By Jim Ferri
When traveling, I find the only thing worst than wasting time is wasting money.
I know I’m not alone.
To minimize costs, and maximize the chance of having the most enjoyable trip possible, many of us begin planning early. We peruse blogs and magazines looking for places that pique our interest. We scour countless websites looking for great deals.
We spend countless hours over weeks and months planning our travels. Often we become fanatical in our attempts to create the perfect package for the perfect trip.
But do you want to know something?
At times it’s just not enough.
Rarely will everything go perfectly since many things are beyond our control.
But there are ways to help ensure you have a trip as perfect as possible – if you plan. Here are 30 strategies and tactics to get you started.
1) Know Your Limitations
Budget Travel Tip #1: don’t always try to do it alone if you don’t know the lay of the land. Some are skilled at it, but many people wouldn’t try to fix their car or make their clothes. Ditto for travel.
When you’re planning a big trip, especially an expensive one, get a travel agent. A good agent can significantly enhance your trip – getting you upgraded hotel rooms and into places you want to see. In fact, they pay for themselves. And they’re only a phone call away to fix things if something goes awry while you’re in Tahiti or Timbuktu.
There’s nothing worse than laying out a lot of money for a trip and having it ruined by inclement weather. Avoid both by knowing when to travel. The Caribbean is best in January and February, although prices are high then. The weather is best in Central and South America January through March. Those are the same months you’ll also avoid muggy months in Southeast Asia.
Head for the Greek Isles and much of the Mediterranean during May and early June (before the crowds arrive) and Alaska mid-May and June (when you’ll avoid the huge summer crowds and, hopefully, high-season prices). Looking for the famous “White Nights” in Scandinavia, Russia, and Iceland? Then be prepared to travel in July and August, also perfect months for making a transatlantic crossing on a cruise.
Want to miss the summer crowds in Hawaii and the South Pacific? Time your travel for September and October. If it’s the European Christmas markets you’re looking for, book a Rhine or Danube river cruise in November and December.
3) Make Use of Travel-Planning Sites
One incredibly useful site I use often is Rome2Rio. Enter your starting city and your destination, and it will near-instantly tell you how to get there. It also shows you the means of transport (car, bus, plane, etc.), the cost for each, and the travel time. Sometimes you’ll see that a plane isn’t the way to go. It’s a great app to plan any trip. Make it your first stop online.
4) Check the Validity of Your Passport
Many countries require you to have three months validity remaining on your passport after you arrive back home. Others require six months validity, especially in Asia. If you are nearing that six-month limit, it would be well worth your while to apply for a new passport. Check the passport requirements of each country, or you may be denied boarding at the airport or cruise terminal.
Many countries require visas for travelers. Some of them are relatively straightforward, only requiring payment of a fee online or at the airport when you arrive. (Be aware, however, that many times this visa fee must be paid in cash only). Other visas are more onerous and can be more costly and difficult to purchase. See the article Countries Requiring Visas for Americans for a review of some of these visas so that you’re prepared well in advance of your travels. Canadians should check the government’s Travel Advice and Advisories.
6) Sign Up For Price Alerts
If you’re budgeting, it can be helpful to sign up for price alerts on online booking sites. Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak and Airfarewatchdog, for example, will email you with updates of fares. Several airlines will also notify you of special fares, especially last-minute deals.
7) To Save Money, Plan Your Travel Wisely
Fuel surcharges have become de rigueur on international flights. In some destinations, especially London, the charges approach obscene. You can often save yourself quite a bit of money by either arriving or departing from another European city and then taking the train to/from the British capital.
8) To Save Time, Clear Customs Outside the USA
To save time, return from a foreign airport where U.S. Customs and Border Protection has overseas customs clearance facilities. You’ll then avoid the wait, the crowd, and the hassle when you arrive back in the USA.
CBP has 15 pre-clearance facilities in six countries including Ireland, Canada, and the UAE. See the full list at CBP Preclearance Locations. I guarantee it will make things less hectic for you.
9) How Much to Tip?
It’s always good to know the tipping etiquette of any country you’ll be visiting. But it can sometimes be exasperating trying to figure out how much to tip in a foreign country – and sometimes costly. Here’s an excellent tipping guide from Condé Nast Traveler that sheds some light on the subject.
10) Fly In the Morning
Early mornings offer the best opportunity to get a lower fare and have an on-time departure. Since many people don’t like early morning flights, airlines set lower fares at that time to try to entice them. Also in the early morning, you can usually avoid the delays that get compounded later in the day. The exception is in cities such as San Francisco where morning fog can play havoc with schedules.
11) Fly a Private Jet
Flying a private jet can be a lot less expensive than you may think. Many companies offer one-way deals on flights when they must reposition an aircraft to another destination. If you have a group, you can take advantage of these flights at a saving up to 75% off the regular price. You’ll fly in a plush private jet and avoid the crowds and hubbub at the airport at the same time. And that’s all at a cost that’s often less than business class on a scheduled carrier.
If you can pull a group together, you can save a good amount on hotels, travel insurance and sometimes transportation. Most travel companies, including tour operators, airlines and cruise lines, have specialized departments to work with large groups. They will often throw in extras to make your trip more comfortable and appealing. Always ask about the savings when you call.
13) Save Money: Take the Bus Instead
If you’re fed up with the crowds at the airport, consider taking an inter-city bus. These new style buses are a lot cheaper than air travel. They also pick you up and drop you off right in the center of the city. Bolt Bus will take you from New York to Washington or Seattle to Portland for about $17 one way. And this in a modern bus with reserved seats, extra legroom and Wi-Fi.
Megabus will take you from Chicago to Cleveland for $29. You can sometimes find a super bargain $1. For overseas companies Google “bus travel” and the continent (“bus travel Europe”, for example).
14) Eat Cheap…But Eat Well
One significant expenditure when you travel is usually food. If you want to save on your food costs, don’t feel as if you have to eat at a cheap restaurant to save a buck. Head instead to an area about a university where often you’ll find lower-priced restaurants. Go to a site such as Yelp to check out any options in the neighborhood. Sometimes you can even eat at the university itself. In Vienna, for example, there are subsidized student canteens (called Mensen) that are open to everyone, not just students.
15) Save Money By Knowing the Exchange Rate Before You Go
It always makes sense to know the rate of exchange at your destination before you leave home. If nothing else, it will help you make sure that you’re not being ripped off for the taxi ride once you arrive at your destination. It will also help you know how much to withdraw at an ATM since you’re only asked the amount you want in foreign currency, not in dollars.
16) Another Tip: Know How to Pay to Save Money
One of the best budget travel tips involves changing your money. The best way to pay for anything when you’re in a foreign country is either by cash (but don’t buy the local currency at the airport) or by credit card. Just ensure that you have a card with a chip in it and which doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees. And always pay the credit card charge in the local currency, and let it be converted by your home bank. Otherwise, you’ll be given a terrible exchange rate.
17) Tell Your Credit Card Company Where You’re Traveling
When you’re heading overseas or anywhere, it never hurts to alert your bank as to where you will be traveling. Failure to do so can at times trigger a fraud alert and block your credit card. Some cards allow you to do this online, with others you may have to telephone the number on your card.
18) Save Money by Looking For Senior Discounts
Most major companies in the travel industry offer discounts to seniors. You can easily find them by Googling “discount for seniors” along with the name of the travel company you are interested in using.
19) Another Tip: Use A Trip-Planner App
Obviously, it’s important to bring all your travel information – including flight times, hotel reservations, etc. – with you on a trip. You can, however, easily lose papers that you carry with you. A good budget travel tip is to instead use a trip-planning app on your phone that will keep everything neat and at your fingertips (literally). Use apps such as TripIt, Google Trips, or Roadtrippers on your phone or tablet when you travel. They’ll keep everything safe all and provide you with the necessary details of your trip.
20) Use Google Maps
Google Maps is an excellent way to help find your way to an unfamiliar destination. It now even provides live traffic information for some European countries. But it’s more than just a good way to get you to the Eiffel Tower or the Roman forum. You may also want to use it when taking a taxi to/from an airport to assure that the driver is taking the shortest route possible.
21) Use Award Wallet
Award Wallet is a great app for keeping your loyalty program award points in order. It can streamline the housekeeping of all of your frequent-flyer and loyalty-program points to ensure that you never allow another frequent-flyer mile to expire.
With the excess baggage fees being charged by many airlines these days (Southwest is the only carrier that still allows two free check bags), it may well make sense to ship your luggage ahead. Check Airfarewatchdog to see a list of baggage and other fees now charged, and then pay a visit to UPS or FedEx.
23) Budgeting Your Travel by Investigating All-Inclusives
If you’re budget-conscious, you may want to look at an all-inclusive resort. There you’ll pay just once for your entire vacation including hotel, meals, outdoor activities and other perks. They can also be great cost-saving alternatives if you’re traveling with children or grandchildren. You’ll find them even more attractive in the shoulder seasons.
24) Avoid Flight Delays
Time is money, especially when you’re spending your hard-earned vacation dollars. Get stuck by a flight delay, and you could miss your connecting flight to London or your cruise in Miami. You can, however, stack the odds in your favor by checking which U.S. airports are most prone to flight delays. A simple Google search “best worst US airport delays” will bring up plenty of information on the subject.
We all know most carriers charge fees for premium seats. Others, especially the highly discounted carriers, charge extra for any seat you select. If flying a discount carrier, reserve the seat online, or you may pay double the cost at the airport.
26) Finagle a Seat
If you’re looking for a good seat but haven’t found one, inquire at the boarding gate if one is available. The agent will likely give it to you at no additional fee if one if available. Another good budget travel tip is to try to select a better seat at the check-in kiosk. You may be surprised since people cancel their flights and change their seats right up to about an hour before the flight. The same holds true if you’re in a carrier’s lounge. In American’s Admirals Club, for example, the helpdesk will try to find you the desired seat at no additional cost.
27) Be Careful With Your Luggage
Another travel tip: it pays to check ahead of time regarding your carrier’s checked baggage weight limitations since they sometimes differ between airlines. KLM’s allowance is 50 pounds, for example, while Norwegian’s is 44 pounds. Some budget carriers will charge you additional fees if you didn’t tell them ahead of time you’d be checking a bag, and prepay the fee online.
28) Collect for Those Delays
We’ve all face flight delays, but many of us aren’t aware as to whether or not we should be compensated for them. In the U.S. if you are involuntarily bumped from a flight you could be owed up to $1,300. (Although with recent bad press some carriers will now sometimes offer much more). An excellent budget travel tip is to know that European Union law requires a payment of $750 for a flight that is overbooked, canceled or delayed. And you needn’t be a European to collect it. European airlines that are departing the U.S. are also subject to the law. It is not valid, however, if a U.S. carrier operates the European airline flight in a code-share agreement.
And there’s Air Care, a Berkshire Hathaway company. It provides near-instant payment for flight delays, missed connections, lost or stolen luggage, etc. for a flat $25 fee. A tarmac delay of more than 2 hours nets you $1,000 with no forms to fill out.
29) Breeze Through Customs
If you travel a lot registering for Global Entry, and its affiliated Sentri and Nexus programs, can be a tremendous time saver. You can now also expedite your customs clearance in Asia by getting the APEC Business Travel Card. Apply for it, and Global Entry through the US Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler network GOES. (If you have an American Express Gold Corporate or Platinum card, or a Citi AAdvantage Executive credit card, those companies will reimburse you for the $100 application fee). In the UK the Border Force has opened a similar program to U.S., Australian, Canadian, Japanese and New Zealand travelers for a £70 fee.
30) Read These Other Budget Travel Tips
There are also plenty of other ways to save money. Read about them in 18 Tricks That Save a Bundle on Airfare, How to Travel About Scandinavia for 2 Weeks on a Budget and our special article on how to dramatically cut your costs.