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Planning a Cheap Vacation to the Most Expensive Cities In The World

Author: Ethan Harris

Vacations, we all know, include the costs of entrance fees, restaurant meals and tours that can add up to wreck a budget fast. Rethink some activities, as many well-traveled visitors have discovered, and you'll be able to find interesting activities that require a lot less money. Do some research on the web to plan ahead, but also be flexible and be prepared for last-minute changes due to weather or local conditions.

Visit Like an Insider

Spend a few hours with a local and they'll not only take you to their favorite places – as only a native can – but go off-the-beaten path to show you things based on your interests. On the web, tap into the Global Greeter Network, a worldwide association of volunteer guides located in dozens of cities and destinations, to pre-arrange a Greeter visit, all free of charge. Greeters typically work with from one to six persons and often have no pre-set itineraries, themes or meeting times. Your Greeter will work with you to set up a customized visit – guidelines and pre-registration information can be found on the website. Some sample Greeters:

Big Apple Greeter invites visitors to meet a real New Yorker who will show off the city as he or she experiences it from living and working in New York City. The secret whispering corner in Grand Central Terminal is a popular Greeter stop. Request a Big Apple Greeter at least three-to-four weeks in advance of your arrival.

Come as a guest – leave as a friend states Berlin Greeter's site where visitors can learn the secret of the typical Berlin backyard as well as the difference between a pancake and a Berliner.

Chicago Greeter offers specialized two–to–four hour themed LGBTQ Chicago and Ethnic Chicago visits. Register 10 business days ahead, but if you're unable to plan in advance, take advantage of an hour-long free InstaGreeter visit. Three different seasonal walks are offered.

Note: Greeters are not professional tour guides so they generally do not accompany visitors into museums. Entrance fees, snacks and meals, public transportation are extra costs on a visit. Greeters do not accept tips, but consider treating your new local friend to a caffé ristretto to say thank you. Along with the local website, find more Greeter information on Facebook about the destination you're going to – it's a good for local, low-cost events too.

Hang Out Where the Food Becomes Art

Outdoor food markets are a creative alternative to a sit-down meal and savvy travelers know to take advantage of them for great locally-produced food. Sure, you are going to get hungry, but for a lot less than a restaurant tab you'll find the proverbial loaf of bread, along with other makings for a fine meal that can be enjoyed picnic-style anywhere you choose. So many cities are renown for their markets and if you allow enough time – usually a few hours – the market itself becomes entertainment for part of the day with a chance to take interesting photographs and learn about new foods and local traditions – all free. People-watching at the market, in itself, is often worth the trip. Consider packing a light-weight backpack in your suitcase to tote your purchases to the park. Here's a short list of some well-known markets, as well as online s for discovering your own:

—Barcelona: Mercat de La Boqueria A visual extravaganza where every type of food imaginable, especially seafood and shellfish, is eye-poppingly displayed.

—Philadelphia: Reading Terminal Market Yes, you will find hoagies and cheesesteaks at this indoor Center City market. The traditional Amish farmers market has been beefed up to include just about anything else you could possibly want to eat. Work it all off by walking down to Society Hill and Independence Hall—no bus fare needed.

—Rome: Campo dei Fiori A favorite morning place to sit back and linger with an espresso, this open-air market is located in one of the nicest historic piazzas in the city. By day, fruit and vegetable vendors, fishmongers and flower sellers offer their wares. In the evening Campo dei Fiori becomes a nightlife hub. Great people-watching plus all the ingredients for an elegant bread, cheese, wine lunch.

—New York City: Union Square Greenmarket Mondays, Wednesdays and weekends, year-round, you can meet the farmers, snatch a sample or two and enjoy the flowers for sale. Find a park bench for a leisurely artisanal lunch – all within one of the coolest urban places to absorb the paces and faces of the city.

—Montreal: Marché Jean-Talon Eat your way through one of the oldest and largest open-air markets in North America. Known for the diversity of its shopkeepers, Jean Talon is like taking a culinary trip around the world. The displays of seasonal plants and flowers will make you stop and stare.

Note: Check websites for specific days and times for each market, because some are seasonal. Here is a list of useful sites for locating other markets:

* Food & Wine's list of the World's Best Food Markets
* Rough Guide's Fantastic Food Markets
* Forbes Travel Guide Top U.S. Farmers Markets

Look into the global expansion of Night Markets where local foodies, crafters and artisans, plus entertainment merge into one late-day-into-evening venue. A regular event throughout Asia, Night Markets are opening in cities across the U.S. Free-to-attend Queens Night Market in New York City opened a few weeks ago and is drawing happy crowds.

Explore Close to the Ground

The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus is a convenient way to explore a new city, especially when you're jet-lagged and need to rest a bit. However, take a cue from many seasoned travelers and experience a place from street level, no transportation fees needed. Walking, biking, running, skating...all provide excellent opportunities to meet people, see the sites up close, and burn off last night's dinner.

Find a like-minded group through Meetup, Free Tours By Foot, Road Runners Club of America, Sky Ride, and use Google to find local organizations that you can meet up with and join in on outdoor fitness activities.

See Art for Free

Skip museum entrance fees: At least once a week, many museums admit visitors with a no-fee or pay-as-you-wish policy. In the U.S., check out National Geographic's list of 20 Free-Admission U.S. Museums. In Europe, refer to The Guardian's recommended list of 10 free museums in Europe. To find out if the museum you want to visit has a fee-free day, check the museum website for visiting hours and admission policies. Don't forget about reduced fees for students and seniors. Patience will reward you: Expect to stand in line at popular museums; special exhibits may still require a separate entrance fee. Here are some examples to get you started:

London: the biggies in London are always free, including British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum. Scores of smaller museums are fee-free too.

Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution's 17 D.C. museums and galleries are free, plus the National Zoo.

Paris: Free entry on the first Sunday of the month for Musée d'Art Moderne, the Pompidou Centre, Musée d'Orsay. Numerous permanent collections are always free, along with an extensive group of museums that are always free for those under 26 years old and teachers. The official Paris Visitors Bureau site lists them all.

Go on a gallery hop: Art lovers know that visiting galleries is a wonderful way to see lots of classic and contemporary artwork. You're not there to buy but to view, and in many cities galleries are located in the same neighborhood so you can hit a lot of places within a short period of time.

—New York: Traditional art-rich districts of Chelsea, Soho, Upper East Side have been joined by Brooklyn as a major hub for art. The New York Times has a good listing of over 70 galleries to visit. WagMag showcases Brooklyn art.
—Amsterdam: TimeOut Amsterdam is a for cutting-edge art, design, and classic works. Check out the other city editions of TimeOut for updated listings.
—Chicago: Ongoing events such as first Thursdays in Hyde Park make gallery hopping a free treat. Chicago Gallery News lists venues by neighborhood as well as special events.

The Bottom Line

So, will your vacation be free? Not exactly. But if you're prepared to explore off-beat things and expect the unexpected, you can find world-class art, food and entertainment, and get a true feel for a location – sometimes for free and often for a lot less than a less-reful tourist would expect.

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