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What’s stopping you from traveling as much as you want to? If you’re like most people, your answer is probably money.
The costs of traveling can definitely add up, but there are tried-and-true ways to avoid overspending when you take trips.
If you’re looking to keep expenses down (so you have more to put toward your next adventure), make sure you’re not wasting money on any of these unnecessary travel expenses.
1. Exchanging money at the airport
You know those Travelex money exchanges at the airport that say they have excellent exchange rates? They’re lying.
Airport currency exchanges are notorious for having some of the worst exchange rates and highest fees.
Basically, they assume people exchanging money at the airport are willing to pay anything to get some foreign currency before landing in their destination — and they take advantage of that.
You could get a lot more bang for your buck by buying foreign currency at your bank at home before you leave or withdrawing money from an ATM once you get to the other country.
Or if you’re traveling somewhere where credit cards are popular, forget about cash altogether and use a no foreign transaction fee credit card instead.
Speaking of foreign transaction fees…
2. Wasting money on foreign transaction fees
Don’t waste your money on foreign transaction fees!
From the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to the Barclays Uber Visa, there are lots of credit cards that don’t charge any foreign transaction fees on purchases you make abroad.
What’s more, many of these cards give you points back on your spending, often giving generous returns on purchases made on flights, accommodations, restaurants, or other common travel spending.
Plus, a lot of them come with extra perks that are useful for travelers, such as access to airport lounges, car rental insurance, and reimbursement for lost luggage or canceled flights. Some even have a 24/7 concierge service for booking transport or finding you a last-minute hotel if you end up stranded in another country with no place to stay.
That said, credit cards aren’t so useful if you tend to overspend, since they come with high interest rates. If you’re using travel credit cards, make sure you’re not spending more than you can afford to pay off each month. By sticking to your budget, you can enjoy perks, avoid foreign transaction fees, and never pay a cent in interest.
By the way, there are also some banks that don’t charge foreign transaction fees for withdrawing money at an ATM. Charles Schwab, for instance, is a favorite among travelers since it doesn’t charge anything for withdrawing money in another country. I also recently switched from Santander, which charged $6 + 3% to 4% for each international withdrawal, to Ally, which only charges 1%.
If you’re planning to withdraw money abroad, find out what your bank charges for the transaction. If the fee is especially high, consider switching to a more traveler-friendly bank.
3. Hiring private shuttles or taxis
As with many things in life, you can spend as much or as little on transportation as you want to. Private shuttles tend to be the most expensive mode, often costing well over $100 for a relatively short ride from point A to point B.
Taxis also often charge a lot, especially if you’re going somewhere where taxi drivers rip off tourists. If you’re taking a taxi and the driver isn’t using a meter, make sure to ask what the price will be before getting in. You might be able to haggle it down to a more reasonable rate.
Besides private shuttles and taxis, many countries now have Uber, which can be a lot more reasonable and reliable, assuming you have WiFi to call one. And if you’re in a city, you could rely on a bus or subway to get where you need to go.
Of course, sometimes a private shuttle is worth the added expense for the peace of mind, especially if you’re traveling solo or arriving somewhere late at night. But do your research before arriving in your destination, so you don’t end up at the mercy of overpriced shuttles and taxis when there could be a much less expensive option you don’t know about.
4. Buying food at the airport, on the plane, or in overpriced restaurants
Along with accommodation and transportation, food tends to be another big spending category when you travel.
If you can, avoid buying food at the airport or on the plane, where the quality is low but the price mark-up is astronomically high. Also avoid touristy restaurants in the city center, which tend to similarly serve low-quality food at high prices.
Instead of getting stuck in an overpriced tourist trap with inauthentic cuisine, do some research on good quality restaurants with reasonable prices before you go out. You could also rely on your network of friends and family for suggestions before you travel.
And if you’re really looking to keep expenses down, consider cooking some meals in place of going out. Shopping at outdoor markets or grocery stores can give you an authentic experience of a place, and you’ll end up spending way less.
If you plan to cook to keep costs low, consider staying in an Airbnb or even a hostel so you’ll have access to a kitchen.
5. Booking overpriced accommodations
Speaking of accommodations, make sure to shop around to find one that matches your preferences and budget. The options are endless these days, whether you want to stay in a hotel, bed and breakfast, Airbnb, or hostel.
Sites such as Kayak, TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Airbnb, and Hostels.com make it easy to compare prices. You might also head directly to a hotel’s website to see if you can snag a lower rate or a special deal.
If you’re really looking to keep costs low, consider going the hostel route. You can book a private room if you want privacy, and you might enjoy the social aspect of meeting other travelers and joining in on fun activities, like city tours and pub crawls.
And if you’re after free accommodations, think outside the box with options such as house-sitting, couch-surfing, or volunteering on organic farms in exchange for lodging through WWOOF. Check out this guide for more unconventional ideas for traveling on the cheap.
5. Getting hit with extra baggage fees
If you’ve traveled internationally, you’ve probably seen (or been) that person desperately rearranging the contents of their suitcase in front of an impatient airline official at baggage check-in.
If you overpack, you’ll either have to find creative ways to redistribute the weight of your suitcase (wearing 10 layers of clothing, perhaps?) or pay the extra baggage fee, which can cost a lot when you’re already at the airport.
Instead of getting slammed with baggage fees, make sure to weigh your suitcase before leaving your house to ensure it doesn’t go beyond restrictions. And pay for baggage when you buy your ticket, so you don’t have to pay high fees at the airport.
Also, be wary of budget airlines that promise low flight prices but then gouge you when it comes to baggage fees. Sometimes opting for a pricier ticket could mean you save more overall, since you don’t have to pay separately for add-ons like luggage and food.
6. Forgetting to comparison shop when you buy a flight
Just as you should shop around for affordable lodging options, make sure to comparison shop when buying a flight. Sites such as Kayak, Skyscanner, Google flights, and Hipmunk are great for comparing prices, trip duration, and the like.
Skyscanner even lets you search flight prices across an entire month or enter “Everywhere” as your destination, so you can see what prices are like across the world. You might also check out a site like Secret Flying or subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights for great flight deals and occasional error fares.
If you’re flexible with your dates and can travel outside of peak travel times, such as holidays and school vacations, you could snag low prices. Rumor has it, flight comparison websites track the cookies on your computer and raise prices if you keep returning to a certain flight.
Although people disagree about whether or not that’s true, it can’t hurt to search in incognito mode, just in case.
8. Deciding to “treat yo’self” a few too many times
Finally, a major reason people overspend on vacations is the “treat yo’self” or “When in Rome” mentality.
Although you should totally treat yourself and have fun on your vacation, you also don’t want to end up in debt over a trip. If you do, you could soon go from carefree to stressed out as you figure out how to pay for all the purchases you made while on vacation.
To prevent yourself from overspending, come up with a budget before you leave. Figure out how much you want to spend on food, activities, and shopping. That way, you’ll know what you can afford toward a spa or trip to an elephant sanctuary, and when you need to draw the line.
It can also help to think about what you want to get out of a trip. Maybe your goal is luxury accommodations. Or maybe you’re a foodie who wants to hit up all the five-star restaurants in town. Or maybe you don’t care where you stay or what you eat so long as you can go on safari or see the Northern Lights or dive in the Barrier Reef.
Think about what would make your travel adventure special to you, and design your budget accordingly. That way, your trip will be followed by unforgettable memories, and not by financial regret.