Travel hacks are techniques for getting free and low-cost travel.
Some travel hackers make a science of it. They work the points angle in every possible way – they calculate the value of just about everything they do in terms of how it will feed their travel habit. There are travel hacking clubs and sites that will help you track and trade your loyalty points.
These are all well and good if you have the time.
But what if you don't?
Fortunately, there are still some hacks that will help you reduce the cost of travel without being complicated. My approach is to use the right tools and apps at the right time. Pick and choose from the simple travel hacks below that suit your lifestyle.
Travel Hacks to Lower the Cost of Money
- Get the points credit card that's right for you. You don't have to make things complicated. Find the credit card that is right for you – one that offers rewards. I like my cash-back card and I use it for every purchase from a coffee to large items. The result: I earn about $600 per year. The fee for the card is $125 so that is more than earned back. Here's a list of cards that rank well for rewards. You need to find the one that's right for you but it's good to note that the Chase Sapphire Card which is often mentioned by American travel bloggers is also on the list of cards with no foreign transaction fees. See point 2.
- Get the right out-of-country travel credit card. This may or may not be the same card as your points card. The important thing here is that you choose a card that has a low or no foreign exchange fee which can save you up to 3% per transaction. That adds up. Here's a link to US cards with no foreign transaction fees. The Chase card is often the one mentioned by American travel bloggers. As a Canadian I use the Amazon.ca Visa Card to avoid this fee. However, when I rented my car in Hawaii I used a US$ card to get the insurance that was included. This saved me over $200.
- Get the right out-of-country debit card. Banks may charge for every withdrawal you make at a foreign bank. This may not be the case with a premium bank account. Check out your own bank or choose one that is part of the Global ATM Alliance. Either way, you can save $5 per ATM withdrawal.
- Get a generic loyalty card if possible. In Canada and just a few other countries there's the AirMiles card. The points add up slowly but they also don't ever disappear. I bought the computer I work on using points from AirMiles.ca. I have also rented cars, bought train tickets and more.
Please share your favorite points cards in the comments below.
Simple Travel Hacks to Save on Flights
- Get your preferred airline's loyalty card. Even if you don't think you fly often enough, get the card and use it whenever you can. You don't know what the future holds. You could be flying somewhere unexpected. Buying gas or groceries may add points. Get what you can because it's all built into prices anyway.
- Keep an eye out for the cheapest fares. Airfarewatchdog will monitor fares for your desired destination and email you when the fare goes down.
- Know when to buy. I've not tested this app yet but I like the idea so much that I just had to include it here. Hopper tracks airline data and, according to their promotions, “use data sets comprising billions of flight prices to help travelers find the right destination for their budget and feel confident that they're getting the best possible deal.”
- Fly within your budget. I've never met a destination I haven't liked. Whether it's down the road or around the world, I always find travel fascinating. So, if money is tight and you just have to get away, use Skyscanner.com‘s ‘Everywhere' search option. In their search engine, plug in your departure airport and put “anywhere” in the destination spot and you'll be fed all your possible flights in order from cheapest to most expensive. They are also one of the booking engines I always check when planning a trip.
- Check the airlines site just in case. There are occasions when the airline's site offers your desired flight at a lower price than the booking engines offer. Always check with the airline before booking. I saved $250 on a round-trip to Sydney, Australia by booking directly with Air Canada rather than through a booking engine.
- Canadians can fly half-price – some of the time. SQM.ca is a secret shopper service that is used by Air Canada and Porter Airlines. Sign up and get approved by SQM.ca then book any of the flights they have available for a secret shopper (not every destination is covered). You pay the full cost up front but when you complete the detailed post-flight survey you get half your money back.
Tip: When you get your boarding pass on your smartphone, save it as a photo. On an iPhone hold the Sleep/Wake button on the top of your phone, then immediately press and release the Home button. You can do this on Androids as well but it may be done differently.
Ways to Save on Food, Accommodation, and Events
- Last minute deals. Hotels will often sell off extra inventory at the last minute through sites like HotelTonight. This is great for an impromptu trip close to home or if you want to stay at your destination an extra night or two.
- Use discount city passes to get more for less. These are available in major cities like London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Toronto, Chicago, Dublin, Las Vegas, Rome, and San Francisco. Click any of those links and search for your destination to see if there is a discount city pass for you.
- Take the recommendations of other solo travelers. Check out The Solo Travel Accommodation Guide for over 150 places to stay in more than 50 countries – all recommended by other solo travelers.
- Get that coveted restaurant reservation before you leave. It's not always easy to get a reservation at the most popular restaurants. As soon as you know when you're going, book your table using Opentable. I suggest that you get a noon reservation when the lights are brighter (not a romantic scene). The prices are lower and the Executive Chef cares just as much about what you eat.
- Eat well. Get the Happy Cow app to find vegan and vegetarian restaurants as you travel.
- Get a discount. Many attractions offer discounts for booking online and in advance. You can also look at sites like Groupon for deals on food and drink, attractions, and more by destination. Just search for your city and see what comes up.
- Want to meet locals? There are many ways to meet locals but my fave is definitely the Global Greeter Network that will point you in the direction of greeter programs around the world. These services connect you with local volunteers willing to show you their city. You can also use Meetup.com for a wide range of events where you'll meet people with similar interests and Couchsurfing.com for meeting locals who are also avid travelers.
- Track your expenses. Costs can add up. Know how you're doing with your budget by tracking your expenses with Trail Wallet.
Tip: Sometimes, rather than working out all the details, you just want the whole package. Sign up for the Solo Traveler Advisory and we'll send you deals for solo travelers – deals without a single supplement.
- Find your way by foot, transit, or car. Google Maps
- Get online without roaming fees. JiWire WiFi Finder is available on Google Play and Apple's App Store.
- Secure your free WiFi connection. I consider this a necessity. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to secure free public WiFi so that you can do banking, book a room with your credit card, etc. online. I use StrongVPN. It's $10 for a month but I pay $55 for a year and for the one price it will work on all your devices including your phone, tablet, and computer. (The link to StrongVPN is an affiliate link)
- Need to go? The SitOrSquat: Restroom Finder app is available on Google Play and Apple's App Store.
- Do things you didn't think possible. Use If This Then That to do all sorts of things – send your Instagram photos to Twitter and have your photos show rather than a link, save photos automatically to Dropbox, or turn your lights on and off at home. They're called recipes and all sorts of techie people keep creating recipes to get more from your technology.
- Stay in touch off the grid. Send and receive messages anywhere in the world with the DeLorme inReach Explorer which earned a National Geographic Adventure Gear Of The Year Award. It also has built-in navigation.
Tip: Your phone is for more than apps and calls. Phones have fantastic cameras and I'm relying on my phone for photos more and more these days. According to my son, Marques Brownlee is the guy to watch for phone reviews. Here's a photographer who is known for her SmartPhoneOgraphy.
And if anyone is questioning your decision to travel solo, send them a copy of Glad You're Not Here: A solo traveler's manifesto. It's free!