If I won the lottery…the first thing I would do is travel.
We’ve all said this or heard this. It’s true that travel can be expensive, but it isn’t necessarily as costly as you might think. Not only that, but spending more money doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a better time. Thankfully there are a lot of money-saving steps you can take to help lower your travel costs. Here are some of my best money saving travel tips to help you realize your travel dreams, without the lottery.
Saving on accommodations
Generally, if you stay in major luxury hotel chains, you will be surrounded by other tourists.The service will be efficient but impersonal. There will be lots of amenities in the hotel you may or may not need, and you won’t need to leave the premises to eat or shop. Sometimes we enjoy these hotels for a couple days, and some are destination-worthy in themselves. But the places most memorable to us are the smaller family-run hotels or independent vacation rentals. I remember the tea and greeting we received upon arrival at the small inn where we stayed in Istanbul,“Come in, sit down, you are at home now.”
- Before booking a hotel, check for additional fees such as “resort fee” or wifi fee. You are much more likely to be charged these fees at a luxury hotel than at budget or independent accommodations. We had a dispute at our hotel in Hong Kong at check-out, because we didn’t see the fine print that we would be charged wifi fees per device. With two phones and two laptops that would have come to $40/day! Luckily it was waived after a discussion with the manager.
- If breakfast is included in your accommodations, it will save both time and money.
- Traveling off-season, or even adjusting your dates by a few days can make a big difference in the price of flights and hotels.
- Spend a week or more at each location to get a weekly/monthly rate. By spending more time at fewer locations you will have more time to relax and get to know the area, plus lower your transportation costs.
- Consider booking a vacation home or apartment, especially if you are staying a week or more. It is often more spacious, and you can save more if it includes a kitchen. Try Airbnb, VRBO, or booking.com. Also try specialty sites focused on the region you are visiting (always read the reviews).
- Stay part of the time in smaller towns or villages instead of only the major cities. You will have a great experience plus save money on accommodations. The culture of a place is often much more apparent in the smaller towns than the big cities.
- For longer stays try house-sitting. We haven’t tried this yet, but many love it. In exchange for taking care of a home (and often a pet) while the owners are away, you get free accommodations. TrustedHousesitters.com and Housecarers.com are two popular sites if you are interested.
Saving on things to do
You’ve come all this way, so make sure to allow money for activities. But there are often deals if you look for them.
- Visit museums that are free or offer free days, such as MoMA’s free Friday nights in New York City. In London, some of the best museums such as the National Gallery and British Museum are always free.
- Event tickets: Sometimes tickets are available from more that one source. I was looking for tickets to Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil, and first checked Ticketmaster where the price was $223 each plus service charge, but I got better seats for only $132 each by calling Cirque du Soleil directly.
- Check online for coupons or promo codes for attractions you want to visit.
- Look for local free things to do, such as markets and festivals.
- Check out city passes for your destination to see if what they offer is a good value for you. A bonus with these can be skipping the long ticket lines.
- Spend time in the great outdoors! Visiting city parks or hiking in natural areas is usually free.
- If you’re traveling outside of North America, renting a smaller car will not only save you money on the rental and fuel; but will make parking and driving on narrow old streets much easier.
- Car rental reservations usually have free cancellation, and prices fluctuate, so use this to your advantage. We recently reserved a car in Toronto for $325. When I checked a couple weeks later, it was going for $183 at the same rental location. So I cancelled and rebooked my reservation.
- Walk or bike when you can, instead of always taking a taxi. You will see so much more, save money, and work off that extra croissant.
- Saving money on flights is a big topic in itself. Here are some tips to save money on flights.
- Avoid checked baggage fees by traveling light with a carry-on instead–but be aware of airline size and weight restrictions.
- Don’t automatically rule out a farther destination because of the higher airfare. If the cost-of-living is lower, savings on accommodations and food might still make it a bargain.
Eat, drink, and be merry by saving on dining
- Go to that fancy restaurant you wanted to try, but save by eating at lunch time instead of dinner.
- Walk a couple blocks off the main tourist strip and you will find restaurants that are cheaper, and with better food and service.
- Eat like a local – because eating the same foods you do at home can cost a premium. And this is part of the adventure!
- Shop at the local market or grocery store for a great picnic.
- Ask for tap water in restaurants, unless the water quality is questionable. Also save by bringing a refillable water bottle.
- Look for happy hours, pre-theatre or prix fix menus for great dining deals.
Saving money on money
- Use a credit card with no foreign exchange fees. (We use a Chase Marriott Visa for this)
- Check into your banking options before you go. See if they have international partners, or a plan that will allow you to reduce ATM fees.
- Pay in local currency. Some larger stores will ask if you would like to pay in Canadian dollars or US dollars, and then charge higher than average exchange fees.
More ways to save
- Bring proper ID for senior, student and member discounts (such as AAA).
- Sign up for a travel rewards credit card, or two or three…
- Choose a less pricey destination with a favorable exchange rate.
- Cell phone – check before you go. You can adjust your plan to include long distance or data, rent a local cell phone, or stick to wifi and Skype or FaceTime.