Budget Travel 101: 10 Ways to Save Money by Planning Ahead

Being spontaneous can be exciting when you travel. The liberation from your quotidian routine can prove very rewarding.

However, sometimes planning ahead and knowing where you’ll spend the night can leave your conscience a little more at ease. It can also save you big bucks. Here are ten ways you can benefit from planning ahead:

#1: Airfare

Of course, there are always last-minute deals. Oftentimes, however, when you book well in advance, you can save big. Especially if you are flexible with your travel dates. Flying out on Saturday instead of Friday can reduce costs, as can returning on a Monday instead of a Sunday.

Moreover, if your job allows for it, try to travel off-season. A week after Easter, the crowds are sure to be gone, and you will also enjoy a more personalized treatment at whichever hotel or restaurant you choose to visit. Also, check different airports: for example, London’s Gatwick or Stansted might be cheaper than Heathrow.

#2: Train Tickets

As with airfare, getting discounts for train tickets will vary according to where you are going and when. I highly recommend checking online for reduced prices.

In Spain, you can score 40% off at Renfe (the national train operator) if you book via the web at least fourteen days in advance. Also, for Europe as a whole, plan ahead by getting the Eurail Pass. Different conditions will apply for a One-Country, Regional (2 Countries), Select (3,4 or 5 countries) or Global (22 countries) Pass.

Also check discounts for students, retired people and groups. You can also check out forums such as BootsnAll or Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree to see if there are others traveling to the same destination. This year, Eurail is giving out free gondola rides in Venice from Friday, July 15 to Thursday, July 21st. Sign up beforehand online here.

#3: Phones and SIM cards

Making calls overseas has become much less expensive since the advent of Skype and Google Voice. However, for the times that you aren’t carrying a computer around (or don’t have the latest iPhone), a phone can still be necessary. To avoid hassles in country, take care of all of this beforehand.

Companies such as Cellular Abroad offer several options: (1) only a SIM card; in this case, make sure that it will work with your current phone, (2) Phone and SIM packages, (3) Phone rental and (4) Data services, meaning either MiFi hotspot rentals and sales or Data enabled SIM cards.

For all of these, you’ll need to know whether you are traveling to a single or multiple countries. Cellular Abroad sells SIM cards that are specifically designed for the traveler and the rates are often much more economical than what you can typically find locally upon arrival. You also have the added advantage of having the SIM in hand before the trip; you can tell people your number beforehand, and reach friends and family right away when you have arrived.

#4: Discount Cards

Again, getting discount cards will depend on where you are going. Inquire with a local travel agency, or conduct a Google search to find out details. In Europe, for example, you can take advantage of the ISIC, IYTC, or ITIC cards if you are a student, youth or teacher, respectively. The requirements and restrictions are outlined at MADbudget: The Ultimate Guide to Madrid.

Hostelling International also offers national and global memberships, which you can read about here. Retirees and families with children should also be able to find discounts by planning ahead. Especially if you are a student or retiree, be sure to carry your student ID card or a document with your birth date on it.

#5: ATMs and Exchange Rates

Given the current dollar exchange rate, travel to Europe in particular can be expensive. If you still want to go, be sure to inquire beforehand about the following: what will you be using to pay abroad — cash, traveler’s checks, credit card and/or debit card? Most likely, it will be a combination.

For credit and debit cards, you can optimize your accounts beforehand to reduce fees and moreover, to make sure that your cards aren’t blocked if charges are made from foreign countries. I suggest calling your bank well before departure and asking whether it has offices in the destination country? If not, does it have a partnership with a bank abroad? This will usually allow you to save on fees if you take out money from the ATM.

Some accounts, such as HSBC Premier Checking, cater specifically to worldwide travelers. The accompanying credit card doesn’t charge fees for foreign transactions, and you get global telephone support and overnight card replacement, too, if needed.

Further tips on how to master the tricks of the exchange rate can be found here.

#6: The Importance of a Checklist

The days, hours and minutes before going abroad are usually packed with finishing up work back home, making travel arrangements and saying goodbye to friends and family. While we all know that we must at least have our passport and plane ticket in-hand, there are other items that should come along, too. Here, a checklist is vital.

Take a few moments to think about where you will be going, and what you will need there. If it’s a warm destination, make sure to pack a hat, sunscreen and bathing suit. If you’re heading to the jungle, be assured to have mosquito spray. And if it’s the mountains in winter, bring a rain coat and warm scarf. Many times, we forget essential items and then have to buy them at tourists hubs, where they are twice or even triple the size.

Check out a mobile app such as Quinnscape’s Packing Pro.

#7: Food

Food is always an added expense when you travel. Unless you are staying at a hostel or an apartment with kitchen, you will be eating out a lot of the time. To avoid overspending on room service, bring your own snacks, either from back home or buy them at a local grocery store once you arrive.

Moreover, try to find a hotel where breakfast is included. The best are buffets, where you can get away with making a sandwich to take with you if you wrap it discretely in a napkin. If breakfast isn’t included, stock up on breakfast foods from a local supermarket. A box of cereal and milk won’t cost you more than a few dollars, and can last for days.

#8: Food for Kids

If you plan ahead, you can find places where kids can eat foods they like — for free. Certainly it will depend on where you are going — this is a trend that is present above all in the United States.

About.com lists useful sites and even iPhone apps where you can track such restaurants.

Disneyland frequently offers deals where kids can eat for free, such as this one posted on Best Travel Deals. In Canada, CAA-Quebec members can obtain the “Kids Eat Free Card” online beforehand. The IC hotels group, which includes the Holiday Inn, is also known for being kid-friendly.

#9: Drinks

Along with food, drinks are another factor that can add to unexpected expenses. Carrying your own water or soft drink can cut costs significantly. If you are traveling to a place where tap water is safe, even better; take a re-usable bottle with you and fill it up whenever you need to. You can even take the empty bottle in your hand luggage, and fill it up once you have crossed airport security. No need to pay for overpriced bottled water at airports or other tourist hubs.

#10: Downtime

Yes, travel is all about seeing something new. But going on a vacation also means taking time to relax. If every one of your days abroad is planned out to see this monument and that museum, you will end up saturated with information. Moreover, your wallet is sure to note the sightseeing expenses.

By planning some down time you will be less tired and save money at the same time. Read a book and enjoy the local atmosphere; it doesn’t have to cost anything. If you are traveling with kids, take some time to play with them. They, too, are likely to tire from trekking from one site to another in a futile effort to see every last sight.

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