I Travel For A Living Year-Round — These Are The Little Hacks & Habits That Have Saved Me The Most Money And Time
My only regret is that I didn't know about some of these sooner.
Travel can be hectic, exhausting, and full of unexpected costs. But a few minutes of pre-travel planning can make all the difference in saving you some serious cash.
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It doesn't take much effort to iron out some common snarls before you go — and you'll thank yourself later when you don't have to pay astronomical ATM fees or spend an eight-hour flight without entertainment.
As someone equally obsessed with both travel and
saving money along the way, I wanted to gather up 15 tried-and-true tips and tricks that have personally saved me time, cash, and/or general headaches on my adventures as a travel writer so far. Here they are — and if you have any others to add, I'd love to hear about them in the comments!
Try booking one plane ticket at a time, even if you're traveling with a group.
Scott's Cheap Flights for this handy piece of intel. If you've ever seen the price jump when you change the number of tickets you're booking from one to two, that's because there might be only one ticket left in the cheapest "fare bucket" (a term airlines use to denote your cabin and privileges, like upgrade-eligible or refundable).
For example, if United has just one ticket left in their most affordable "fare bucket" and you try to book a flight for one person, you may get a low $299 price. But, if you try to book for two people, the system will skip over the $299 ticket and find you two tickets in the next fare bucket up, which will be more expensive.
By booking one ticket at a time, you'll be able to get the first one for $299 and the second one at the higher rate, thereby saving you hundreds of dollars.
Compare the cost of a nightly Airbnb to a month-long stay.
One of the greatest secrets is that the price of an Airbnb drops (sometimes by 40%–50%) the second you plug in a stay of 30 days or more. Of course, you might not be able to travel for a whole month, but depending on the length of your stay, booking for a month — and even potentially leaving before your booking is over — may still save you money.
Pick up your rental car from a location
outside the airport.
Airport rental cars are almost always more expensive than the cost of renting a vehicle at another location. Just a 15 minute cab ride to an Enterprise outside the airport grounds could save you serious money.
Consider switching banks to avoid ATM fees.
Apply for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and great travel perks.
Chase / Via
Foreign transaction fees — that 1–3% fee your credit card company tacks on to any transaction that takes place overseas — will add up in the long run. If you love to travel, it's completely worth your time to do some research and sign up for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. (And while you're at it, you might as well pick out a card with good travel perks.)
I swear by the Capital One Venture, United Mileage Plus, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. All have great travel perks and no foreign transaction fees.
Notify your credit cards that you're leaving the country.
This is something I always do, even though I've had friends who say they skip it without issue. Personally, I'd rather take a few minutes to call my credit card (or even notify them online) than have my card declined while I'm abroad.
Splurge on a multi-country travel adapter (or two).
Until recently I had a whole box of travel adapters. Every time I traveled I had to dig through the box for the type I needed and hoped that it worked. Finally, I bought a couple multi-country adapters that I can use
anywhere I go. Plus, they're better quality. I use something like this.
Download an offline Google Map of the city you're visiting.
Adding international data to your phone plan might cost you
$10 a day (ouch), and buying a SIM card at the airport could get pricey. My advice is to either buy an affordable SIM card once you get settled at your final destination or keep your phone on airplane mode and rely on Wi-Fi for your trip (my personal go-to).
Either way, you'll likely need Google Maps to get from the airport to your lodging, which is where the offline feature comes in handy. All you have to do is download a map of the city you're visiting onto your phone before you go. It's as easy as that.
And download Google Translate to help you communicate while traveling.
It's always nice to at least
try speaking the local language when you're traveling, and Google Translate is a huge help.
It takes just a minute or two to download the foreign language dictionary to your phone, which is well worth the confidence you'll feel when you order that morning croissant
Download the app of the airline you're flying so you can watch movies, access your tickets, and stay on top of flight alerts.
I'm not a fan of downloading tons of apps, but I make an exception for airline apps because more and more airlines have moved their in-flight entertainment to personal devices. Plus, it's hard to deny the ease of a mobile ticket — it's just one less thing to keep track of).
Plus, believe it or not those annoying (and constant) airline notifications have saved me valuable minutes when I've had to run to catch a connecting flight. The app actually tells you what your connecting gate is so you don't have to find a departure screen when you deplane.
Put together a carry-on sleep kit.
If you're someone who complains about sleeping on planes, you'll want to make sure you board with the proper sleep gear. Flying is all about showing up prepared and getting your mind and body into rest mode.
I put an inflatable neck pillow, sleep mask, earplugs (
Mack's Dreamgirl plugs really work), and a little lavender essential oil in a small bag that I keep in my carry-on backpack. After I get settled in, I'll blow up my neck pillow, dab on the oil, throw on my sleep mask, put in my earplugs, and fade away. It works.
Skeptical? You can also pack Tylenol PM just in case.
Pack a little COVID-19 kit.
Most airlines will hand out sanitizing wipes as you board the plane, but I still pack along my own little COVID-19 kit with hand sanitizer, a pack of disinfectant wipes, and an extra face mask or two.
Pack a bottle of water and some emergency snacks.
Maybe it's irrational, but I get stressed that I'll board a plane and there won't be food available or enough water to keep me comfortable for the whole flight. I once boarded a long-haul flight with no drinks or snacks, only to find out that they
charged for drinking water.
For peace of mind, I fill up my
32-ounce HydroFlask before I board the plane (wait until after security, of course) and bring along a few snacks like energy bars, nuts, and fruit.
Pack everything into a carry-on suitcase and backpack. (It's possible, I promise.)
This will save you SO MUCH TIME AT THE AIRPORT! And I promise, it is
not impossible to travel with just a carry-on suitcase and backpack. I once traveled around the world for a full year without checking a bag. Remember, laundromats and laundry serviced exist all over the world.
Plus, it will feel glorious to walk past the long check-in line and bag drop and head straight for security.
Pack your carry-on bags so you don't get held up at security.
Going through airport security can be a breeze...or you can find yourself standing around waiting for a TSA agent to search your bag.
I put anything that needs to be taken out at security — laptop, liquids, food, camera — at the top of my backpack so I can quickly pull them out and put them in bins. I don't put anything questionable in my suitcase.
Dress like an airport ninja so you can sail through security and get to your gate.
It takes just a few extra minutes to come up with an outfit that will let you pass through security quickly and easily. Slide-on shoes will save you time, wearing socks ensures you don't have to walk on airport floors barefoot, and a zip-up jacket that's easy to take off beats a bulky sweater that may or may not result in a manual pat down.
Any travel tips I missed? What's your pre-travel routine?
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