09 cost saving travel tips top card

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Just as we were coming out of a long period of lockdowns and entry restrictions, world oil prices went through the roof.

This affected flights using jet fuel and the cost to fill up a car’s tank for a road trip.

Now, interest rates are on the rise around the world to combat inflation, including hotel prices that are up 10% or more in many popular destinations.

These effects aren’t felt equally, however, and currency changes can amplify or diminish them.

If you’re earning US dollars, the whole world is on sale right now. If you’re earning Japanese yen or British pounds, however, you will spend more than you would have a year ago in most spots outside your own country.

No matter what is going on in the macro finance world, however, savvy travelers can find a way to travel well for less by adjusting their strategies.

By following these tips, you can still keep your travel budget in check for that much-needed vacation:

Find a great flight deal, then pick the destination

Open to new experiences? To save a few bucks, let the flight deals guide the way to the destination.

Many vacationers pick a destination they want to visit, without doing much research, then try to squeeze the prices they discover into their existing budget. A much better strategy is to figure out where the cheap flight deals are and then make one of those options the vacation destination.

There are plenty of companies that specialize in finding deals, such as Scott’s Cheap Flights and Secret Flying. These require that you pounce on temporary opportunities. The on-demand way to do this is to put your home airport into Google Flights, pick a date, and leave the destination blank.

A map of the world will come up with the starting flight price to anywhere on the planet. You can play around with the dates or pick a flexible option to find the optimal time to fly.

Picking a random week a month from now, I found round-trip deals such as Denver to Miami for $314, London to Marrakesh for $81 and Mumbai to Bangkok for $263.

Go somewhere that has historically attractive prices

Europeans who have watched their currency decline will still find lower rates than a year ago in multiple destinations, including Laos.

Certain destinations around the globe are cheaper than they have ever been thanks to currency devaluations or other financial issues. You could visit Istanbul and Cappadocia in Turkey, explore Patagonia and Buenos Aires in Argentina, or sail the Nile past ancient ruins in Egypt.

The savings will be more drastic for Americans in a wider list of countries, but Europeans who have watched their own currency decline will still find lower rates for travelers than a year ago in those above plus Hungary, Laos, and South Korea. (One great way to gauge this is to check historic exchange rates with a site like FXTOP.com.)

Keep your fees to a minimum while traveling

When using your credit card, decline offers to convert charges to your home currency. You'll usually get the best rate by using the local currency.

Avoid the “death by 1,000 cuts” the financial institutions of the world can inflict when you use a credit or debit card away from home.

Be sure to have at least one credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee and ideally use a debit card that doesn’t charge an ATM withdrawal fee.

Some debit cards, such as ones from Schwab, Fidelity and Capital One, will even reimburse the local charges. Others, such as certain ones from Scotiabank, HSBC and Citi, are part of international networks where account holders can use affiliated ATMs abroad without double fees.

In most cases, you’ll get the best rate by using a credit or debit card in the local currency (decline any offers to convert charges to your home currency).

Note though that the rules are different in Argentina, where there’s a street “blue rate” for crisp dollars or euros that is much more advantageous than the official rate.

Play the hotel and rental apartment game properly

Additional fees can add a lot to the cost of a vacation rental.

Sometimes hotels offer the best deals; sometimes vacation rentals do. So shop around.

The advantage can vary quite a bit by location and by whether you really need a kitchen.

Some cities tack on lots of fees for rentals, and in some countries (such as Thailand and Vietnam), it can be cheaper to eat out every meal than to cook yourself.

Whichever route you go, pay very close attention to what past guests have to say, especially with services like Airbnb and Booking.com, where only customers who have stayed there can leave a review.

Shop around on transportation

To save costs on flights, it can be cheaper to fly to a nearby country then hop on a train to your chosen destination.

The proliferation of budget airlines around the world has made it much cheaper to fly within a region, such as Southeast Asia and Europe, or within a country with lots of domestic air competition, such as the United States and Mexico.

So it can make sense to find a reasonable long-haul flight to one place and then take a budget airline (or in Europe, a train) to the next country over where you really wanted to go.

Dig around instead of accepting the most obvious route as the one you’re stuck with.

Get out of the tourist zones at mealtimes

For cheaper eats, it's usually best to leave the tourist zones.

If you want to eat what the locals eat and pay what they’re paying, get out of the area where all the tourists are and start exploring.

Just walking for 15 minutes in any direction or taking a metro a few stops can make a huge difference in any city full of foreign visitors, from Prague to Venice to Puerto Vallarta.

You’ll likely spend less and enjoy more authentic meals and experiences.

Load an app such as Google Translate onto your phone and you can decipher menus in another language too.

Try to travel outside of high season

Remember: it's never high season everywhere at once.

Avoiding high season is easier said than done if you’re a family dealing with school schedules, but it’s never high season everywhere at once.

Vacation time in the Southern Hemisphere is at a different time of year than the northern one, first of all, plus some tropical destinations are slower in the summer because there’s more rain.

Popular destinations such as Mexico, Belize, and South Africa are less busy between June and September than in the first quarter of the year.

The ideal time in a lot of popular spots is “shoulder season.” That’s when the weather is still pleasant but the hordes are not in town, such as May in the Caribbean or October in Europe.

Play the travel hacking game for free flights and rooms

Credit cards can help you earn free flights and hotel stays.

What are you getting back when you charge items to your credit card?

Most airlines and hotel chains have a branded loyalty card through Mastercard, Visa or Amex that earns you enough just from the bonus sign-up to get a free flight or multiple hotel nights.

Then the points keep adding up as you use the card. These perks can drastically reduce the cost of a vacation even if you just spend what you were always spending by running regular bills and expenses through the card (and paying them off).

Americans have the most choices for this “travel hacking,” but Canadians can tap into multiple airline and hotel programs through Amex, CIBC or Scotiabank.

Europeans have bank card options with several airlines such as Iberia, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and Air France.

Australians have access to cards that earn points on Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and others.

While inflation, fuel prices and currency exchange rates will always be in flux, these travel savings strategies will help you get away when you’ve got the chance, without busting your budget in the process.

Top image: Caye Caulker island, Belize. (Matyas Rehak/Adobe Stock)