Everyone wants to stretch their travel dollar.
Whether it's for luxury or budget travel, I've never known anyone who didn't like a good deal.
Who wouldn't want to get more and better travel for less?
I certainly do and I try to spend my travel budget as efficiently as possible on every trip and despite the occasional mistake (Read: My Travel Money Mistakes of 2016) I do pretty well.
I've been traveling since I was 15. I traveled in groups at that age but then independently, then with family with kids in tow at various ages, and then, again solo. Over a few decades of travel experience I've learned a few dozen ways to get the most out of my travel buck. Here are my top tips.
32 Ways to Stretch Your Travel Dollar
- Have the right travel rewards card and use it wisely. Save money for travel as you spend money in your everyday life. Don't carry a balance on the card for the interest rate will undo any gain you make with your points or cash-back. If you have to carry a balance, do so on a low interest card. Take a hard look at your credit card situation and decided what the best card is for you under today's circumstances. Here's a link for how to do the analysis. The example is Canadian but will apply to any country.
- Choose a budget destination. Deciding on a budget destination is about the overall cost of your trip. The cost of getting there and the cost on the ground. If a currency exchange is part of the issue you need to consider it as well. The data says that when people start planning a trip they typically have three destinations in mind. Run a budget for each so you can see the real implication of your destination decision. Read: Best Budget Destinations for Solo Travelers: the 2017 Shortlist.
- Know the shoulder season for your choice destinations. The shoulder season tends to be less expensive and less crowded than the high season yet it still has most of what you want in reasonable weather. Read: How to Save on Shoulder Season Travel: Top Tips
- Rough out your budget. If you're going to more than one place then Rome2Rio is a good starting point for getting a handle on the overall cost of your trip. I don't book on it but I do use it to help me understand the cost of transitions on a trip such as flights, transportation from the airport to my hotel and back, and travel between cities.
- Always check three sites before buying plane tickets. Check at least two booking engines and, based on the results, the site of the airline that offers you the best combination of price, convenience and points. I have been having excellent results with FlightNetwork for the last few months. They've saved me hundreds of dollars. If possible I always go for a direct flight but if the savings are significant enough, more than $200 I'll accept one change. Read: Get the Best Deals on Flights: Here’s How
- Be flexible with your vacation dates. If you have a week vacation, or two, do your research and fly on the days that are least expensive. A Wednesday to Wednesday holiday is no different than Monday to Monday except that it could save you money. I just booked a flight to Whitehorse in the Yukon of Canada. I'm flying out on a Tuesday and back on a Sunday to get the best deal. The deal was even better if I could go Tuesday to Tuesday but I had a conflict with that.
- Get a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Most cards charge an additional 2-3% for every credit card transaction in a foreign currency. However, some don't. As a Canadian I use Amazon.ca Visa Card. Most American travel writers recommend Chase credit cards.
- Get a debit card that doesn't charge for foreign ATM transactions. A debit card at an ATM is the best way to get foreign funds on the road however there is typically a charge at both ends of this financial transaction. You can't affect what the bank you're withdrawing from will charge you but you can affect the charge at your financial institution if you choose the right account. I have the TD Canada Trust Select Service that doesn't charge me for taking money from foreign ATMs. Read: Save Money When You Change Money
- Buy in their currency not yours. It may be tempting to see what your purchase actually costs in your home currency but doing so will make that item cost more than it should because of extra fees. Always buy in the lcoal currency.
- Shop outside the tourist areas. Whether for food or souvenirs, shop where the locals shop so that you're not paying more than necessary.
- Don't use a Money Exchange Kiosk. Everything I've ever read has said that these are not a good deal.
- Hold onto extra currency. If you plan to return to the country again, save that currency for the next trip as you lose money every time you exchange it. I tend to keep any US, UK or European currency. Other currency I give to a charity. Read: 6 Things to Do With Leftover Currency
- Save at the airport. Plan your budget to include everything from the moment you leave your door. If you don't you will likely blow your budget before getting on a plane. Airport waits are long and airport food is expensive. The mark up on water at the airport is significant. The same goes for snack foods. Bring your water bottle through security empty and fill it on the other side. Bring snacks from home. If you’ll be there over a meal period, bring a meal too!
- Be careful at Duty Free. Oh the temptation! With time on your hands shopping is to be expected but is Duty Free really a good deal? The research says that it is usually a deal for alcohol and tobacco but may not be for other items. Pull out your phone and do some comparison shopping before you buy.
- Eat off the beaten path. Restaurants that are a bit out of the way, especially a few blocks from a train station or tourist site, will be less expensive. They will also connect you to locals more which is a bonus in my mind.
- Look for non-English menus. If you're in a country of a different language a menu in English is a sign that the restaurant is for tourists and you'll be paying more than necessary.
- Find a restaurant within your budget. Use Open Table, an app for your phone that lets you find restaurants based on location, popularity and availability. You can read restaurant reviews, see menus, know approximately what a meal will cost and make reservations on the fly. You can also earn points with the app that will, with time, give you a credit for a free meal. Tracey has earned $25 from them simply by using the app.
- Eat your main meal at lunch. Lunch menus are always less expensive than dinner menus. Whether you’re going to that restaurant you’ve read about and always wanted to experience or simply having a basic meal, eat your main meal at lunch. Save the soup, salad or sandwich menu for dinner.
- Make the most of that free breakfast. If your hotel includes a free breakfast, don’t binge there and don’t grab more than is appropriate. That said, there’s nothing wrong with taking an apple or banana for the road to reduce your cost of snacks during the day.
- Get takeout from a high-end grocery store. It can be a Whole Foods but doesn’t have to be. I often ate very well with take-out from the Safeway in Kapa’a, Hawaii. I particularly loved their kale salad and salmon steaks. And when it comes to takeout pizza, I prefer Whole Foods. A good size slice comes in at under $5.
- Enjoy food trucks. With a lower overhead, food trucks can give you all the quality of a restaurant at a lower price. When I was in Kauai I certainly found the food trucks to be a more affordable option than restaurants. And since they are where many locals go to eat, if they’re not great they won’t last.
- Use memberships that give you discounts. AAA, CAA, military cards, gym and art gallery memberships. You likely have a number of memberships that you use at home that could also be valuable as you travel. Read: Take Your Membership Benefits on the Road: 11 Ways to Save
- Avoid hidden hotel fees. Knowledge can be a big money saver. Before you book your accommodation get a handle on what your actual costs will be. Look for the hidden costs and defray them with the tips in this post.
- Look at your average cost per night. Depending on where you're going your accommodation could be your number one expense. You can go super cheap or expensive or somewhere in between. I like to shake it up as I did in Kauai. Spend some nights in luxury accommodation and then save other nights in budget accommodation to end up with a reasonable overall nightly rate.
- Try a home exchange. This can save you big time on accommodation. Live like a local and stay for free. Home Exchange has 65,000+ worldwide listings. Read Free accommodation: try a home exchange.
- Rent your home while you're away. I know a few people who done this using sites like Airbnb. Read: 12 Ways to Make Money as You Travel: long and short-term
- Step up to the bar. You don’t have to stay at an uber-luxury hotel to enjoy some of the benefits. You can go to the bar for a drink, enjoy afternoon high tea or book yourself into their spa.
- Find the freebies. There are free activities in every location. Read about the free and low-cost things to do in London, New York, Paris, Sydney, and Dublin,
- Get free public WiFi. This is pretty easy these days – especially if you are in a town or city. You can find it at libraries, coffee shops, fast food restaurants… When using public WiFi be careful of what sites you access. If you use a password turn on a VPN. To understand why this is important read: VPN for Travel: What, Why and an Easy Setup Guide.
- Save on your data. When you have free WiFi use Whatsapp to text or call for free. It’s similar to Skype but absolutely free and I have found that the quality is better. One nice thing about it is that you can create a group so that you can provide a status update to a group of people with one text.
- Take a tour. This is not a guarantee but depending on how you like to travel, a tour can be more affordable than traveling independently. Tour companies can leverage the size of the group to get discounts. Yes, they have overhead but they also have ways of getting prices down.
- Check out our deals page and the Advisory. For tours with low or no single supplement, make sure you check our Solo Travel Deals page and sign up for our Advisory of Deals.