Forget the recession. Leisure travel just keeps getting less affordable.
Hotels rates, fuel charges, high food costs, and airline fees have had a drastic effect on the budget traveler’s bottom line. Travel is now all but out of reach for those of us on a shoestring budget.
For example, in July 2003, I took my first solo vacation, a four-night trip to San Francisco. I was a recent college graduate, and even with my job, I didn’t have a lot of money. Still, I wanted to go. After many online searches and phone calls I had my trip planned:
Roundtrip airfare on Northwest Airlines from Indianapolis to San Francisco: $200
Four nights at the Adelaide Hostel: $100
Food Budget: $150
MUNI Pass: $5
Airport Shuttles: $25
Now of course this doesn’t include spending money or other costs. The food costs were low because I used the kitchen at the hostel, and I could actually have leftovers.
It was an awesome trip and it was the start of my budget travel adventures. I was able to see the city, meet new friends, get out of town for a few days, and do it all without breaking the bank.
I fear I will never be able to do that again, and many young people will not have the opportunity I had. My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see what budget travelers face today. I was surprised by what I found next.
Same trip, same days, five years later.
Airfare on Air Tran: $271
Four nights at Adelaide: $136
MUNI Pass: $18
Food Budget: $200
Bus Passes: $40
In five years, the cost has gone up $185. That is, if I want to take the Air Tran flight, and I do not accrue any more airline fees. Remember, that $200 flight on Northwest in 2003 had a meal, beverage service, and baggage service was included in the overall price. Today, there could be extra charges for all those items.
It is also contingent on me not getting to San Francisco until 11 p.m. and taking a red-eye flight back. If I want better flight times, and to avoid having to take another day of vacation, it’ll cost at least $750. That now means a $270 difference.
If hostels are no longer my thing, I would need to look for a budget hotel. This would make the price even higher. If I were traveling alone and staying in a decent Union Square budget hotel, like the Adante at Jones and Geary, the nightly rate would be $99 per night minus fees, and the cost of my trip would continue to climb — now around $450.
Hotwire.com may help you find a cheaper hotel, but you have to be careful. Their idea of “East Union Square” migrates into not-so-nice areas, so be careful before you book. Good neighborhood or not, $109 a night for a three-star hotel can still be steep after paying ever-rising airfare costs, and staying in a hotel will only add to your food costs. No grocery shopping or leftovers will be there to help with those expenses.
Once again, our expenses keep climbing, now up to at least $979. How is that on a budget?
While this is a dim prognosis, there are some things you can do to keep your traveling costs low:
Plan ahead. The earlier you book the better your chances are of finding a steal.
Use a multisite search engine. A site like Kayak will kick back the lowest prices it finds.
Try booking directly through the official site. This works for airlines or hotels. Sometimes you will find lower prices or they may be running exclusive specials.
Find free or cheap attractions. This can help cut fees off the overall bottom line.
Always read the fine print. Find out the airline’s fees BEFORE you book.
If you find a deal, take it. Last summer I went on a trip to Vegas with a group of friends. Every time we saw a good deal, the girls I was booking with kept telling me to wait for the deal to get better. It never did, and you never knew when it was going to jump again.