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DIY Diva: Tips to Help You Travel on the Cheap

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Heyo!  The DIY Diva here.  Even though you’ll see this come the normal time for my column on Friday, October 30th – I am sitting at my trusty computer writing this on TUESDAY, October 27th.  Why, you ask?

Well, I’ll be happy to tell you, if you just wait a bloomin’ second!

This past July I traveled to San Diego to cover International Comic Con for another publication that I write for.  And, in the process of getting to SD I volunteered to give up my seat on my flight from LAX.  Hence – I gots myself a freebie ticket from our good friends at United!  (And, some poor schmuck got home to his family a half-hour earlier.  That’s right, a half-hour, the next flight was in 30 minutes and I pretty much arrived on schedule.)

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I’m cashing in my free tix and winging my way towards the Windy City tomorrow to visit some family and friends as a pre-birthday present to myself.  Though I did promise Editor-In-Cheap and our fearless leader Stu that I’d file my column before I left on a jet plane (don’t know when I’ll be back again… Oh wait, I do know that – I’ll be back on Monday.)  So here I am.  I figured that travel on the cheap would be a fitting topic for this column… And, being a former employee of the India House Hostel (in New Orleans) and someone who’s traipsed about the country with very little cash in her pocket, I do know a few things about how to get the maximum amount of fun out of the minimum amount of money.

Here are my Top 3 Traveling Cheapo Tips:

#1 If you are about to board a flight and the airline asks for volunteers to give up their seat – VOLUNTEER!

Seriously.  If you are not in an absolute dead rush to get where you’re going, give up your seat and collect the freebie ticket.  Those babies are good for a year after they are issued and usually you can fly with very few restrictions.  Depending on where you were going and when the next flight is, if you end up having to travel the next day, the airline will also give you a hotel voucher.

Really.  Free ticket = $300 to $1,000 (depending on where you were going).  Currently freebie tickets are not good for international travel, but for travel in the US?  Priceless.

#2 Hostel vs. Hotel

Unless you’re headed out on a romantic weekend for two (and, even if you are – lots of hostels have private rooms) staying at a hostel is the ultra-cheapo way to board yourself when traveling.  Hostling Pro-tip A — if you’re over the age of 25 and not a student — call the hostel instead of booking online.  Most hostels have an “international travelers or students only” policy, mostly to avoid having to refund grumpy old people who didn’t know that by staying in a hostel it meant they’d be staying in a room with three 17 year olds visiting from Australia.  If you talk to the reservationist and let them know that you understand what it means to stay in a hostel, regardless of age and nationality, they’ll 99.9% of the time go ahead and book you a bed.

Unless they’re an HI Hostel or Hosteling USA — those two chains are universally sticklers for the “rules” — not to mention they’re dry hostels and usually have curfews.  Boo to that, no fun anyhow… you don’t want to stay there.

Hostling Pro-tip B — make sure to ask what kind of linens you’ll be provided with.  You probably will need to take a towel.  (Though most hostels provide bed linen, pillows and a blanket.)  You’re going to also want to ask them if they have a secure locker or safe in which to lock up your valuables.  And, you are going to want to lock up any valuables you aren’t carrying with you on your daily excursions into whatever city…

Here are the benefits of staying in a hostel: If you’re traveling alone, it’s a great way to meet people to hang out with.  If you’re single and ready to mingle, hostels are a hot bed of shag options for both guys and gals.  Hostels are cheap – usually $25 or under per night to book a dorm bed.  Also, the hostel staff will undoubtedly know the best spots to get your cheap on and have fun.  Not to mention, most times, hostels are a great place to hang out and party at, in of themselves.  Most hostels will serve a community dinner or breakfast a couple of times a week.  For between $5-$10 you’ll get an awesome homecooked meal with more food than you can possibly consume.  (When I lived in the India House my friend Eddie used to regularly BBQ chicken, sausages and shrimp to sell w/potatoes and coleslaw for $7.  My friend Tom would make a two egg, two pieces of sausage or bacon, toast and OJ breakfast for $5.)

Hostels are fun-pits of money saving for the broke traveler.

#3 Do your damn research!

You clearly do not have to have $$ to have a good time either in your hometown or when you travel.  Use these here innerwebs to research where  you’re going and what there is to do on the cheap.  Usually putting the words “cheap” and “FREE” plus the name of the city you’re headed to will result in a plethora of resources.  If you’re into things such as Yelp – check out the Talk threads for the city you’re visiting.  Just make sure not to post a “what should I do when I’m in X City” thread… otherwise you’ll endure major innerwebs flaming.  Otherwise, Yelp is a super resource to find out what the locals find to be cool, fun and free.

The most important things to have with you while traveling – whether you have $$ or not – is an open mind and a good attitude about trying new things.  If you make sure to pack those items in your carry-on and use my travel tips judiciously you will have a rocking good time where ever you end up!

For more great travel tips check out How To Travel Practically Anywhere by Susan Stellin or our very own Stu’s Broke Ass Guides!

I’m off like a prom dress!!  Ta, ta!

You can read about Kate’s Chicago adventure on the blog on her website.

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Kate Kotler - DIY Diva

Kate Kotler - DIY Diva

Kate Kotler is a freelance writer and professional blogger. IRL she is a very nice person, regardless of what you might have read about her on the innerwebs. Kate lives in Berkeley with her dog, Max. You can follow her on Twitter @adorkablegrrl


  1. October 31, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    I agree….giving up your airline tickets for a free flight is a great deal. It doesn’t seem like they have overbooked flights as often as they used to.

  2. November 1, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Hey Melissa — weird that you say that, the past three times I’ve flown (w/in the past six months) I’ve been offered free tix to give up my seat on my original flight… (That’s how I got to Chitown to hang w/fam & friends this weekend!!) United especially seems to overbook on quite a regular basis!

  3. November 2, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    glad to see someone writing about how great hostels were…how about a profile on the independents in the USA? We are a lot more fun than HI, more unique looking…and not dry!

  4. Kate Kotler - DIY Diva
    November 3, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Hey Maria!

    I <3 hostels, specifically independent ones — I pretty much exclusively stay at them whenever I travel, unless someone else is picking up the tab for a fancy-schmancy hotel as a treat or there is another compelling reason (needing privacy to work or bone or sleep w/no distractions) to stay elsewhere.

    I'd be happy to schedule a Indie Hostel feature into my column — let me just pitch the idea to Stu. STU DO YOU LIKE THIS IDEA?


    And, not dry is seriously important. I just stayed at the Lucky D in San Diego and had a blast… I will be returning "home" sometime in 2010 to stay at the India House for a week… I've stayed at Green Tortiose and Pac Tradewinds and the Adelaide in SF. I'm constantly looking for other indies that distinguish themselves as awesome to talk up… (What hostel are you at?)

  5. Kate Kotler - DIY Diva
    November 3, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    BTW – the comment above yours was me, I was just not logged into my Super Broke-Ass Stuart dashboard while in Chicago. 🙂

  6. […] have been a couple posts on this site regarding travel tips.  And truthfully, just reading and/or writing them make me wish […]