In sexy South America, Laura Begley discovers she can do more than get by—she can spend, spend, spend
4:30 A.M. The sun will be rising any minute now, as my boyfriend and I leave La Confitería Ideal (384 Suipacha; 54-11/5265-8069), the old-world tango salon that had a cameo in the movie Evita. We're night owls, so we fit right in here: nobody eats dinner until 11, and the tango clubs stay open until dawn. Plus, it's cheap, so we let loose, ordering champagne ($1.75 a glass) at each stop and hailing cabs ($3, maximum) to take us around. It costs only $1.75 to get into La Confitería and the candlelit La Divina Milonga (572 Avda. Independencia; 54-15/5422-1667). The gritty-yet-cool dance hall Salón Canning (1331 Avda. da Scalabrini Ortiz; 54-11/4342-4794) didn't even charge us a cover.
Amount Left $223.50
12:00 P.M. A former convent, Malabia House (1555 Malabia; 54-11/4831-2102; www.malabiahouse.com.ar) is the perfect place to sleep late. Our $115 room faces a quiet courtyard, and the staff serves breakfast all day. A stylish Belgian couple we meet at the communal dining table points us in the direction of some chic boutiques in the surrounding Palermo Viejo district. At Fortunata Alegría (1739 Gurruchaga; 54-11/4831-8197), I spy a curve-hugging strapless jersey-knit dress for $92. Maybe tomorrow. I've had too many medialunas (sweet croissants) today to squeeze into anything that revealing.
Amount Left $108.50
2:15 P.M. An Argentinean friend had two words of advice for us: San Telmo. The cobblestoned colonial neighborhood is home to an amazing Sunday flea market at Plaza Dorrego, where street musicians entertain the crowds and you can find great deals on estate silver and $100 chandeliers. The antiques stores here are open the rest of the week, too.
Amount Left $108.50
5:00 P.M. Call me shallow, but my favorite thing about tango is the retro shoes. (In my defense, the secret to the complex moves is in the suede soles, which virtually glide across the floor.) I snap up a pair that look like they could have been made by Marc Jacobs, and cost far less ($56), at the fashionable shop Tangobrujo (754 Esmeralda; 54-11/4325-8264).
Amount Left $52.50
6:45 P.M. Dinner is hours away, so we stop for tapas and a glass of Malbec at Gran Bar Danzón (1161 Libertad; 54-11/4811-1108), a modern space with concrete-block walls. The generous bartender even offers samples of other local wines. Total bill: $14. Charge for the tasting: Nada.
Amount Left $38.50
9:00 P.M. For years, many young people here shunned their grandparents' music. But tango has made a massive comeback, and the hippest spot around is La Catedral (4006 Sarmiento; 54-11/4342-4794), in a wildly decorated warehouse. We join in the fun and take a lesson ($2.50 a person). I thought my fab new shoes would make me the star of the dance floor. I was wrong.
Amount Left $33.50
11:30 P.M. We have enough money left over for dinner at Cabaña Las Lilas (516 Alicia Moreau de Justo; 54-11/4313-1336), a packed waterfront steak house. The average cut of Argentinean beef is big enough for two, and the restaurant throws in a platter of appetizers with the cover ($7), so we split the ojo de bife ($13), blow the rest on a good bottle of wine ($12), and gear up for a night of club hopping.
Total Spent $248.50
The pound may be trouncing the dollar, but finding freebies and deals keeps Eleni N. Gage in the black
8:50 A.M. Arriving at the Heathrow tube station, I start the day right with an all-day Underground pass ($10.80), which is good during "off-peak hours," nearly the whole day (9:30 a.m. on).
Amount Left $239.20
10:30 A.M. I check into a comfy bed-and-bath suite in the apartment of Kai Vickers. I found it through Uptown Reservations (44-207/351-3445; www.uptownreservations.com), which a British friend had recommended over e-mail: "They match travelers with posh people who are down on their luck but don't want to sell the family pile, so they rent rooms." Vickers doesn't seem down on her luck, and her "family pile" is a spotless flat. But the neighborhood, South Kensington, is decidedly posh. And $154, with breakfast, is a steal in this city.
Amount Left $85.20
11:00 A.M. At specialty food shop Carluccio's (1-7 Old Brompton Rd.; 44-207/581-8101), I get a fortifying, delicious chocolate chip cookie ($1.30).
Amount Left $83.90
11:15 A.M. I walk a block to the Victoria and Albert Museum. London is expensive, but its museums are free. After checking out a fashion exhibition, I sail past the bin asking for a $6 donation. Then the guilt hits. Just because I'm on a budget, there's no need to be an ugly American. I toss in a one-pound coin.
Amount Left $81.90
1:00 P.M. You can practically make a free lunch out of samples from the butchers, cheesemakers, and bakers at the open-air Borough Market (Borough High St.). After nibbling on bites of Camembert and prosciutto, I splurge on an ostrich burger ($6), followed by a brownie sample, and tea and bottled water ($4.40).
Amount Left $71.50
2:00 P.M. I stroll along the Thames to the Tate Modern, and then across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral. Two hours, zero spent!
Amount Left $71.50
4:15 P.M. In Hyde Park, I swing by the odd new memorial to Princess Diana, a large circle of running water that looks like an alien landing pad, before stopping at the Serpentine Gallery, where Polish artist Monika Sosnowska has constructed an elaborate maze. I buy a cute $2 coloring pack on my way out.
Amount Left $69.50
5:30 P.M. At the Troubadour (263-7 Old Brompton Rd.; 44-207/370-1434), an atmospheric old café, I perk up with another cup of tea ($2.80).
Amount Left $66.70
8:00 P.M. None of the $20 show tickets on www.Lastminute.com appeal to me, so I meet a London-based friend for dinner at Masala Zone (9 Marshall St.; 44-207/287-9966), an inexpensive (and packed) Indian restaurant in Soho. We sit down to food so tasty that I almost don't feel bad I'm not treating. Almost.
Amount Left $36.20
10:00 P.M. "It's still early," I tell my friend. "Let's go find someone to buy us a drink." She explains that people don't really do that here. So we head to her club, where I realize that I've been so good I don't need anyone to buy us drinks. I order two celebratory glasses of wine ($22).
Total Spent $235.80
Naughty Henry Alford exceeds his allowance in the affordable Thai capital—and has a ball doing it
6:45 A.M. When the telephone awakens me, I realize that it's not even 7 a.m. and I've already blown almost my entire budget. How did this happen?First, I'm staying in a good hotel—the newish Conrad Bangkok (All Seasons Place, 87 Wireless Rd.; 66-2/690-9999; www.conradhotels.com), which, for $130 a night, offers boutiquey chic and a wonderful, Rorschach-esque outdoor pool. Second, I've put $100 toward a private guide (Asian Travel Consultant Co.; 66-1/849-2681; email@example.com) who will be taking me somewhere I've always wanted to go—the floating markets outside of town.
Amount Left $20.00
8:30 A.M. I'm gliding down a canal at the floating market with my tour guide, Jeab, a delightfully bubbly, self-described tomboy in her thirties who lightly slaps my arm whenever she wants to emphasize a point. We're in a 35-foot longboat (think of a canoe, and then run that canoe through a pasta maker), narrowly avoiding tens of other longboats heaped with crafts and produce for sale. Summoning my attention—slap!—Jeab whispers, "Only buy food. Then no gangsters, no monkey business." I assemble a delicious meal for a dollar—a big bowl of spicy, cilantro-studded noodle soup, followed by three crisp crêpes filled with coconut cream—but the forces of commerce keep tempting me. I buy a packet of 10 dried spices ($7.69) and a vial of tiger balm ($1.02); I decide that the theme of my purchases is Powerful Aroma.
Amount Left $10.29
1:30 P.M. The lobby of the Conrad is tense and full of bodyguards; the concierge tells me, "A state visit from Singapore." I retreat to the pool area, where I escape the midday heat by plunging in.
Amount Left $10.29
3:05 P.M. Having navigated Bangkok's infamous traffic via both taxi and tuk-tuk ($2.33)and then paid a 51-cent admission fee, I am at Wat Pho temple, staring at a reclining Buddha. It is 50 feet tall and covered entirely in gold: my jaw drops. What's more, there's a massage school on the premises; I pay $4.62 for a half-hour session. Being massaged on the grounds of a temple is the kind of religious experience that would definitely keep this parishioner coming back for more.
Amount Left $2.83
8:00 P.M. I arrive at the stylish Greyhound Café (Emporium, second floor, 24 Sukhumvit Soi; 66-2/664-8663), where Bangkok's media types and jet-setters eat. The level of attitude is New York-caliber. After more taxi and tuk-tuk rides ($2.61), however, I have only about 20 of my allotted 25,000 cents left. I know I am going to topple over the line when I read on the menu that the Greyhound slathers its grilled salmon steak with a black-olive-and-anchovy dressing. Exactly $17.64 later, I am a very happy man—even if my finances have hit, uh, rock baht-tom.
Total Spent $267.42
A love of the city's funkier side (and several smart choices) help H. Scott Jolley get the job done
8:00 A.M. My friends can't believe how often I jet off to San Francisco for the weekend. "It's so expensive!" they say. But I don't think it seems that outrageous, thanks to places like the $109-a-night industrial-chic Hotel Diva (440 Geary St.; 800/553-1900; www.hoteldiva.com).
Amount Left $141.00
10:30 A.M. At the Parisian florist Au Nom de la Rose (224 Kearny St.; 415/986-3834), I spy a dozen orange-and-red roses in a galvanized-metal pail for $21. A silly splurge, but they're perfect for brightening up my hotel room.
Amount Left $120.00
12:15 P.M. With a $9 one-day MUNI passport, I can ride the cable cars to my heart's content. But I skip the tourist-jammed streetcar in favor of the bus to the Ferry Building Marketplace. The 1898 Embarcadero landmark is filled with food stalls. At Far West Fungi, I'm tempted by a white Alba truffle—dare I blow my budget for a slice of paradise?A place to sleep tonight trumps gustatory bliss, and I pry myself away for lunch at Mijita—just $8.50 for a mahimahi taco and mango agua fresca.
Amount Left $102.50
1:30 P.M. San Francisco has always been a magnet for creative types, so I devote the rest of the day to art, both high and low. With no admission charge, the new Museum of Craft + Design (550 Sutter St.; 415/773-0303) is worth every penny I didn't pay. Sue Wheatley's bench of thick felt pads and leather straps looks as if Howard Finster made Shaker chairs.
Amount Left $102.50
3:00 P.M. Diego Rivera painted public murals all over San Francisco, but one of his best works—the Allegory of California—can be seen only on the first Wednesday of every month at the City Club (155 Sansome St.; 415/362-2480), a private Art Deco building. I've never seen the painting before, therefore I'm more than willing to spend the $5 suggested donation.
Amount Left $97.50
4:15 P.M. Remembering the Eckerd Drugs comic-book rack from my childhood, I expect my next stop, the Cartoon Art Museum (655 Mission St.; 415/227-8666; admission $6), to be a bit more lowbrow. Instead, I find intricately detailed storyboards from alt-world heroes Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb. Geek heaven.
Amount Left $91.50
5:30 P.M. The Mission's funky Artist-Xchange (3169 16th St.; 415/864-1490) is packed with jewelry, sculpture, and paintings by Bay Area artists. I pick up a small canvas depicting computer-drawn Japanese characters in a manga-meets-Barbie style. It's no Diego Rivera, but it's only $25.
Amount Left $66.50
8:00 P.M. I have more than enough left for dinner at Bocadillos (710 Montgomery St.; 415/982-2622), which serves small plates at excellent prices: $8 to $12 each. I feast on seared scallops with orange-sherry mole, 18-month-old Serrano ham, octopus with chile yuzu, and more—and walk out with money to spare.
Total Spent $245.00
For inveterate shopper Lynn Yaeger, combining restraint with small rewards spells success in Italy
8:00 A.M. Waking up in my $170 room at the Hotel Monna Lisa (27 Borgo Pinti; 39-055/247- 9751; www.monnalisa.it), I'm well aware that I've already used up two-thirds of my daily allowance. Really though, if you can't get all dolled up and swan through a 16th-century lobby, then whatever is the point of visiting Florence?Besides, I reason, the price includes breakfast.
Amount Left $80.00
10:30 A.M. You can kill a lot of time in this town looking at art treasures, but not today: I'm here to shop. On this trip, however, Pucci and Prada will have to wait. Even relatively affordable leather gloves from Madova (1R Via Guicciardini; 39-055/239-6526) now cost $85 due to the hideous exchange rate. Instead, I apply myself to finding a few affordable seductions: a $10 packet of Florentine stationery from Cartoleria il Parione (10R Via del Parione; 39-055/215-684) and a $2 pen topped with a wooden Pinocchio from the Straw Market (Loggia del Mercato Nuovo), where there are tons of trinkets for sale, but not a stick of straw in sight.
Amount Left $68.00
12:30 P.M. Florence still keeps to the ancient tradition of shutting up tight for lunch. I decide to have my own snack—a $15 Caprese salad and a Coke Light—in the rooftop Terrazza café of the department store La Rinascente (1 Piazza della Repubblica; 39-055/219-113), which stays open all day. The café has a view of that big marble pile known as the Duomo, and I give it a thorough once-over, dispelling any lingering guilt about this culture-free day.
Amount Left $53.00
2:30 P.M. The problem with lunching on cheese and tomatoes is that you're hungry two hours later. I pop into Giacosa Roberto Cavalli (10R Villa della Spada; 39-055/ 277-6328), a wild café where photos of Il Signore Cavalli framed in fake zebra fur hang above tables covered with ivory shagreen. My cappuccino and mini tart ring up to $3.75—approximately $1,625 less than one of the designer's dresses.
Amount Left $49.25
3:30 P.M. Because I'm not wasting time looking at frescoes and statues, I can spend hours at the jewelry shops on the Ponte Vecchio. But nothing, not even the flimsiest bracelet, fits into my budget.
Amount Left $49.25
8:00 P.M. I'm starving, but no one else in Firenze is apparently the least bit hungry. Except for two frosty dowagers, I am virtually alone at the chandelier-laden Caffè Gilli (39R Piazza della Repubblica; 39-055/213-896), which has been serving bistro food since 1733. I have the penne alla Bolognese, an insalata Gilli, and—why not?—a big bottle of mineral water. When the $38 bill comes, I am alarmed to see that the water cost $10.
Amount Left $11.25
10:00 P.M. Back in my room, I whip out my Pinocchio pen and stationery, tote up the expenses, and discover that there's money to spare. Now, if only $11.25 would buy those Madova gloves!
Total Spent $238.75