Tips for traveling on a budget

Earlier this week, I came across this article by Chelsea Fagan, founder of The Financial Diet: Why “Don’t Worry About Money, Just Travel” Is The Worst Advice Of All Time. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking piece and, while I don’t agree with Fagan completely, I do agree that money is indeed something to worry about. (For a different perspective on travel, check out Christina Garofalo’s article on Adventures in Frugal.)

Traveling can make a huge dent in your wallet, especially if your destination is overseas. Between transportation, lodging, food, and activities, your expenses may well add up to thousands of dollars–yikes! Here are my top 12 tips to help you save some money on your next vacation:

  1. Make a budget — Know your upper spending limit and don’t go past it. Setting a budget for each category of expenses can only help you stay on track. If you’ve saved up enough money to go on an extravagant trip to Europe or Asia, that’s great! Otherwise, consider a short road trip or staying close to home.
  2. Start early — Plan your trip and make all of your bookings months ahead of time. Prices usually increase as the date approaches. Just be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the cancellation and refund policies in case something comes up.
  3. Keep an eye on sales, coupons, and rewards — I absolutely love The Flight Deal, which finds such amazing sales that you’ll be tempted to constantly jet away. I also recommend checking out these 11 travel websites from The Financial Diet. Once you book a flight, don’t forget to add your frequent flyer number so that your points can stack up.
  4. Check the airline or hotel’s official website — Chances are that if you see a sale on a third-party website, you can also find the sale on the airline or hotel website. Sometimes the official website will even offer you a better deal. Make arrangements directly with the airline or hotel whenever you can. Any potential cancellations or refunds will be processed more quickly and efficiently by eliminating the third-party travel agent. Trust me on this one, I’ve made a lot of calls to Expedia.
  5. Pick up the phone — It’s so easy to just book everything online, but sometimes it really does help to call. For example, I recently called a Vegas hotel to inquire about a sale I saw online, and was offered an even better rate than what was advertised. Be polite and ask the representative if they have any special offers available. It never hurts to ask. The worst thing that can happen is they’ll say “no.”
  6. Avoid holidays, busy days, and busy seasons — Hotels and flights will always be more expensive around a holiday. If your schedule allows you the flexibility, play around with the calendar and see when you can get the lowest rates. Note that flying out on the weekend is also more expensive than on a weekday.
  7. Connecting flights — If you have the time, and the patience, a connecting flight is often cheaper than a direct one.
  8. Research your destination — This is incredibly important. I’ve seen friends spend thousands of dollars on plane tickets abroad, only to reach their destination and have no idea what to do. Don’t waste your time and money. Look up all aspects of the trip, including what you’re going to do and where you’re going to eat when you get there. Make an itinerary!
  9. Beware of hidden fees — Always read the fine print! For hotels, there is usually a daily resort fee that is not included in the advertised price. If you’re flying, check if baggage is included with your flight.
  10. Go to the grocery or convenience store — This is actually my favorite tip. There’s no need to stop at a fancy cafe or restaurant every time you’re thirsty or hungry. Buy some bottled drinks and snacks to keep in the hotel or take with you on the go. I personally think it’s really fun to check out grocery stores in new places! In Seoul, I would stop by a convenience store every night to pick up banana milk and breakfast for the next day.
  11. Use Yelp and Groupon — If Yelp is available for your destination, use it as your best friend. One of the things I was frequently warned about before traveling to Hawaii is the cost of food, but my friends and I were actually able to find delicious, reasonably priced meals in Oahu with Yelp. Plus, some merchants will give you a discount or free item just for checking in on the app! Meanwhile, Groupon has great deals for both dining and activities.
  12. Currency — Keep in mind the exchange rate. Things might be costing you a lot more than you think! For exchanging currency, it sometimes costs more to do this at the airport, and there’s a fee. Many hotels offer this service for free, so look or ask around before handing over your money.

In the end, it comes down to having patience and doing proper research. Are you planning to go somewhere this summer? Let me know in the comments!

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