Interview with a Travel Savings Expert: Sarah Schlichter

Sarah Schlichter has traveled the world, while still managing to stick to a budget. As Senior Editor at Independent Traveler, she’s able to write about her trips and curate helpful tips from other celebrated travelers. Check out our interview with Sarah to see her suggestions for traveling with limited funds.

As the Senior Editor at Independent Traveler, you get the chance to share your experiences traveling around the world. What has been one of the most memorable trips you’ve taken?

It's hard to choose just one! Road tripping around the South Island of New Zealand has to be near the top of the list. Some of those stretches of road were incredibly beautiful. My travel partner and I turned into a broken record as we made our way around one spectacular turn after another: "Wow." (Snow-capped mountains.) "Wow." (Gorgeous green valley dotted with sheep.) "Wow!" (Stunningly picturesque lake.)

Morocco was another memorable experience; the culture and landscapes were so different from any I'd seen previously. It was a fascinating and sometimes overwhelming trip.

Our readers are obsessed with finding great deals on travel. What is one reliable way to save on hotel costs?

Look beyond hotels. There are so many alternatives out there that can be cheaper and sometimes more interesting. Especially if you're traveling as a family or group, renting an apartment or house can be more affordable than multiple hotel rooms (and you'll have a kitchen so you can cook your own meals as well). Home exchange is just about free (aside from annual membership fees) if you're willing to let someone else stay in your house while you stay in theirs. In a city, consider a B&B or inn in a residential neighborhood rather than a downtown hotel (and if you're willing to share a bathroom, you'll save even more). Hostels aren't just for 20-something backpackers; many of them have basic and affordable private rooms with either shared or private baths. Finally, consider websites such as Airbnb.com or Couchsurfing.com, where you can find people offering spare rooms / couches for cheap or even free.

You’ve mentioned that you love trying different cuisines. What’s the best way to find inexpensive places to eat while you’re on vacation?

The restaurants right near big tourist attractions may be the most convenient, but they're often overpriced and, frankly, not very good. For the most affordable eats, try to find the neighborhoods and restaurants where the locals go. If you want to splurge on a pricier restaurant, go for lunch instead of dinner -- rates for entrees will generally be much lower. For a quick and affordable meal, visit the local grocery store and put together a picnic lunch, such as a French baguette with brie, nuts and fruit.

On your site, readers can submit their own travel reviews of different destinations. Has a reader’s review ever inspired you to take your own trip to that locale?

Not directly, but only because my must-visit list is so long! Every time I see an interesting review, it makes me want to travel. I read a good one the other day with gorgeous photos of Croatia, so that country has moved up my list of places I'm interested in. Someday...

Some of the best parts of traveling are getting to explore different cultures, eating like a local, and staying in an exotic location. Are there certain areas of travel where you refuse to cut costs?

Number one is safety. I have no problem staying in a basic hotel without many amenities, but it has to be in a safe neighborhood, especially if I'm traveling by myself. While I try to walk or use public transit when exploring a city, I'll always spring for a cab if I'm going back to my hotel after dark.

Number two is the sights I've traveled to see. Many years ago, when I was a cash-strapped student, I skipped touring one of Gaudi's famous buildings in Barcelona because the admission fee was about 20 euros, which I thought was too expensive at the time. Now I regret it -- you never know when you'll have the chance to go back to a place. I'd rather skimp on food and lodging than miss out on truly unique experiences.

You’ve written about various travel products for the site, including sleep masks that are perfect for long plane rides. What is one item that you never travel without?

Ear plugs! I'm a light sleeper, and hotel room walls can be woefully thin.

Your site has a gigantic Twitter following, with more than 124,000 (!) readers. What’s the best part of having this kind of social media interaction with fans?

I love that we have so many knowledgeable, passionate travelers following us. We get a lot of people asking for travel advice, and I know that if one of our editors can't answer the question, we can retweet it to our followers and someone else will be able to help.

You’ve traveled everywhere from Belize and Guatemala to Norway and New Zealand. Out of all the places you’ve been, on which trip did you save the most money?

During my first trip to Europe, I was a student on an ultra-low budget. I stayed in hostels, got meals from grocery stores and cafes, and walked or took public transportation rather than renting cars or taking cabs. I think I only had one sit-down restaurant meal the entire four-week trip. What money I had went to the museums and other sights I wanted to see.

Everybody deserves a vacation, but it can be hard for people to make travel plans when they’re on a strict budget. What are some ways that people can still fit travel into their spending plans?

One relatively painless way to save for a trip is to have a small portion of every paycheck automatically withdrawn into a separate bank account that's just for future vacations. You won't be tempted to spend the money if it's not easily accessible, and even small savings will add up over time. On a similar note, you can have everyone in your family throw any spare coins they have into a communal vacation jar. You might be surprised at how much those quarters and dimes add up to after a few months.

It’s been so great getting the chance to ask you some questions! Any last minute travel tips for our CouponPal readers?

Credit cards that offer airline miles as rewards can be a great way to earn a few free flights, and they often come with other travel perks such as free checked bags or priority boarding. But there are a few caveats: if you can't pay your balance off every month, you may end up paying more in interest than you save, and annual fees can be steep. Also, you may run into blackout dates and restrictions when trying to use your miles. Personally, I skip the mileage cards and instead use one that gives me cash back; bank enough of those reward checks, and you can buy any flight you want.

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with a Savings Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #SavingsExperts to @CouponPal!

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