USA TODAY - The idea of traveling to certain sophisticated, opulent, or far-flung destinations may incite concerns about exorbitant hotel costs and $15 pints of beer. It's true: Some cities and countries are predominantly more expensive to visit than others. But don't let that stop you. There are ways to stretch your dollars even in places where a high cost of living or an unfavorable exchange rate threaten a well-planned budget. Here are some tips and tricks for stretching your dollars, pounds and yen in seven notoriously pricey places around the world.
New York City
The prohibitive cost of accommodations in New York City is often the number-one financial factor that discourages visitors. The average daily room rate in the Big Apple in 2012 was $281, according to nycgo.com.
How to save: Two words: vacation rentals. Do a search on Airbnb or our sister site FlipKey, and you'll find rooms or apartments for far cheaper than the average going hotel rates. You'll probably get more space, too. For example, we found an entire one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, available for $178 per night for a weekend in April.
Don't say we didn't warn you, though: Some of the properties listed for New York may be illegal. Zoning laws or leases may forbid short-term rentals; tenants will often just ignore the rules and rent anyway. Rent at your own risk. If you're not comfortable with the renting situation, a good bet is finding an off-season bargain on accommodations.
With its pristine mountain air, clear lakes and opulent palaces, Switzerland is as gorgeous as it is expensive. The country is home to the world's priciest hotel room: the 75,000 franc Royal Penthouse Suite at the Hotel President Wilson. (Fittingly, the suite contains one of the biggest TVs in the world.) American travelers will generally find that accommodations, as well as meals and public transportation, are much more expensive than those in the States. The Swiss standard of living is very high, local wages are kept high and the Swiss economy is structured in a way that restricts competition and drives up costs of goods and services.
How to save: One surprisingly affordable find in Switzerland is the locally made wine. The Swiss export a very small percentage of their wine, yet this rare spirit is sold for low prices at local wine shops and vineyards. I've spotted some high-quality vintages in the Lake Geneva region for the equivalent of $10 or $15. Many vineyards offer complimentary wine tastings and tours.
Also, go to the beach. This landlocked country has some phenomenal beaches -- on par with some of the famous European Rivieras bordering the ocean. Most of them are free to visit.
Finally, cross the border. If you have Eurail pass (an excellent way to save on ground transportation), adding a few day trips to nearby Germany, Italy or France can cut costs -- albeit only slightly, as there's still that unfavorable exchange rate to contend with in other parts of the Continent.
A recent cost of living survey recognized Tokyo as one of Asia's most expensive cities. Moreover, it's not cheap to get to from the States. Airfare prices to Asia are often set at higher rates for the many business travelers who fly these routes, and so it's less common to see airfare sales featuring discounted prices geared toward leisure travelers.
How to save: Instead of booking a non-stop from an East Coast city to Tokyo, look for trans-Pacific flights departing from the West Coast and add a transcontinental coach ticket on a low-cost carrier. For travel in March, we spotted round-trip prices from Boston to Tokyo for around $1,500 via Kayak. Prices -- for the same dates-- for travel from Los Angeles to Tokyo came in at around $800 round-trip. Add a non-stop from Boston to Los Angeles on JetBlue for $159 each way (it wasn't difficult to find this price for a midweek flight in March), and you'll save hundreds.
When you've arrived? According to the New York Times, budget hotels aren't difficult to come across in Tokyo. This guide to saving suggests riding the subway and finding food at bargain lunch spots (when English menus weren't available, the author "pointed, asked questions, and hoped for the best") and convenience stores.
London, one of the most expensive cities on the planet, is so exclusive that it encompasses three of the world's 10 priciest real estate properties. For Americans, an unfavorable exchange rate, very high sales tax and a prevalence of super-rich residents (driving up prices for goods and services such as accommodations and meals) make a trip to this vibrant, culturally robust city a financial challenge.
How to save: The big trick that will help in 2014 is finding affordable airfare; other than accommodations, this is going to be your largest expense. With new low-cost trans-Atlantic airlines like Norwegian and WOW promising to undercut major carriers' prices in the coming year, it will likely be easier to pick up an affordable plane ticket to the British capital this spring and summer.
Australia's exchange rate is trading at a low rate against the dollar, but the expensive long-haul flight and high cost of living in Sydney continue to create a cost-prohibitive environment for travelers.
How to save: Plan free activities. Don't pooh-pooh us for being obvious here. Sydney's special because there are many once-in-a-lifetime, amazing, photo-worthy excursions that are totally free. Go to the Royal Botanic Gardens, walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, spend time on local beaches, browse Paddington Markets -- you get the idea. Lonely Planet has a great list of 20 free things to do in Sydney.
There's been buzz lately about the skyrocketing cost of living in San Francisco. According to some sources, in 2013, the City by the Bay surpassed New York as the most expensive metropolis in the U.S in which to live. Hotels are, accordingly, costly. Add transcontinental airfare for those residing in the eastern part of the country, and a San Francisco holiday can be a budget buster.
How to save: Since San Francisco is served by so many low-cost carriers -- AirTran, Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America-- it's possible to find very affordable fares if you know when and where to look. Check for airfare sales on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which is when these airlines often release discounted-ticket promotions.
Nix the car rental, book a stay in the city and use your feet or public transportation to get around. It's expensive to park in San Fran's more central neighborhoods, so staying in a cheaper hotel farther afield and then driving into the city might not be the best budget-friendly strategy.
Almost everything is terribly expensive in Norway, from accommodations to food to tours. A pint of beer, for example, costs $14.10, according to Business Insider. And the Economist's Big Mac Index places Norway's burger at the top of the list-- at a whopping $7.51, or about 46 kroner.
How to save: Flights to Oslo, fortunately, aren't generally too expensive for American travelers. Norwegian and Icelandair are two carriers that offer tickets on the lower end of the European pricing spectrum. A recent search on the Norwegian website turned up flights from New York to Oslo in March for as low as $180.80 each way; that's a pretty amazing price.
In Norway, we recommend pulling out the classic budget-travel tricks: renting an apartment with a kitchen, cooking your own meals and using public transportation or a bike-share program. Or, if you're on board with an outdoor adventure, you could even camp or caravan; the experience might not be as rugged as you'd expect. At the seaside "five-star" campsite Kristiansand Feriesenter Dvergsnestangen in Southern Norway, family-sized cabins have million-dollar ocean views and costs run the equivalent of roughly a few hundred dollars per night.
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