Local budget travel secrets

Most countries and territories have their own local domestic budget secrets that don’t get a lot of press beyond their borders. To call these local travel habits secrets is to miss the point just slightly, as they’re actually widely appreciated and utilized, though by locals. In this sense, they’re the opposite of secrets, even as they remain more or less unknown to foreigners.

This post is designed to work as a companion piece to yesterday’s post, which detailed ten real budget travel tips for the keenly frugal.

1. Gîtes in France. Every region of France sees this inexpensive accommodation option in great numbers. Gîtes tend to be fully furnished apartments or houses, usually in rural locations. Owners live on site or nearby and charge typically very little for stays, which often have be made for a minimum of seven nights. Peruse the Gîtes de France web site and you’ll find many listings for incredibly low rates, like a week in the Ardèche for two for €75 ($98) found during research yesterday. Here’s some simple division: $98 per week for two equals $7 per person per day.

2. Ride share in Germany. Check out Mitfahrgelegenheit.de for ride share information. Many Germans get around the country via this inexpensive and convenient form of transportation, which sees riders connecting with drivers who have open seats that they want to fill. How inexpensive are ride shares? Next-day fares for rides between Leipzig and Berlin start at €5 ($6.50). See this great English-language description of the German ride share set-up. The German-language site is broken down into domestic, Europe-wide, and commuter ride share spheres. Tip: Use the UK drop down to get your information in English and then set your search to relevant locations.

3. Rural tourism in Slovenia. Slovenia’s tourist farms offer very cheap nightly accommodation. Often meals are included in the nightly rate. This official listing includes 260 tourist tourist farms across the diminutive Alpine country. Slovenia’s tourist farms can be compared to neighbor Italy’s better-known agriturismo network, though rates in Slovenia tend to be far lower. Much of Slovenia is mountainous and offers a much better value than comparable Alpine areas of Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. Kmetija Birsa, one of many tourist farms in Slovenia, offers accommodation starting at €25 ($33) per person per night.

4. Spas in South Korea. I defer to Christine Ka’aloa for her suggestion that visitors to South Korea take advantage of the local gender-segregated tradition of the jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse for a restful and budget-friendly night’s sleep. Most jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours a day, and have sleeping areas. According to Ka’aola, entrance fees start around 6000 won ($5).5. Bungalow parks in the Netherlands. Bungalow parks are typically set in rural areas. Some bungalow parks in the Netherlands are low-tech, consisting simply of a number of cottages, while others are over-the-top, with tons of facilities for children. Take a look at D-Reizen’s bungalow park section for a Dutch-language overview of bungalow park deals. One recent deal turned up during research: €92 ($121) for two people for four nights at a bungalow park in the Dutch province of Limburg. Here’s a tip for dealing with the language barrier: D-Reizen operates around 170 travel agencies throughout the Netherlands. Given the widespread English-language abilities of the Dutch, you can explore bungalow park options with a live salesperson at a travel agency.

6. Camping in the Caribbean. This generally expensive region boasts a surprisingly inexpensive (that is, often free) accommodation option: campgrounds. Puerto Rico leads the region with 17 camping sites. Some of Puerto Rico’s campsites are run by municipalities, while others are situated within territorial and national parks. The US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands are also great places to camp, with several sites per territory. In the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique it is possible to camp at a number of campsites; always check with the local mayor’s office in these territories to obtain the proper permits. Trinidad and Tobago’s Department of Agriculture operates a number of campsites, and camping is allowed throughout Tobago.

7. Swedish ferries. Sweden’s big ferry companies regularly offer insanely cheap promotional fares for travel around the Baltic, typically to Åland, Helsinki, and Turku in Finland and to Tallinn (Estonia) and Riga (Latvia). These cruises include both same-day and overnight sailings, and are much loved by locals looking to enjoy a cheap getaway. Viking Line is currently listing “last-minute” fares from Stockholm to Åland from 19 kronor ($2.75), to Turku from 21 kronor ($3), and to Helsinki from 90 kronor ($13). Tallink-Silja is currently promoting a 100 kroner ($14) round-trip fare between Stockholm and Riga. If the prospect of trying to decipher Swedish-language websites has you flummoxed, fear not. English is widely spoken among Swedish travel industry workers, and you can stop by local ferry company offices to find out about last-minute deals.

How can you find great local deals on the ground? First of all, remain flexible and receptive to whatever is especially inexpensive at the local level. Scour local newspapers for mention of cheap travel opportunities. In Europe, package holidays and budget flights are both great examples of the sorts of deals, many seasonal, that usually will not be advertised internationally.

Got a local travel “secret” not mentioned here? Right on. Add it in the comments below.

[Image of a gîte in Guadeloupe: Flickr / Toprural]

Cuba’s Budget-Friendly Accommodation Option: Casas Particulares

Cuba’s casas particulares are already old hat for backpackers and other budget-minded types hailing from outside the US.

Europeans, Latin Americas, Canadians, and others have been digging the casa particular scene since the 1990s, when the Cuban government began to permit private citizens to rent out rooms in their houses to tourists.

Cuba’s privately-owned rooms generally cost between CUC$15 ($16) and CUC$50 ($52) for a double room per night, with a great number clustering in the CUC$20-25 ($21-$26) range.

The casa particular is a budget traveler’s dream: cheap and simple, with breakfast on offer for a few extra CUCs, or convertible pesos. Many casas also provide dinner at a very reasonable additional cost. Some offer private bathrooms; others provide shared facilities. Across Havana’s gorgeous Vedado and Miramar neighborhoods, many casas particulares take up space in gorgeous old mansions on romantic, tree-lined streets.

The casa particular accommodation form bears more similarity to gîtes, the French owner-occupied guesthouse accommodation model than it does to the North American bed & breakfast. The owners are on site or easily accessible, and the vibe is friendly and familiar. Guests feel as if they are staying in a home, not a hotel.

Very clearly (thankfully, even) there is also no domestic Cuban B&B industry churning out chintz and ruffled window curtains for a particular look. You can be fairly sure that your casa particular will be outfitted simply, but beyond that a unified aesthetic will be difficult to identify.

Most crucially for tourists interested in meeting locals and getting a sense of life in Cuba, casas particulares allow for extensive socializing between owners and tourists.

Casaparticularcuba, casaparticular, and cubaparticular also list rooms for rent. The Lonely Planet guide to Cuba also provides a good listing of casas particulares in Havana.