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Decoding Three Common Travel Tips on Dining, Timing and Packing

When it comes to tips on how to travel better and more affordably, there are some old-chestnuts that always apply. But though they sound obvious, many actually require insider knowledge to use effectively. I’m here to supply that, so here goes.

Tip 1: Travel in the off-season to save money: Yes, that’s correct, but when exactly is the “off-season”? Truth is off-season varies greatly from destination to destination. As a rule of thumb, off-season usually falls when the kids are in school, especially for resort destinations, theme parks and any place with sand. The exceptions to the “kids” rule are important business cities, as they often see a boom in visitation during those months (woe betide the traveler who tries to find an affordable hotel room in New York City in October). The period directly after big holidays is also usually slow, so you can generally save a bundle traveling to beachy places in the weeks directly after New Years Eve. And of course, prices drop when the weather’s lousy, but except for destinations where you spend most of your time indoors anyway, traveling then, just for the savings, always seemed like an backwards strategy to me.

Tip 2: Pack Light to Avoid Hassles: Another truism, because when you pack less, you don’t become a slave to your luggage, straining as you lug it hither and thither; and taking taxis rather than saving money on public transportation. But how exactly can you pack less and still be adequately prepared, especially in this day of mobile devices, cords and chargers? For clothes, the key is bringing items in dark, stain-hiding colors that can be matched into several outfits. And instead of laying the clothes flat, you should roll most of them, as that will make them less wrinkled and they’ll take up less room in your bag (so you can carry a smaller bag). Also, invest in a small sack that will efficiently hold the electronic gear you need in one, small space. And consider carrying a tablet, perhaps with a foldable keyboard, rather than a bulky laptop.

Tip 3: Eat Like a Local: Doing so will likely save you money and allow you to have more authentic meals in the destination. But how does one find the places locals love? First off, don’t ask the concierge at your hotel. Often concierges get kickbacks for steering tourists to restaurants that wouldn’t stay in business otherwise. Instead, if you’re in a destination where the common language is not English, look for the restaurants that post menus only in the local language. And be proactive, by doing some research in advance of your trip. A good guidebook writer will ferret out the local favorites and list them in his book (in fact, most guidebook writers today live in the destinations they cover). Or you can peek at sites that are geared towards locals not tourists, the Yelps and Chowhounds of the world,  to see which eateries are garnering the most raves. A final strategy: gather your courage and approach a local on the street who looks like someone you'd like, and ask their advice. Most people are thrilled to steer others towards their favorite restaurants.

Do you have any common travel tips that you think need to be better explained?