Save $$ on International Travel

International travel isn’t cheap.  Even if you’re going to an inexpensive locale, such as Vietnam, (where three meals a day costs about $15) you still need to pay that pricey airfare to get over there. And many locales are anything but cheap. In London, Paris or Rome, consider yourself lucky to snag morning coffee and pastry for 15 U.S. dollars.

When my 16-year-old son and I talked about visiting his friend in Sweden this summer, we were initially put off by the peak season airfare and high hotel prices. But with a little legwork we came up with an itinerary that, while not exactly dirt cheap, won’t break the bank.  

See if our travel strategies make sense for your next trip abroad:

Fly out of an alternative airport

Philadelphia is my home airport. Although I love the convenience of flying out of a Philly, I also frequently fly out of Baltimore, Washington’s two airports and New York City’s trio of airports.

I’m fortunate to have five alternative airports – all offering international routes — within two hours of my home. Most U.S. residents have at least one or two alternatives to their home town airport. Check ‘em out before you book. And look at fares for every airline at the airport. You may need to dig a bit to make sure your search is exhaustive. For example, Southwest fares aren’t listed in Yahoo Travel or other popular travel sites.

For our trip to Sweden, I found the cheapest fare out of Newark, N.J. This will mean an hour and a half drive to the airport but we have relatives who are willing to ferry us there. If we had to pay for a shuttle service, we’d run the numbers to see if this alternative airport was still the best deal.

Fly to an alternative city   

My son’s friend Arvid lives in southern Sweden, an hour’s train ride from the Copenhagen airport. But rail service is excellent throughout Sweden so we also looked at airfares to Stockholm, which is about 300 miles from Arvid’s town. If Stockholm had been the cheaper airport (it wasn’t) we would have planned an overnight in that city to see the sights and recover from jet lag before taking the train to southern Sweden.

 Is American-style lodging a must?

Many international hotels don’t offer the comforts of the average Motel 6 in the U.S. Abroad, hotel rooms can be small, air-conditioning non-existent, mattresses well-worn and walls paper thin. Of course this isn’t always the case – put me up at The Savoy in London or Hotel George V in Paris any day.  

Decide whether you can go with the flow and lodge in a typical European inn, pensione or bed and breakfast or whether you require a cushier (and more expensive) American- style hotel. Sometimes you won’t have a choice – basic accommodations may be your only option.

We’ll be staying in Copenhagen for three nights before heading to southern Sweden. The hotel options in Denmark’s capital city are endless, including such American chains as Marriott, Radisson and Hilton.

Although we’re not a high-maintenance bunch, we did elect to go with the Marriott –chiefly because it offers rooms that are large enough to hold two beds and a rollaway. One of my son’s friends is joining us on the trip and the three teens want to stay in one room. They most definitely did not want to share bedding.

But I did some digging and found a rate that was hundreds and hundreds less than the rack rate (in Danish krones, that is, but a nice savings in dollars, too). Find out how I did it next week in Save $$ on International Travel – Part II.

–Margo McDonough