Caroline Morse, SmarterTravel.com
8:01AM EST October 11. 2012 – Unexpected costs can completely shatter your travel budget. Don’t blow your savings before your trip is up — instead, follow these tips and you’ll have even more spending money than you bargained for on the road.
You have to arrive for flights hours ahead of take-off these days, lest you get stuck in a long security line. At the gate, with plenty of time to kill, you’ll be tempted to buy food, drinks, and entertainment—all of which are heavily marked up at airport shops. Plan ahead and pack snacks, an empty water bottle (which can be filled once you’re through security), and your own reading material. Now you’ll have no excuse to spend $10 for a bottle of water and a magazine to pass the time.
Budget a certain amount for your rental car? You might be in shock when you arrive at the counter and have to sign a contract that requires you to fork over hundreds more than you were expecting. Read up on hidden car-rental fees and you’ll be armed with enough knowledge to argue the price down.
READ MORE: Rental car companies nitpick scratches and dents
Bringing a carry-on, checking a bag, or printing your boarding pass at the airport? Each of these items will cost you money (in one case, $100 per person) on certain airlines. Before you book your flight, consult SmarterTravel’s airline fees and luggage chargescharts. This way, you can calculate what your fare will really cost and know which bags to leave behind.
READ MORE: 7 airfare booking mistakes to avoid
Nothing puts a damper on a post-vacation glow faster than opening your credit card statement after arriving home. Before you go, know what your credit card company will charge you for using your card abroad (some will charge you a transaction fee every time it’s swiped in a foreign currency). Also, check with your bank to see what their fees are for using overseas ATMs. If you travel a lot, and your current financial institutions charge exorbitant amounts for using them internationally, it might be worth it to switch. Read about the best non-airline credit cards for travel rewards to get suggestions. There are plenty of card companies out there that won’t charge you anything extra for foreign transactions and will even refund any surcharges that a foreign ATM may charge you.
Pack too much, and you’ll shell out for overweight luggage. But pack so lightly that you end up leaving essentials (like an umbrella, sunscreen, or jacket—depending on your destination) behind, and you’ll end up overpaying for what you need at the airport or at a shop when you arrive. Strike a balance by checking the weather before you leave and only packing things that you absolutely know you’ll need.
Eating and shopping in tourist districts
We’re not saying you should avoid the tourist districts entirely — if you’re going to Paris for the first time, of course you’re going to want to see the Eiffel Tower. But, we recommend that you don’t dine or souvenir-shop where you sightsee. Get out of the hotel and major tourist districts of a city and venture out to local places off the beaten path for better meal and shopping bargains. Plus, you’ll get to see an entirely different side of a city, often for the price of a public-transportation ticket.
Find a bargain airfare or hotel? Look closely—just because it says it’s in New York City or London doesn’t really mean it is. Hotel websites often pull properties from miles away from the city center into your search results, and some budget airlines fly into airports that are hours away from the city they’re associated with. These can still be a bargain (for example, staying in a hotel in Jersey City can save you hundreds, and you can take a quick and fairly cheap train ride into Manhattan), but always research before you book. You may decide that flying into an airport that’s actually two hours and a $50 bus ride away from a major city cancels out the $100 you saved by not flying into the main airport. For hotels outside of a city center, be sure to research when public transportation stops running—having to shell out for late-night cabs could bust your budget in no time.
It’s important to stay hydrated while traveling. However, buying a bottle of water every time you’re parched can quickly add up. If you’re in a country where the water is potable, bring a reusable bottle to refill as needed. If you’re staying somewhere where the water isn’t safe to drink, water-purification devices like the SteriPen can actually save you money in the long run.
Planning on using your smartphone to connect to Wi-Fi on the road, or using offline travel apps on the go? Make sure you’ve completely turned off your phone’s data and location services, or your phone will still be active and you could get hit with massive roaming surcharges. It’s not just cellphone charges you have to worry about, either. Incoming calls to your hotel room (from local tour operators confirming a reservation, for example) can cost up to $1 per minute. Be sure to ask the front desk about phone charges when you check in, and if they charge for incoming calls, you can tell them not to put any through.
READ MORE: How to beat roaming charges when traveling abroad
Three restaurant meals per day
At home, going out to eat once a day might be a luxury. But when you’re on the road, sometimes you have no choice but to eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Consider hitting up the local grocery store or market (a fun cultural endeavor on its own) for breakfast items, and have your morning meals in your room (minus the room-service surcharges). Or, book a hotel with breakfast included—and then eat enough that you can skip lunch. Another savory suggestion we like is to try the famous and fancy restaurants for lunch—when it’s cheaper—and then grab a light and inexpensive to-go meal for dinner.