In the past decade, I've travelled to 16 countries, 20 American states and six Canadian provinces – all for pleasure, and all paid for out of my own pocket.
I've been able to do that, in part, by saving money as I go. I'm considered, by friends and family, as something of a cheap-travel expert. It pains me to see people waste money on their trips. But that doesn't mean I want travel to be a bare-bones, budget experience. Sure, a hostel costs next to nothing, but after the age of 25, most people have come to expect nicer accommodations. I know, from experience, that you can enjoy a pretty decadent level of vacation for less than most people lay out.
So, in hopes of helping you save, I'm sharing the top 10 ways people waste money on a holiday. They won't all apply to everyone, but I'll bet some of my saved money that you're guilty of at least one of these habits. (Heck, even I have succumbed to the siren call of $12 mini-bar macadamia nuts!)
1. Be Lazy
Yes, you're on vacation. But is it really so taxing to park your own car, carry your own bags and fetch your own ice? Those little extras and all those tips add up fast.
2. Take Taxis
Almost every city has public transportation to and from its airport. Hop on: You'll save serious dough and – even better – be instantly immersed in local culture. Look out the window for parts of town you'd never see otherwise. Strike up a conversation and you might even end up with a hot tip on where to have dinner. The same applies once you're at your destination. Bonus: Walking helps burn off all those extra calories you're no doubt storing after throwing back yet another fruity cocktail.
3. Be Inflexible
You want to go Destination A on Date B – and you want a deal? Good luck. If you're travelling for leisure, be as flexible as you can when it comes to the location and date of your trip. Keep a running list of about five places you want to visit, then keep an eye open for specials that match up. That's where you're going next. Also, it might be cheaper to leave one week, one day – or even one hour – earlier than you had planned. (In Europe, the difference between trains just 20 minutes apart can be significant.) Go with it.
4. Have Your Heart Set On A Hotel
Sometimes a trip calls for an amazing hotel. Honeymoon in Tahiti? Book your dream hut over the water. But if you'll mainly be out and about and just need a place to rest your head … stop being so picky. Embrace blind-bidding sites (where you get a great rate, but you don't know where you're staying until you make a non-refundable payment). If you're new to the process, start with Hotwire. It gives you information such as star rating, neighbourhood and amenities; with a little cross-checking on Expedia, you can usually figure out which hotel it is. The next step is Priceline, which gives you even less information. Check out betterbidding.com for more useful hints, as well as lists of the most common hotels to come up.
5. Eat Every Meal In A Restaurant
If you can get by with yogurt and granola most mornings, you can while on vacation too. Breakfast out for two people can easily run $30. Add on a $40 lunch and you're broke before dinner, which is usually the best meal to splurge on. Get a fridge in your room or pack a foldable cooler along with cutlery, a small cutting board and – if you want to get fancy – packets of salt, pepper, mustard, mayonnaise, etc. Then hit the grocery store, cheese shop, deli, what have you, for affordable and likely healthier meals.
6. Have Blind Faith In Your Travel Agent
Before you start firing off that angry e-mail, let me explain. The few times I have gone to a travel agent, I have always been able to score a better deal than offered. I have been told, "I can't match that flight price" and "Oh! What do you know? It is cheaper to book train tickets the way you suggest!" (Long story short: That EuroRail pass isn't always your best option.) That being said, outstanding agents who can work miracles do exist. And when booking a complicated trip or cruise, going with an expert is often the best route. Just do some research of your own – on Expedia or some other site – before the appointment, please. Otherwise, how will you know that amazing deal she scores you really is one?
7. Remain Oblivious
Speaking of research, it pays – literally – to gather some intel on your destination. Scan travel guides, newspapers and websites for free museum hours, happy-hour specials (especially in the United States), free events and discount passes. Also, reviews might tell you that attraction you wanted to see is overrated and not worth wasting time, or money, on.
8. Eat In
If I read one more online review complaining about the price of the hotel breakfast or mini-bar, I am going to scream. They're expensive, people. They always are.
9. Don't Bother With Loyalty Programs
It takes about two minutes to sign up for a hotel or airline loyalty program. And even if you never earn a free night or flight, other bonuses can make it worth the (ever so slight) hassle: free Internet, advance notice of specials, faster lines, free upgrades and more.
Even better are the benefits that come with travel-reward credit cards. Many offer free car-rental and trip-cancellation insurance, not to mention the ability to turn points into free travel. Look for programs that let you use your rewards essentially as gift cards that can be applied toward any travel-related purchase (transportation, hotels, etc.), no matter how you book it. This way you won't still be hit with taxes and surcharges on a "free" flight. (If you book a trip on your credit card and then take years to pay it off, you're missing the point.)
10. Put Your Trust In Airlines
I'm not talking about the cost of replacing lost luggage. I'm talking about codeshares. A codeshare agreement is when multiple airlines share the same flight. So I might book a flight with Airline A, but when I get to the airport, I find out I'm actually flying on an Airline B plane. What does it matter? Well, the two airlines might be selling the same seats for radically different prices. A family member recently saw the price of two seats on the one flight drop to $2,000 from $3,000 just by booking through a different airline. Exact same flight, exact same seat. (And for the record, it was a travel agent who snagged that deal.)
Also, don't assume that a round-trip ticket offers the best value. Sometimes it pays to book separately with different airlines. Again, it all comes down to doing your research.