In a first for our Go for Less series of budget travel videos and stories, WalletPop takes you abroad. It's our mission to show you how to use your money wisely to enrich your life, and that includes making dream vacations come true. So I visited Venice, Italy, to show you how you can see this fantasy tourism city for as little as possible. It can be done!
Airfare will be your single greatest cost, but spending it buys you sights and flavors you will remember for the rest of your life. You can knock the price of transatlantic transportation down a little by using frequent flier miles or snagging a sale. Sites such as FareCompare.com and Yapta.com help you get a handle on the cheapest times of year to fly. Flights go directly to Venice without stopping from a few major American cities such as New York. Once you've got that expense under control, it's up to you to trim costs while you're on the ground.
Some of the tips are outlined in my video, and I show you what to look for. Here are 10 priceless money-saving suggestions:
Walk everywhere. Venice is a compact, car-free city and is essentially an island in a calm lagoon. You can't wander too far without finding shoreline, and getting "lost" among the ancient bridges and palaces is a major reason to go. Walking has one major budget benefit, too: It saves you on the intense $8 one-way price of the public transportation ferry, the vaporetto, that plies the Grand Canal. Most of the time, because the Canal doesn't go everywhere, the vaporetto won't get you directly to where you need to go, so that $8 won't even get you where you really wanted to go. If you want to get onto the water, I supply a fantastic tip in the video that has to do with another local institution, the traghetto.
Be wary of pizzas! As the video shows, personal ones can cost €13 to €15 (that's $19!) in busy tourist areas such as around the Rialto Bridge. So do what the locals do. In the middle of the day, they might grab a glass of local wine and a plate of tapas-like food called cicheti (like local salt cod cream, octopus,or artichoke) at a laid-back baccaro. That will cost you about $5. The video shows you what a typical one looks like. It's easy: Just go inside and point at the food you want in the case. No one will judge you for not speaking Italian because it's a city that depends on foreign tourists and is stuffed with them all the time.
Stick to the house wines. They're cheap and good -- Italians won't stand for swill.
Employ a similar tactic for most of your dinners. Between late afternoon and early evening, you'll see locals mingling at cafes drinking radioactive-looking orange or red cocktails. These are called spritz, and although most Americans find them strangely bitter, they're a local institution. A few places, such as Campiello di Remer (it's hard to find, so here's a map), serve their spritz with a never-ending parade of salads, spreads, and dishes, which solves your dinner problem.
Don't climb anything. Going into the eye-crossingly ornate St. Mark's Basilica, for example, is free. It's when you choose to climb higher for a view, such as into its gallery on up the campanile across San Marco square, that you'll have to pay.
Going to the public toilet costs about $2. Don't spend that. You don't have to use a potentially nasty public bathroom when that same $2 will buy you a bottle of water at a café, where, as a customer, you can use a proper washroom.
Other cultural differences are worth remembering in you want to save money. Don't tip twice by accident at restaurants; always ask if service is included in the price. Also note that the same restaurants may charge you a $2 or $3 "cover" price (coperto) the minute you sit down; that's normal.
Locals get a cheaper price. Of course, you probably don't know any locals in Venice, but knowing that you are indeed being gouged for higher prices can be galling. One of the reasons I went to Venice was to check out the Venice-based budget accommodations service HostelsClub.com, which despite the name specializes in affordable lodging as well as super-budget backpackers' haunts.
The website has the unique advantage of being owned by Venetians, and it makes a big deal of passing on the "Venetian" price to outsiders such as you and me. If that smacks too much of something Sicilian, there are a few other steady promotions that are more transparent. One is the promise that many of its represented budget properties will give Americans and Canadians the same price in dollars as is charged in Euros to Europeans. That can be an instant 20% savings, since a single Euro is currently worth about 1.20¢ in dollars.
Another winning thing the site does is give you a free night in Venice for every five nights booked at properties anywhere else. So if you book 10 nights anywhere else in the world through it, you'll get a free weekend's worth in a budget hotel in Venice. I checked out the arrangement by staying as HostelsClub's guest at one of the reward hotels in question, and it was no great shakes, but it did the job and it was free, so there wasn't much to complain about.
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How to visit Venice, Italy, for $50 a day or less