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7 Tips for Planning a Budget-Friendly Family Trip This Fall

Anthony Quintano/ FlickrBright colors, brisk air, thin crowds and reduced rates inspire families of all ages, styles and tastes to get out of town each autumn. After all, if you’re not planning a road or camping trip filled with plenty of stargazing, hiking and quality time in the great outdoors, you’re probably toying with the idea of taking the kids to a convenient, affordable and fun fall-break locale. And with the shoulder season ushering in plenty of hotel deals and airfare steals, it’s hard to pass up the chance to enjoy spectacular scenery, autumn activities and valuable bonding time. With some help from family travel experts, U.S. News found seven ways to organize a cost-effective family adventure this fall.See: Best Fall GetawaysVisit Business-Friendly and Off-the-Beaten-Path DestinationsIf you want to plan a budget-conscious getaway this autumn, visit less-frequented destinations. “If you’d like to go to Europe, for example, look for flights flying into various off-the-beaten-path cities rather than booking a flight into always popular Paris,” says Colleen Lanin, author of “The Travel Mamas’ Guide.” And in terms of clinching the best deals, she advised heading away from the crowds. “Leaf-peeping season in the East is at a premium in autumn,” she explains, while Caribbean cruises tend to be discounted at this time of year. And if your heart is set on planning a Hawaiian retreat, now is the time to book. “September through December is a fabulous time to head to the Aloha State during their low season,” she says.Conversely, if you want to plan a stateside family getaway during the shoulder season, head to major resort destinations and historic spots for the best deals, advises Clem Bason, CEO of goSeek. The trick for snagging a deal is conducting a few searches now to scope out the best weeks before or after a major convention, he explains. “If you don’t hit those convention windows, it’s much cheaper in the fall.”Another great option for families traveling on a budget: snow-sport locations. Kyle McCarthy, co-founder and editor of the Family Travel Forum, notes that families can reserve condos with amenities like hot tubs and pools and embrace harvest festivals and activities without the hefty price tags during prime winter season.Rack Up RewardsEven if you’re an infrequent leisure traveler, enrolling in a rewards program is an easy way to increase your odds of securing deals, upgrades and other membership privileges. Bason recommends considering signing up for a credit card with your preferred airline to quickly earn rewards and benefits.Lanin suggests investing in loyalty programs with each hotel chain and rental company you use. “Points can rack up quickly, particularly if you stick with the same brand for multiple trips. Plus, sometimes you receive a discount or upgrade just for signing up,” she says.See: 8 Budget-Friendly Places to Visit This FallLook for Low-Cost Carriers and Book Early”For flights for families, I think the primary thing is to book as far ahead as you can during a fare sale,” explains Bason, noting that low-cost carriers like Southwest are a smart option for those traveling with kids because the average ticket prices are significantly lower than other airlines. McCarthy also advises cross-comparing rates among low-cost carriers to find where affordable flights are headed.Once you decide where you want to go, Bason and Lanin advise locking in your flights early and purchasing tickets on a Tuesday or Wednesday to clinch the best deals. Searching for alternative airports nearby can also make a major price difference, they add.Hit the RoadIf your heart’s not set on traveling to a far-flung locale that requires flying, planning a road trip can be a less stressful and more cost-effective alternative. “If a desired destination is within driving range, it’s almost always cheaper to drive than to fly, especially when traveling with multiple family members,” Lanin explains. Beyond the cost benefits, road-tripping also affords plenty of other advantages, such as ample attractions and pit stops to let kids release any pent-up energy. “Plus, if the kids throw a tantrum or act up, they’re only driving their parents crazy as opposed to a plane full of other passengers,” she says.McCarthy echoed similar sentiments. “For the vast majorities of parents, road trips are a less hassled option than traveling with kids. When they cry, you don’t get the evil eye from all the warriors on the plane.”And if you’re considering renting a car, Bason suggested reserving your vehicle on Costco Travel, which is cheap and fully refundable if you decide to switch your plans later on. You can also rely on helpful apps such as GasBuddy to find the cheapest destination to fill up the tank, he says.See: 7 Tips for Planning a Budget-Friendly CruiseKnow When to GoPlanning your trip at the right time is key to eliminate overspending. “For most destinations, September, October, early November and early December are very affordable times to travel in terms of airfare and hotel rates simply because children are back in school and people aren’t traveling as much as they prepare for the holidays,” Lanin says. Once you’ve determined where and when you want to travel, Lanin suggests monitoring airfares and setting up alerts with booking sites like Kayak, which analyzes pricing data to estimate whether fares will increase or decrease in the following week and eliminates extra trip-planning-induced stress for securing cheap seats.Just as important as knowing when prices drop is knowing when destinations will be less crowded, explains McCarthy. She suggests staying “flexible about the dates and the days of the weeks you can travel.” For example, if you want to travel to places with Halloween attractions, she suggests traveling earlier rather than peak season from mid- to late-September. And if you want to check out a college town with the kids, skip a visit during a gameday weekend, she advises.Stock Up With SuppliesTo reduce extra out-of-pocket expenses on the road, at the airport or at your hotel, Lanin advises packing a “stash of travel toys, books and games,” which will not only trim costs, but will keep children entertained throughout the journey. She also recommends bringing along travel snacks. “Packing meals and snacks for flights and road trips saves money and guarantees you can eat when you want, without waiting for the flight attendant and hoping there is food available on your flight or needing to drive for miles to the next restaurant,” she says.Rely on Resourceful Sites and AppsBeyond taking advantage of websites to compare hotels and flight prices, relying on smart travel apps can help you save money throughout your trip. Undercover Tourist can help you score discounted theme park tickets, while TripIt can help you organize your trip and TripIt Pro can send you real-time notifications to help you stay ahead of flight delays and cancellations, among other features. Another navigation app Bason recommends adding to your arsenal: Waze.Liz Weiss is an editor for the Travel section at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+ or email her at eweiss@usnews.com.
Source: Hotel RSS Feed

A magical moment in Monaco

A magical moment in Monaco

Exploring Monte Carlo on any budget

I’m inside the Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Monte Carlo, in Monaco. It is a cavernous church with tall, white stone walls, arches, and pillars. Gold-plated murals line the domed ceiling. Stained glass windows portray biblical tales. Rows of maple brown pews are adorned with red velvet cushions. And the priest’s words are echoing off the walls, making it very hard for me to understand his French.

As I sit among friends in a row of pews and crane my neck to see the stunning bride and groom awaiting the moment they’ll embrace, I can’t help but to feel like I’m living in a fantasy. Most of the time when I am in a place like this, I’m simply passing through as a tourist. But today, I’m taking part in a modern personal celebration in a venue built in the 1800s.

It is here where the royal ceremonies of Monaco take place. Princess Grace and numerous members of the royal lineage are also interred in this very cathedral. But also, local citizens are married here year-round. And I’m here to see one of those weddings.

After the ceremony, the bride and groom make their dramatic exit. Pink and green tissue paper hearts are thrown into the air. More than 100 onlookers, both invitees and passersby, applaud as the blissful couple kisses one more time for all to see.

The author standing in front of the prince's palace in MonacoThe author standing in front of the prince’s palace in Monaco

With the Mediterranean Sea glistening behind us, the scene is nothing short of magical.

Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world (Vatican City is No. 1), wedged inside the French Riviera with France and the Mediterranean Sea as its only borders. The district of Monte Carlo has been popular with the rich and famous for centuries as a place to spend big bucks on gambling and luxuries. But the city is not just for the upper class; anyone can come here to take in the ambiance and play royalty for the day.

Whether or not you spend a penny, walking around the small town of Monte Carlo just makes you feel elegant. The vista of leafy hills and massive homes looking out over a bay flush with yachts of all sizes is mesmerizing.

The palace at the top of the hill, just steps from the cathedral, is the prince of Monaco’s actual residence and is open for tours. The winding passageways that make up much of Monte Carlo’s old town are home to restaurants, specialty shops, and public park spaces with stunning views.

Viewfinder Tip: To save money, stay in a hotel in France or Italy and drive or taxi (or yacht!) into Monte Carlo for the day.

There are other ways to experience this city on the cheap. It is easy to peak into the lives of high rollers in action at the Grand Casino. The Opera House, built in the 1870s, is another jaw-dropping marvel with its ornate moldings, murals, and an enormous sparkling chandelier. Finally, Monte Carlo by night is nothing short of majestic.

Once you’ve had your fill of Monaco, it’s simple to hop on over to France and the French Riviera. Nice can be reached by a half-hour-drive. What’s more, the Italian border is only 40 minutes away.

Finally, if you want to have an experience like mine at the cathedral, stop in at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. for mass. No, you might not get to witness a wedding. But you will get a slice of real life in Monaco. And it won’t cost you a dime.

How do you like to travel on the cheap?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com

The magic of South Island New Zealand

The magic of South Island New Zealand

Capturing the beauty of New Zealand in photos

New Zealand has one of the most striking and diverse landscapes on earth. When traveling around the South Island, you’ll be treated to incredible views that change before your eyes with every turn. Between the striking mountain range known as The Remarkables, giant fjords of Milford Sound, and the rolling farmlands filled with grazing sheep, every scene will take your breath away.

It’s easy to travel around the South Island; just rent a car or hop on a tour bus. Out and about, you can enjoy natural beauty as you hike one of the many trails, take part in a heart-pounding adventure, or revel in a relaxing boat journey that showcases awe-inspiring scenery.

You can see a lot on the South Island in a relatively short time. New Zealand is a small country that packs a huge punch. This collection of photos not only showcases the spirit of the island, but also (hopefully) awakens your senses and gets you dreaming of traveling to a far-off land. 

Sunset

Sunset

While camping on a beach on the South Island, we were treated to this spectacular sunset. It was just one of the incredible views we saw during our six weeks of travel there.

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders

The Moeraki Boulders are giant spheres scattered along Koekohe Beach. The beach is a protected area that is fascinating to explore. These unique rocks were created over the course of 4 to 5 million years. When you see them with your own two eyes, it’s difficult to believe that they weren’t manmade.

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

New Zealand is blessed with many beautiful lakes and Lake Wanaka is one of the more famous lakes in the country. You can do lots of adventures in the area, including hiking, canyoning, climbing, and skydiving. It’s also a popular spot in the winter for skiing!

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is a gorgeous stop on the South Island and a popular tourist destination. I’ll never forget riding a bicycle into a nearby town and witnessing the vivid turquoise waters. We traveled part of our New Zealand Adventure with The Flying Kiwi and they offered bikes to use during the hop-on/hop-off tour.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is an massive fiord in the far southwest of New Zealand. It’s been rated one of the top travel destinations on Earth, and is the most popular attraction in all of New Zealand. A boat trip on the sound is a must.

Whale-watching

Whale-watching

The chances of spotting a whale in Kaikoura are so good that if you don’t see one, you’ll receive an 80 percent refund on your whale-watch trip. During our excursion, we saw several whales, including a sperm whale, humpback whale, and a pod of killer whales.

Pilot a stunt plane

Pilot a stunt plane

This ultimate extreme adventure can be done in Abel Tasman with U-fly Extreme. In mid-air, you take controls of the plane with the guide of a pilot, and you flip, spiral, and dive through a series of aerial acrobatics. Truly an experience you’ll never forget.

Kayaking

Kayaking

An incredible way to explore the coast is by kayak. There are several places you can go sea kayaking on the South Island. This photo was taken at Abel Tasman.

Skydiving

Skydiving

New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and you can go skydiving in nearly every major tourist destination. If you want to try skydiving at some point in your life, this is the place to do it. Make sure to have the tunes chosen for your video soundtrack, as most skydiving operations prepare (and sell) videos of you flying through the air.

Queenstown

Queenstown

New Zealand is considered the adventure capital of the world, and Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand! Bungy jumping was invented here by AJ Hackett, and there are three different bungy jumps in the area. There also is paragliding, sky diving, jet boating, and canyoning. The adventures go on and on around this popular South Island destination. I can’t wait to see what they invent next!

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, and a guided glacier walk here is as thrilling as it gets. Professional guides keep you safe and sound as you check out crevasses, giant snow caves, and jagged ice. Don’t try to walk this glacier alone; it take a professional to navigate all the hazards of moving ice.

Beautiful scenes

Beautiful scenes

Simply driving around the island is an adventure. We spotted this incredible view from the side of the road and had to pull over to take a photo. The backdrop of mountains with sapphire blue waters and sheep in the foreground captures the essence of New Zealand perfectly.

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

This author has either a relationship with, or received other compensation (which may include monetary or in-kind compensation) from, the product or service providers that are the subject of this post.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com

Top tips for a Rio de Janeiro trip

Top tips for a Rio de Janeiro trip

Getting to know Brazil’s second-largest city

On Corcovado Mountain, the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks Rio de Janeiro, “the Marvelous City.” Choro beats pulsate along the coastline, as volleyballs fly over beach nets and the sweet smell of caramelized popcorn lingers around food carts. As Brazil’s second-largest city, this vivacious seaside spot is bursting with energy and is waiting for you to visit.

Tourist attractions
The Brazilian shoreline is a mecca for sun worshippers and beach babes. Copacabana Beach has a reputation for boasting one of the most scenic coastlines in the world, while the trendy Leblon and Ipanema beaches tie for second place. These vibrant beachfronts are scattered with bronzed “cariocas,” spontaneous dance parties, and fresh coconuts for sale.

Tourists also flock to Sugarloaf Mountain, or “Pao de Acucar.” This peak, which stands at the mouth of the Guanabara Bay and the Atlantic Ocean serves up epic views of the city. Some hop into the cable cars at Praca General Tiburcio to arrive at the summit in minutes, while the adventurous rock climb and clamber to the top.

Cuisine
Meat lovers often chow down at churrascarias. Serving up Brazilian-style barbecue, these steakhouses pride themselves on quality meat and professional service. Pick the “prato feito,” which is a set meal with meat, rice, fries, and salad, or order “feijoada;” a stew with beans and meat.

Looking for some street eats? Follow the lure of churros to the food vendor clusters. Snack on some “pipoca,” a sweet and salty twist on traditional popcorn with condensed milk, cheese, and bacon toppings. Or go for the flaky, deep-fried pastries, “pasteis,” which are stuffed with meat and cheese. “Quiosques,”or food stands, are also scattered along the shore, where the locals rave about the fresh coconut water and fried shrimp.

Viewfinder tip: After a day at the beach, join the locals and watch the sunset from the seawall at Bar Urca.

Budgeting
Unfortunately Rio de Janeiro isn’t as cheap as many other South American cities. However, it’s still possible to travel around this Brazilian spot without breaking the bank. For starters, avoid booking a trip during New Year’s Eve and Carnival. Sure they’re the most colorful, festive times of the year, but they’re also the most expensive. Brazil’s summer, which runs December through February, often sees more tourists and higher hotel rates. For fewer crowds and cheaper accommodations, consider a visit between April and June or September and October.

For everyday budgeting, street food can help cut costs, as will taking public transportation. Hop on the Rio subway system or the Frescao buses. At night, avoid walking and hail a taxi instead. Always ask the cab driver for the price of the fare before committing to a ride.

Safety
Much like when visiting any bustling city, keep your guard up and be aware. Don’t flash valuables, and avoid walking alone on empty streets, especially in the evenings. Some areas, such as “Aterro do Flamengo,” Flamingo Park, are picturesque, but dangerous, so it’s best to stay in a vehicle when exploring these areas. Also, when visiting popular attractions such as Christ the Redeemer, don’t get adventurous with alternative means of transportation—stick to the trains.

Rio de Janeiro is home to a number of “favelas,” or slums—some of which are safer than others. Before venturing into a favela or other destinations, speak with the hotel concierge or a tour guide for additional safety tips and advice.

What other travel tips do you have for an adventure in Rio de Janeiro?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com

Falling in love with Tallinn

Exploring the magic of Estonia’s capital city

When it comes to travel, so many times we make excuses as to why we shouldn’t visit a destination. It’s too expensive. It’s too far. It’s too dangerous. For us the best experiences have come from ignoring all the reasons why we shouldn’t go, and instead embracing the glorious adventure and unknown. Some examples: Watching the border-closing ceremony between India and Pakistan, sleeping under the stars in a desert in Dubai, and getting magical tattoos in Thailand. It’s hard to believe that we even considered missing out on these life changing experiences.

Our trip to Tallinn, in Estonia, was no exception. Estonia never really was a country we had considered visiting, but after spending a week in Finland, we realized we had some extra time. We talked with some locals and learned Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn was a short two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki.

We weighed our options. We were pretty exhausted from the previous week in Helsinki and our funds were running low. Staying in Finland meant we would have some much-needed downtime. It also meant we could save money by not traveling for a few days, and that we could explore more of Helsinki on our own. Still, visiting Estonia was a chance to see a new country! And it was only a two-hour ferry ride away!

Knowing this opportunity might not present itself again, we thought, “Let’s do it!” Before we knew it, we were aboard our Viking Line ferry bound for Estonia.

A peek at Old Town Tallinn from Toompea Hill

First impressions

After our quick ride over the Gulf of Finland, our ferry pulled into Tallinn. It was approaching midnight, but we used the Expedia app to book our hotel and scored the same room for three consecutive nights. Knowing relatively nothing about Tallinn, we chose Hotel Bern for its proximity to historic Old Town, free WiFi, and amazing price.

The five-minute taxi ride from the ferry terminal to our hotel had us falling in love with the Tallinn. Even though it was dark, we could still make out the shadows of the city’s stunning architecture. The following two days were full of adventures around Old Town.

Our first meal certainly was quite the experience. We stumbled upon III Draakon and were attracted to the wooden sign out front that declared the restaurant served “a decent bowl of elk soup.” Not being ones to turn down a decent bowl of anything, we cautiously entered the candlelit tavern.

Our first meal at III Draakon

Our first meal at III Draakon

Inside, the place looked like something out of Middle Earth. Medieval music played in the background while patrons lingered in dimly lit corners and finished clay mugs of ale and elk soup. There was no menu, just a few signs scattered throughout the room with words such as, “dragon’s blood,” “sausages,” and “dark ale.”

We approached the woman behind the bar and asked her for two ales, a meat pie, and an elk soup. With an array of meat pies available, the only way to differentiate the pies was to look at the hand-drawn picture of which animal’s meat was inside. I pointed to the one that was clearly a cow. Playing the Medieval theme to the hilt, the server somehow persuaded us to add sausages and pickles to our meal. 

We sat down with our bounty (all for less than US$20) and enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever had. The elk soup was better than decent; if I wasn’t scared of the sassy serving wench, I would have asked her for the recipe. The Ill Draakon experience also was one of the more interactive meals we ever have had; the server gave us each a set of spears that we used to pierce the pickles of our choosing from a big wooden barrel. I enjoyed spearing pickles more than I thought I would.

Further exploration

That incredible first meal aside, we decided to spend most of the rest of our time in Tallinn strolling around Old Town. It was the first time in a while we didn’t have an itinerary to follow, and we relished in being able to explore at our own pace. A few of our favorite stops were the lookout point at Toompea Hill, the colorful and historic Town Hall Square, and the flower market of Viru Square.

Viewfinder Tip: If you’re planning to have a meal at Olde Hansa, talk to one of the costumed characters out front; this person will hand you a coin that’s good for one free welcome drink.

Our last night in town was marked by another glorious meal at a local haunt: Olde Hansa. This restaurant was recommended to us by a number of our followers on Instagram. After stumbling upon it a few times during our walkabouts, we decided it would be the perfect place for our last meal in town. 

Like III Draakon, Olde Hansa clings to the city’s medieval theme. Yes, it seemed a bit touristy, but that was fine with us. History came to life as our server walked us through the menu. Ultimately, we ordered thick meat soup and a wild boar plate. As we dined, the ambiance was enhanced by minstrels playing live music in the grand hall, the intimate candlelight, and the ornate decorations throughout the room. 

We went to Tallinn not knowing what to expect and left with it being one of our favorite cities of all time. This experience proves that sometimes, even if you don’t want to travel someplace new, you need to just take that leap. There might never be a “perfect” time to travel to a specific spot, but if the opportunity arises, you should embrace it with open arms. 

If you could go anywhere on Earth, where would you go and why?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com

What to pack for an Italian getaway

What to pack for an Italian getaway

Dressing tips for a travel wardrobe befitting “la dolce vita”

When I visited Italy for the first time, I was astounded by the aesthetics. Forget fashion—even the pizzas were well dressed! So it’s not surprising that in a country synonymous with style, wardrobe is a way of life, weaving its way into society long before Italian designers such as Versace, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana rose to fashion fame. 

Taking a cue from these runway regulars and the country’s time-honored art of tailoring, Italians focus on quality over quantity. Practically, this means buying fewer investment-piece garments. Instead of shopping for five shirts, three pairs of pants, and a purse over the course of a year, they take a less-is-more approach, carefully selecting one custom-made shirt and one designer pant that they’ll wear for the next 10 years. The next year, a suit they’ll wear for 15 years. And the next year, a purse or a briefcase they’ll tote for 20 years.  

What I love about this philosophy is its simplicity and stark contrast to our North American penchant for “more is more.” Plus, having fewer highly edited outfits means it takes less time to dress!

I employed this less-is-more technique on a summer 2015 trip to Rome. The last day my efforts were rewarded: In a moment of en-vogue victory, a few Romans thought I was a local.

So, here are my packing pointers for a travel wardrobe befitting la dolce vita.

Map your wardrobe

Once you figure out where you’re going in Italy, and in what season, map your travel wardrobe. For example, I went to Rome, the Amalfi Coast, and Capri during summer, so my suitcase was filled with nautical stripes for the coast and flowy silhouettes to stay cool (and stylish) in the Eternal City’s musty heat.

Amalfi Coast

Pack with passion 

Italians are passionate people—from fashion to football—so channel this all-or-nothing attitude in your travel attire. Don’t reserve your perfect-fit tailored pants or red-soled shoes for a once-a-year occasion; bring them to Rome where Italians dress as if they’re runway ready every day. Furthermore, edit and re-edit your suitcase contents before you leave so you’re only tempted to bring your Sunday best.

Be a shoe-in

Don’t flash your tourist card sporting a pair of I’ve-just-gone-for-a-jog sneakers thinking “they’re practical for sightseeing.” Repeat after me: Runners and flip-flops are a no go (and you won’t see any Italians grabbing an espresso con panna looking like they’ve just gone to the gym). Italian-made shoes are iconic for a reason: They’ve managed the near-impossible task of fusing comfort and style. So think like a local and pack for a well-heeled journey.

Viewfinder Tip: Save space in your suitcase (and your budget) to buy one timeless, high-quality item while you’re visiting Italy.

Dolce-ify your wardrobe

Never fear, practical packers! Dolce-ifying your wardrobe does not mean you have to fill a Louis Vuitton trunk, ship it overseas, and dress like Donatella during Milan Fashion Week.

Instead, take cues from the catwalk and add one piece of glitter to your getup. Choose an I-might-be-famous hat and sunglasses combo, a pair of statement shoes, or an unexpected bracelet. I followed these rules and was mistaken for an Italian actress on several occasions!

 

Italy essentials

Strut

Finally, whatever fine-tuned attire you choose to include in your travel wardrobe, strut your stuff. All of the head-turning Italians I spotted had one thing in common (in addition to a fashion-forward ensemble): confidence, which is always in style. 

What are your tried-and-true Europe packing tips?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

This author has either a relationship with, or received other compensation (which may include monetary or in-kind compensation) from, the product or service providers that are the subject of this post.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com

4 European cities with awesome exchange rates

4 European cities with awesome exchange rates

Scoping out the most affordable European destinations

Europe’s charm entices us with the allure of cafes on cobblestone streets, fine wines from the countryside, and adventures around romantic castles. But let’s face it, Europe can be expensive.

Before you nix your dreams of a European getaway and start planning a staycation instead, take a peek at the currency exchange rates. The U.S. dollar has recently gained strength in the European market, and we’re experiencing one of the best exchange rates for travel. Right now, one U.S. dollar (USD) is worth .88 euros (€). While this rate doesn’t suggest that Europe is suddenly inexpensive, it is does mean your dollar will go further, making travel across the pond more affordable. 

Because now’s an excellent time to jump on these lower travel exchange rates, we’ve pinpointed four European destinations where you’ll get more bang for your buck.

Dublin, Ireland

Thanks to the euros to US dollars conversion rate, you can afford another round of Guinness in Ireland’s capital city. Currently, a pint of beer in Dublin is roughly €5, which converts to an affordable $5.58. Meanwhile, a sit-down meal at restaurant will cost around €25 ($28.41). Midrange hotels generally range between €100 and €175, or $113 and $199, which shouldn’t break the bank. With these saving you can splurge on other exciting attractions Dublin has to offer. 

Athens, Greece

If you’re up to date on global news, you’re aware of Greece’s debt crisis. Prices aren’t exactly dirt cheap in Grecian cities such as Athens, but they are lower than those of more financially stable European cities. 

As of now, for €12 ($13.50), you can explore the Acropolis of Athens, while eating street gyros for around €2 to €4, the equivalent of just a few bucks. In terms of Athens’ accommodations, it’s possible to stay at a moderate hotel for between €80 and €150, $91 to $170.

As of post day, Greece’s economy is in austerity negotiations with the E.U. Please check the latest news for current information. 

Istanbul, Turkey

Viewfinder tip: Exchange booths are notorious for having the worst rates. When exchanging money, consider a bank or ATM instead.

Only around five percent of Turkey is actually located in Europe, but its capital, Istanbul, sits on the western edge of the continent. Turkey accepts euros for certain purchases, but its official currency is the Turkish lira (TRY). With the current rate, 1 USD equals 2.67 TRY.

Istanbul is among the cheaper European hot spots. For instance, it would only cost you 30 TRY ($11.05) for tickets to visit Hagia Sophia, the magnificent 6thcentury mosque. There are a number of activities  you’ll be able to afford. Meanwhile, kebabs, Istanbul’s popular street food, won’t cost any more than 10 TRY ($3.68), and mid-range hotels often fall between 185 TRY and 600 TRY; $68 to $220, give or take.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is another city where you can stretch your dollar. In the Czech Republic, some establishments do accept euros, but the Czech crown (CZK) is more widely used. Right now, one USD is the equivalent of 23.98 CZK.

To get a feel for the prices in the capital city, you can tour the Prague Castle for 350 CZK ($14.50), and venture around the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art for 180 CZK, only $7.50. A decent lunch with meat and dumplings will cost around 150 CZK ($6.25), and a lager averages 30 CZK, just $1.25. When it comes to Prague hotels, medium-range lodging is often between 3,500 CZK and 6,000 CZK, or $150 and $250.

Crack open your piggy bank and make those pennies go further. Between the Europe exchange rate deals and international travel deals, right now a trip to these European destinations just may be more affordable than you thought.

What are your tips for saving money while vacationing in Europe? 

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com

Overland adventure from London to Mongolia

Driving one-third of the way around the world, with friends

We always have loved a good road trip. We load up our playlist, stock up on junk food, and hit the open road where we have the freedom to stop when we like or drive through the night. When we heard about a zany overland adventure during which teams drive small cars from London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we knew this was the trip for us. The Mongol Rally is the mother of all road trips.

The saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss,” and when it came to signing up for the Mongol Rally we had no idea of what was involved and what planning needed to be done. We were grateful for this ignorance; had we known the daunting task ahead of us, we may not have signed up.

Driving a car from England to Mongolia over a varied terrain of 10,000 miles is no small task. Add the fact that we were driving a cheap tiny vehicle loaded down with gear and people, and it was nearly an impossible feat. The rules are simple: 1) The car cannot have an engine larger than 1.2 liters, and 2) You need proper paperwork to get through all the border crossings. That’s it.

Because we all were traveling from the United States, our car needed to be purchased in England. Luckily, we found a sponsor from New Zealand who loved the idea of the Mongol Rally and offered to help us out. The sponsor took care of the car. We took care of the rest.

Fellow Expedia Viewfinder Rick Griffin and good friend Sherry Ott, of Ottsworld, rounded out our ragtag team of four. We all put elbow grease into finding other sponsors and planning out the route through 15 countries. We also decided to raise funds for the Christina Noble Foundation, a project that helps orphaned and abandoned children in Mongolia.

Our adventure started at Goodwood Stadium located about 45 minutes outside of London. Here, we started with a lap around the racetrack that is famous for hosting the annual Festival of Speed. The Mongol Rally isn’t exactly about speed, so we kicked off the event with what has been dubbed, The Festival of Slow. 

About 350 cars chugged around the track for an entire day. We were in the middle of the pack, and once we finished our lap, we pulled out of the stadium and hit the road for on the ultimate road trip. 

It wasn’t long before we were crossing the English Channel on route to continental Europe. One of the first challenges was driving an English car (with the steering wheel on the left side) on European roads (where cars drive on the right). Passing was interesting as the passenger had to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic!

Stocked with camping gear and auto supplies, we felt confident we’d reach the finish line. There’s no time limit with this race—you can take three weeks or three months to reach Mongolia, you just have to get your car to make it there. We recommend a six-week period to make it in time for the big party. Most teams reach Ulaanbaatar by then. 

Viewfinder Tip: Learn to drive a manual transmission. It’s a must for driving cars in Europe. 

The first part of the trip was quite comfortable as we drove the paved European highways and stayed in affordable hotels. We stopped to visit friends in Brussels, and even went on a Vespa tour of the beautiful city of Prague.

Once we entered places such as Romania, Ukraine, and Siberian Russia, however, our Mongol Rally experience was another story.

We camped on the side of abandoned roads. We cooked our meals over a camp stove. We filled up our gas tank (and a spare can) every chance we had, just in case we couldn’t find another station for hundreds of miles.

The most difficult part of the Mongol Rally began in Kazakhstan as the highways turned to bumpy roads. On these roads, heavy trucks sank into melted pavement, and deep grooves literally pulled our muffler right off the car. We were held up at border crossings and police asking for bribes.

We dealt with flat tires, broken shocks, and constant twisting of chicken wire to hold our muffler together. All the while, we were packed like sardines into a tiny hot car with sand blowing in the windows and coating everything with a regular dusting. 

Kazakhstan, the land of “Borat,” surprised us at every turn. One day we were camping in a remote field surrounded by nothing but endless dusty terrain; the next day we stumbled upon the modern city of Astana, a metropolis that rivals the likes of Shanghai or Tokyo.

The driving conditions grew ever more demanding as we reached Mongolia, where roads disappeared into lakes and rivers, and then separated into a dozen dirt trails leading in every direction. We had to follow our compass to make sure we were heading east!

The desert heat was intense and the driving was difficult, but we saw places that are nearly impossible to witness any other way.

We drank fermented mare’s milk; a traditional nomad drink of Mongolia known as airag. We munched on hard cheese with local families stopping to say hello. We watched the great horsemen of the Mongolian Steppe round up their herds. We stayed in a genuine ger, the traditional dwellings of the nomadic people. We also met met men on the side of the road holding massive eagles on their arms—the eagles were used for hunting prey. Occasionally, we ran into our fellow Ralliers at border crossings and campsites, where we swapped tales of weeks past.

We laughed. We cried. We fought. We made up.

The Mongol Rally truly is the ultimate road trip adventure. It changed the way we look at the world. Circling a third of the earth over two continents by car opened our eyes to different cultures, friendly people, and an experience that truly showed us what we are made of. We were surprised just how much we accomplished when we only had the land, our team, and our wits to get us through. In the end, we came away with one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.

What’s your dream road trip?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Source: viewfinder.expedia.com