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See the world on a shoestring

Traveling abroad on a budget

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Tess Vigeland: Chances are most of you aren't thinking about going anywhere right now, maybe because you're still stuffed to the gills with turkey -- or Tofurkey. But more and more of us are heading out for the holidays -- as in, out of the country.

Travelocity reports that Thanksgiving travel to the Caribbean and Mexico is up about 20 percent on the site this year. Trips to Western Europe are up 10 percent.

If you're sitting on the couch right now because you think you can't afford to go anywhere, Marketplace's Stephen Hoffman has some advice on how to see the world on a budget.


Stephen Hoffman: While surfing the web, my wife found an incredibly cheap flight from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. That's the good news.

The bad news? I don't know why she was looking in the first place -- we're pretty broke. So we had to make a difficult decision: stay or go.

We used airline and credit card bonus miles to get an inexpensive fare, but what happens if you don't have miles to use? How do you vacation cheaply?

Tom Meyers from EuroCheapo.com says plan your arrival when most tourists are heading home. They even have a name for it:

Tom Meyers: "Shoulder season" is the period in between the high season and the low season. There are fewer tourists, there's better availability in the hotels. You know if you go to Paris in August, for instance, this is the peak season for tourists, but there are no French people around. But if you headed south, if you went to Rio for instance, it's winter there but you can still go to the beaches.

Even though it was shoulder season in Argentina, we still needed to watch our spending. Yeah, the dollar has been taking a pounding recently, but one U.S. dollar equalled about 3 Argentine pesos, so in a sense, we tripled our savings.

In fact, travel expert Pauline Frommer recommends that before you decide where you go, look for the places that will extend the life of your cash.

Pauline Frommer: It's very important to think about where the dollar is strongest because you're going to be able to buy a heck of a lot more if you go to a country where the dollar is strong. For the most part that's most of Asia, except for Japan and Korea, South and Central America and in many parts of the Caribbean as well.

Christina Wiseman: This skyline right here wasn't here a year ago...

That's Christina Wiseman. She runs a travel service called BA Local in Argentina. While some travel experts don't necessarily recommend using a tour guide, she arranged a lot of things that really helped our budget: an apartment to stay in instead of a hotel and a cell-phone rental instead of making upgrades to our own plan.

A good guide can help you avoid costly and boring tourist traps.

Wiseman: We're in the Ricoletta cemetery in the neighborhood Ricoletta in Buenos Aires. There are 70 national monuments inside the cemetery and most of the presidents are buried here as well.

Hoffman: Eva Peron? Is she buried here?

Wiseman: Eva Peron is here as well.

So we got a little history lesson for nothing -- the cemetery visit is free. But there are those times when even the most frugal person will have to part with their green.

Mrs. Hoffman: Shoe store alert, shoe store alert...

If you need to do a little buying, check out stores that participate in a program called Tax Free Shopping. Again, Pauline Frommer:

Frommer: Unlike in the United States where taxes are added at the cash register, in many countries the tax is included in the price of the goods, but foreigners, those who are visiting the country and staying usually less than six months aren't required to pay that tax.

And I didn't pay any taxes. All I did was look for stores that participated in the program, then I kept my receipts and filled out a short form.

Turns out that I spent over 50 bucks in taxes, but it was back on my credit card in a matter of days.

And where's that money going? Our next vacation.

I'm Stephen Hoffman for Marketplace Money.

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