A real person's guide to luxury world traveling

Oct 29, 2013 at 9:15 a.m. ET

If I had to label how I travel, it would be "realistically luxurious." I don't live in the lap of luxury at home but believe there are some things you absolutely need (and deserve) to splurge on. Travel is one of them. So I'm here to share a few tricks on how I travel so luxuriously (realistically, of course).

Couple having champagne on beach

We're still in a recession, and it's no surprise that most people travel a lot more budget-consciously than they did in the past. Many people think luxurious upgrades are off-limits when they're traveling. This couldn't be further from the truth, and you're about to find out how you can spend your next European vacation in five-star luxury without spending an extra dime.

Timing is everything

Before you book your trip anywhere overseas, check out that city or country's main travel seasons. In the Caribbean, the peak travel times are December to April. In Europe, they are May to October. And in some cities, like Paris, Frankfurt and New York, their busiest times are during the holidays. If you plan a trip during these times, the cost of your entire vacation will inflate. However, if you visit these places during their off-peak travel times, you'll be more likely to score a better deal on those fancy hotels.

A key to scoring great deals on first- or business-class airline tickets is to be flexible with your dates. If you're open to leaving on a Tuesday and coming back on a Wednesday, you'll be more likely to get a better deal on those airline upgrades. Saturday is, surprisingly, another great day to fly, and you'll see a lower fare on airline tickets that return on this day.

Rent a house or condo

One of my all-time favorite places to book a place to stay when I'm traveling is Air BnB. This site lets you rent people's private homes, condos and apartments in some of the biggest cities for almost next to nothing. For example, a hotel in Paris's super-trendy Montmartre neighborhood could cost you up to $500 a night, whereas a stay in a two-bedroom penthouse apartment with views of the city and a patio could cost maybe $200. You may not get a concierge or a butler, but a private garden patio with views of the river is just as nice to me. Another great site is HomeAway. You and three of your closest friends or family members can rent a five-bedroom, five-bath home with a pool overlooking Los Angeles for just $250 a night.

Know when to splurge versus save

Last winter, my mom and I went to Paris. We had a pretty tight budget to work with, so we wanted to make sure we stretched it over the six days we were there. We knew we wanted to eat at a few five-star restaurants but also wanted to make sure we had enough for transportation around the city and some shopping. So as soon as we arrived at our hotel, we made reservations in two of the city's best restaurants for two nights while we were there, reserved cabs to and from, then spent the rest of our daily allowance at cheaper (but still delicious) bistros and cafes. Our money not only lasted until the day we departed, but we had some left over for gifts and souvenirs. My biggest piece of advice: Splurge on what matters the most to you and save on what doesn't.

Dress the part

Want people to think you're a princess, heiress of an oil fortune or otherwise independently wealthy? For starters, don't leave your hotel dressed in a hoodie and jeans. For our trip to Paris, I packed my nicest sweaters and my most expensive bag, plus shoes I splurged on. Before we left each morning, I did my hair and put on makeup. If you want to feel luxurious, you have to put some effort into what you look like.

Don't be afraid to ask — politely of course

One of the best pieces of advice I can give any "real" traveler is to not be afraid to ask for what you want. Are you a horrible flier who finds solace in first class? Talk with the flight crew before you board and ask if you can sit in first class because you hate flying. You'll be surprised at how many people will give you an upgrade (hint, hint). Do you want a special room for your honeymoon or anniversary? Talk to the reservation desk. I've gotten more upgrades this way than any other method. Did you love your meal at a busy restaurant? Ask if you can thank the chef in person. This has, more often than not, resulted in a "thank you" dessert or discounted meal ticket.

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