How to Avoid Paying Hotel and Resort Fees

It may not be the most annoying thing in the world, but it’s pretty close: after booking an overpriced room at a hotel or resort, you discover that a resort fee is being added to the already exorbitant room rate. Usually, those fees cover things that should be included in the first place: Wi-Fi, a daily newspaper, or access to the fitness center or pool.

Hotel and resort fees are a North American phenomenon. While you’re unlikely to encounter them outside the United States, they’re rampant in the popular tourist destinations in this country (New York City; the Hawaiian Islands; Orlando, Key West or Miami, Florida). Las Vegas is the epicenter of the resort fee, and it’s nearly impossible to find a hotel on the Strip that doesn’t charge one. Bellagio currently levies a fee of $45 per night, which covers high-speed internet, unlimited local and toll-free calls, airline boarding pass printing, notary service, and fitness center access for guests over 18. At some of the lower-priced Strip hotels, the combination of resort fees and mandatory taxes nearly equals the nightly price of the room.

These fees are not advertised, so they allow the property to pretend that the room is cheaper than it really is. They also make price comparison impossible, since fees are left out of online booking engines such as Priceline or Expedia. They’re a classic example of bait and switch, as they allow a hotel to advertise one rate and charge another (similar to the dealer prep fee in the automotive world).

Hope is on the horizon. Karl Racine, Attorney General of the District of Columbia, is suing Marriott for deceptive resort fees that ranged from $9 to as high as $95 per night. Racine is seeking a court order to force Marriott to disclose the true cost of rooms, and to pay both monetary damages to consumers as well as civil penalties. If he succeeds, the lawsuit will probably be replicated around the country. It will be a tough fight, though, given that the hotel industry in the U.S. brings in nearly $3 billion annually with resort fees.

In the meantime, how do you avoid resort fees? Here are some strategies that might work:

Ask Nicely

This is almost as lame as the “avoid hotels that charge a resort fee” gambit, but it could succeed. Point out that it’s February and you won’t be using the hotel pool, that you have a cell phone and won’t be making in-room calls, that you get your news online rather from a daily newspaper. If you hit the right desk clerk (or manager) at the right time of year, they have the authority to waive the fee.

Book an Award Stay

Hilton and Hyatt waive resort fees on award stays (as opposed to points and cash bookings), and Wyndham also claims to do so. Hilton points are easy to earn using the American Express co-branded portfolio of cards. Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, which also makes the points simple to obtain.

Use Your Loyalty Leverage

If you’re an elite member of the hotel’s loyalty program (whether that status comes from actual room stays or from a co-branded credit card), you’re in a better bargaining position. Hyatt routinely waives resort fees for Globalists, their top-tier elites, and VIPs seldom pay them in Las Vegas (although the cost of being a high roller could make the resort fee seem insignificant). If you’re a frequent traveler who logs dozens of nights with a particular chain, don’t hesitate to point that out; the information will be in your profile and be easy for the hotel to verify. You’re a valuable customer, and one the hotel chain doesn’t want to lose.

Dispute the Charge

Now we enter the hardball zone. First, make sure you pay with a credit card and receive documentation that you paid the resort fee. On returning home, contact your credit card company. Explain that you were forced to pay an additional fee that wasn’t advertised as part of the room rate, and that you didn’t use the services covered by the fee. Tell them you want to dispute the charge and be reimbursed by the hotel. This is a strategy that may work, particularly if you’ve used a high-end credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Amex Platinum (American Express has a reputation for protecting cardholders in similar situations).

Small Claims Court

While this may sound extreme, it’s a feasible solution if you have the time to pursue it. You can file a claim in your home district if you booked the room in that jurisdiction (i.e., on a home computer). If you stayed at a hotel for one week, the resort fees could easily exceed $300. No lawyer is required on your end, and there’s a good chance you’ll be reimbursed.

Bottom Line

Is this worth making a fuss over? In a word, yes. The more travelers who complain, the more impact it may have. If you’re hit with a resort fee you didn’t expect, make sure the hotel knows you won’t be returning; it may not mean much in Hawaii or Orlando, where they have a steady stream of guaranteed tourists, but it can be significant elsewhere. In the meantime, watch for the outcome of the Marriott suit and hope for a positive outcome that has a domino effect across the country.

Source: frugal travel guy

Affordable and romantic hotels in Paris for Valentine’s Day

Nicknamed the City of Lights, Paris is also commonly known as the center of all things romantic. Fortunately for budget travelers, starry-eyed couples visiting here don’t have to break the bank for dreamy views and an authentic Parisian experience. In Paris, romantic hotels are even within reach for budget-focused travelers.

You could spend every last euro on a high-end boutique hotel with extra frills, or you could experience the city in a more local fashion by staying in a cheaper — and much more charming — hotel that will still cater to your passionate wishes.

We have a list of more than 100 hotels in Paris (with prices as low as $44 when you book through our website!) for you to peruse to your heart’s content. But to make your life easier, we have gathered our five favorite hotels for a romantic getaway to Paris.

Related:
Our 15 favorite budget hotels in Paris
9 budget hotels in Paris with old-world charm
Simple tips for saving on your hotel in Paris


Paris romantic hotels for budget travelers on Valentine’s Day

Hôtel des Arts

5, rue Tholoze
Neighborhood: Montmartre
Doubles from $120 a night

Nestled in a great Montmartre location, the Hotel des Arts offers polished rooms along with artistic flourishes that pay homage to the Van Gogh’s and Toulouse Lautrec’s that once called the neighborhood home. Add to that pristine bathrooms and modern extras (like docking stations), and you’ve got a winner. Read our review

Snuggle up in a chic room at Republique Hotel.

Snuggle up in a chic room at Republique Hotel.

Republique Hotel

31 rue Albert Thomas
Neighborhood: République / Gare du Nord (10th)
Metro: République
Doubles as low as $108 a night

Modern décor, contemporary furnishings, and sleek bathrooms are the name of the game at this two-star hotel. Spend some quiet time with your sweetie here, as most rooms overlook the calm and cute street, Cité du Vauxhall. Don’t fret: there is still plenty of hustle and bustle nearby at the Place de la République if you are looking for something to do. To get the most out of this hotel, be sure to book a 5th-floor room featuring a balcony and breathtaking views. Read more about the Republique here.

Hotel Audran is nestled in an enchanting slice of Paris.

Hotel Audran is nestled in an enchanting slice of Paris.

Hotel Audran

7 Rue Audran
Neighborhood: Montmartre (18th)
Metro: Abbesses
Doubles as low as $115 a night

Located on a charming street in the famous Montmartre neighborhood, the Hotel Audran offers incredible deals for Cheapos. For the most romantic experience, ask for a room either on one of the upper floors (incredible views!) or overlooking the quiet courtyard. The hotel is also located near plenty of local cafes, bakeries, restaurants and shops. In less than 10 minutes you can walk to Sacre Couer and Moulin Rouge for romantic photo ops. Read the full review here.

Whip up a home cooked meal in your room at Aparthotel Adagio.

Whip up a home-cooked meal in your room at Aparthotel Adagio.

Aparthotel Adagio Access Paris Bastille

11 rue Moreau
Neighborhood: Bastille / Gare de Lyon (11th/12th)
Metro: Ledru-Rollin
Doubles as low as $131 a night

For Cheapos wanting a little more freedom, the Adagio Access Paris Bastille offers guests cute studio rooms with a kitchenette —perfect for cooking your own romantic meals using ingredients from the Aligre Market located just five minutes away (talk about living like a local!).

To make a good thing great, the hotel also has incredible views, either of the street or the area’s famous Viaduc des Arts, a gallery and outdoor garden. Ask for a balcony when booking for a truly dreamy getaway. Read more about the Adagio Access Paris Bastille here.

Enjoy your mornings in the romantic breakfast room at Hotel Saint Jacques.

Enjoy your mornings in the romantic breakfast room at Hotel Saint Jacques.

Hotel Saint Jacques

35, Rue Des Ecoles
Neighborhood: Latin Quarter / Sorbonne (5th)
Metro: Maubert – Mutualité
Doubles as low as $162 a night

The Hotel Saint Jacques is perfect for romantic Cheapos looking to splurge a little on their sweethearts. Rooms go for a “classic Parisian” feel with luxurious furnishings, romantic oil paintings and chic light fixtures (some rooms even have dainty chandeliers). Bathrooms feature marble tiling, and the entire hotel exudes a truly Parisian grandeur. Don’t forget to grab some champagne at the hotel’s bar for your lover… Cheers! Read the full review of Hotel Saint Jacques here.

More ways to save in Paris

Not looking to take a romantic getaway to Paris? We have 50 more reasons to visit the City of Lights this year. Find expert advice on your budget trip to Paris by clicking here.

Looking for more affordable hotel options? Check out our full list of budget hotels in Paris.

The post Affordable and romantic hotels in Paris for Valentine’s Day appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

Florence: Simple strategies for saving on dining

Florence is a city rich in history, art, music and yes, amazing food. The good news is: You do not have to be rich to eat well.

Whether you are visiting Florence or living here on a budget, here are some simple ways to stretch your dining dollar.

So book your Florence hotel room and start thinking about all of the delicious things you will drink and eat from Bistecca alla fiorentina (a special steak dish) to the famous wines of Tuscany.


Tips for dining on a budget in Florence

Go to the market

Going to the markets in Florence is a beautiful experience, as they offer a fantastic combination of smells, amazing fresh fruit and vegetables — and no shortage of people-watching opportunities. And don’t forget your camera, because you will always find something neat to photograph.

The two main central markets in Florence are the Mercato di San Lorenzo and Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. These are both wonderful markets, open every day except for Sundays until about 1:30 p.m.

Browse the Mercato di San Lorenzo for affordable and fresh food. Photo: SpirosK

Okay, now here’s the thing, to save your precious euros when going to the market you should know a few tricks. Many of the food stands in these markets cater to tourists and have the prices to match. I recommend taking a nice long walk around the market, looking at each stand. Look to see who is buying what at each stand. Head to the stand that has the most locals hanging around (normally this will also be the least fancy of the stands). Don’t be afraid to ask a local which stand they prefer.

At the markets, as well as in the supermarkets, all produce is sold by the kilo, so it’s always a good idea to ask how much something costs if you are not sure. You can also order by price. In this case, you would say, for example, “I’d like €3 of apples.” This way you will always know exactly how much you’re spending, especially if you are not familiar with metric quantities.

As far as the other outdoor vendors selling clothing and household items… bargain to your heart’s content! Unlike in the retail stores around town, at the market, you can bargain and sometimes get the vendor to dramatically reduce the price. When you are bargaining, I recommend having the amount of money you are offering for the item already in your hand for the vendor to see. I have had more luck that way. Happy bargaining!

Enjoy a picnic

For tourists visiting Florence, eating out every meal gets expensive quickly. Fortunately, you have access to great produce and local food products, so instead of heading to yet another restaurant, take a break and pick up some fresh vegetables at San Lorenzo market and some locally made cheeses and bread at Sant’Ambrogio. You can even check out the supermarkets around town for some cheaper, yet quality food supplies.

Now, where to go to have your picnic? You could go to any of the many public parks in Florence — during the day Le Cascine Park or anywhere along the Arno River would be a great choice. I would also recommend heading to any big piazza, such as Piazza Santa Croce or Piazza della Repubblica, as they’re fantastic for people watching.

I also recommend going to the Boboli Gardens to have a picnic, as the lovely gardens offer a lot of space. There is, however, an entrance charge of €6 at the Boboli Gardens. On a nice sunny day, I’d say it’s worth it.

We love a good picnic — especially in Italy! Photo: SpirosK

Don’t sit down with your coffee

When going to a bar for a coffee or tea, remember that there are sometimes two different prices for drinks: bar prices and table service prices. Table service (meaning they take your order and serve you at a table) is about double the price of ordering and consuming your drink at the counter. Not all bars will charge you for table service, so it is important to ask before you order.

Related: How to order coffee in Italy

Snack on an “Apericena”

I love enjoying an “Apericena” with friends, as it’s definitely cheaper than going out to dinner at a restaurant and often much more fun, as well.

Now, to clarify: An “Aperitivo” is a before-dinner drink, normally accompanied by some light finger-food and snacks like chips, olives, or bread with dips. An Apericena, however, includes a drink of your choice, accompanied by a buffet of food, typically including different pasta salads, risotto, couscous, little sandwiches, etc.

The cost of an Apericena is typically around €5 to €8. After a couple of rounds at the buffet I’m usually a posto (“done”). Dinner and a cocktail for under €10 is a great deal. If you have a special diet or allergies to certain foods, make sure you take a look at the buffet before you order anything, or better yet, ask one of the staff what is in each dish. There are many Apericena spots around the city, so don’t be afraid to be selective.


Your tips

Do you have tips for dining in Florence? Tell us in the comments below!

The post Florence: Simple strategies for saving on dining appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

How to Find Bargain Car Rentals When You Travel

cheap rental cars

If you want to consistently find bargain car rentals when you travel, you may need to invest a little time to shop around. And probably take a chance now and then. When you need to reserve a rental car, where do you check? Do you just pull up your favorite booking app on your phone […]

Want to live a better life for half the price? Sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad Newsletter.

             

Source: Cheapest Destinations

Top 25 free things to do in Paris

You really don’t have to spend much money at all to enjoy Paris. Sure, food and a hotel will require a bit of an investment, but if you play your cards right, you can soak up the best Paris has to offer without dropping an extra euro.

That’s because there are hundreds of free things to do in Paris, from markets to churches, parks, and concerts. We’ve pulled together our favorites below, with something to appeal to every type of traveler.

Have something to add to our list? Add your own free favorite activity in the comments section at the end of the post.

Related:
50 ways to save on your trip to Paris
How to save on your hotel in Paris


Top 25 free things to do in Paris

Here’s our official “Top 25” list of our favorite sights and activities in Paris that are completely free. Now let’s explore Paris… gratuit!

1. Bird market

On Sundays, just steps from Notre Dame, the exotic bird market takes Paris by storm. All sorts of fowl and colorful pet birds are for sale, as well as rodents (seriously), rabbits, and other small mammals. It’s free to browse and pet the bunnies, and if you’re in the market for a hen or a rooster, you can probably get a decent price.

2. Bridges over the Seine

We know, it sounds so cliché, but strolling the bridges of Paris is truly a timeless activity. Of course, the bridges are free to cross, the tolls having disappeared hundreds of years ago. The Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, and Pont Alexandre III are some of the most famous of the city’s bridges.

And a warning: Don’t even think about spending money attaching one of those locks to any bridge. That’s not cool anymore, so please refrain, thanks!

3. Candy in the Marais

While many of the city’s chocolatiers will offer you a sample if you seem keen to purchase their wares, the good folks at Mazet de Montargis (37 Rue des Archives, Marais) practically give away their pralines and chocolate-covered nuts for free. Samples are encouraged, even if you don’t have a cent in your pocket to buy anything afterward.

Stroll Montmartre's Christmas market. Photo: alebaffa

Stroll Montmartre’s Christmas market. Photo: alebaffa

4. Christmas markets

We’re not rushing the seasons here, but the delightful Christmas markets in Paris are coming up in a few months, and they are all delightfully free to wander. Splurge on a bit of hot wine (“vin chaud”), please, but other than that, there’s no reason to do too much shopping, as prices tend to be a bit inflated for oddball items. Enjoy the atmosphere for zero euros.

5. Churches

Nearly all of Paris’ historic churches are free to enter, wander the aisles, and sit and contemplate. You will need to buy a ticket to take in the stunning stained glass of the Sainte-Chapelle (recommended) and to descend into the crypts of Saint-Denis, but otherwise, all of Paris’s Catholic sanctuaries are free to enter.

Although we are still mourning the loss of Notre   Dame, there are other beautiful churches like Saint Sulpice and Saint Germain-des-Prés that you can see and almost never have a wait. In short: If you see a church, stop in and see what’s behind those doors. You’ll probably be impressed.

A walk through the Passage des Panoramas will make any romantic swoon. Photo: Phil Beard

A walk through the Passage des Panoramas will make any romantic swoon. Photo: Phil Beard

6. Covered shopping arcades

Fortunately, several of Paris’ charming 19th-century shopping arcades (“passages”) are still open and lined with cute shops and galleries. These glass-covered passages, located mostly in the 9th and 2nd arrondissements, offer an atmospheric throw-back, rich with beautiful architecture.

Our favorites include the Passage des Panoramas near the Musée Grévin and the Passage du Grand Cerf near rue Montorgueil.

Eiffel Tower

Don’t miss the free beauty of the Eiffel Tower at night. Photo: Ronel Reyes

7. Eiffel Tower light show

It’s the epitome of kitsch and we love every sparkling moment of it. Every hour on the hour at night, the Eiffel Tower lights up for a few minutes, glittering wildly like the diva she is. Catch a great view from one of the bridges or from Trocadéro just across the river. And good luck with those photos!

8. First Sundays of the month

On the famous first Sunday of the month, admission to Paris’s largest and most famous museums is free. That’s quite a deal, although it also brings with it crowds and insanity. To keep your sanity, avoid any major museums like the Louvre or Orsay. It’s pointless to wait in line for an hour to save a few euros.

Instead, take advantage of the free admission and head to one of the less famous museums like the Musée des Arts et Métiers or the Musée National Eugène Delacroix. You’ll get in for free and won’t have to wait in line. It’s a cheapo win-win!

Score a great (free) view of the Opera from the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette. Photo: mhaubt

Score a free view of the Opera from the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette. Photo: mhaubt

9. Galeries Lafayette’s observation deck

Sure, the iconic department store Galeries Lafayette doesn’t give away its merchandise, but that doesn’t stop us from visiting the gorgeous stained glass cupola or heading to the observation deck. Take the escalator all the way to the top for a great free view of Paris, and you won’t break a sweat or your wallet.

10. Gardens and parks

From the Tuileries to the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris’s few but formidable green spaces are all free to enter and explore. Throw a picnic in the Place des Vosges, sniff the flowers of the Jardin des Plantes or go for a jog in Parc Montsouris with the locals. No admission, no fuss. Just free outdoor beauty.

Related: Parc des Buttes Chaumont: A breath of fresh (and free) air in Paris

Spend a free afternoon visiting the final resting place of everyday Parisians. Photo: Faungg

Spend a free afternoon visiting the final resting place of everyday Parisians. Photo: Faungg

11. Graves

No matter which cemetery you visit — Père Lachaise, Montmartre, Passy, or Montparnasse — the final resting place of famous and everyday Parisians are free to visit. These beautiful cemeteries feature stunning graves and mausoleums of some of the most famous Parisians, including Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, and temporary resident Oscar Wilde. But just as interesting and beautiful are the graves of thousands of normal Parisians. Spend an afternoon getting lost wandering through history.

12. Hotel de Ville exhibits

Always keep an eye on the grand Hotel de Ville (City Hall), which regularly hosts free exhibits throughout the year. The shows could be about anything from movies and fashion to history and art. Lines can get long during the weekends, so try to go during the week if possible. (Check out this page for exhibits — in French.)

13. Mansions in the Marais

The Marais was once the home of the rich and (possibly) famous. Many mansions dating back to the Renaissance are still here, including the Hotel de Soubise and the Hotel de Sully. Many of these are today public buildings or museums that are free to explore inside.

While wandering the Marais, be on the lookout for large doors with cute courtyards that might be open to the public, like the Hotel de Marle that houses the Swedish Institute and their cute little café.

Related: A Cheapo day in the Marais

Visit the Maison Victor Hugo to check out where the great writer worked and lived. Photo: BernieCB

Visit the Maison Victor Hugo to check out where the great writer worked and lived. Photo: BernieCB

14. Museums

The museums run by the city of Paris are F-R-E-E whenever they’re open. The Musée Carnavalet (closed until the end of 2019 for renovations), the Victor Hugo House, and the Musée de la Vie Romantique are just a few that we can name. Most are closed Monday – you’ve been warned.

Note that several of these museums (we’re looking at you Carnavalet) will push you to purchase a “donation ticket” for €5, while others (like Maison Victor Hugo) will push tickets for not-free temporary exhibits. Payment is not required for entry, although, of course, donations to museums and cultural institutions are always a good idea.

Related: A list of free and discounted museums in Paris

15. Music recitals

Many of Paris’ lovely old churches offer free musical recitals, most notably the Eglise Saint-Merri next to the Pompidou Center. Check the online Pariscope listings magazine for more info on free concerts in the city, but you’ll likely find something free and classical most nights.

How about an olive? Stroll the produce at the Bastille market. Photo: nmatiny

How about an olive? Stroll the produce at the Bastille market. Photo: nmatiny

16. Produce markets

Heading to an outdoor food or shopping market, like the Bastille market on Thursday and Sunday, is a great way to see how many of the locals go grocery shopping. The best part is that vendors will often toss you a slice of cantaloupe or whatever they are pushing that day. Take the samples, enjoy them, and pay nothing.

Related: 10 Tips for shopping at outdoor markets in Paris

17. Promenade Plantée

Stroll above the streets on this renovated elevated train track. You can basically walk from Bastille to Vincennes with very little car traffic to get in your way along Promenade Plantée. It’s a favorite for joggers on the weekends and early mornings, though, so give us – I mean them – a little space, please.

Related: 12 Things to do on a budget in the 12th arrondissement

Chateau de Vincennes

Get up close to Chateau de Vincennes for free. Photo: valdemarne

18. Royal castle

The Chateau de Vincennes, in the east of Paris, is an actual castle that was once home to several of France’s most important kings, as well as a prison for at least one other. It may not be as regal today as it was during its heyday, having been a bit beaten up over the years, but strolling the grounds is a delight… and delightfully free. (You’ll need to pay to get inside, but no pressure.)

La Place de la concorde

Looking towards the Egyptian obelisk at the Place de la Concorde. Photo: Fr Lawrence

19. Ruins and monuments

People don’t automatically consider ancient civilizations when they think of Paris, but we have our share of ruins, ancient monuments and other artifacts, including the Egyptian obelisk at Place de la Concorde. There are also Roman baths next to the Musée de Cluny and, a crowd pleaser, the Arènes de Lutèce, the old Roman amphitheater in the Latin Quarter. Today, locals play pétanque in the old gladiatorial arenas while tourists stop in for a picnic and to use the free Wi-Fi. Times have indeed changed!

Related: 20 Overlooked attractions to explore in Paris | Where to find free Wi-Fi in Paris

20. Street art

Who said art has to be confined to a gallery? Street art from Belleville to the Canal Saint-Martin to Place d’Italie changes semi-regularly, so there’s always something new to see. If you’re a true fan of street art, you can check out this link on the official Paris tourism site for tips on seeing works up close.

Seine

Visit a UNESCO world heritage site when you walk along the Seine. Photo: Moyan Brenn

21. UNESCO world heritage sites

Usually, UNESCO heritage sites are a big deal, but in Paris, you can stroll one for absolutely free. The banks of the Seine are considered a world heritage site, and with renovated portions like the Berges de Seine finally free of automobiles, it’s a free, world-class activity. (Unless, of course, you get distracted by the cafés and bars along the Berges…)

22. Stuffed animals

The Musée de la Chasse et la Nature is a fantastic museum for anyone interested in dead animals, but the Deyrolle shop in Saint Germain-des-Prés is a great, free alternative. This taxidermy shop has a huge collection of stuffed animals that died of natural causes – no poaching here. Maybe you’ll leave with a little butterfly… or something larger. Who knows? (Just be careful about what you bring home!)

View Montmartre

An endless view of the city from the tip-top of Montmartre. Photo: Craig Nelson

23. Views

You don’t need to pay to get a nice view of Paris. Forget the Eiffel Tower. You can march up Montmartre, get off the beaten path in Parc de Belleville, or take the elevator to the top of the Institut du Monde Arabe for some stellar shots of Paris. No lines, no fees, just free awesome views over the most beautiful city in the world.

24. Walking tours

We’ve written before about the free Paris tours – which are never really free – but they are a great way to get a cheapo orientation to the city. You’re expected to tip your guides, and they will make this abundantly clear during the 3-4 hour tour. A few euros is usually acceptable, but paper money always makes their day. (Trust me, I know, I was one!)

25. Year ’round culture

Depending on when you come to Paris, culture surrounds you and is usually free. It might be free outdoor cinema in the summer, an open-door day at the major monuments, live concerts, a festival, a parade, a fake beach, or free macaron day.

Do your research and know what’s on when you arrive so that you can take advantage of the year-long free events that Paris hosts.

Your favorite free things to do in Paris?

Have something gratuit to add to our list? Add your favorite free thing in our comments section below!

The post Top 25 free things to do in Paris appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

How to Take Your Own Passport Photo

Do you need a passport photo done in a pinch? There’s one shortcut that can make the process easier, faster and cheaper! You can actually take care of your passport photo from home right now if you’re gearing up for a trip. Anyone who has ever had a “professional” passport photo done knows that the experience is not fun! Most people go to local drugstores or shipping stores for passport photos. However, you could be stuck shelling out up to $15 just for the privilege of having a person behind the counter take a very unflattering photo of you. What’s more, there are tons of horror stories of people discovering that the photos they paid for actually didn’t qualify as passport photos due to being too bright, too dark or too blurry. The good news is that you don’t have to pay money or pose for a stranger just to get a photo that is good enough for your passport. Why is that? The State Department just made do-it-yourself passport photos easier than ever!

The State Department recently unveiled a new cropping tool that can automatically size your passport photo correctly. The good thing about this is that you’re actually getting the technology straight from the “horse’s mouth” instead of relying on someone who has quite possibly only been working behind the counter for a few days. Sizing had been a big point of confusion in the passport world up until now. You can now just go ahead and use the State Department’s official tool right here. The only catch is that you need to have Adobe Flash Play 10 or higher installed on your machine. This could add a few minutes to the process. Of course, upgrading is a lot easier than getting in the car to drive to the store to have your picture taken!

Everything You Need to Know When Taking Your Own Passport Photo


Let’s make sure you know exactly what’s required before you begin the process of creating your passport photo. The standards aren’t extremely difficult. However, the State Department is extremely particular when it comes to only accepting photos that follow all of the rules! Here’s a checklist of things to remember before you pose in front of the camera:

  • You must submit a color photo that has been taken within the last six months.
  • The image of your face must be clear.
  • Never use filters from social media!
  • No selfies allowed! Always have someone else take your photo from a small distance.
  • You should not be wearing glasses in your photo unless you have been granted permission due to a medical issue. A signed statement from your doctor with your passport application will be required.
  • Only white or off-white backgrounds are acceptable.
  • Damaged photos with holes, creases or smudges will not be accepted.
  • Photos should not be digitally altered in any way. You will be asked to submit a new photo if you perform red-eye removal, adjust the lighting or smooth out imperfections.
  • Matte or glossy photo-quality paper should be used.
  • No headphones or hands-free devices allowed.
  • Your entire face must be visible.
  • Hats and head coverings are not permitted. You’ll need to submit either a signed statement that verifies that a hat or head covering is part of recognized, traditional religious attire or a signed doctor’s statement verifying that a head covering is needed for medical purposes.
  • Any hats or head coverings that are worn for approved purposes cannot obscure your hairline or cast shadows.
  • Jewelry and facial piercings are allowed.
  • No uniforms, clothing that looks like a uniform or camouflage allowed.

How should you pose for your passport photo? The State Department would like you to use a neutral facial expression. A natural, subtle smile is permitted. You must be facing the camera with both eyes open. Avoid tilting your head while the photo is being taken. What about attire? You should simply be wearing regular, everyday clothing that fits properly.

Creating an Approved Passport Photo

What’s the next step once you’ve taken a good photo? It’s time to do the technical work of making sure the photo is sized to meet the State Department’s standards. Remember that the photo you submit with your application needs to be a high-resolution, non-blurry photo. No grains or pixels will be permitted! The correct size of a passport photo is 2 inches x 2 inches (51 millimeters x 51 millimeters). Your head must be 1 to 1 3/8 inches (25 millimeters to 35 millimeters) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.

Can You Take a Child or Infant Passport Photo at Home?

You certainly can take a passport photo for a child or infant at home. Keep in mind that all of the same photo rules that apply to adults also apply to children. However, the State Department understands that it can be difficult to get a perfect pose from a newborn. The State Department will accept a photo even if an infant’s eyes aren’t fully open. However, all other children must fully open their eyes.

Review the Standards

Taking an approved passport photo is as simple as finding a white or off-white wall. The big detail to keep in mind is that you should be looking forward with your eyes open when the photo is taken. Make sure your face is totally and fully visible in your photo. Of course, you’ll need to take care of any required documentation if you need to wear glasses or a head covering in your photo. Be sure to include the required documentation with your passport application at the time of submission to avoid delays or denials. You should also review the complete standards for passport photos on the State Department’s website here.

Source: frugal travel guy

NYC: The best cheap eats near Times Square

Let’s be honest: Times Square has never been a great place to eat, especially on a budget. Real New Yorkers try to avoid the area altogether.

And for some curious reason, tourists visiting one of the world’s great culinary destinations seem content packing into the same old mediocre chain restaurants they find back home. Applebee’s and Olive Garden in Times Square have become a punchline to locals.

But thankfully, things are changing. Some interesting and affordable tastes are slowly pushing their way into the Theater District, the region focused around Times Square and bounded east to west by Sixth and Eighth avenues (roughly) and north to south by 57th to 40th streets.

More tips for visiting NYC on the cheap:
How to save on hotels in New York City
The ultimate cheapo guide for visiting New York
Cheap hotels in Times Square and the Theater District


How to eat in Times Square on a budget

So if you’ve already scored affordable tickets to a Broadway show, where can you eat for cheap? It all depends on what you’re looking for. Here are a few suggestions for cheap eats in Times Square.

Shake Shack

Mmmmm… burgers, fries, and more burgers at Shake Shack. Photo: Lucas

Burgers: Shake Shack

Renowned restaurateur, Danny Meyer, transformed a hot dog cart into the first Shake Shack a few blocks downtown at Madison Square Park and never looked back. Though it evolved into a chain with more than 250 locations around the world (and counting), this is one of the pioneering locations. And it’s as good as ever.

For the record, I’m particularly fond of Shake Shack. It’s not unusual to find me huddled over a ShackBurger, fries and house-made lemonade for breakfast at that original location, which opens earlier than the Theater District Shack. Though their crispy chicken sandwiches and hot dogs receive acclaim, Shake Shack is all about burgers and their signature beef blend. The crinkle-cut fries may sound pedestrian, but they’re prepared perfectly. The lemonade is fresh and tart.

Shake Shack has a fair number of seats, but the lines get really long, winding through a short maze indoors before spilling onto Eighth Avenue. Things move fairly quickly, but that only means you’ll playing musical chairs to grab a table unless you arrive soon after opening or during a rare lull during the day.

And here’s a quick tip: Shake Shack concretes — frozen custard mixed with cookies or candy — are great, too. And if all you want are frozen custard, beverages, beer or wine, you can jump into the shorter “C–Line” for quicker service.

Shake Shack
691 Eighth Ave. (at 44th St.)
shakeshack.com

Xian Famous

Spice up your cheap dinner with hand-ripped noodles from Xi’an Famous. Photo: bionicgrrrl

Chinese: Xi’an Famous Foods

You can find a great burger in most cities, but not fresh, handmade noodles. And that’s what draws New Yorkers to Xi’an Famous Foods. From its initial, hole-in-the-wall location in the basement of a Queens shopping mall, Xi’an’s fiery noodles leaped across the river to Manhattan’s Chinatown and then engulfed the entire island.

Head to one of the two nearby locations for “hand-ripped” noodles served in dishes and soups with combinations of vegetables and meats. There’s also a selection of dumplings and what Xi’an calls “burgers” — shredded meat on a bun.

What you want is the Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles — or, if you’ve got to eat and walk, the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger. (Xi’an warns that noodles are made to be eaten quickly, right out of the kitchen.) But if lamb isn’t on your agenda, the Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles, Stewed Pork Burger, and Spicy and Tingly Beef Noodles round out their top five sellers.

Now for some tips: Since the family-owned and operated restaurants are surrounded by towering office buildings, they all get slammed during the lunch and dinner rushes. Your wait will be shorter if you can visit between 2 and 6 pm or on weekends. Also, spicy means spicy. Xi’an Famous Foods draws its name and family recipes from a city in northwestern China known for dishes kindled with cumin, chili, and peppercorns, and this is the real deal. But everything is made to order; so, if you want a milder version, just ask.

Xi’an Famous Foods
37 West 43rd St. (between 5th and 6th Ave.)
37 West 54th St. (between 5th and 6th Ave.)
xianfoods.com

Gray’s Papaya on 8th Avenue is always ready to serve you a hot dog. Photo: David

Hot Dogs: Gray’s Papaya

New Yorkers are busy. And, so it appears, always running late. Which makes hot dogs the perfect, cheapo food: a portable meal you can eat on the run, and one you can find everywhere.

Let’s start by debunking one myth: Food carts are not the dicey proposition many visitors believe. In fact, they’re a staple for many locals and some even serve gourmet specialties. So, you’re rarely more than a block away from a credible New York dog.

But there are a few legendary versions, and one of them is Gray’s Papaya. What sets it apart? It’s always open. It’s very good. And it’s cheap. In fact, Gray’s Papaya is famous for its “Recession Special,” two hot dogs and a medium drink for about six bucks. In Midtown Manhattan, you can’t do better than that.

It’s called Gray’s Papaya because papaya is one of their featured, non-alcoholic tropical beverages, but maybe not the best. I prefer piña colada, though they also serve coconut and banana — along with pineapple juice, soda, coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

Gray’s Papaya
612 8th Ave. (between 39th and 40th St.)
grayspapaya.nyc

Halal Guys

The always busy Halal Guys cart at 53rd Street & 6th Avenue. Photo: Dan

Middle Eastern: The Halal Guys

One example of the upscale food cart trend is The Halal Guys, which began as a single cart in the Theater District and rode demand from Muslim taxi drivers to become an international restaurant phenomenon. Their original offering is also their most popular — a combo platter of chicken and beef gyro over rice. They serve both types of meat and a pretty good falafel in platters and as sandwiches on pita, with a choice of toppings.

Then there are the sauces. Unless you enjoy playing with fire, ease into the hot sauce, which registers 115,000 on the Scoville spicy-heat scale. (Most jalapeños come in well under 10,000.) And their tangy white sauce is so popular it has its own following.

With plenty of hardcore fans in a busy section of the city, the carts along 53rd Street are not hard to find: Just look for a long line of New Yorkers from every ethnicity, background, and culture. But don’t be scared off by the crowd. Hop right in and meet some new friends. Things move pretty quickly.

The Halal Guys
West 53rd St. and 6th Ave.
West 53rd St. and 7th Ave.
thehalalguys.com

Empanada Mama

A sampling of goodies from Empanada Mama. Photo: Facebook

Latin American: Empanada Mama

Granted, this cheapo favorite is officially in Hell’s Kitchen, a block beyond the Theater District’s official boundaries, but this small gem is close to some Broadway venues and worth the short walk.

Touting “big flavors in small packages,” Empanada Mama features, well, empanadas — stuffed pastries, most fried, some baked, that are staples in many Latin American regions. There are about 40 empanadas on the main menu, under $4 each, with both traditional and not-so-traditional tastes.

In the mood for something traditional? Try Brasil, with ground beef, olives, sautéed onion, and potato, or Desayuno Colombiano, with Colombian pork sausage, cheddar cheese, eggs and Spanish onion. Prefer fusion? Consider El Ruben, with shredded beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese, or Pepperoni Pizza, with pepperoni, tomato sauce, and cheese. The variety is impressive and spills over to a small dessert menu with empanadas stuffed with fruit, cheese, and chocolate.

Like many New York restaurants, Empanada Mama has a compact — no, make that tiny — dining room, so be ready to wait if you arrive at prime time.

Empanada Mama
765 Ninth Ave. (between 51st and 52nd St.)
empmamanyc.com

NY Pizza Suprema

Grab a slice before a show at NY Pizza Suprema. Photo: Adam Kuban

Pizza: Here’s Where It Gets Tricky

Pizza is the iconic NYC cheap eat. And there’s no shortage of storefronts peddling crust topped with tomato sauce and cheese. You can probably find one of those on every block. Maybe two. Or three.

What you won’t find in the Theater District is the kind of great slice joints scattered in neighborhoods around the city. Why? I dunno. Send me your theories. But I suspect it has to do with rents and that whole “tourists-content-at-Olive Garden” thing.

If you want pizza immediately before or after a show, your best bet is John’s of Times Square, a notable restaurant preparing traditional New York pies (no slices) in an 800-degree, coal-fired oven — along with a full menu of pasta, sandwiches, and dessert. But it may be known better for its setting in an abandoned church, complete with a stunning stained glass ceiling, which, to be honest, is pretty cool.

But I prefer to venture nine blocks outside the Theater District to NY Pizza Suprema, praised by many and rated by the “Slice Harvester” website as New York City’s best slice. Their regular cheese pizza is memorable. So are the Margherita and white slices. My advice? Go with whatever looks good — it will be — but be ready to order when it’s your turn and keep things moving.

John’s of Times Square
260 West 44th St. (between 7th and 8th Ave.)
johnspizzerianyc.com

NY Pizza Suprema
413 8th Ave. (between 31st and 30th St.)
nypizzasuprema.com

City Kitchen

City Kitchen is a fancy (but not expensive) food court in Times Square. Photo: Facebook

If you can’t decide: City Kitchen

If your group’s already arguing about where to eat — or perhaps you’re arguing with yourself! — your best bet is City Kitchen, located at the Row NYC Hotel. When you enter what’s billed as “A Times Square Food Market” you’ll find a busy room ringed by upscale food stalls.

I have a couple of favorites. Whitmans, one outpost of a popular burger-and-fries joint founded in New York’s East Village, serves a pared-down menu starring their Upstate Burger, a signature beef short rib blend, and an oddly satisfying version topped with peanut butter and applewood smoked bacon. Luke’s Lobster, another East Village import, serves their signature lobster rolls and a more cheapo-friendly shrimp roll to aficionados at almost 40 locations worldwide. But there’s more: Azuki sushi, Ilili Box Mediterranean cuisine, Gabriela’s Taqueria and Kuro-Obi ramen.

Whatever you choose, don’t miss Dough, an outpost for one of the city’s great doughnut shops. Their rotating menu includes unexpected flavors like hibiscus and passion fruit. A couple of my favorites — Nutella and dulce de leche — are also often available.

City Kitchen
700 8th Ave. (at 44th St.)
citykitchen.rownyc.com

Your tips for Times Square

Where do you like to eat for cheap when you’re in Times Square? Let us know in the comments!

The post NYC: The best cheap eats near Times Square appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

The Joys of Off-Peak Travel

Anyone who has traveled to Europe in the off-season usually raves about the experience: the museums and other tourist sites have no lines, you can get a table in a restaurant, and you even stand a chance of interacting with a local now and then. For many travelers, those benefits easily outweigh the possibility of cold weather and precipitation.

On top of that, it’s cheaper. Airfares are lower over the winter, as airlines try to lure passengers onto planes. In many cases, mileage redemptions are reduced as well. Most carriers will run sporadic sales during the cold months, but there are two reliable sources of deals: American Airlines off-peak fares and Flying Blue Promo Awards. We’ll examine both in detail.

American Airlines 

AA offers discounted redemptions to quite a few regions, although some deals are better than others (prices are for one-way coach fares, with the normal fare in parentheses):

  • Europe: 22,500 miles (30,000), January 10-March 14.
  • Hawaii: 20,000 (22,500). To Hawaii: December 29-March 12; from Hawaii: January 7-March 19.
  • South America Region 1 (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Manaus (Brazil): 17,500 (20,000), January 16-June 14.
  • Caribbean, Mexico and Central America: 12,5000 miles (15,000), April 27-May 20.
  • Asia Region 1 (Japan and South Korea): 32,500 (35,000). To Japan: January 1-April 30; from Japan: January 16-April 19 and May 2-31. To South Korea: January 1-April 30; From South Korea: January 16-May 31.
  • Asia Region 2 (China and Hong Kong): 32,500 (35,000). To: January 1-April 30, July 1-September 30 and October 11-November 30. From: February 1-May 31, September 1-19 and October 2-December 31.

There are some restrictions to be aware of. These redemption rates are for coach seats only—no premium cabins are allowed. All flights must be on American, and you’ll need to find award space at the Saver level (partner airlines are allowed on flights to Europe but be careful of exorbitant fees and fuel surcharges, particularly on British Airways and Iberia). Lastly, discounts only apply to the regions named, and no domestic destinations are included.

Even with the restrictions, Europe emerges as the sweet spot in the lineup. If the weather is a concern, aim for warmer southern countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy rather than Germany or Scandinavia. Also, be on the alert for AA’s new Web Specials, where you can snag a one-way European flight for as little as 9,000 miles. Web Specials are regular Economy seats and have none of the disadvantages of Basic Economy.

Finally, remember that American allows you to book one-way award flights. In addition to opening up more flexibility in booking, this allows you to fly into one city and travel overland for a while before returning from a different destination. Other airlines do run off-peak winter sales, and it pays to stay alert for any opportunities, but AA offers the most comprehensive pattern of discounts among the U.S. legacy airlines.

The easiest way to quickly earn a pile of AAdvantage miles is to apply for a co-branded credit card and meet the minimum spending requirements. AAdvantage cards are issued by both Barclays and Citibank and include some attractive options:

  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard: 60,000 miles after making your first purchase within 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee.
  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard: 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, plus another 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card ($95 annual fee).
  • Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in your first three months, with the $99 annual fee waived the first year.
  • Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard: 70,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first four months ($99 annual fee).
  • CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard: 70,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first four months, with the $99 annual fee waived the first year.

Flying Blue Promo Awards

These little-known award redemptions from Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM) are the gift that keeps on giving. They’re released monthly and feature discounts of up to 50% from select gateway cities; you have a three-month window for reservations (space permitting). They must be booked online.

The current batch of Promo Awards needs to be booked by January 30 for travel between February 29 and April 29. Discounted flights from North America to Europe include 50% off from Houston in Economy (14,000 miles each way) and Premium Economy (28,750 miles each way), 25% off from Mexico City in Business (48,750 miles each way) and 50% off from Minneapolis in Economy (14,500 miles each way). The only downside is that taxes and fees can be high on these flights.

Even so, one of the best things about Flying Blue is the ease of accumulating a balance in your frequent flyer account. Flying Blue is a transfer partner of Chase, American Express, Citibank, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy; on top of that, if you’re fortunate enough to take advantage of a transfer bonus, your miles can escalate very quickly.

While there are other, more complex ways to redeem for an off-peak ticket (such as using Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta or transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Aer Lingus), these two options are the most solid and reliable methods of traveling at a discount during the off-season.

Source: frugal travel guy

What Kind of Expat Would You Be?

moving to another country

The word “expatriate” or the shorter “expat” can mean a lot of different things depending on who it is applied to. Whenever I go to the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference in Europe or Asia I meet loads of people who are not living in their home country. In one day when it took place in […]

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Source: Cheapest Destinations