Northbound: Destination Portugal — Part 1

I’m pleased to announce that next year I’ll be heading abroad. Portugal, to be exact.

Fear not, gentle reader: I’m not relocating from North County or ending my column. Just planning a long overdue vacation.

Earlier in my career (read: before a mortgage), I was in the habit of heading out to Europe for two weeks or so a year, on mostly solo trips.

I loved the thrill of losing myself in another country, experiencing sights and sounds I couldn’t find anywhere else. Living in the moment. With age, it’s been much tougher to find the time, let alone the budget, to make a European vacation work.

But after a three-year hiatus, I’m doggedly determined to make it happen in 2017.

And, in true Northbound fashion, I already have a bunch of money-saving vacation planning tips, which I’d like to share with you, no matter where you’re headed next year.

In fact, I have so many money-saving tips, I need two columns to share them all!

Now, I don’t speak Portuguese, but there’s a phone app for that, and best of all, it’s free. DuoLingo is a fantastic app that can help you easily learn more than 20 languages in a fun, user-friendly format.

I’ve been using it a while to brush up on my Spanish. Not only can it help improve your recognition and writing skills, but also oral — it’s so advanced, it can even tell you if you’re pronouncing words correctly.

Downloading this app is definitely a must if you’re heading to a non-English speaking country.

Looking for cheap, unadvertised flights? I’ve been really impressed with the listings I’ve seen on Fare Deal Alert, The Flight Deal, and Secret Flying, all of which are specialty flight sale websites (and free). I follow them on Twitter, but you can subscribe to their daily email blasts.

Being flexible with your time horizon and destination will also save you money. Now, my budget is $600 for a round trip flight, but few flights from San Diego to Lisbon, the country’s capital, are under $1,200, no matter what time of year.

However, when I scan flight deals, I see there are plenty of flights from LAX to Dublin, Ireland and Eastern Europe under $600, round trip. Cheaper flights are also generally available in the spring and fall months.

Packing for an international trip is also key — avoid lost luggage and airline bag fees by packing everything into a carry-on bag. Don’t think you can do it? Simplify.

I proved it could be done on a business trip to Buenos Aires a few years ago. Picking one pair of shoes, one jacket, and “rolling” your clothes (versus traditional packing) will save you plenty of space.

Going somewhere cold and need a thick coat? I’ve been impressed with how tightly you can pack a down puffer jacket. I bought one for about $30 on Amazon, and I can squeeze it down to the size of a grapefruit.

It’s rated to keep me warm, all the way down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next week, I’ll share with you where you can find cheap accommodations, and how you can dine and explore your host city like a local. Stay tuned!

Vince Vasquez is an economist based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.

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