Has the summer travel bug hit you yet? Good news: you can wander the world — or at least a corner of it — on a budget!
The more creative you can be about your travel plans, the more money you’re likely to save. Here’s how to save on your travel this summer.
First, start by making sure you’re taking the right credit card abroad
You’re probably carrying a credit card anyway; why not sign up for one that helps you get deals on international travel? Most travel rewards credit cards earn users points that are redeemable for airfare, lodging, dining, and other necessities on the road. While some cards require good credit, others are more flexible.
One of my favorite cards for racking up travel points is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. This card includes not only 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, but also a bunch of other features that travelers are sure to love. These include a bonus 25% on travel redemption, no blackout dates or restrictions, and no foreign transaction fee.
If that isn’t enough, new cardholders will receive a 60,000 point bonus after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. These extra points can go a long way towards your next trip!
Skip the foreign transaction fees
Banks and credit card companies sometimes tack on a 2% or 3% fee to any transactions you make abroad. Read the fine print to find out if your bank or card has foreign transaction fees. If so, it’s worth it to get a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card you can use on the road. There are plenty of them for all credit levels. Most of our travel rewards cards above will qualify.
Next, find the right destination
Pick an “off-season” spot
Summer is the busy season for popular vacation destinations worldwide. But if you find a place that doesn’t see a lot of summer traffic, like a ski resort, you can get a better rate on housing and airfare. Or skip the hyped European vacation for a country or continent with less buzz but just as many great options.
If you have a summer hot spot in mind already, you’ll save cash by staying in a nearby town or city rather than in the center of the action.
Be flexible with place or time
If your vacation dates are set, shop around for an affordable destination you might not have considered. And if your location is set, figure out the least expensive start and end dates.
Look for the best flight
Time your booking right
Most travelers know the earlier you can secure your flight, the better. Get tickets anywhere from 50 to 100 days before your departure if possible.
Truly seasoned travelers know the day you book can make a difference. Airlines usually set their prices on Tuesday mornings, so you’ll find the best deals on Tuesday afternoon around 3:00 PM.
Fly in the middle of the week
Midweek travel dates —Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday —tend to be the cheapest. If you can avoid the weekend rush, do it.
Get one-way tickets
Believe it or not, two or more one-way tickets might save more cash than a nonstop flight. If you plan on visiting multiple places, look into one-way tickets for each leg of your journey.
Enjoy an extended layover
The “extended layover” vacation works best at destinations outside the United States. Say the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B is to stop over at a city in the middle (Point C). Why not stay a couple of days at your layover destination? The cost of flights will often be the same, so you’re getting two trips for the price of one. Here are some of the best “extended stopover” destinations around the world.
A word to the wise: You may have heard of the “hidden city” or “skiplagging” technique where you book a multi-stop journey and skip the final stop. Though this technique can save you money, airlines don’t like it and some domestic and international airlines are issuing penalties for people who get caught. If you do arrange a “hidden city” trip, proceed with caution.
Check flights at your destination airport’s website
Some smaller country- or region-specific airlines might not show up in a search engine, but they’ll still have great prices listed on the site.
Take advantage of frequent flyer rewards
When you sign up for a travel reward credit card you’ll start collecting miles. Several cards offer “point” bonuses for signing up which you can use for travel in the future. Your miles can eventually get you to a first-class upgrade—for free.
Score deals online
Another veteran traveler tip: you’ll save cash and time if you can get away without checking any luggage. The old adage “bring twice as much money and half as many clothes as you think you’ll need” is often true. Look into airline regulations before you leave home and weigh your bags to make sure they don’t go over the carry-on limit.
Don’t forget to save on communication
Text on a cheap or free app
Several messaging apps work internationally without charging exorbitant fees. WhatsApp is a popular choice overseas for text messaging. It uses your phone’s Internet connection instead of pricey local data networks. Skype and Google Hangouts also let you send messages and make calls for reduced rates — sometimes even for free.
Get a SIM card
Another option for cheap overseas communication is to purchase a prepaid international SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card for your phone. These data-carrying plastic cards can connect you to other phones worldwide without the “roaming” charges your plan might accumulate. A number of major retailers carry them, and your phone provider probably does too.
Make sure your phone is “unlocked”
An “unlocked” phone can be used on additional networks (such as international ones) while a “locked” phone cannot. With an unlocked phone, you can install an international SIM card, often the most budget-friendly communication option.
Your phone’s status will depend on your carrier, where and when you got it, and in some cases whether it’s paid off. Procedures for unlocking your phone will also vary. Often you’ll need to contact your service provider. Depending on the length of your trip it may be worthwhile to get a new, unlocked phone for international use.
Once you’re there, find ways to save, too
You’re likely to need a little cash on the road. Carrying the local currency can save you money on any debit card transaction fees. (Again—skip the currency bureau and go to an ATM.) And if your bank has a no-fee network in your destination country you can make withdrawals for free. Find out before you go.
The best plan? Withdraw in large sums to minimize fees, keep an eye on your cash to minimize theft, and always have another payment method handy.
Join the “sharing economy” for housing
House-sharing services like Couchsurfing (on the lower budgetary end) and Airbnb (on the medium-higher end) are cheaper and usually more fun than hotels. You may not have as much space, but if you’re spending most of your time out and about, it’s a worthwhile trade-off.
As a bonus, find a place with kitchen and refrigerator access so you can cook as needed.
Bring your walking shoes
If you’re physically able to walk long distances, walking (instead of taking cabs, buses, or trains) can add adventure to your trip while shaving off cost. Or rent bikes to cover a little more ground.
Take mass transit
Sometimes, though, public transit is a necessity. If you’re going to Europe, get train tickets from the official railway sites in the country you’re visiting. Eurail and rail passes are the time-honored cost-saving option for going from country to country in Europe.
The bus will be cheaper than the train in most locations. Buses may take longer, but if you’ve got the time, they can be a great way to see the local scenery.
Hit the grocery store
Food is a major expense whenever you’re traveling. Plan to find a local grocery store or market when you arrive. Get inventive and think of meals or snacks you can take on the go with little prep time.
Still, you’ll probably want to enjoy the local cuisine once or twice. To find the best deals, follow the six-block rule — don’t eat anywhere within six blocks of a major tourist attraction.
Find free stuff to do
Most major cities around the world have free or inexpensive attractions, especially if the location has beautiful summer weather. Public gardens and outdoor art exhibitions, for instance, often don’t cost a thing. Research online and be willing to try something new.
Several tourist hubs have city passes for visitors. One pass covers the entrance to multiple museums and other high-profile spots (sometimes you get a deal on transportation too). If you’re lucky enough to have a student ID this will usually get you discounts as well.
Want to know about hidden money-saving options? Don’t be afraid to ask, whether you’re in the airline booking stage or picking your leisure activities.
Advance planning and flexibility are your best assets for a summer overseas trip. Be willing to embrace the unexpected—you’ll save money and have a great story to tell.