The Five Best Ways to Save Money When you Travel

Katie McBeth  | 

Traveling doesn’t always have to be a luxury. For some, it’s a necessity.

Yet many people see travel as something out of their reach. A vacation only the rich can afford to make.

It’s true that taking time off work, eating out, and flying can be expensive. Yet travel can be invigorating, relaxing, and extremely rewarding too. Traveling and vacationing may be a privilege, but it is one worth taking advantage of throughout your lifetime.

No matter where you intend to go, there are plenty of ways to avoid breaking the bank while you’re on an adventure. Here’s five simple ways to save money while traveling the world.

1. Use Alternatives to Transportation and Hotels:

One of the largest expenses while traveling is lodging and transportation. Although plane ticket prices are tough to negotiate or find alternatives for, there are plenty of alternatives for hotels and local (on-the-ground) transportation.

  • Hostels are an especially inexpensive option for travelers throughout Europe and South America. Although hostels might not offer the safest accommodations compared to a high end hotel, rooms can be as cheap as a dollar a night, and some even include a free breakfast or lunch. For the more adventurous sorts, or people backpacking through multiple countries, hostels are a perfect option.
  • AirBnB is an international collection of freelance, couch-surfing, hospitality patrons that offer up some amazing homes and rooms for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. AirBNB has the added benefit of offering visitor and client reviews, so you can pick out rooms that  suit your needs. Plus, with the recent push from the company to increase safety and reduce discrimination, you’re guaranteed a more fun, safer, and relaxing vacation; or your money back.

When it comes to getting around town, there are plenty of local options that might be cheaper than a taxi or renting a car. Some cities offer up bike stations, allowing you to rent bikes for a short time while you travel from museum to museum. Other cities might have a solid public transportation system; complete with buses, metros, and railcars. Each city is different, but researching your options beforehand can help you prepare for your post-arrival travels. Many of the more popular tourist destinations offer up transportation passes that you can use on multiple forms of travel.

  • Uber is also an option that might be safer and cheaper than a taxi. Check the Uber site to make sure your destination offers Uber options. There is anywhere from UberVan to UberPool – which lets you carpool with other travelers to split the bill. This could also be a safer option for towns that are notorious for taxi schemes and theft.

2. Avoid the Holidays, and Know When to Book Your Trip:

Travel agencies call the post-vacation time the “shoulder season.” It’s between the bad weather months and the peak vacation times: when the weather is fine, but no one is traveling or booking vacations!

Learn the shoulder times for your target destination (they all vary, but late spring and summer are typically the most common months) and check regularly for plane tickets or hotels during that time frame. Avoid flying on the weekends, too, as prices can double over the weekend.

When it comes to the time to book, be sure to book your plane tickets as soon as possible. The sooner the better, as more seats will be available, and there will be less of a demand for that flight. Be sure to get your hotels booked well in advance as well.

Once you have air transportation and shelter planned out, stop yourself there. Although some people like to plan their trip down to the “t”, some of the best trips are those that remain spontaneous. If you can help it, avoid planning everything and remain flexible. You’ll have more fun and potentially spend less money on stuff that wasn’t worth the effort!

3. Save Up Airline Points

Airline point cards are everywhere, but not all points cards are the same. Some only collect airline points if you’re a frequent flier, while others collect points on all purchases you make with the card. Either way, saving up “miles” could be the best way to save money on expensive plane travel.

For frequent business travelers, it might be beneficial to get your own mileage card, purchase the tickets with the card, and then get a reimbursement from your company. It’s an easy way to collect flier miles and get paid to do it!

For others who don’t travel often for business, it might be worthwhile to look into mileage cards that add up points for all purchases.

  • The Chase Sapphire Premium Rewards card offers two points for any travel purchases and one point for any normal purchases through the card.
  • Citi and American Airlines offers another option for domestic (US) and AA-partner international travels with their AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard. The card comes complete with discounts on in-flight purchases, Group 1 boarding priority, and no foreign transaction fees for use while outside the country.
  • The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is another option that gives you mileage points for any purchases you make. The 2% flat rate of mileage accrual lets you build your credit and collect mileage while you’re making everyday purchases.
  • Other airlines offer their own version of mileage cards, including Southwest Airlines, Delta Skymiles, and United MileagePlus. The terms vary, so be sure to read the fine print, but the majority of these company-specific cards only apply to purchases made with that company. This works great for domestic travels, but if you want to fly internationally, it might only get you so far in saving money.

4. Look into Tourism passes

Heavy tourist areas – such as France, London, New Orleans, etc – often have “tourist passes” for families or couples that want to see everything, but don’t want to pay full price for every single museum. These passes can save you $100 or more by cutting back on prices to popular museums and attractions, and are often be coupled with city passes for the local public transportation.

Check out if your destination offers any tourist packages, and be sure to check that they are approved by the local tourist board to avoid scams.

5. Avoid International Transaction Fees

When traveling abroad, you’ll need to exchange your money. You can use your card overseas, but your bank or credit card company might charge a transaction fee for the exchange. Even if it’s only 3%, that fee can add up really fast! Check with your bank for a fee-free debit card option, or for the best option for avoiding high fees.

International ATMs also charge a fee, but it might be less or a fixed fee, and might save you money in the long run. No matter what, you will have to pay a bit for the exchange, but you can avoid paying more if you look into your options. Avoid exchanging at the airport, as the fees tend to be higher, and try to order foreign money with your bank before you leave the country.

As for credit cards, check if there is a fee-free option, or sign up for a new credit card that has no transaction fee for international purchases, such as the AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Credit Card with Citi and American Airlines.

Bonus:

As a bonus, sign up for deal alerts on airfare and hotels, and check everything with websites that let you compare prices. One of the popular sites for comparisons is Kayak.com. They let you look at a week’s worth of different dates and options to help you decide on the cheapest time to fly or book a hotel. You can even see how much the price changes between weekend rates and weekdays! Another comparison option is Rome2Rio.com (for the cheapest ways to get from point A to point B), and SecretFlying.com or TheFlightDeal.com offer amazing travel alerts on cheap international (and national) flights. You’ll be amazed at how cheap some of these deals can be!

Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine and the Quiet Revolution. She researches SEO strategies during the day, and freelances at night. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth

This post was updated January 17, 2017. It was originally published January 13, 2017.