Once you are ready for your trip, there a some important steps you should take to have a great time and still stay on budget. Today let’s talk about How to Travel Smarter.
In the first part of this Budget Travel Series, we talked about cutting costs in everyday life and saving money to fund your next trip. Once you have reached your financial goal and feel good with the amount you have available, the fun part begins.
For us, the first step to Smart Travel is research! Whether traveling domestically or internationally, doing research on the city or area where you are going is crucial to making your trip efficient, affordable and stress-free!
With our trip research done and the bags (and kids) are packed, its time go-time! Once on the trip, we continue to stay on budget by keeping key budget travel tips in mind.
Here are our top Budget Travel tips and tricks for Smarter Travel:
1.Research Research Research
It is the single most important step to traveling smarter. Research where you are going, the best way to get there, and what to do once you are there. Try if possible to do a lot of research ahead of time. Ask friends that have been there and get some recommendations.
Of course, it is often possible to do research while on the trip, but it’s much more comfortable to have a few activities planned, restaurants scouted and tickets purchased before arriving to reduce later hassle.
2. Travel During Low Season
Every place in the world has a low peak season, which means prime time for travel. Low peak season normally means less crowds, better airline prices and hotel prices. The main things to keep an eye out for when booking on off-season trip is weather. Beware of rainy season and/or bitter cold weather.
Some of our favorite off-season trips include Europe in the spring or Florida in the winter. Both lovely destinations at a much better price during less popular times of the year.
3. Buy Airline Tickets with Credit Card Miles
This is a such a money saver! By taking advantage of a travel credit card deal, you can pretty much pay for your airline tickets by simply spending money on your credit card throughout the year. Whether you travel frequently or not, it is worth it!
I would highly recommend seeking out a stellar deal and racking up rewards (miles) to pay for your next trip. Go to Seeking a Travel Credit Card Deal for more information.
4. Decide on Best Modes of Transportation
This is important for getting to your destination and actually being there. First off, decide if it makes more sense to fly, drive or train. Take in consideration distance, cost of gas, ticket cost, traveling with kids, and amount of vacation of time available.
For larger families, it is often more cost effective to drive but other times that is not physically possible so flying is better. And for families with little ones, sometimes 8 hours in the car is a nightmare, so a flight might be your best bet.
After deciding how to get there, research your destination. In Europe, most major cities are totally walkable, making a rental car unnecessary. Instead it is important to look into city subway passes vs. single, one-day, 3-day subway passes. If possible try to have a rough understanding of your transportation options before arriving. In most cases, you can ask transportation questions at the airports and even buy tickets.
Within the US, unless you are in a major metropolis like NY, Chicago, San Francisco or Seattle, you will likely need a rental car or bus pass. Do your homework. How much will you be moving around in the city, and what are the distances you have to cover? How much are rental cars and will it make the trip more efficient, less stressful and more enjoyable for the whole family?
Don’t forget to research the cost of parking your rental car too!
5. Research Hotel vs. Alternative Lodging
Nowadays there are lots of options for lodging. From budget hotels to rentals through sites like Airbnb or VRBO, there are tons of options at different prices. When we travel with our toddler, or extended family/friends, we prefer staying in rental properties. This makes it easier to socialize, make family meals (especially with little ones) and save money.
However depending on the destination, sometimes hotels are a better option. For example, when we traveled to Amsterdam and Munich, hotels were much nicer, affordable and centrally located than rental apartments so we took that route. The main thing to keep in mind with hotels is that you will not be able to cook. So when possible try to get a room with a at least a mini-fridge.
When booking your lodging, check whether your reservation is refundable in case you find a better deal later or need to change it. Also read up on WiFi options. Many times, WiFi is an extra daily charge in European hotels which can significantly add to the total bill. And don’t forget that many cafes and museums offer free WiFi as a back up option.
6. Check for Foreign Transaction Fees on Credit Cards (International only)
A typical foreign transaction fee is 3% of each purchase transaction. This can be a big hit to the budget if you use your card a lot. So find out if your card has a fee before the trip, and either minimize how much you use it, use a different card or use cash.
7. Go Where the Dollar is Strong (International only)
This can definitely affect your travel budget. Try to travel when the dollar is strong and local currency is weak or choose your travel destination based on the location where your dollar goes the furthest. This will help you stretch your dollars on everything from lodging, transportation, food and sightseeing.
Personally we did this a few years back, when we chose to travel to the Czech Republic over Germany. The dollar was very strong compared to the Czech Republic koruna so we decided to go there instead! Plus it didn’t hurt that it was low peak season ☺️
8. Pack Light
Not only will this make life easier, but way less stressful. Think about the weather forecast, activities planned and duration of your trip, and do your best to pack minimally. Opt for pieces that are simple, functional and can be combined into multiple outfits.
An added benefit to keeping your luggage to a minimum is that it makes moving around simpler. If you have to walk through a city, or travel on public transportation, it is much easier with a backpack and a carry on than with a giant 50 lbs suitcase.
Our goal is always to pack in carry-ons. And trust me it is even possible to pack in a small carry-on for a 2 week trip without laundry. Even with our toddler! Our packing normally consists of 1-2 carry-ons, and 1-2 backpacks. And once our little one gets a little older, she will carry her own backpack.
9. Plan Activities Ahead of Time
This definitely falls in the research category. When planning a trip, decide what you want to do and see as well as local happenings during your visit. Check out local websites, look for discounts, and buy tickets online whenever possible.
We have found that most tours and some museums give discounts for purchasing tickets online. Take advantage of student, kid and family discounts too! And don’t forget about European free walking tours and American free walking tours too!
For international travel, decide if a city card (normally loaded with museum/event discounts) is worth the money for what you want to see and do.
10. Eat Smarter
We love exploring places and cultures through their food. You could even call us foodies! But at the same time, we don’t want to spend all our money on food. So to find a happy medium, we institute a few easy rules:
- Limit eating out to 1-2 times a day.
- Visit nicer restaurants for lunch, during happy hour or share a few plates.
- Share with kids and do not order kid meals.
- Search local grocery stores for local foods, great cheeses, fruit, breads, and make it a picnic.
- Eat in a few meals. An easy meal to do this is breakfast.
- Check out Cheap Eat Guides online to find best affordable restaurants.
11. Always Pack a Water Bottle and Snacks
Never leave your hotel room without a water bottle and something to snack on! NEVER EVER! It is so easy to waste money on water bottles and snacks, especially with kids. Instead visit a local market or store and load up on healthy snacks like granola bars, dried fruit/nuts, kefir, crackers, etc. This will keep you full, hydrated and happy until the next meal.
12. Skip the Souvenirs
Gift shops are dangerous and make packing a nightmare for your return. If you are going to get something for yourself or loved ones, try to get away from touristy souvenir shops where gifts tent to be of low quality. Instead opt for little locally made gifts that will not break the bank and are easy to pack.
13. Optimize Phone Usage (International only)
- Use the WiFi in your room or at a cyber café to download maps to your desired destination on your phone. These maps can be used without WiFi.
- Set your phone to airplane mode. This is critical in avoiding international data usage and saving battery.
- Use apps like What’sApp, Facetime and Skype to message and call home for free.
And above all HAVE A GREAT TIME! You deserve it 👍