For Barbara Tranter, travelling is a learning experience – and some of the biggest learning takes place before she even leaves.
“You have to do your homework before you travel,” says Ms. Tranter, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
“The research goes well beyond just shopping for good airfares and deals,” Ms. Tranter says.
Now in the midst of an extended working trip to in Thailand, Ms. Tranter travels frequently each year. So far in 2019, she has also already been to Havana and to Charleston, S.C. She says there’s a common element to all the travel tips that help her save money.
“Plan, prepare and negotiate,” Ms. Tranter says.
Experts agree that being smart and flexible about travel can save you money. By doing your research before you depart and staying on track while abroad, you can travel comfortably while keeping enough in your bank account to afford your next expedition.
Before you go
If you’re booking travel online, both the day of the week when you make your purchase and the day you choose to fly can make a difference in what you’ll pay.
For the best prices, it’s a good idea to purchase flights on a weekend, according to the 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook, compiled by Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) and Expedia Group, which owns some 20 different travel websites.
“People can save as much as 36 per cent by booking on a Sunday,” says the report by ARC, which processes nearly $100-billion a year in transactions between airlines and travel agencies.
Meanwhile, the best times to start your air trip are Thursdays or Fridays, according to the report.
“For Canadians, the best day to start a journey is on a Thursday,” says Mary Zajac, public relations director for Expedia Group. “And the data for Canada shows that you can save 13 per cent when you extend a weekday trip to include a Saturday night stay.”
The ARC report also notes that booking three weeks ahead of a trip is the “sweet spot” for fare savings.
For hotel booking, however, it’s the opposite. The cheapest hotel rates seem to pop up on Fridays – both globally and for Canadians – while the most expensive day to book tends to be Sunday.
While most of us line up our flights and hotel ourselves, we might be missing out on insider intelligence, says Natalie Preddie.
Ms. Preddie, a Toronto-based travel blogger and TV commentator who chronicles her worldwide travels with her two small boys, says that travel agents can help you save and be flexible.
“It’s still nice to have a human connection, and that’s why travel agents still work,” says Ms. Preddie, whose blog is called The Adventures of Natty P & Co. “Agents build relationships with retailers, and they can often find you deals that you can’t find online.”
It can also pay to call a hotel’s reservation service directly instead of using the hotel’s website or an online travel booker, she says. Families or larger groups should also consider booking a vacation rental or home swap through services like Airbnb, HomeAway or Home Exchange.
When you’re leaving
Pack lightly, Ms. Tranter says. Airlines are getting fussier about what you can take without extra charges.
“If you think you don’t need it, don’t take it,” she says.
And be careful about what else can trigger extra charges – some low-budget airlines in Europe, for example, charge large fees if you fail to print your boarding pass before you get to the airport.
If you’re driving rather than flying, there are lots of ways to save by being flexible, says Jody Robbins, a Calgary travel blogger whose site, Travels with Baggage, offers tips.
For example, when visiting big cities, plan your route so you stay overnight in less-populated places nearby. “Smaller towns offer accommodation at a much lower rate, and many offer public transit into the heart of the city,” Ms. Robbins says.
If you’re renting a car, check the insurance fine print. If you pay by credit card, you may be covered and not need supplementary insurance.
“That’s what we found on our road trip when we dinged our [rental] car,” says Myra Stephen, a Toronto-based official with the Ontario government. She and her partner, Jim Blake, are currently travelling in Western Canada, from Saskatoon to B.C. “We had to fill out a lot of forms, but the credit card covered all the damage,” she says.
Another car rental tip? Rates are often higher in agencies that are attached to airports. Also, if you’re planning to rent a car in Europe and you can drive a stick shift, you’ll end up with a few more euros in your pocket. Vehicles with automatic transmission are rare in countries like France and Italy, and they can be double the price of cars with manual transmission.
Once you arrive
“Carry some local currency, and try to get some before you leave so you don’t have to keep going to ATMs,” Ms. Tranter says. “For example, in Thailand they can charge up to $15 for one transaction.”
If you want to use your smart phone while abroad – and we all do – use WiFi whenever possible and buy a local SIM card so you don’t rack up home data charges, Ms. Tranter says.
Make a habit of smart practices like bringing along a reusable water bottle and snacks before you go sightseeing, especially when travelling with kids. And take advantage of free activities during your trip – a city like London, for instance, offers no less than 23 free museums.
Perhaps the best way to save money while exploring a new locale is to decide on a budget and stick to it. We all want to create lasting memories on our vacation, but no one wants to come home to a monster-sized debt we didn’t anticipate.