainable fish farm.

“It pushed me out of my comfort zone, but the people were kind and the food was phenomenal,” she said.

Language schools, usually a home stay with two meals a day and laundry, can be had for $20 a day and offer total immersion in a language and culture . Don’t worry about not speaking the language, she advises, “They are used to us looking like babbling idiots, “ but do make sure the school you choose offers credit.

If you can handle the idea of a long trip planned at the last minute, many world-wide tour companies have amazing deals, Yeager said. Save email travel advisories for last minute deals and let them sit in a special folder until you’re ready to use them.

Yeager, who is head of the study-abroad program at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts, also talked about ways she puts money aside for travel, including setting up an automatic pay withdrawal system, paying bills with a credit card with a good point system that gives cash back, and generally living more economically. For example, by “reconfiguring date night” with her husband by trading dinner and a movie for less expensive entertainment saved her $500 a year.

And she imposes “silly rules” on spending, such as waiting four days before buying something she has her eye on, increasing the chances she’ll decide against the purchase.

When budget traveling, she advised, small shops and street vendors are the only way to eat, and using local transportation also saves money and so does buying souveners from open air markets instead of shops.

In 1996 she spent three months in Australia because she had plenty of time and a small budget. “The longer the trip, the cheaper,” she says, because airfare is the biggest expense.

Use a company

When both money and time are very limited, Yeager advises the use of world-wide travel companies, like Intrepid Travel, which plans very basic group trips.

The companies are experienced in researching the best, most efficient ways to go. For example, for touring the Netherlands, they have figured out whether it’s less expensive to travel clockwise or counterclockwise.

“Check out both websites and beg, borrow and steal information from them,” said Yeager, who used Intrepid Travel for a month-long trip to Borneo last summer that cost her only $1,500.

Yeager’s presentation, “Jet-Setting 101,” was part of the library’s “Field of Dreams: Baseball, Travel and Anything Chocolate” series for adults.

Some travel tips

How to save big money on your next trip:

? Consider a youth hostel no matter what your age, since they aren’t age limited and most have private rooms.

? Plan while on the road – book first and last nights in hotels and wing the rest.

? Eco-hotels, environmentally-friendly establishments, can be cheaper and offer more cultural immersion.

? Consider a timeshare. Yeager said her parents bought a week at a Las Vegas timeshare, even though they had no interest in being there, but one week of a Las Vegas time share can be traded for eight weeks elsewhere.

? If you want to stay at an all-inclusive resort, find one that’s under construction, because they might be happy to rent any rooms at all at a discounted price.

? Use tour companies in the country you’re traveling, rather than United States companies, and make sure they are registered with the tourist board.

? Check out the last-minute deals on the back of the Boston Globe’s Sunday magazine.

? Group home rentals can be as low as $500 per person for 20 people in an eight bedroom house with two pools, car rental for one week in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

? Consider using different air carriers for a multi-leg trip. To get to Borneo Yeager used three different carriers so air fare was only $1,400.

? Wait until a Tuesday to take a commuter flight in Europe.