Top 10 Ways You Can Save Money When Traveling

We already save hundreds of dollars (some even thousands) on airfare on hotels by taking advantage of sign-up bonuses on rewards credit cards, plus other great perks that some cards offer. Between the free flights, baggage, internet, and breakfast – what else can we possibly save on?

I, personally, don’t mind shelling out a lot of money on my actual vacation. It seems right in the world when I’m getting a free flight and get to pump money into a country’s economy. I thoroughly respect anyone who does that. However, there are some people who need to save elsewhere (or even those who really really want to). Whether it’s because it’s an emergency trip somewhere, or an un-desired one (ie some company trips), there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be wise with your money. So, here’s a “Top Ten” list of other ways you can save.

1. Enjoy farmer’s markets, food trucks

Farmer’s markets provide the freshest produce in whatever area you’re in, all the while saving you tons of money on eating.  If you eat at the hotel, your breakfast is free, so the other meals you have during the day, you’ll have to pay for. I’d personally save one of those meals for a restaurant you really want to visit. Then, the other(s), take advantage of markets. I have a friend who refuses to eat anywhere but restaurants when he eats. It’s basically his favorite part of vacationing. However, there is a lot of pleasure that comes from visiting local, small food vendors. But, if your favorite part of vacations are the sit-down restaurants, then let’s move on.

2. Check out transportation options

I don’t know about you, but I prefer being driven around unknown areas. I get frustrated when I’m lost, and I always get frustrated in any sort of traffic. So, if I have an option to be driven somewhere, I’ll take it. Renting a car can be expensive because there are all these hidden fees, like “fuel surcharges.” Then, you don’t know how wreckless other drivers can be, so you’re putting yourself (and the car that doesn’t belong to you) at risk. Even if you purchase expensive insurance. Pass. So, I always look ahead of time and figure out if taxis, buses, or other means of transportation are cheaper. If I’m in Central or South America, I never rent a car. Their drivers are terrible and transportation is CRAZY CHEAP.

3. Pack smarter

Too many times, people forget basic necessities only to realize they need to fork over too much money to purchase it wherever they are. These are some common necessities people always forget:

  • Toothbrush, Toothpaste
  • Phone charger (for wall and/or computer)
  • Headache medicine (or any kind of medicine…if you’re going to a cold place, you should bring sinus, cold medicine)

Seems obvious, but I hate having to spend $15-$20 because I simply forgot my iPhone charger. An object that takes up virtually NO room. Another way to pack smarter is to pack any sort of necessity or irreplaceable object in your carry-on. I’ve had luggage stolen, and even lost. I learned my lesson, and now I only pack the following in my carry-on:

  • Wallet
  • Change of clothes (including socks and underwear – I don’t play around)
  • Toiletries
  • Electronics (laptop, phone, music player)
  • Anything else that can’t be replaced, or is too expensive to replace

4. Download Savings Apps

One of my favorite apps is the Yelp app. It gives coupons for not just restaurants that are participating, but for activities and events. I love it. There are also apps called “Local Eats” and “Kids Eat Free.”

5. Make Google your friend

Just googling, “free stuff to do in __________” can yield some worthy results. Don’t be afraid to do some research, write down some stuff, and plan your trip around great sights.

6. Know what card to use

Ok. I know, you’re a pro at this. But you’ll be amazed at how excited people will be that they have a “smart chip” in their card, only to enter Honduras and realize they should be using cash currency. Or people who fail to get enough of the local currency ahead of time, forcing themselves to deal with ridiculous ATM fees, and waste precious vacation time trying to exchange currency. Don’t be that guy.

7. Plan. No seriously. Plan like a crazy person.

This seems so obvious. You may think you’re a good planner, but you enter a new land and realize you are terrible at planning vacations. The key to good planning is thinking of all the little things. It’s easy to say “on Monday we will hike up to this waterfall and then kayak for a couple of hours.” But if you really were saying “ok this hike is going to take 3 hours one way and we will be exhausted afterward. So we will kayak on Tuesday.” then that’s the mark of a good planner. You need to think of time it takes to go places. A huge regret of mine was the first time I went to NYC. There wasn’t anything of a decent rate in the city (was planning the trip last minute), so I thought “psh, I’ll just stay in New Jersey. No biggie.” I quickly realized that not only was I staying in a state that resembled the sewers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (no offense, but seriously guys…clean up), but it took TWO hours just to commute one way into the city. That’s FOUR hours of transporting from city to city. What a huge waste of time. Lesson learned, though.

8. Pre-gaming & happy hours

I was telling a friend the other day that in my younger days, before I went out to the bar, I’d have a couple of beers right before I left. This would prevent me from spending so much money when I was out. He made fun of me and said “yeah man..that’s called ‘pre-gaming.’ You learn something new everyday. When I was in Hawaii, I also went to the store, bought a bottle of rum, a few small cans of pineapple juice, and a small container of creamer. I literally started every morning off with a pina colada. The stuff stayed cold in my hotel room, and I wasn’t tempted to spend money on drinks while I was out at lunch. Again – I should remind you that I normally don’t drive when I’m on vacation. So, don’t go doing this stuff when you’re planning on being the driver. It’s illegal to drive intoxicated, and always completely stupid to do so. I’d also recommend checking out happy hours wherever you are. It’s going to be hard to find when you’re in a high-tourist area, but you never no. See who is willing to give you a special.

9. Know where to shop

Shopping in high tourist areas is such a ripoff. I know, I’ve been there. You’re at a tourist attraction and can’t help but notice all the merch: “Oh hey…my girlfriend collects coffee cups, and this one is $10.” Don’t give in. Unless you’re planning on spending all of your time in tourist-y areas, or unless someone *must* have a coffee cup with the name of the town you’re in, go for local shops, and get creative about the souvenirs  If I am in Peru, I’m not going to get a T-Shirt. I’m going to get a bag of local coffee beans instead. Or maybe some handmade jewelry/artwork.  Think outside the box. Also keep in mind that in South/Central America, you can haggle prices anywhere, and I think even in some shops in NYC.

10. Avoid “tours”

This is such a huge waste of money, and I’d only suggest it if you have no idea how to plan some sight-seeing, or if it’s unavoidable. I went on a tour in Florida, when a friend and I wanted to see the Everglades. While the sight itself was incredibly disappointing (not sure what I was expecting either), it was unavoidable. You can’t exactly get trained to ride airboats, purchase an airboat, and get permission/qualified to operate in the Everglades. Get my drift?

Hope this list helps somewhat when you’re thinking about ways you can save money on vacation. It’s so tempting to just buy stuff “because you’re on vacation” and then be filled with regret when you’re back home – in reality. Only take as much cash as you *need* to spend when you go out. This will help in budgeting. Save time, money, take tons of photos, and enjoy yourself for cheap.

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Smooth Traveler – who has written posts on .