Whei Hsueh, 31, patent agent, San Francisco
Weeks traveling per year: 5
Typical annual travel spending: $4,000
Hsueh, who traces her wanderlust to a childhood spent poring over National Geographic, plans trips around a specific -- and high-adrenaline -- goal. It could be conquering a Utah slope on her snowboard, backpacking the Northern California coast, or hiking to Machu Picchu.
These outings often have hefty expenses for guides, permits, and gear, so she's gotten good at trimming other costs.
One joy of travel, says Hsueh, is how it confounds expectations. When planning a scuba trip in Sanur, a town in southeast Bali, last year, she assumed the diving would be the highlight of her vacation. But when she arrived, she found herself as charmed by the island's temples -- like the Monkey Forest complex in Ubud -- as by its underwater sights.
"A lot of people think Bali is touristy," she says. "But it has everything -- mountains, temples, diving."
Don't shy away from tour operators. Hsueh often vacations with a tour. Group travel has a rep for being expensive, but there are operators that focus on affordable trips; Hsueh is partial to G Adventures, which offers outings like a 10-day Yosemite trekking and rafting trip (starts at $1,760) and a nine-day Costa Rica exploration (starts at $999).
For adventure travel, which often involves a slew of equipment, guide vetting, and local knowledge, going with a group can save you from costly mistakes, such as choosing the wrong gear or location. To be sure the price is fair, Matt Kepnes, of travel blog NomadicMatt.com, recommends asking for the cost breakdown of the trip components, as well as inquiring about extra fees (like tips).
Be spontaneous. Hsueh typically books a hotel only for the first couple of nights of her trip. She likes to explore before committing to stay in a certain area and finds it easier to vet hotels and negotiate rates in person.
Always haggle.To be an effective bargainer, says Hsueh, you need to research the local market to get a feel for prices. This will help you make a fair offer -- and avoid getting ripped off. When it comes to activities, she says she's had good luck bringing a flier from a competing company and asking the operator to beat the price. If that doesn't work, try asking for freebies.
"They may be fixated on making a certain amount of money a day but are usually willing to include things like making lunch, free rides, or taking you on an extra dive," she explains.
Your guide to the latest vacation bargains in Mexico, Greece and Disney World. Plus, how to get cheap airfare.