Travel is a major investment for most of us and while I believe it to be a very worthwhile investment, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to save money when I can. I think many of us feel the same way so I decided to share a few ways in which I save money during the travel process.
1. Compare and wait – but not too long – The trickiest part of booking a trip is, well, booking a trip. Airfare especially is an enigma to most people and knowing exactly when and where to buy your ticket can be agonizing. Once you’ve decided where you’re going, start doing some research to find the general cost of tickets for your preferred time period. I usually check Hipmunk.com to get an idea of all of my flight options but I almost always book on the airline websites themselves. Then set up an alert using Airfarewatchdog.com to keep track of price fluctuations and be sure to sign up for airline emails and follow them on social media. Many times their best sales are announced only to a select group of people – you want to be in this group. Mentally select a price point that you think is fair and as soon as you see tickets at that price, then you should book. If you hold off too long hoping for a cheaper fare you may end up paying much more. Of course if you’re loyal to one airline or airline alliance, then you might be able to use points to book your flights and travel for free.
2. Saving with a plan – I’ve made certain changes in my lifestyle so that I can save more money and travel more often. For me it’s now just standard practice but if you have a specific travel goal in mind, it’s fun to make some changes and redirect all of that extra money to a savings account just for travel. The biggest change for me was eliminating silly, daily expenses. I stopped buying lunch and breakfast, eating at home or a packed lunch (when I was working a 9-5 job). I also stopped visiting places like Starbucks every day. Eliminating one $4 drink a day will save you nearly $1,000 over the course of a year. That’s a lot of money and that single change alone should be enough to cover your airfare. Now imagine implementing all of these little changes, keeping track of the savings and redirecting them to a special savings account; a travel piggy bank. Within no time you’ll have a hefty nest egg which you can use to explore the world.
3. Be mindful of your phone – Smartphones are great, but can be a pain when you travel internationally. First, make the decision whether or not you want to use it at all. If you don’t, then as soon as you leave home put it in airplane mode and don’t switch it back. You can still use Wi-Fi in this mode and all of your data use will be free. Note, you won’t be able to receive texts of phone calls if it’s in airplane mode though. If you don’t want to be reliant on Wi-Fi all the time either unlock your phone (check your plan and phone company for allowances) or select a data plan for international use. Some of these can be quite affordable for standard, daily use and it’s nice to have easy access to email while overseas. DO make sure though that all of your apps are off and not running in the background. This is especially important if you have an iPhone and have upgraded to iOS7 as many of the apps run even when turned off, so make sure to check your settings.
4. Public transportation – I’m a transportation geek, I love almost all forms of it especially public transportation, subways in particular. Even if you’re not as big a fan of metro systems as I am, there’s no doubt that using them when you travel will save you a lot of time and money. At first they can be daunting, no doubt there, but usually within a day or so you’ll be walking through the station like a pro, feeling and looking like a local. Or at least someone who has lived there for a while. To help with this I use the AllSubway app on my iPhone. This app includes subway and public transportation maps for virtually every city in the world. The maps are also available off-line, which is great if you’re not using a data plan. I prefer to use my phone instead of a foldout map before I look like less of a tourist and hopefully minimize my risk as a target for pickpockets.
5. Well-located hotels – This is a matter of preference and is even up to some debate. In my opinion though, one of the most important factors when choosing a hotel, hostel or apartment is location. If the property is near the sites you want to see and visit, you will save a lot of time and therefore money when it’s time to explore the city. Not everyone agrees with this and some will choose a cheaper hotel further away. But I maintain you save money in transportation and time, time is very important when time is limited, and that these facts together more than make up the cost as a hotel that’s in a great location.
6. Eating away from tourist spots – You’ve been walking around all day, you’re hungry and thirsty and you want to scarf down the first thing you see. That’s how the overpriced cafes in popular tourist spots around the world make their money, but it’s usually a waste for the traveler. Instead of eating at or near tourist sites, walk just a few blocks away to find a more local cafe. Not only will the prices be better, but the food will almost certainly be a lot more enjoyable as well.
7. Hotels with breakfast included – Luckily this is a feature in many parts of the world, but be sure to check that your hotel includes breakfast in the price of the room. Filling up on a complimentary breakfast before a busy day of sightseeing isn’t only healthy, but it’s a great way to save money since you can usually get by with a lighter lunch or at least fewer snacks during the day. If the breakfast isn’t included, see if the hotel has a concierge or club level that includes it. Usually these levels also include better rooms, complimentary Wi-Fi and various meals and drinks throughout the day making them a bargain, or at least a very nice perk to consider.
8. Compare tours – I love taking great walking or day tours when I travel. I didn’t always consider them, but over time I have learned that a three-hour tour is a better use of my time than three hours of getting lost and not understanding the sites I do actually manage to find on my own. When you’re on vacation time is money and a good tour will help you make the most out of this most precious commodity. Not all tours are made the same though, as I have also sadly learned. First, look for quirky or unusual tours that aren’t on the standard tourist circuit. Not only will the guides be more knowledgeable, but you’ll see the same sights in a more engaging way. Two of my favorite companies for these types of tours are Walks of Italy/Walks of New York and Context Travel. Both are excellent and provide an amazing user experience. For longer day tours check out Viator Travel, which features a wide variety of options for locations around the world.
9. Grocery stores – I have given this tip many, many times, but I love visiting grocery stores when I travel. First, they’re just fascinating from the purely cultural aspect. It means something that a supermarket in Madrid has three rows (three!) of olive oil and that in Taiwan you can pick up a roasted sweet potato and boiled tea eggs to go. They’re a ton of fun and I never miss an opportunity to explore them. But, they’re also a fantastic way to save money. I stop by a store as soon as I arrive in a new city to buy drinks like Diet Coke and water and snacks at a fraction of the price at the hotel or convenience stores. Grocery stores are also a fun place to pick up a quick lunch (many have ready made sandwiches) or the ingredients for a fantastic picnic. They’re not always easy to find though, so ask a local (like a hotel concierge) where the nearest one is and soon you’ll be saving money on one of the most expensive aspects of travel, food.
10. Plan out a loose schedule – I have been, accurately, accused of over planning my trips in the past. I’ve gotten better though and now I try to include more spontaneity in my travels, as long as it’s planned for. (That’s a joke) But, creating a loose framework of the places you want to see and visit is important as a way to save money. Identify museums and landmarks that may have free days and be sure to take advantage of this perk. Also route your sightseeing so that you’re not backtracking, which is a waste of time and ultimately money. Having a loose, flexible schedule is important to not just save money, but to frankly have a more enjoyable trip.
11. Currency exchange – When traveling overseas how and when you get your money is the easiest way to waste it. Do NOT exchange money before leaving home. I can counter any argument you may have to do this, so just trust me and don’t do it. Also do NOT buy traveler’s checks; those are just another travel money pit. Instead, the best way to draw out cash overseas is through an ATM. Check with your bank before leaving home and see if they have cooperative agreements with foreign banks. Mine does and if I use those ATMs I don’t incur any extra charges. Also, be sure to use ATMs that look reputable. This usually means an ATM owned and branded by a specific bank. Generic ATMs in convenience stores and subway stations are common sources of identity theft. When using your credit card make sure you get one that doesn’t have any international transaction fees. Try to use this whenever possible to save even more money. When leaving a foreign country obviously try to spend as much of your cash as possible, but if you still have some left consider giving it to charity before leaving the country, or leaving it as a tip for hotel housekeeping. If the amount is too much for either option you can either hold on to it for a future trip or, I guess, exchange it. Do not exchange it at the airport though; the rates there are much worse than at money changers found in town.
These are just a few ways I save money when I travel. What great tips do you have?