Want to know how to find great deals on accommodations and travel by air, boat, car, etc.? Want tips for living large on a small budget? Want the secrets to staying a step ahead of the tourist hordes and to avoiding paying tourist prices? Ready to make your next trip not just truly memorable, but truly money-saving? Here, just in time for the summer travel season, are some tips from Marta Shen, CFP®.
BEFORE YOU GO:
- Research and plan well in advance. Plan trips at least several months in advance to allow plenty of time for research. This helps if you are going to use [frequent flyer] miles or [credit card] points for the trip. For ideas and guidance read travel books extensively (like Frommer’s, Rick Steves’ and DK Eyewitness Travel guides) as well as online reviews on websites.
- Draw up a travel budget. Once you have a good idea of your itinerary, figure out how much you want to spend and establish a line-item budget of expenses that includes transport, accommodation, meals, sightseeing, etc. “Travel expenses are one thing people tend to underestimate,” said Shen. “This way you have it all in front of you, so you can plan accordingly.”
- Have an open mind — and an open calendar. Traveling during off-peak times of the year (out of summer for beach destinations), the week (air travel mid-week) and the day (red-eye flights) often brings the best deals. Look into a potentially much less expensive “open-jaw ticket,” which allows you to fly into one city and out of another.
- Pick a points or miles plan wisely — and use it. Choose a plan that’s less restrictive with how and when you use miles/points (such as one that doesn’t revoke points), that aligns best with your spending/usage habits (those with which you’re likeliest to accrue points/miles and that have relationships with your preferred travel providers), and that’s flexible.
- Use consolidators for finding deals on travel and accommodations… Consolidators that handle multiple providers tend to offer the best deals.
- …but don’t forget to consider airlines and other providers that aren’t available through consolidators. Sometimes the best deals come by going directly to the source.
- Be your own tour guide. Putting together your own itineraries will give you more freedom, efficiency and cost savings compared to joining organized tours.
ONCE YOU’RE THERE:
- Use public transport. The local bus/metro system isn’t just the least expensive way to get around a city, it provides visitors with the best taste of the local community. Look for multi-day passes for maximum savings.
- Travel on foot. It’s a great way to get to know a place, its neighborhoods and its people, while saving money and getting some exercise.
- Your new motto: If it’s free, it’s me. Taking advantage of free hotel shuttles, free WiFi access, free hotel breakfasts, free museum days and the like can provide substantial savings.
- Leave the tourist track behind. Meals, goods and services tend to cost less in places that don’t cater to tourists.
- Ask locals for advice. They’re not only good for directions if you’re lost, they often know where to find the best deals, the best meals, the best services and the best stuff.
- Eat creatively — try places off the beaten tourist path, try street food vendors and if your accommodations have kitchen capabilities, eat in every so often.
- Limit senseless souvenir buying. If it’s made in China, why buy it as a keepsake unless you’re visiting China?
AND DON’T FORGET:
- Dig for discounts. Either in advance or once you arrive at your destination, learn about local discounts at places you intend to visit and services you intend to use, from discounted public transit passes to cut-rate museum admission packages to discounts for families, children and seniors. Check city/municipal, country/regional rail offices and tourist information websites during initial research and follow up once you arrive.
- Party of four or more? Consider renting a vehicle. Car rental can be cheaper than taking the train if your group has four or more. Compare the costs before booking your accommodations.
This column is provided by the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®), the leadership and advocacy organization connecting those who provide, support and benefit from professional financial planning.
Photo Credit: CubaGallery (Flickr)