8 money-saving tips for travelers in these tough economic times
(CNN) — As we emerged from a long period of lockdowns and entry restrictions, global oil prices soared.
Today, interest rates are rising all over the world to fight inflation, including hotel prices that are rising by 10% or more in many popular destinations.
However, these effects are not felt in the same way and currency fluctuations can amplify or diminish them. If you win US dollars, the whole world is on sale right now. However, if you’re earning Japanese yen or British pounds, you’ll be spending more than a year ago in most places outside your own country.
No matter what happens in the world of macro finance, however, savvy travelers can find a way to travel well for less by adjusting their strategies. By following these tips, you can always keep your travel budget under control for that well-deserved vacation.
Find a good flight deal, then choose the destination
Open to new experiences? To save a few bucks, let the flight deals guide you to the destination.
Many vacationers pick a destination they want to visit, without doing much research, and then try to squeeze the prices they find into their existing budget. A much better strategy is to figure out where the cheap flight deals are, then make one of those options the vacation destination.
There are many companies that specialize in finding deals, such as Scott’s Cheap Flights and Secret Flying. These require you to jump on temporary opportunities. The on-demand way to do this is to put your origin airport in Google Flights, pick a date, and leave the destination blank. A world map will offer the price of the departure flight to anywhere on the planet. You can play around with the dates or choose a flexible option to find the best time to fly.
Picking a random week within a month, I found round-trip deals such as Denver to Miami for $314, London to Marrakech for $81, and Mumbai to Bangkok for $263.
Go somewhere that has historically attractive prices
Europeans who have seen their currency decline will still find rates lower than a year ago in several destinations, including Laos.
Some destinations around the world are cheaper than they have ever been thanks to currency devaluations or other financial problems. You can visit Istanbul and Cappadocia in Turkey, explore Patagonia and Buenos Aires in Argentina, or cruise the Nile past ancient ruins in Egypt.
Minimize your costs while traveling
When using your credit card, decline offers to convert charges to your local currency. You will usually get the best rate using the local currency.
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Avoid the “death by 1,000 cuts” that the world’s financial institutions can inflict when using a credit or debit card outside your home.
Make sure you have at least one credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, and ideally use a debit card that doesn’t charge ATM withdrawal fees.
Some debit cards, like those from Schwab, Fidelity, and Capital One, even refund local charges. Others, like some of Scotiabank, HSBC and Citi, are part of international networks where account holders can use overseas affiliated ATMs without double charges.
In most cases, you’ll get the best rate using a credit or debit card in the local currency (decline any offer to convert the charge to your local currency). Note, however, that the rules are different in Argentina, where there is a “blue rate” for net dollars or euros which is much more advantageous than the official rate.
Playing the hotel and apartment rental game well
Additional charges can significantly increase the cost of a vacation rental.
Sometimes hotels offer the best deals, sometimes vacation rentals, so shop around.
The benefit can vary greatly depending on location and whether you really need a kitchen.
Some cities charge a lot of rental fees, and in some countries (like Thailand and Vietnam) it can be cheaper to eat every meal than to cook yourself.
Whichever route you take, pay close attention to what past guests have to say, especially with services like Airbnb and Booking.com, where only guests who have stayed there can leave a review.
Take the transport tour
To save on flights, it may be cheaper to fly to a neighboring country and then board a train to your desired destination.
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The proliferation of low-cost airlines around the world has made it much cheaper to fly within a region, such as Southeast Asia and Europe, or a country with a lot of domestic airline competition, such as the United States. United and Mexico.
So it might be a good idea to find a reasonable long-haul flight to one place and then take a low-cost airline (or in Europe, a train) to the next country you really wanted to go.
Dig in instead of accepting the more obvious route as the one you’re stuck with.
Get out of tourist areas at mealtimes
For cheaper meals, it’s usually best to leave the tourist areas.
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If you want to eat what the locals eat and pay what they pay, get out of the area where all the tourists are and start exploring. Just walking 15 minutes in any direction or taking a few stops on the metro 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 like Google Translate on your phone and you can also decipher menus in another language.
Try to travel outside of high season
Remember: it’s never high season everywhere at the same time.
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Avoiding high season is easier said than done if you’re a family struggling 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 in the north, first of all, and some tropical destinations are slower in summer because there is more rain.
Popular destinations like Mexico, Belize and South Africa are less busy between June and September than in the first quarter of the year.
The ideal time in many popular places is “shoulder season”. That’s when the weather is still nice but the hordes aren’t in town, like in May in the Caribbean or October in Europe.
Play travel hack game for free flights and rooms
Credit cards can help you earn free flights and hotel stays.
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What do you get 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 just enough from bonus sign-up to get a free flight or multiple hotel nights.
Then the points accumulate as you use the card. These perks can significantly reduce the cost of a vacation, even if you’re only spending what you’ve always been spending by running regular bills and expenses through the card (and paying them back).
Americans have the most choice for this “travel hack”, but Canadians can take advantage of several airline and hotel programs through Amex, CIBC or Scotiabank. Europeans have credit card options with several airlines like 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 from it all when you get the chance, without breaking your budget in the process.