How Under-The-Radar Destinations Can Save You Money

Recently, when a friend and I were traveling by train in Spain, she used her senior discount card to get a hefty discount off the ticket price. She’s not Spanish; she’s a U.S. tourist. It turns out that Renfe, Spain’s national train company, offers a senior discount card, called a tarjeta dorada, for train travel to anyone aged 60 and over. Her card cost her just $7—and she saved more than that on her fare the first time she used it.

As someone who travels a lot, I’m always on the lookout for ways to save money or to travel more pleasantly. So I was glad to learn about Renfe’s senior discount. (Some Spanish bus companies also offer discounts to seniors. Be sure to ask if you qualify—the websites don’t always tell you.)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also come to prefer “slow” travel: taking longer trips but traveling around less, so that I have time to savor destinations. They cause less wear and tear on me, and they mean lower per-day expenses. It’s a mode of travel that works well for retirees, as well as for anyone who works online, as I do.

One way to save is to rent an apartment, rather than stay in a hotel. It lowers my per-day costs and also lets me “play house” and live like a local. A tip when doing this is to be willing to rent in off season or shoulder season, and you can often pay a fraction of high-season rents.

These are well-known strategies. But recently I stumbled on another tactic that may lower costs even further: Rent in a place that’s just under the radar…

I was staying in southern Spain, in Jerez de la Frontera. It’s one leg of Spain’s Sherry Triangle, and it’s on the main train line from Madrid down to Cadiz, on the southern coast. While there, I made a couple of day trips to Sanlucar de Barrameda. It’s a charming little coastal town that’s also part of the Sherry Triangle. But it’s not on a train line; you take the train as far as Jerez and then get a bus for the hour’s drive to Sanlucar.

In the high summer season, Sanlucar is packed with Spaniards and other Europeans who come for their beach vacations. An apartment rental here in high season routinely runs about $1,695 for just two weeks. But in low season—the rest of the year—rental rates are very low: about $450 to $510 a month.

Sanlucar’s off-season rates are well below what you’d pay for short-term apartments in Jerez in this season. So why such a difference? It’s because Sanlucar is just a bit harder to reach…and therefore slightly off the radar…for winter tourists

Some beach destinations are dead in winter, which can account for low rents. But Sanlucar has lovely outdoor cafes and restaurants, a long beach for strolling, and a mild winter climate…there would be plenty to do here for a stay. So it’s underrated, in my opinion.

I’m going to test my theory further on future travels…checking out other towns just a short ways from the main routes…and just under the radar.

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