For any traveler, planning a low cost trip can be a challenge, but certainly not impossible. So many times though we spend countless hours finding the cheapest airfare and affordable hotels, only to arrive in our destination and suddenly lose complete control over our budgets. It is easy to waste money while on a trip, but with a little planning you can minimize how much you waste and as a result have a more enjoyable vacation.
1. Pay to get your money – Whether you are on a domestic or international trip, credit card and ATM fees can be misleading and costly. When traveling overseas, the best exchange rate is found through the nearest ATM. It is a financial and safety mistake to withdraw your entire travel budget before leaving home, with the intention of exchanging it overseas. Instead you should plan on withdrawing money a couple of times while on your trip. The problem with this however are the fees associated with this practical travel behavior. Some countries, such as Thailand, attach a charge on all foreign debit cards regardless of bank or location. Not only will you sometimes incur charges from the ATM bank, but you may also be charged by your own bank. The best way to avoid all of these fees is to first find a bank with minimal or no fees for ATM withdrawals. One of the best products available to beat these fees is the Charles Schwab Credit Card. In addition to not charging their customers for international withdrawals, they also reimburse for fees incurred at other banks. That means you can access your money for free; novel concept, right? If you’re worried about being charged at a higher interest rate for cash withdrawals, then prepay your travel budget on the card so that you are essentially using it as a debit card. Even better, if you want to use the card as a traditional credit card, there are no extra exchange fees for international purchases, unlike most other banks.
2. Beverages and snacks – Hotels have mastered the art of convincing their guests to spend more money than they intend. That’s fine, I like capitalism, but I don’t like wasting money. Before you even leave home, ask your hotel to either remove or empty the mini bar; that way you won’t be tempted by $7 Mars bars late at night. After you check in to your hotel, walk around the neighborhood and find the local convenience and grocery stores. These neighborhood institutions will be your best resources for saving money on food. I always stock up on water, Diet Coke and some snacks to pack for day-long sightseeing adventures. It’s better to buy these items at a neighborhood store instead of a tourist souvenir stand where the prices will be double or triple normal.
3. Location, location, location – Where you choose to stay on your trip can many times dictate the financial repercussions of the entire travel experience. Many experts say that where you stay is one area where it is smart to scrimp a little and save money, and they are correct. However, it is important to also look at the location when booking your hotel. It may be tempting to book a cheaper hotel on the outskirts of the city, but what little money you save in lodging, you will more than pay in transportation costs and your time. Do not underestimate the value of your time. Most people don’t take long vacations, a week is the average. If it takes you thirty minutes each way to reach areas of interest, that is a considerable waste. Instead, look for well-priced hotels in or very near the city center or where you want to spend your time exploring. Priceline.com is still one of the best resources for booking moderately priced hotels in the location of your choice.
4. Public transportation – Even if I had a limitless travel budget I would still take public transportation for the unique cultural experiences it provides. I’m a transportation geek and I love exploring a new metro system – kind of sad, right? Public transportation is also a great way to save a lot of money when on vacation. Obviously, this is easier to accomplish in an urban setting where there are a variety of options including subway and bus. Public and inexpensive private transportation can also be accessible in less urban areas as well. Not only is it infinitely cheaper than renting a car or taking taxis everywhere, but it can be faster depending where you are. I know that in my hometown of Washington, DC, it takes me less time to metro into town than it does to drive. Also, for the green traveler, public transportation is key in minimizing your travel carbon footprint.
5. Prioritize – I am a self-confessed over planner when it comes to travel, but some level of planning is key if you want to save money on vacation. Before your trip, look at a map of your destination and pinpoint all of the sights and activities you want to do and group them based on location. Rather than waste time and money crisscrossing a city, instead plan your days based on geography. Also look for local coupons and visitors passes that may be useful for the activities you want to do. Be careful though, not all tourist passes are made the same; some will save you money and others will not. Never buy a pass that does not include the key sights you want to see. As soon as I see a certain wax museum on a list of included sights, I bypass the tourist “savings” card altogether. Dublin is an example of where a pass will save you money, but in London it’s a complete waste.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment while on vacation and start spending money without first considering your options. With a little planning and preparedness, you can instead reserve your savings for a more enjoyable travel experience. Spend money on the things that enhance your trip, not on items that do not matter.