All I Want for Christmas Is a $50 Seat
By Jason Boyett and Margaret Feinberg
December 2, 2009
Anyone who's traveled anywhere (either for holidays or for vacation) knows they often can be as stressful as they are relaxing, particularly if something goes wrong. Unforeseen problems like lost luggage, documents or money can be especially costly. By following these suggestions, you can save more than your finances-you may save your entire vacation.
The pre-trip checklist
Talk to your credit card company. By letting them know you'll be going on a trip, you can steer around potential bumps in the road, particularly if you're traveling to another country. They will be aware you'll be making charges there (which can speed up approvals), and can inform you as to your card's acceptability. They can make sure your PIN number will work in the countries you're visiting, and can give you an alternate phone number to call in case you need to reach them (some 800 numbers may not work from foreign locations). You can also find out if your company charges a currency conversion fee, which will help you decide which card is the most economical for making purchases.
Plan to change money through banks. You'll do much better there as opposed to more convenient places like airport terminals or train or bus stations. In fact, it's a good idea to get a small amount of local currency before you leave home. Many banks offer exchange services that can provide you with foreign bills.
Contact the issuer of your ATM card. Find out your daily limits and plan accordingly (you might need to ask to have your limit increased). Make sure your PIN number will work in foreign countries. And, on your trip, don't wait until money's tight to look for an ATM—there's no guarantee it will work when you find one. Also check to find out if your bank has any cooperative relationships with banks in countries you’ll be in so you can avoid hefty bank fees.
Use an extra check register for keeping up with your travel purchase, whether you're charging or paying with cash. Before you leave, decide upon a spending limit and keep track down to a zero balance.
Buy film before you go. Tourist hotspots and amusement parks will sell it at a much higher price. The same applies for soft drinks, but those can be hard to pack.
Cancel your newspaper, pay your bills, and arrange for someone to check your house or apartment occasionally (and get your mail) while you're away.
Travel with FriendsTraveling with friends, family and loved ones can drastically reduce your traveling expenses. Driving together to the airport can save on parking. Renting a small house instead of a hotel room can save on lodging and the final bill. If enough people go with you, everyone can enjoy group discounts. If you're looking to make new friends, consider finding a travel companion at www.travelchums.com which links individuals of similar backgrounds and interests. The website Beyond the savings, you'll be able to make and share memories with others for a lifetime.
Don’t be hostile to hostels
Hostelling International offers reasonable to downright cheap lodging all across the world. While the majority of hostels offer bunk beds and group living conditions, some provide private rooms and even breakfast for additional fees. Before booking a regular hotel or lodging reservation, visit Hostelling International's website to find out if there are any hostels in the area and the services they provide. Many times you'll meet new people, make new friends and find discounts for activities in the area readily available. While youth enjoy free membership, adults can join for a low annual fee.
Get there slower
For the get-me-there-now experience, nothing beats an airplane, but depending on the distance, and airfare, you may want to consider an alternative means of transportation. Depending on the cost of gasoline and the distance you want to travel, consider driving. Stay at campgrounds and hostels rather than hotels. Check into taking the bus in order to enjoy the scenic route without having to drive all those miles. Price train tickets as well. When you add up parking, airline travel and incidentals in the airport, you may find that a slower mode of transportation is cheapest and even more enjoyable.
If your travel plans are flexible, call hotels in the area you want to visit and ask about what you can do to lower the rates they're offering. They may ask you to stay an extra night or alter your stay by a few nights for significant savings. When you check into a hotel, ask if the rate you've been given is the best one available, and if any personal memberships, whether to AARP or AAA, can lower the rate. After you've booked a car rental, continue calling back to see if the rates have dropped. As a general rule, you may want to avoid mentioning that you've already booked so they don't quote the same rate back to you.
A few hours on the Internet can add up to big savings and lots of information when you're planning a trip. Naturally, for flights, check out all the big discount sites (Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia) but also try one that searches across different sites like Kayak.
For research, type in the key words of your destination and search for the city's local chamber of commerce to find out about upcoming activities and events. Alsovisit Frommers.com and Fodors.com. The web also offers a variety of opportunities to save money. Websites such as GasWars.com and FreeTrip.com can tell you which gas stations in your own area and in the one you're visiting are currently charging the lowest gas prices, saving you 10 to 20 cents per gallon. FreeTrip.com can also help you avoid toll roads, select scenic routes and find economy lodging. If traveling to Europe, visit EasyCar.com, an Internet-only firm that rents cars at reasonable rates in a number of European cities.
By following these tips, you should be able to make your travel plans a lot cheaper—and make your entire trip a lot less stressful. And everyone knows the first step to a great Christmas is getting there without regretting the trip before it even starts.
This article is adapted from content that originally appeared in the book Cheap Ways To ... .