Ten Ways to Travel for Less

Travel Babbo offers his travel expertise


When I backpacked around Europe in the early 1990s, I was on a very limited budget. A $10/night hostel was always preferable to a $15/night hostel. And I never spent more than I had to on food. Fast forward 25 years. I no longer stay in hostels, and I have much more sophisticated dining habits, but I still hate to pay a penny more than I need to for anything travel-related. Here are the ten things I do when traveling, and planning travel, to reduce our costs as much as possible.

Start planning early

I sketch out our travel at least 10 months in advance and immediately start tracking the price of flights. There are numerous websites that can send you fare alerts, and that will analyze whether it’s a good time to buy. Take advantage of them!

Travel when others aren’t

This applies to both seasons and days of the week. Once you know where you want to go, figure out when the shoulder season is – that period when the weather is good but there are fewer visitors. You’ll save money on flights, hotels and activities, and have a better, less crowded experience. For example, if you want to go to Greece, look at traveling in May or October instead of during the peak summer months.

And look at all of your options around your desired travel dates. If you’re planning spring break and all of the Saturday to Saturday flights are expensive, if you’re a little flexible look at Friday to Friday instead. You could save hundreds of dollars. Flying on major holidays, instead of the one or two days before, works well too.

Look for different routing options

When you’re researching flight options, keep in mind that there may be low-cost carriers that you’re not seeing in the search results, simply because they don’t fly your entire route. If you’re finding that a ticket from Point A to Point B is too expensive, get out a map and look for a Point C – a cheaper destination to fly to, with alternate transportation to your desired destination.

For example, we wanted to fly from California to Venice, but the price was high. We instead flew to Budapest, spent two days there, and then flew a low-cost airline from Budapest to Venice for far less than what a ticket directly to Venice would have cost. This is also a great way to add another destination to your vacation – and one that you may not have thought about before.

Children enjoy a beautiful view in Budapest

During our quick trip to Budapest to save money on flights

Combine destinations

Are there several places on your travel wish list? If your vacation time is flexible, combine as many destinations as possible into one trip. You’ll save overall flight time (compared to visiting one destination every year, for example), and you’ll save money. Heading to the Caribbean? Visit several islands. Have you wanted to see London, Stockholm and Rome?

Travel to all of them on the same trip. Per my above tip, there are a lot of low-cost airlines around the world that work well for short one-way trips. Or go even farther.

Twice now I’ve flown around the world with my kids, creating itineraries that touched 6-7 countries on four continents in under three weeks. The overseas legs were the most expensive. Once we got to Europe, however, it was easy and inexpensive to hopscotch through the Middle East, Africa, India and Asia.

Contact hotels directly

If there’s a property that you want to stay at but you’re only finding high rates, call them. Ask what their value dates are, or tell them your budget and ask if there’s a time when a stay could fit into that budget.

Hotels are more flexible on rates than most people realize, especially during periods of low expected occupancy. And if you have a slightly unusual number of people (e.g. we’re a family of five), a hotel rep can let you know your options, possibly even waiving occupancy limits and allowing you to all stay in one room. It never hurts to ask.

The beautiful views of Herradura, Costa Rica

The view from our room in Herradura, Costa Rica – far less expensive because the hotel let all five of us stay in one room.

Remain loyal

I consolidate our flying on one airline as much as possible. This lets me qualify for elite status every year, which gives us a better flying experience (e.g. shorter lines, preferred boarding, and upgrades), but it also reduces our expenses.

I have access to a wider availability of award tickets. We never pay fees to check bags, or for slightly overweight bags. And lounge access means free food in airports. If you’re flying more than a couple times a year, directing your miles to one airline, and/or one frequent flier account, can pay off nicely.

Collect, and use, frequent flier miles

We couldn’t travel as much as we do (54 countries so far with kids) if we weren’t using miles for as much as possible. We earn frequent flier miles through traveling of course, but also though charging everything possible to Capital One’s Venture Card. Take full advantage of a card that gives you an initial spending bonus and then miles with purchases, and watch for opportunities to earn bonus miles.

Choose a credit card without a foreign transaction fee, and charge everything in the local currency

A lot of credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee – typically 3% - for all purchases that are made in foreign currencies.

Make sure your credit card doesn’t! And when you’re overseas and making a purchase, if you’re asked whether you want your charge to go through in the local currency or dollars, always choose the local currency. That way your credit card company converts the charge at the current rate. If you choose dollars, the merchant’s bank may convert the charge at an unfavorable rate – as much as 6-7% higher. That adds up over a vacation!

Traveler pays using a card reader in another country

Always choose to pay in the local currency

Use ATMs

We charge everything we can overseas because of the miles we earn and because it typically gives us the best foreign exchange rate. But there’s virtually always a need to carry cash as well. Use your bank debit card to get cash from ATMs. And just like with purchases, if you’re given the option of having the transaction go through in the local currency or in dollars, always choose the local currency.

And if your bank charges an ATM transaction fee, you’ll save money by taking out a little more every time, and making fewer withdrawals over the course of a trip.

Euro bills coming out of a cash machine

The more Euros you take out with each withdrawal, the less you’ll pay in ATM fees.

Dine creatively

We started having picnics overseas because long, sit-down meals typically aren’t kid-friendly. But there’s a significant cost savings as well.

If you’re in Paris, instead of spending €150 for dinner at a café, pick up breads, cheeses, meats, berries, chocolate mousse and drinks from local markets and then head over to the Champs de Mars, in front of the Eiffel Tower, for a picnic dinner. It’s wonderful to watch the sunset from the park, your kids can run around and play, and you’ll save well over €100.

The Eiffel Tower at sunset

We’ll choose a picnic at the Eiffel Tower over a restaurant any day!


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