On average Americans get around 10 vacation days each year.  That doesn’t give you much time to get out there and do something interesting.  If your first instinct is to pick up the phone or head down to the local travel agent, you’re not going to maximize your time or your money, and quite frankly, you’re doing it wrong.  If you want to make the most out of your 2 weeks off you need to get smart, and you need to get savvy.  If you’re going to do something worth telling your co-workers about upon your return you need to get online and use technology to your advantage.

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You’ve made it this far into the article so it’s fair to assume you’re ready to get creative with your travel planning.  Everyone is different, but two main values to judge a potential vacation by are overall experience and cost.  We all want to have an unforgettable trip, and none of us want to break the bank.  There are a lot of websites out there that’ll help you find cheap hotels or special tour deals, but at the end of the day you’ll just be having a canned experience, something that was organized in advance for people with fanny packs and visors.

There are, however, other solutions.  Ones that if you’re flexible and adventurous enough will provide you the rewarding as well as relatively inexpensive trips you’re searching for.  Lets break travel planning down into two groups.  The first being ‘getting there’ and the second being ‘once you’re there.’ This article’s focus is on once you’re there.  But if you’re looking for more information on ‘getting there’ plenty of great tools exist now to help you get to your destination cheaply and efficiently, this article by some travel nerds can help you get started.  But lets be honest, traveling isn’t about the flight there, it’s about the place, the destination.  So it’s far more important to prioritize where you’ll be staying and what you’ll be doing.

One group out there now does a fantastic job of insuring you have not only a free stay, but an unforgettable one as well. I’m talking about the cult that is Couch Surfing.  Imagine spending no money on accommodation and having your own personal and local tour guide.  The idea is simple enough, you link up with a local and they put you up in their place.  That’s the agreement.  But it always seems to evolve from there, couchsurfing isn’t just about a place to stay it’s about meeting people, it’s about making a new friend.  And should that happen the host will inevitably invite you into their world and show you a side of the local culture and scene you’d never experience with a standard guided tour, or even with one of the most popular travel books in your pocket.  The idea may seem a little odd, staying with a complete stranger, but the online interface does a great job of showing who the person is, what they’re interested in, and what other couchsurfers have thought about them- at the end of the day it’s those recommendations that bring it all together and make the system work.

Granted, recommendations don’t provide certainty, and staying with a stranger can be a little too bizarre for some people.  If thats the case for you there are other options that while aren’t free, do provide you with a far more unique experience than staying at a hotel.  Airbnb and Wimdu provide that next best option.  These two companies are relatively new but are gaining immense popularity.  Their model is more or less the same, instead of booking a hotel room in your destination, save money and have a better experience by renting someone’s apartment for the duration of your trip.  Instead of a crummy hotel room where you’ll be surrounded by tourists, you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the city staying exactly where real residents stay themselves.  Both websites give you a great description of the apartment or house with pictures of the place so you know what to expect and where it is.  These two services will help you save money, stay in a better place, and help you immerse yourself into the local scene of your vacation destination.

Services like Couchsurfing, Airbnb, and Wimdu are all examples of the evolution of travel.  With people going online to research and book trips travel agents and 1 800 numbers are becoming obsolete.  Not only can you save money using new services like these, but you can make your trip a whole lot more rewarding as well, get creative with your travel plans!


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