Sunday, January 31, 2010

20 Ways to Save Cash When Traveling

For the past week the hubby and I have been bouncing around the country, visiting family and reaching some travel goals. We are convinced that we are some of the cheapest travelers you will meet. Here's some easy ways to save money when traveling:
  1. We only travel with one carry on bag each. For the cost of bringing a checked bag each way with us ($40 to $50 per person), we could use the extra cash to buy any other item we need at our destination.

  2. Our travel dates are always flexible. Having to travel on specific dates usually locks you into higher fares. I usually check out via their flexible date search and choose a range of days to travel, thus coming up with the lowest fares.

  3. We use public transportation at our destination. There may be a rare occasion when we need to rent a car (ie: visiting family that lives in the boonies), but for most of our travel, we are in cities or suburbs that have pretty good public transportation options (ie: the $5 24-hour fare card in Las Vegas that takes you all over the strip, and the entire city for that matter or the daily Metro pass in Washington DC).

  4. We take our own food. Staying in hotels, we never use the mini bar or the snack basket ($5 for a small tube of Oreos?!?). Instead, we head out from the hotel to a grocery store and buy bottled water and snacks to take back with us to the hotel.

  5. When we are traveling, we generally eat light snacks in the room for breakfast (or better yet, many of the mid-range hotels we stay at offer a free breakfast), eat lunch out at a different restaurant every day, then dinner usually consists of picking up picnic items at the local grocery store or Super WalMart. This way we get to try wonderful restaurants at discounted lunch prices and still have plenty of food to keep us satisfied throughout the day.

  6. One of our favorite ways to travel is by cruise ship. We find discounted cruises (usually at the beginning or end of the season or during travel "dead times" such as the second week of December) and enjoy a week or more of cruising at less than $50 per person per day. The best part about cruises is that EVERYTHING is included--food, cabin, entertainment, recreation, etc.

  7. When we go on cruises, or travel anywhere for that matter, we don't sign up for guided tours. Our usual M.O. is to walk around a city to see what's happening then take public transportation or hire a car to take us to off the beaten track places if there is something we really don't want to miss.

  8. Using the web is an excellent way to find discounted attractions in your destination city. We have attended plays, symphonies, lectures, garden tours, and many other events simply because we checked out the local events calendar for a particular city and found free and low cost entertainment options.

  9. We do splurge on once-in-a-lifetime activities. If you are only going to have an opportunity once in your lifetime to do something, better to spend some extra cash than have regrets later.

  10. We use debit cards instead of credit cards when traveling. Actually we don't use credit cards period so that leaves only cash and debit cards as a form of payment. We carry some cash with us but not a huge amount so if it were to get stolen, it wouldn't be the end of our vacation. We have debit cards from three different banks with plenty of cash in each account. We use one for hotel and car rental because we know these places will place a significant hold on the cash in the account. We use another for cash withdrawals because it has a low fee for this, and we use the third card for expenses. The secret is to keep plenty of money in these accounts AND be sure to tell your card issuer when you are going out of town so a fraud hold doesn't get placed on the card for suspicious activity.

  11. We are good guests. Actually we are very low maintenance guests. One way we travel cheap is to stay with friends and family if possible when we travel. We try to get to their places under our own steam so as not to inconvenience them, usually cook and clean while we are there, even offering to do simple home fix up projects if we have the time, clean up after ourselves, and generally be good guests so that we will be invited back.

  12. We like mid-range hotels. Many times we have used Hotwire to find super discounted hotels in our destination cities. We have been pleasantly surprised on a couple of occasions (a suite at the Palms and a luscious room at the Pan Pacific in Vancouver BC) and unpleasantly appalled (hotels to remain nameless) a couple of times. Most of the time we have been satisfied with the surprise hotel rooms that we stay in. We tend to choose mid-range hotels when possible as they usually offer a clean room and a wealth of amenities as opposed to five star hotels which charge you for literally everything (parking, breakfast, internet, using the pool, etc). On the flip side, I simply refuse to stay in a crappy hotel even if it is cheaper--life is too short to be miserable.

  13. We seek out free wi-fi. Hopefully our hotel will provide this free amenity, if not, however, we come prepared with our own list of places that offer free internet, previously researched online before we left home. Note that purchasing internet time on a cruise ship is a huge expense for what equates to a dial-up speed network. Better to find a (much) cheaper internet cafe when you get into port.

  14. Getting to the airport can be a challenge. We live nearly two hours from our closest major airport so we have devised a few options depending on our flight times. First, we absolutely hate to impose on family or friends to cart us to and from the airport; we'll do this in an emergency but otherwise try to use other means. One option is to keep the car at home then ride public transportation to the airport which is always a good option, if the flight is not too early or too late; note this is very easy if you only carry one bag. We also know of a very cheap airport parking lot which is a little ways from the airport but has excellent shuttle service which we use for shorter duration trips. For really long trips, we park our car a a friend's house who lives near the airport and will keep an eye on our car for us while we are gone (ie: he starts it once a week to keep the battery charged, etc).

  15. We don't buy souvenirs when we travel. Most of it just gathers dust when we get back anyway. If there is something useful I can find, such as duty-free alcohol which we give as gifts, beautiful blankets or other handiwork that has an actual use, or unique gifts that I find for specific people who I know will like them, we will buy them (haggling all the way of course). Otherwise we just take pictures and are happy to save memories that way.

  16. The hubby and I tend to travel with coordinating stuff. This means everything from clothes (we travel with jeans, t shirts, fleece jackets, etc) to electronic equipment (laptops, cell phones, iPods) to other travel items are basically the same. This way, if one of us loses our cell phone charger, the other's charger will work. We carry one digital camera charger and multiples of the same type of memory cards because we both have the same kind of digital camera.

  17. We haggle. A lot. We ask for discounts on everything. Meals, event/activity entrance fees, hotels on occasion...basically if we are going to be paying, we are going to be asking for a discount based on anything we can think of (ie: a senior discount for hubby, a military discount for both of us, a Costco discount, a AAA discount, or if all else fails, a "we only have this much money to our names" discount).

  18. We find unique vacation experiences in the oddest places. My hobby is visiting cemeteries, the older the better. This is a free activity, by the way. One of my most memorable experiences was visiting a friend who had to visit a relative in a hospital when we were in a third world country. I've never been to a third-world hospital before so I was happy to tag along. It was an interesting and enlightening experience.

  19. We try to give back when we travel. Whether it is helping a relative fix a handrail or bringing donated books or medical supplies to third world countries, being useful at your destination, even though you are technically "on vacation" is a wonderful way to help others, spread good will, and make unique vacation memories. Surprisingly, this often rewards us with many unexpected perks--a great meal at a restaurant compliments of the relative we helped, unique handcrafted items from a tribe in the South Pacific that couldn't even be found in museums in gratitude for medical supplies we delivered to them, etc.

  20. We travel as often as possible. This may not be a money-saving tip but for us, traveling is worth its weight in good memories, if not gold. Other people may spend their disposable income on golf, some on shopping for brand names shoes and purses, but for us, the expense of traveling is well worth it when compared to what we receive from our travel experiences.


  1. Great tips! Enjoying your blog,

  2. Good doubt they can help anyone wanting to cut some costs.

  3. Karen Peissinger-VenhausFebruary 2, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Re: #4 - If you are in a developed country, it may not be necessary to spend money on bottled water. Tap water in the US has to meet US EPA standards.

    I really like #s 18 and 19. A lot!

    And kudos for #1! I see folks with what appears to be their entire closet packed into multiple bags!! I agree only one bag necessary for a vacation. Well, unless you have technical climbing gear--you don't want to rent someone else's climbing ropes ;-)