A new friend in India
A new friend in India

Looking for ways to maximize your travel experience at a fraction of the cost?  Here are few tried and true ways to enrich your travel, feel more fulfilled and save money!

1) Select destinations that are good value. Say no to Europe and say yes to Southeast Asia and South America. The plane ticket may initially be expensive but the cost of living is cheap when you’re in the country and your dollar will go much further.  In Thailand I was paying $10 a night for a beach bungalow and a few dollars a day for street food.  Plus, Thai culture is so different from that at home, making for a more interesting travel experience.

2) When looking for flight deals, turn to Kayak.com, an online travel search engine and helpful travel tool where you can compare prices across hundreds of sites in one simple search.  Check out their Deals, Buzz and Trends sections for affordable flight and hotel options.

3) Independent travel may seem a bit daunting at first, but everything you need to survive will be available to you in the “Traveler’s Bible.”

Lonely Planet guidebook series is my go-to resource while I’m on the road.  With its affordable hotel recommendations, off-the-beaten track restaurants and local grassroots organizations, Lonely Planet offers an honest and in-depth account of a destination, beyond the tourist traps. Check out their online travel community Thorn Tree (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree), where you can post questions and reach out to other independent travelers.

4) Learn the Lingo.  Knowing the basic 10 words of any language will help you get to know local people. I find people drop their guard a little and open up more when you demonstrate your interest in learning their language and culture. A few helpful words may help you make some new friends, get better service, and, at the very least, get someone to smile.

5) Find an “Insider,” Not a Guide. Travel is all about the people you meet.  Connecting with local people can help you understand the culture of the country you’re visiting. Use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to local people and ask their advice.  Often people are excited to promote their homeland to visitors and will offer interesting ideas, even dinner invitations.

Common interests can also bring people together.  I reached out through MySpace to heavy metal bands in Georgia. I was interested in learning about the heavy metal scene, they took me under their wing and brought me into the fold of a unique subculture.

Reach out to ex-pat groups of Americans now living abroad.

Send an email to all your contacts or Facebook friends, saying “Hey, I’m going to India…know anyone there?”  Often someone can suggest a friend of a friend to connect with.  Having an “insider” to show you the country will make the world of difference.

6) Choosing locally run tour companies is often much cheaper than going with an American company.  Going local not only pumps money back into the local economy (which is a positive impact of tourism), but you’ll have a better chance of having a more ‘authentic’ experience with local guides who speak the language, know the culture and the land.  For North American based tour groups, GAP and Intrepid are my favorite. They specialize in small, sustainable, socially-conscious tours with an emphasis on culture.

7) Giving back: Volunteering abroad is a great way to enrich your travel experience. It brings a sense of fulfillment and takes you off the tourist trail. For information on volunteering abroad, check out my blog posting http://www.traveljunkiejulia.com/a-how-to-guide-to-volunteer-vacations/

How do you get the most fulfilling experience while traveling?  Share your thoughts below!