If, like me, you struggle to tap into whatever resources you are aware of on the web to keep travel costs down in these economically uncertain times, you might welcome tips and suggestions offered by top travel experts. I recently attended, on separate weekends, The Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show at the Long Beach Convention Center and the LA Times Travel show at the LA Convention Center and found them to be excellent forums to receive such information.

It was fun to see and meet some of the superstars of the travel world, such as Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, Peter Greenburg, Rudy Maxa, Lisa Ling, and Samantha Brown. The most important thing for me, however, was tapping into the wealth of travel experience, wisdom, and insight they offer that can enrichen the travel experience while reducing travel costs. Factor in the travel apps and web sites available to help make the travel experience just a bit more comfortable, enjoyable and affordable, and I found the information offered to be quite valuable.

At the LA Times Travel show, the legendary Arthur Frommer was on hand to offer several travel tips that can save money for the budget traveler. Helpful websites suggested by Frommer were airbnb, and wimdu. com which both offer rooms in the homes of local residents at much lower cost than hotels. These provide a generally more comfortable and authentic experience than staying in hotels. Free accommodations are available in the homes of locals through servas.org, couchsurfing.org, and globalfreeloaders.org. The best websites to find cheap airfares are Kayak, Do-hop and Skyscanner. Some of the more desirable tour packagers are Gadventures (formerly Gap Adventures, before being sued by the Gap), Intrepid and Djoser. According to Frommer, these companies provide a higher quality, more intimate tour experience than those that offer 40-seat motorcoach tours.

A panel of travel experts suggested the importance of remaining flexible when looking for bargains. Set up a separate e- mail file and sign up for everything travel related that might produce a bargain. Watch out for hidden fees in advertised offers. I found an offer in the LA Times presented by Jet Blue for $294 round trip air fare to Alaska this summer (Long Beach-Anchorage). Yes, that’s after taxes and fees. Great deal. Some websites the panel recommended to peruse for bargains include travelzoo.com, biddingfortravel.com, yapta.com, flyertalk.com, smartertravel.com, and priceline.com

Bargains can be had if you’re flexible about where you want to go and when you can go. Consider geography when figuring travel expenses. Your funds will likely go much further in Asia or Latin America than in Europe. Also, the less you limit your travel destinations, the more accessible you will be to bargains. Take advantage of flight vouchers on overbooked flights if you have a flexible itinerary. I just flew to Florida for free on a travel voucher. Packing lightly saves money (and the hassle of lugging too much stuff around when you get there). Several panelists railed about a new Spirit Airlines policy of charging for carry- on bags. Hopefully, this will not become a widespread trend!

A presentation on the best travel apps suggested Tripit for organizing trips, Skype for overseas phone calls, Speechtrans, Vocre and Photolens for language translations, Photosynch and Photocollage for photos, Yelp and Foodspotting for restaurant reviews, Gasbuddy for cheap places to find gas, and Sitorsquat for quickly locating that restroom when you just gotta go. Most of these are available on ipad, iphone and androids, and most of them are free, but some charge a nominal fee (often just $.99).

Pauline Frommer, daughter of Arthur and a travel expert in her own right, offered her suggestions on when to scrimp or splurge. Some helpful web sites suggested by Frommer to get a good deal on air fares are hipmunk.com and dohop.com. Cheapflights.com can lead you to smaller travel agencies that may offer better rates as well. Flightguru.com can also be helpful. She suggested booking on Tuesday or Wednesday for the best rates and not more than four months in advance. Frommer mentioned breezenet.com and autoslash.com for savings on car rentals and even suggested considering Rent-a- Wreck. She recommended Poland and Guatemala as countries somewhat off the beaten path worth visiting.

A common theme among the presenters was “let me tell you about my idiotic mistakes on the road so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.” Even travel “experts” have their fish-out-of-water moments in exotic environments. The Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown told humorous stories of her travel mishaps and missteps, including a faux pas during a Taiwanese feast (“We never eat that!” ) and a close encounter with a wall at 3am that broke her nose before the taping of one of her shows. Brown’s three phrases(minimum) to learn in a foreign language: “Please, thank you, and hello.” She also mentioned her pet peeve (plastic wrapped soap) and her favorite country (Cambodia).

Rick Steves’s lecture filled up on Saturday, resulting in some irate folks challenging the security people who had to abide by the fire code limit. Rick benevolently offered a free DVD containing his travel tips to those of us who came a bit too late to hear his lecture. He admitted, “I guess this is a good problem to have.” I went back to see him on Sunday and soaked in a lively presentation in which he recommended getting off the tourist track and living like a local while abroad.

At both travel shows, there were many booths and displays covering nearly every corner of the world, an international mélange of tour promoters offering bargain packages. Also at both events there were raffles and drawings, rock climbing and zip lines, and dances and foods to sample from various cultures. There were culinary sections where you could enjoy a variety of ethnic offerings, and even free samplings of a nine course meal offered on the menu of the Titanic. There were also suggestions for, and presentations about, day trips throughout southern California. But the most perplexing offer to me was the Extreme Tornado Tours to the Midwest, apparently favored by (suicidal?) thrillseekers.

Other notes and observations:

-Several photographers offered free photo clinics on how to improve your travel photos.

  • Peter Greenberg spoke of little known ways to save money by beating the airlines at their own game. These include taking advantage of the new legislation allowing consumers to cancel a booked flight within 24 hours of booking, particularly timely since airfares are on the rise. Search several web sites for the best price.

-It was amusing to watch Rudy Maxa wait for the zipline to pass in back of him before resuming his presentation with his own unique travel tips.

-Josh Gates listed the 5 top spots to visit in 2012 as : Cuba, London (for the Olympics), the Yucatan (for the Mayan ruins), Panama and Thailand. He recommended picking one of three alliances of airlines : Staralliance, Oneworld and Skyteam. Google them to find out the specific airlines, and stick with it to collect points and miles on your credit card toward free trips.

  • Maxa and Greenburg suggested scanning the first few pages of your passport and e-mailing it to yourself. Both experts mentioned that the two most popular items targeted by thieves are iphones and US passports.

Some other web sites recommended during the conferences include: cheapflights.com and airfares.com for airfare bargains, flipkey. com, homeaway.com and hotelscombined.com for accommodations, insuremytrip.com for travel insurance, and tripadvisor.com for just about everything. Also, check out bootsnall.com, matador.com, and frommers.com for travel forums that can be helpful. The more flexible you are, and the more research and homework you do searching for bargains, the better your chance to save on travel expenses.

All in all, the shows were enjoyable and informative. At a cost of about $20 per day for admission and parking, I’m hoping the budget tips will pay for the cost of the travel shows many times over. May you have as much fun checking out and putting to use these travel web sites and apps as I will.

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