What if I told you that last week I went to Istanbul, Turkey and the trip cost less than $1,000.  Airfare, accommodations, food, sight seeing, entertainment and drinks all included under that $1k umbrella.  Would you believe me?  You should, because it’s absolutely true!

When we think of international travel in the states we often think of astronomical airfare prices, expensive hotels, horrible ground transportation, expensive meals and over priced tours.  It doesn’t have to be that way!  With a few simple changes in your itinerary you can save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  I saved so much that I’m considering another last minute international trip as we speak!  How did I do it?  Read on…

Flights: Often times the most expensive part of your intentional trip happens to be the flight.  You’re told that you have to book “months out to receive the best deal” and that flights of over $1,000 are normal.  This is often true, but if you have some flexibility in your schedule and a boss that is willing to give you a last minute break, finding a last minute international flight is often times pretty inexpensive.  How do you find them?  You can search for hours and hours throwing in search after search in travel search engines or you can do the easier thing and follow some of the top travel experts themselves.  (ThePointsGuy.com is my favorite).  Here you are often able to find inexpensive round trips based out of large airports from around the country.  Once you find the deal, BOOK IT!  A lot of these flights deals disappear just as fast as they appear so it’s important to get on it fast.

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Where to stay: Hotels are a great place to stay, but they can get expensive fast.  What I like to do is think about the amount of time I am going to spend in the hotel.  For me, I go there to sleep for a few hours then adventure on!  Imagine this: You’re traveling by yourself and stay in a country for 4 nights at $129 a night.  That’s over $500 for a place that you are going to do NOTHING BUT SLEEP IN!  Do yourself a favor and try something new.

The Hostel Experience:  The word ‘hostel’ brings fear to many people.  They have heard horrible stories about nightmarish stays in these places.  They have seen the movie ‘Hostel’ and imagine that hostels might as well be death traps.  Now I’m not hear to say that every hostel is a wonderful place, but overall the experience for most people is a good one. The hostel I stayed in last week had 6 floors and a Roof Top Terrace complete with a full bar, food and live music multiple nights a week!  You also have different room arrangements, for those of us that want to travel the least expensive way possible there are bunk rooms.  Often times they have 8 person rooms or 4 person rooms, then semi private rooms and private rooms for those that want a bit more privacy.  These bunk rooms are often times your best opportunity to make life long friends and find people interested in traveling to similar areas around the city!  Most hostels also have private lockers for you to store your stuff in while you’re adventuring so just for safety purposes make sure to lock up your stuff!

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Adventures: The first thing I asked when I arrived at my hostel was “What should I do while I am here?”.  The response I received was not what I was expecting, he told me to “Go!  Get lost in Istanbul!  Go straight, then take a left, then a right, then walk further and go get lost!  Istanbul will take care of you.” and take care of me she did!  After a day of getting lost I went on to find a tourist map of all the tourist places around the city.  All of which ended up being within an hour long walk of the hostel. Every where you go there are people offering tours, tour boats, tour buses, walking tours, running tours, moped tours, blah blah blah.  SKIP IT!  Skip it or find a tour that hits on a special part of the city.  the worst thing you could do is sign up for a 12 hour tour and be stuck with a bunch of randoms and never actually see any of the cool stuff you want to see.

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Ground Transportation: Europe is known for its amazing transportation systems.  They have city buses, rail systems, street cars, subways..  You name it, they have it!  Most of the time they have passes you can buy that allow you access to all of the transportation as well.  Forget about renting a car, this is the easiest way to get around.  Taxi’s are always a great option as well if you are trying to get to a specific destination, just make sure you pronounce the name correctly and ask for an estimated fare before hoping in (I recommend having them write down a number so you can see, otherwise you might be in for a big misunderstanding).  Want to hear a story about a taxi misunderstanding?  Well you’re going to hear it anyway.

The Great Taxi Adventure of 2015: Last week in Istanbul I was attempting to visit a friend of mine in a town called Kadikoy. The driver who didn’t speak a word of english repeated the word a couple times and I said “yes”.  The pronunciation didn’t sound like what I expected but it was close enough.  After a 15 minute drive I was wondering why it was taking so long and saw that we were driving over a bridge, i shrugged my shoulders and asked where we were going and he pointed to a map that said “Karakoy”. The mistake was my fault because I didn’t even think that there would be two towns so close together with nearly the same spelling.  Even worse, the town I was wanting to go to was on the Asia side of Istanbul while the town he was driving me to was on the European side.  Hello night mare of a trip!  What did I learn from the experience? I may be one of the only people that can say they took a taxi to the wrong continent.  Lesson learned!

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Food and Beverage: Every country is known for their specialities and every country is known to have super duper crazy expensive restaurants as well as inexpensive restaurants.  Through my adventures I would say the best way to find a restaurant in your price range is through YELP!.  Download it now!  Each day I grabbed a small lunch at a local restaurant and each night I went to a different restaurant for a nicer meal.  I would say the most I spent on a meal was $20 and ate like a king.

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If you’re looking for a night on the town I always recommend not going alone.  You never know what can happen to you when you’re by yourself, even in the safest of international cities.  Take your hostel friends with you and go out for a fun time.  Once again, I always recommend using Yelp to find a good place to go and don’t be pushed into going into a bar just because a pesky person is standing outside telling you to come in.  Why?  Because every once and a while bad things happen.  Another story.

The Clubbing by Yourself Mistake: While I was staying at the hostel I met another traveler who decided to go to the bars and clubs alone the night before.  What happened made our jaws drop.  So this friend of mine was going bar to bar and eventually was told to come into this club by a party promoter standing out front.  He was already pretty drunk so he went in and sat down for a drink.  All of a sudden a couple girls came out of no where and started dancing around, fully clothed.  He finished his drink and found the place a bit shady so he asked to pay his tab and leave.  The bartender told him that it would be 400TL (equivalent of around $175USD) he said there must be a mistake and asked to speak to a manager.  All of a sudden he found himself surrounded by 6 large men telling him to pay up.  He luckily had the cash and scurried out and never looked back.

Now I’m not saying that that always happens, but you just have to be careful.  Drinking alone in a foreign country = BAD.

Wrapping Up: International travel should be something that everyone has on their list of things to do at some point in their life.  As Americans, very few of us every take the opportunity to travel abroad and stay in our own country.  There is nothing wrong with that, but you’re missing out on the opportunity to learn about different cultures, different religions and see some of the most amazing sights in the world! Keep a look out for those flight deals and make your own amazing adventure happen.  Safe travels!

-Andrew Dean

The Costumed Traveler

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