Frugal Travel Tips For Las Vegas Dining

Las Vegas dining is world renown. Casinos compete with each other to provide the best dining option from the high end to the buffet to the too-good-to-be-true deals. In this article, we will explore some of the dining options for the frugal traveler.

Ellis Island $4.95 Steak Special

For $4.95, diners at Ellis Island (located on Koval Lane, East of E Flamingo Road) get a 10-ounce steak, bread, potato (choice of serving), and veggies. Must be a cheap cut right? Wrong. This steak is mouth watering. This special is not on the menu, you have to ask for it.

But that’s not what I order. I order the $6.95 fish and chips. There’s a reason why this Icelandic Cod (the waiter said it was flown in daily) has been voted the best in Las Vegas for 35 years.

In-N-Out Burger

If you’re a fast food junkie, then In-N-Out Burger is the place to hit (multiple locations). Their official menu consists of a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a double-double (two patties), fries, and beverage (including shakes). There’s a reason they can keep their menu so simple and that’s because the few items they make, they make well. The store claims to not own a freezer, everything is so fresh. Even the lettuce is hand leafed and the fries cut at the restaurant location, one potato at a time.

Le Village Buffet In Paris For Brunch

If you’re looking for a splurge meal in Las Vegas, I suggest Le Village Buffet in the Paris Casino for brunch. By brunch, I mean go there at the tale end of the breakfast time (serves til 11 am) and then stay for lunch (starts at 11 am).

Why do this?

The selection is changed up so diners get to experience more (pace yourself) but most of all, the price for breakfast is $12.95, the price for lunch is $17.95. Yes, quite a difference. $5.00 per diner.

This technique can be used with many buffets as long as there isn’t a break between meals. Also check to see if you get a discount with a member’s/player’s card.

There are many, many other bargain meals in Las Vegas including $0.75 hotdogs at Gold Coast and $0.99 shrimp cocktails at Golden Gate (tradition started over 40 years ago) but Ellis Island, In-N-Out and Le Village Buffet are my favorites.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Cruises

Cruises are one of my favorite ways to see the world. I love falling asleep in one country and waking up in another, not having to pack and unpack. Cruise lines run the range of prices from value to super expensive. For frugal travelers, here are some tips to cut expenses.

Consider All Itineraries

When most people think of cruises, they think of the Caribbean, the Mediterrian, and perhaps Alaska. However, name an ocean port and there is likely a cruise sailing into it. And some of these itineraries can not be only bargains but a pleasant surprise. We once booked a 12 day Baltic cruise from London to St. Petersburg and return for less than the airfare from New York to London. It remains one of our favorite cruises.

Bring Your Own Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Food is normally included in the price of a cruise (except for dining at the exclusive restaurants). However, beverage other than water, coffee, tea, and if lucky iced tea come with an additional cost. So what we do is buy non-alcoholic beverages in ports (allowable – for alcoholic drinks, there is often a corking charge) and then pour them into glasses.

Make Your Own Tour

We’ve been on over a dozen cruises all over the world and have only done one ship organized tour (on our first cruise). They are expensive, move forward at the pace of the slowest traveler, and restrictive. For a well organized traveler, making their own arrangements is preferable.

One trick that we use is to look at the sights the ship tours cover and include those in our “tour.”

Note: Tour Directors will often tell of horror stories about passengers not getting back to the ship on time. The solution? Leave some extra time and do the far away venues first.

Big Breakfast, Late Dinner

For the frugal traveler, maximizing the time in port is a must. That means if possible choosing the late seating at dinner. Also we tend not to eat large lunches (if at all). Instead we eat a large breakfast on the ship (where the breakfast is free), snack on bits and bites of local food while on shore, and then top the day off with a leisurely late dinner.

Cruising is one of the favorite ways for this frugal traveler to see the world. And by using these tips, it is one luxury that can fit into a traveler’s budget.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Road Trips

What better way for the frugal traveler to stretch both her budget and her vacation allotment than by taking road trips during long weekends? Here are some of my top tips to reduce that cost even more.

Keeping The Cooler Cool

Packing an accessible cooler full of drinks and snacks is a great cost reducing option. To maximize cooler space, instead of filling with ice, freeze water bottles and low filled beverages (including drinking boxes, makes a healthier juice slushy). No more soggy sandwiches or spilled water in the backseat.

Eating Where The Truckers Eat

For longer road trips, travelers may have to look outside the cooler for a meal. Instead of haunting the usual fast food chains, keep an eye out for any local roadside restaurants with transport trucks parked outside. When truckers find a spot with good, affordable meals, they tell their buddies.

Note: Just because the sign says truck stop, doesn’t mean the truckers stop. The vehicles never lie.

Keeping The Kiddies Entertained

This is a trick I’ve stolen from my Mom. Whenever we went on a long road trip, she would dig out the coloring books and crayons. That may not seem exciting except it was…to us. During a road trip was the only time we were allowed a new coloring book.

Updated for today’s kid, keep a few toys or video games only for use on road trips. This could be a brand new toy or a favorite. The novelty of the toy will keep kids busy and looking forward to the long car rides.

Prepping The Vehicle

Road trips mean relying on your vehicle so prep work is essential. Check all fluids, oil, antifreeze/coolant, windshield washer solvent (for the bugs all road trip vehicles collect). Check the tires, ensuring that they are properly inflated and in good condition. Check all belts and hoses, looking for wear and tear.

AAA Or Other Vehicle Assistance Programs

Frequent road trippers should consider an AAA or other vehicle assistance program membership, especially if they have an older vehicle. One tow and the membership pays for itself. Plus no scrambling for local mechanics/tow trucks.

One of the benefits that I love about AAA is their TripTiks which are route maps complete with information such as road works (very helpful during the summer road work season) and rest stops. There are even blurbs on each town passed.

Road trips are a great way to see more local destinations and to stretch the travel budget.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Washington DC

You can not say you’ve seen the U.S. without seeing Washington D.C. Although hotels are costly and parking a challenge, the nation’s capital is full of free attractions and things to do.

The White House And The Pentagon

Entrance to President’s Park is free and gives the frugal traveler great views of the White House. The visitors center has some very nice permanent exhibits. Tours of the White House can be arranged for groups of 10 or more. However applications have to be received at least six months in advance.

Tours are also available of the Pentagon. These also have to be arranged well ahead of time.

Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument

The National Mall And Memorial Parks contain some of the U.S.’s most important monuments. These include The Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument within walking distances of each other. The Mall itself is a great place to picnic and people watch. Entrance is free

Smithsonian Castle

When I think of the Smithsonian, I think of the Smithsonian Castle, the first building. Entrance as with all of the 17 Smithsonian buildings and the National Zoo is free. There are also free tours available. The building itself is beautiful. The exhibits? It’s the Smithsonian.

National Museum of Natural History

Another Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum Of Natural History is a favorite with kids. They have tarantula feedings, dinosaurs, and preserved animals. As with all the Smithsonian Museums, the National Museum Of Natural History is free.

National Museum Of American History

Another free Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum Of American History showcases American culture and history. From Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to full sized locomotives, think of an American icon and you can likely find it in this museum.

Washington D.C. is full of free tourist attractions with American politics, history, and culture as the focus. The Smithsonian Museums alone, a great rainy day alternative, can take weeks to explore. The city is a must see for both American visitors and residents.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Bangkok, Thailand

With the currency exchange, it is difficult not to find frugal attractions in Bangkok, Thailand. However, there are a few tips to make travel dollars stretch even further and to better the travel experience.

The Grand Palace And The Temple Of The Emerald Buddha

Yes, there is an entrance fee (200 Baht, roughly $6 U.S.) but this sight is a must see for any visitor to Bangkok. It hosts a range of Thai architecture.

Temples and other national monuments have a strict dress code. No shorts, sleeveless tops, or risqué dress. This is true of most religious places the world over but in Thailand, travelers should also not wear open heeled sandals (there must be a strap behind the heel).

Thai Customs

Which leads to some Thai customs that savvy travelers observe.

Shorts are considered appropriate only for children and the lower class.

The head is considered sacred (closest to the heavens) so do not touch. Actually try not to touch the locals at all.

Feet are also to be treated with care. To point your feet at a person is considered a grave insult and to sit with soles exposed extremely rude (especially in religious places). Sit with feet tucked under the body.

No public displays of affection. Keep that for the privacy of your room.

As with most countries, but especially Thailand, do not criticize the local government or monarchy.

This may seem like a lot of rules but most apply to almost every country a traveler is a guest in.

Also the Thai people are extremely polite so they are unlikely to express their disapproval.

Chatuchak Park Weekend Market

This is where frugal travelers buy their souvenirs. With over 15,000 stalls (pick up a free map at information kiosks), there is plenty to choose from. This is a place to haggle. Never take the first offer. Also be very wary of fakes (fake antiques, fake jewelry, etc) and of pickpockets (keep some small bills in an easily accessible pocket and hide the wallet away).

What to buy? Almost anything, especially handicrafts. My mother is an elephant lover and Thailand, with reverence of the animal, was the ideal place to pick up teak carvings (be careful of wood drying and cracking when you return home).

Wat Pho (Temple Of The Reclining Buddha)

With another very, very inexpensive entrance fee (20 Baht), Wat Pho is the largest and oldest Buddhist Temple in Bangkok. The highlight is, of course, the 46 meter long, gold covered Reclining Buddha. However, the buildings and I found the orchids were also noteworthy.

Bangkok is a bargain hunters paradise. Attractions, dining and shopping is inexpensive.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For San Francisco

San Francisco is my favorite city hugging the west coast. It is also one of the most expensive especially for hotels. Lucky for the frugal traveler, many of the sights are free.

Note: When I first went to San Francisco (driving up from L.A.), I was very surprised by the decrease in temperature. Check the weather before arriving.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square cover about 6 blocks along the waterfront. This tourist destination offers great views of the famous Alcatraz, souvenir shopping, seafood vendor and street performers. Some of the local “residents” include pelicans and sea lions. The souvenir to take back for chocolate loving Moms? Ghirardelli chocolate. This is where it all started.

Cable Cars

While at Ghirardelli Square, grab a few photos at the Cable Car Turnaround (the end of one of the lines). The cable cars, calling San Francisco’s living monument, are a good break for the weary.

Note: There are no transfers with cable cars. Each ride requires a new ticket.

Chinatown

The Chinatown in San Francisco is second in size in the U.S. only to New York City. It is great place to get cheap supplies and an inexpensive meal.

Lombard Street

Known as the crookedest street, Lombard is another one of those photo opps tourists love. Walking down is free.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Another famous and picturesque walk is across The Golden Gate Bridge. On a clear day, the views are fantastic (and will work off all that great Chinese food you’ll be eating). This suspension bridge is a little less than 9,000 feet long so plan your round trip accordingly.

Cable Car Museum

Love the cable cars? Then visit the Cable Car Museum on Mason Street. Admission is free and the museum deck overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Great photos can be taken in the vintage cable cars.

A city of different cultures, bordered by the sea, San Francisco has a perfect mixture of historic attractions and modern sights. Many of them free.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Chicago

Chicago offers many free attractions for the frugal traveler. These free sights offset more costly splurges like deep dish pizza, the entrance to the famed Shedd Aquarium, and a trip up the Sears Tower.

Free Trolleys

From Memorial Day weekend through the Labor Day weekend, between 10am and 6pm, free trolleys operate every 20-30 minutes to Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations. There are stops along Museum Campus, Michigan Avenue (The Magnificent Mile) and Navy Pier. Do a few of the loops to get a sense of the city. Drivers often give out bits of information about landmarks.

Street parking downtown is often free on Sundays.

Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, and Millennium Park

Buckingham Fountain (seen in the opening credits of the tv show Married With Children) in Grant Park, close to the waterfront, was designed to emulate the great fountains in the palace of Versailles. It consists of three basins, surrounded by four bronze seahorses.

More modern art can be found in the adjoining Millennium Park. The Crown Fountain has two giant glass towers with projections of faces on them. Water squirts out of the faces’ mouths, much to wading children’s delight. Cloud Gate resembles a giant stainless steel jellybean, warping the reflection of onlookers.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier hosts a street carnival type of environment. There is a classic styled 148 ft Ferris Wheel, a musical carousel with painted animals, a children’s museum, a museum of stained glass, and a funhouse maze. Add seasonal street performers, food vendors, and face painters, and travelers can people watch for hours.

The Old Water Tower

The Old Water Tower, situated on the famed Michigan Avenue near the John Hancock Center, is one of the most famous survivors of the Great Fire. Designed to resemble a tiny European castle, the Old Water Tower is now a visitors center.

The Art Institute Of Chicago

With great American masterpieces like Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the Art Institute Of Chicago is a must see for art lovers and a freebie for the savvy traveler. From May 31st to August 31st, admission is free after 5pm on Thursday’s and Friday’s.

There are many other free or frugal attractions in the Windy City, window shopping on the Magnificent Mile, facades such as Dearborn Street Station and others.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Las Vegas Attractions

I don’t gamble so I often get asked why I visit Las Vegas at least once a year. The answer? The free attractions make Las Vegas a frugal traveler’s paradise (and we’ll save the dining discussion for another article). Almost every casino has some sort of freebie gimmick to attract gamblers. In this article, I will cover, what I consider to be the must-see’s to give tourists a flavor of Las Vegas.

The Fountain Show At Bellagio

With nightfall comes the fountain shows at Bellagio. In the massive pool of water on the Strip side of the casino, illuminated spirts of water dance to a variety of music, popular, classical and even opera. They usually operate every 15 minutes (check with the casino to ensure), with a different song and show each time.

Sirens Of TI

Every night, in front of Treasure Island on the Strip, a battle takes place between sexy sirens and renegade male pirates. There are usually four identical kid friendly shows nightly. Get there early for best viewing (especially if you are vertically challenged). Stand close and you could get a bit wet.

Circus Circus Shows

Approximately every half hour in the Circus Circus casino on the Strip, there are free yet world class midway acts including jugglers and trapeze acts. I stayed for three shows and all three were different.

Freemont Street Experience

Las Vegas is more than the Strip. Situated in the heart of downtown, the historic Freemont Street Experience is a pedestrian walkway, covered by what they bill as the biggest big screen on the planet. There are street performers, vendors and every night at multiple times, a light and sound show.

Ethel M’s Chocolate Tour And Botanical Cactus Garden

Want to get away from the Strip yet do something free? Check out the Ethel M Chocolate Factory (One Sunset Way). A must for chocolate connoisseurs (I have purchased chocolate from all over the world for my Mom, her favorite is Ethel M’s), there is a self guided tour, free samples, and products for sale.

Outside there is the Botanical Cactus Garden with over 350 kinds of cacti, succulents from the local area and around the world (also free admission).

Note: There is an Ethel M’s at the airport if you are concerned about chocolate melting (check hours of operation as every time I go, its closed).

There are many, many other free attractions in Las Vegas. Attractions that are changed often to ensure the city remains fresh, exciting and a frugal traveler’s paradise.…

Read more

Frugal Travel Tips For Los Angeles

Los Angeles, home of Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, is not the first city travelers may associate with free and frugal attractions. However for the thrifty traveler, the deals are plentiful.

The Getty

Hosting one of the best collections of art on the west coast, the Getty has such a huge catalogue of work that they’ve split the gallery into two separate sites.

The Getty Center in Los Angeles contains the collection of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present. The building is a modern masterpiece and the views fantastic.

The Getty Villa in Malibu is my favorite of the two, dedicated to the study of arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. The building is truly a Roman inspired villa surrounded by wonderful gardens.

Admission to both J. Paul Getty Museums are free but there is an $8 charge for parking.

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier consists of amusement parks, restaurants, vendor carts, and other street entertainment. One of the top attractions is a beautiful carousel with hand painted horses. A great place to people watch, entrance to the Santa Monica Pier is free.

Chicken Dinner At Knott’s Berry Farms

Imagine a chicken dinner so good that a theme park was built around it and you have the chicken dinner at Knott’s Berry Farms. The dinner comes with buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes and veggies. End the meal with a mouth watering boysenberry pie. All at very reasonable family style prices.

The Dash

Los Angeles is definitely a city with a dominant car culture but renting a car is not the only option. The local transit called the Dash is one of the least expensive of all the big cities. Full fare is $0.25 and yes, there is a senior’s discount available.

The Walk Of Fame

Walking along The Walk Of Fame between Hollywood Blvd and Vine is a must for the first time visitor. Along the walk is the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where stars such as Marilyn Monroe left imprints of their hands and feet. It remains a favorite location for movie premieres so the lucky traveler could have a star spotting.

Borrowing a bit of that Hollywood glamour in L.A. doesn’t have to be an expensive prospect. There are plenty free or frugal attractions, transportation, and food.…

Read more