Your friends’ Instagram and Pinterest photos of perfect sunsets may seem priceless, but let’s be real: there’s a cost to all that travel bragging. And sometimes the “how can you afford NOT to travel?” inspiration can be taken to comedic extremes.
Saving money isn’t glamorous, but it can lead to the trip of your dreams if you play your cards right. Follow these suggestions, and the price tag of your trip could drop significantly.
Forget About Taxis and Choose Walking or Public Transportation Instead
Unlike EDM, travel is usually better when it’s slower. If you walk to the restaurant in your Lonely Planet guidebook, you might just stumble upon something better–like an underground family of gnomes. Or maybe just a better-looking restaurant. Also, if you’re in a city with a subway and safety isn’t a concern, that beats a cab for local flavor any time while having the extra benefit of being much cheaper–especially if you pay for an unlimited-ride pass.
Make Lots of Friends Around the World, Then Crash on Their Couches
This doesn’t exclude paying to crash in someone’s spare room with a service like Airbnb, or crash on their couch for free with Couchsurfing. But do you know who’s less likely to set inflexible ground rules, take you someplace you don’t like, or charge a housecleaning fee for that spilled cereal? Your friends!
Making friends over social media has made this an easier task than ever, but that’s hardly the only way–chances are that even the friends in your home city will move away someday. Or you’ll make friends while traveling that you can hook up with later. This worked for me with a couple of Contiki trips, which are geared for solo travelers.
My epic friend-crashing adventure happened when I spent an entire month, unemployed, traveling through Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong, splitting time among budget hotels, friends, and even the relatives of friends. What could have cost me thousands in lodgings set me back far less, and I had tremendous company to boot.
Just be sure to follow the golden rule of crashing with friends: host your friends just as they’d want you to host them. And do what you can during your stay to show them gratitude, whether it’s cooking dinner, cleaning up, or finally taking down those Christmas lights in July.
When Booking a Room, Only Pay for What You Will Use
Paying a resort fee is awfully pointless when you want nothing to do with a resort (or that two-dumbell gym that qualifies for a resort fee at some hotels). So do some digging around and read the fine print before you book a hotel or hostel. Does the place have free Wi-Fi? Check. Does it have a free breakfast, and ideally not the “continental” kind? Even free coffee might save you a daily Starbucks run. And after you’ve checked in, don’t be afraid to ask for things like umbrellas on a rainy day–you might be surprised by what hotels can get you for free.
Fly in the Middle of the Week and Avoid Holidays
The difference between flying on a Friday and a Wednesday can be the difference between first class and coach. That’s exactly what happened when I used my United points on a Wednesday night flight from San Francisco to New Orleans last year. As for holidays, the exception to this rule is if you decide to fly on the holiday itself. If you can still make it in time for grandma’s Thanksgiving turkey, you might as well fly that morning and save a bunch while probably having an open seat next to you.
Pick ATM and Credit Cards That Don’t Charge Foreign Fees
Domestically, you should know by now that you only withdraw money from your own bank’s ATM so you don’t have to pay an extra few bucks. Outside the U.S., see if you eliminate fees by qualifying for a premium checking account, or look into a card such as the Charles Schwab Visa Platinum, which reimburses ATM fees. As for foreign purchases, these cards don’t charge fees: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Rewards, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
Pick a Suitable Credit Card for Your Travel Needs That Carries a Big Bonus
People who fly Southwest exclusively would do well to charge all they can to the Rapid Rewards card. Alternately, if you’re a frequent visitor to one hotel or if you’re a road-trip demon, there are cards that reward those habits as well.
Pack Snacks and Water Bottles
Sure, some people would suggest avoiding dinners at restaurants, but what if that’s exactly why you’re visiting Paris? To you foodies, we suggest compensating for restaurant costs by cheaping out the rest of the time. Bring your own snacks from home and carry a water bottle you can refill at the nearest drinking fountain. The money you save there can help you afford that dinner for two at Chez Fancy Pants.
Always Choose the Cheapest Rental Car Option
You may have visions of riding through South Beach in an Escalade, but if you stay patient and ask for an economy ride instead, there’s a decent chance you’ll get bumped up to something better. Rental car lots always run out of the cheap cars first, and you won’t be charged anything extra for the next level up. And you might be able to negotiate a better price for that Escalade.
Scan Websites for Cheap or Free Local Attractions
Here in San Francisco we have Funcheap SF, which keeps a daily calendar of activities that are easy on the wallet. Elsewhere you might look to Time Out, Yelp, Gogobot, or another resource. Also, if you’re going to be exploring museums, see if they have a free day every month, as some do.
Live Dangerously and Look for Last-Minute Discounts on Hotels and Cruises
Unless you’re traveling during peak season or near a major event, it often pays to wait until the last minute to book your room. Booking Now and Hotel Tonight are two of the biggest apps for snagging deals, and you can search for exactly the neighborhood you want.
Related: 10 Smart Ways to Use Your Miles
If it’s a cruise you’re after and you have the flexibility, sign up for each line’s newsletters and look out for last-minute discounts on cruises that haven’t sold out yet. Discount providers such as Travelzoo are a great resource for that as well.
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