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8 Ways Travelers Waste Money

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 12, 2022
Tourists eating outside Pizza in Rome
Kasto80/Dreamstime
You won’t believe how much you may be tossing away on vacation.

Sure, vacation is supposed to be your time to relax, to recharge your batteries. But there’s a big difference between going with the flow and allowing yourself to be ripped off simply because you’re not paying attention. From your choice of restaurant to the kind of bank card you carry, the way you pack your bags, and your willingness to do a little bit of homework before leaving home, here are some of the most common ways you may be wasting money when you travel - and, most importantly, how not to waste money next time.

1. EATING LIKE A TOURIST

We would never suggest that every well-trod touristy restaurant serves sub-par, overpriced meals. But we will say that eating at the most obvious open-air establishment in, say, an Italian piazza or the eatery with the biggest neon sign in Times Square may increase your chances of paying top dollar for food you probably could have made better at home. The reason is good old supply and demand: The public spaces that attract the biggest crowds are often the most expensive places to open a restaurant, and the temptation to cut corners when you sense your clientele can't tell the difference is, well, y'know...

Do this instead:

Use guidebooks, local tourism boards, reliable travel media (yup, that’s us), and word of mouth to find authentic joints that cook local favorites with good quality ingredients. We’re also fond of our parent company Lonely Planet’s inspiring @LonelyPlanetFood account on Instagram, delivering a world of great food suggestions each day.

2. PAYING FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES

If you don’t check with your bank or credit card company before heading overseas, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise: Foreign transaction fees whenever you use your U.S.-based card to make a purchase. And while 3 percent, a common transaction fee, may not sound like a lot while you’re living it up on vacation, it can sure add up by the time you get your next bank statement.

Do this instead:

Before you travel anywhere (even domestically), it’s a good idea to stop by the local branch of your bank and tell them where you’re headed. You’ll not only learn about foreign transaction fees (and how to avoid them), but also any concerns the bank may have about your using the card in your travel destination. If you plan to use a credit card overseas, make sure to get one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

3. GETTING A BAD EXCHANGE RATE

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One of the biggest money-wasting mistakes travelers make is waiting to exchange dollars for foreign currency until they arrive at the airport or at their destination. Airport kiosks, hotel desks, street vendors, and shops make extra money by charging an undesirable rate of exchange.

Do this instead:

Before you leave the U.S., research exchange rates online and obtain currency from your bank or a currency exchange. If you don’t already have a debit card from your bank, get one so that you can withdraw cash from most foreign ATMs at a favorable exchange rate. (And remember that some destinations, including Cuba, do not honor U.S.-based bank or credit cards at all and you’ll have to arrive with cash.)

4. CHECKING TOO MUCH BAGGAGE

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This one’s an easy one to brush off a few weeks or even a few days before your trip: You’ll “pack light,” you swear. But in the heat of the moment, especially if you’ll be away from home for a week or more, it becomes easy to pack a rolling suitcase so that it exceeds the weight limit, incurring extra fees, or to decide that although your airline allows you one or two complementary checked bags (of course, not all airlines do), you’re going to have to check just one more.

Do this instead:

Truly “packing light” means carefully considering what you’ll really need on your trip, and taking into account the possibility of doing laundry while you’re away. (I personally had a super-convenient and affordable laundry experience at the Ventura Beach Marriott’s excellent laundry room last July, which allowed me and my family to pack light for a three-week trip and stay within Southwest’s two-bags-per-passenger complementary checking policy. Also consider mailing some clothing and souvenirs back home instead of trying to cram them into your already-groaning bags.

5. RACKING UP CREDIT CARD DEBT

We mentioned above that traveling with a credit card is a smart choice - you’re prepared for unexpected expenses, and you can confidently make hotel and transportation reservations. But that doesn’t mean you should use your credit card to pay for a vacation (or a souvenir, or a meal, for that matter) you won’t be able to pay off with a month or so once you get home. Some credit card rates, not to mention penalties and late fees, can mean paying double for your dream trip over time.

Do this instead:

It’s simple to say it, harder to do it: If you wouldn’t borrow money from a friend or relative for your trip, don’t borrow it from a credit card company.

6. MISUNDERSTANDING TRAVEL INSURANCE

There are two ways of misunderstanding travel insurance: One is to assume you don’t need it, the other is to assume you do. It’s way more nuanced than that. Misunderstandings of this kind can lead to travelers handing over tons of money unnecessarily to car rental companies and tour operators for insurance they already have thanks to their debit or credit card or auto or home insurance policies. On the other hand, misunderstanding travel insurance can also lead to travelers being stuck in a medical emergency in which they unexpectedly have to hand over hundreds or even thousands of dollars because they did not obtain an appropriate medical insurance policy for travel overseas.

Do this instead:

Learn what kinds of insurance your bank card or credit card covers, and review what your auto, home, and health insurance policies cover when you’re traveling. Chances are, this will reduce the amount you have to pay to car rental companies, and it will clarify whether you need something like medical evacuation travel insurance, which can save you a bundle in the event of a health crisis.

7. MISSING OUT ON DISCOUNTED ADMISSION

Most major cities will have a handful of must-see museums, some guided tours, restaurants you’ve been looking forward to trying, etc., and every one of those experiences is going to cost you something, of course. If you're a savvy traveler, it’s easy to turn up your nose at passes and discounts that require a fee - the more experienced you are, the more you may assume that offers like that are just another rip-off. Think again.

Do this instead:

Programs like CityPASS and similar offers in Europe may seem pricey, but if you spend some time comparing the discounts offered at the attractions you most want to visit against the price of the pass, you may discover that ponying up for the pass may actually save you big in the long run.

8. BOOKING HOTEL & AIRFARE TOO SOON

"Booking a vacation is a well-researched, steely-eyed, analytical affair," said no passionate traveler ever. We know it's all about dreams, aspirations, and a bit of denial. You want booking to be easy, and especially when you find a decent hotel rate or airfare on a trip you’re really looking forward to, it’s easy to convince yourself to hit that “purchase” button. But we've seen over and over again, and now more than ever, that sticking with the tried-and-true domestic U.S. travel booking sites can mean you’re overlooking potential savings elsewhere.

Do this instead:

Repeat after us: Take a deep breath and shop around. Sure, use Expedia, Kayak, and others sites to start your research. But branch out to Skyscanner, Hopper, and others to see what else is out there. Be flexible: Being open to a range of departure and return dates, a range of airports, a range of hotels and neighborhoods, can yield big savings.

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Travel Tips

10 Apps You Need For Your Next Trip

If you sometimes feel as if your smartphone is becoming your travel BFF, you’re not alone. Consider that nearly half of all travelers have used a mobile device to plan or book a trip, a 2016 global survey from Apteligent found. Mobile apps have also enabled travelers to find hotel deals, dine with locals, and even overcome jet lag. Ready to load up your smartphone for your next trip? These 10 apps will address many of your most pressing travel needs. (And we assume you’ve already heeded our suggestion to download our parent company Lonely Planet’s indispensable inspiration and planning apps Trips and Guides.) 1. NETFLIX: Binge your favorite TV show while you're in the air Missed the latest season of Stranger Things? Catch up on your flight using the Netflix app’s “download” feature, which lets subscribers watch select TV shows and movies on phones and tablets without an Internet connection. To see if the series or movie you want is available for download, you can search the title you want and look for the download icon (the arrow pointing downward to a horizontal line). Not looking for anything in particular? The Netflix app also features an “Available for Download” menu that displays all downloadable content in one place. One caveat: Netflix says that downloading and streaming consume similar amounts of data, so you may want to use a wireless connection, rather than a cellular one, while downloading. Available on iPhone and Android. 2. 7 MINUTE WORKOUT: Squeeze in a quick morning workout To stay in shape on your trip, use the 7 Minute Workout app from Johnson & Johnson. Designed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the company’s Human Performance Institute, the app offers more than 20 pre-set workouts that vary in intensity and duration, and can be customized to fit your fitness level. Also, the app talks you through proper form, and recommends different workout programs as your endurance increases. Available on iPhone and Android. 3. EATWITH: Break bread with locals Want an authentic dining experience while you’re traveling? Eatwith can connect you with locals in more than 130 countries for truly immersive cuisine. From dinner parties to food tours to cooking classes, the app has a variety of culinary events that let you wine and dine with hosts at your destination. The app lets you search for food experiences by price range. It also enables you to filter based on dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, vegan, and Kosher meals. Available on iPhone and Android. 4. NEARIFY: Find live music, comedy, film screenings, and other entertainment on the go One way to discover cool events near you is by using Nearify. The app uses your location to show you happenings like concerts and festivals to cooking classes and sports games. Offered in New York City, London, Boston, Mumbai and hundreds of other cities around the world, Nearify will also send you a personalized list of events at the location of your choice based on your preferences and tastes. Available on iPhone and Android. 5. ROOMIER TRAVEL: Nab sweet hotel room deals from people who can't use theirs Plenty of apps let people book hotel reservations at discounts—HotelTonight, One:Night, and HotelQuickly are a few of them. But Roomer Travel lets travelers score special rates by buying non-refundable rooms from other consumers. The app lets you search for deals based on your destination and travel dates. In addition, the folks at Roomer will automatically double check to make sure your reservation is transferred to your name. Available on iPhone and Android. 6. LOUNGEBUDDY: Escape noisy, overcrowded airport terminals Good news: you don’t need to have an elite status or first-class ticket to access those coveted airport lounges. With LoungeBuddy, members can kill time in more than 280 airport lounges across the globe. Passes start at $25, but the app also lets you gain complimentary access based on credit cards or frequent flyer programs you belong to, so you can make the most of your loyalty rewards. You can even filter by lounge amenities such alcoholic drinks, showers, or kids’ play rooms. Available on iPhone. 7. ROME2RIO: Get around without wasting time or stressing out To maximize your vacation time, use Rome2rio. This app will get you from point A to point B fast and easy. Just enter the town, address or landmark you’re going to and Rome2rio will display flight, train, bus, ferry, and driving options with estimated travel times and fares. A nice bonus: the app will also show you cool things to do when you get to your destination. Available on iPhone and Android. 8. DUOLINGO: Talk like a local Learn how to speak like a native with duolingo. This app shows you how to enrich your vocabulary by offering bite-sized lessons in Spanish, French, German, and more than a dozen other languages. To stay engaged, you’ll play games where you earn points for correct answers. And, unlike a lot of other language apps, duolingo is free. Available on iPhone and Android. 9. SOLOTRAVELLER: Find like-minded individuals Hitting the road alone? Find travel buddies using SoloTraveller. The app lets you make new friends during your trip by connecting you with other solo travelers in your city in real time. It also helps you save money by pairing you people to share taxis, tours, or other travel expenses. You can find a travel mate nearby by searching for people based on age, gender, and interests. Available on iPhone and Android. 10. JET LAG ROOSTER: Beat jet lag Adjusting to a new time zone can zap your energy at the beginning of your trip. One solution is Jet Lag Rooster. The app provides a personalized, hour-by-hour plan to help you overcome jet lag. After you enter your flight details and sleep pattern information, the app will create a customized guide suggesting the best times for bright light exposure (e.g., sunlight) and melatonin to help your body clock adjust. Available on Android.

Travel Tips

Skip the Lines at Popular Attractions

There are some travel destinations that are so wonderful, you come home with only one complaint: The lines were too long. After visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland last summer, and then reveling in my hometown NYC’s holiday window displays and museum mega-shows, I have become super-eager to learn how I can skip the lines at popular attractions without breaking the bank. As luck would have it, TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travel Trends Report (tripadvisor.com) includes a list of the most booked tours under $150, and many of the top tours on the list are, you guessed it, skip-the-line deals. Here, some of the most popular affordable travel experiences as ranked by TripAdvisor. SKIP THE LINES IN ROME “Holy wait time!” is surely an often-heard quip for people stuck in line to see the stunning art collections and sacred spaces at Vatican City, in Rome. TripAdvisor found that the no. 1 most-booked travel experience under $150 was City Wonders’ Skip the Line: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica (citywonders.com, under $80). City Wonders brings small groups (20 and under) led by expert guides to the Vatican 30 minutes before other tours and 90 minutes before the general public enters. The attractions you can expect to see without crowds include the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the “Last Judgment,” both by Michelangelo, the stunning interior of St. Peter’s, designed by Michelangelo, and that over-achiever’s sculpture “Pieta.” Not only did City Wonders’ Vatican tour top TripAdvisor’s list, but the company’s Skip the Line: Colosseum & Ancient Rome Small Group Tour with Forum & Palatine Hill was ranked third. SKIP THE LINES IN BARCELONA Priority Access: Barcelona Sagrada Familia Tour is another skip-the-line experience that ranked well on TripAdvisor’s survey, coming in at no. 5. The famously gorgeous and crowded cathedral, with its unique fairytale spires and surreal look, is even more enjoyable when you visit using the early-access option for under $50. SKIP THE LINES IN PARIS Eiffel Tower Summit: Priority Access With Host offers a skip-the-line one-hour guided tour for under $80, bringing what is perhaps the most iconic of travel icons up close for a relatively reasonable price. OTHER TOP TRAVEL EXPERIENCES UNDER $150 TripAdvisor’s top 10 travel experiences under $150 also included some experiences that don’t involve skipping any lines but are nonetheless must-dos for anyone keeping a bucket list. The top domestic U.S. experiences were a Chicago Architecture River Cruise and tickets to the observation decks at New York’s Empire State Building. And other top experiences were decidedly Euro-centric, including a Rome Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour; Warner Bros Studio: The Making of Harry Potter With Luxury Round-Trip Transport From London; Murano, Burano, and Torcello Half-day Sightseeing Tour (Venice): and a Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour.

Travel Tips

What’s Your Favorite Airline?

Say the word “airline” to any traveler and you’ll get an earful: Opinions, anecdotes, gripes, suggestions, outrage, and sometimes even some happy memories. About those “happy memories”: Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org) recently surveyed 55,000 members to rate major air carriers. The people surveyed had logged nearly 98,000 domestic economy flights and more than 8,000 first-class and business flights, and responded to factors including seat comfort and legroom, cleanliness, service, food and beverages, Wi-Fi, and pricing transparency. We’re finding Consumer Reports’ survey results enlightening and inspiring. TOP-RATED AIRLINES Southwest topped the list of airlines, with high scores for service, check-in, and cleanliness, and also scored well for pricing transparency. We’re not surprised, as we’ve appreciated Southwest’s listing of fees and free two-bag check-in policy. Other domestic carriers that ranked favorably include Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin America, and Hawaiian Airlines. Alaska and Hawaiian both ranked especially well among first-class and business travelers. As for those airlines that didn’t rank as well? Let’s just say it was “the rest of them” and leave it at that. PEOPLE SAY “NO” TO HIDDEN FEES Coach passengers are not fond of unclear pricing policies and hidden fees. More than half of the survey respondents told Consumer Reports that they had paid extra to select a better seat and 40 percent were charged an extra fee to check a bag. IS COACH GETTING LESS COMFORTABLE? Thirty percent of surveyed coach passengers said their seat was uncomfortable, with seat comfort and legroom being a major negative factor on economy flights. Similarly, food and beverages (both complimentary and paid) were ranked below average by coach passengers, and most airlines ranked poorly for Wi-Fi and entertainment options. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE AIRLINE? Now it’s your turn: We want to know which domestic carrier you rank number one. Post a comment below, email us at info@budgettravel.com, or follow us on social media to get in on the conversation.

Travel Tips

Spring Travel Tips From Our Twitter Chat

When Budget Travel hosts a Twitter Chat (@BudgetTravel, #BT_Chat), it’s basically like a cool party packed with expert travelers, travel professionals, and those friends you can always count on for a great under-the-radar getaway suggestion. Our Spring Travel chat earlier this week yielded far too many excellent suggestions for us to republish here, but we’ve picked some of our favorites, organized according to the questions we posted on Twitter. If you like what you see, check out Budget Travel on Twitter (@BudgetTravel) and join our next #BT_Chat, in early April. 1. Tell us about your favorite Spring Travel destination “We love beach towns that start warming up in spring, including Myrtle Beach, SC, for great food (including Gordo’s Tacos), watersports, and more.” @BudgetTravel “National parks across the south are open, warm, and less crowded in spring: Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, and some portions of Grand Canyon are ready for visitors.” @BudgetTravel “Recharge this spring with an outing to Connecticut’s awe-inspiring waterfalls” @CTvisit “We've got some great recommendations when it comes to #springbreak destinations for families.” @ChoiceHotels “Santa Cruz is a must-visit destination in the spring! Explore dreamy forests, surf without huge crowds, & taste wine amidst blooming flowers.” @visitsantacruz “Hitting the slopes in Park City, Utah is the Perfect Spring Getaway!” @HamptonByHilton “Take a road trip! It means you don't have to spend money on a plane ticket, and you get to experience way more of the life and culture of the countryside. There are beautiful places within a days drive of pretty much everywhere!” @LBonPlanetEarth “Spring is a great time to visit Cannery Row [in Monterey, CA] before the summer travel season. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an outdoor adventure on the waterfront, you’ll find plenty of options to make for an unforgettable vacation.” @VisitCanneryRow 2. What are your favorite spring activities? Gardens? Parks? Beaches? Historical sites? All of the above? “Spring is the only time of year when you can take a maple syrup road trip to see tapped trees and visit a ‘sugarhouse’ where maple sap gets turned into syrup and sugar. @BudgetTravel “We can’t get enough of the gorgeous gardens in bloom across America and beyond.” @BudgetTravel “Spring activities are in abundance in North Dakota! Hike bike or ride through the beautiful badlands, kayak the waterways or explore many museums and historic sites. You're certain to find something #NDLegendary!” @NorthDakota “There's simply no better way to take in the fresh air than a budget-friendly outing to Connecticut’s hiking trails.” @CTvisit “I <3 hiking the forests of @MyHockingHills in spring for gorgeous wildflowers and foraging for ramps, morels & fiddleheads. #SpringTravel means waterfalls are rushing too, thanks to rains.” @AmyMWeirick “Spring in the 49th state doesn’t mean the winter fun stops! Our favorite spring activities include dog mushing, skiing + fat tire biking.” @alaskatravlnews “Going to shows at @thestonepony [in Asbury Park, NJ], sunset cocktails at @theasburyhotel rooftop, taking a stroll through #DannyClinch’s Transparent gallery to check out new prints, annnnnnd the beach. We surf, bro.” @AsburyParkNow “We love sharing the Basque culture in Boise. Our Basque Block has a museums, a cultural center, Basque restaurants and bars.” @BoiseCVB 3. What tips do you have for families who are planning a spring trip? “Popular theme parks have a ‘shoulder season’ in May and early June, when school breaks are over and summer vacation hasn’t arrived yet. @BudgetTravel “Think beyond the obvious ‘kid’ destinations. Europe’s cities welcome families with affordable museums, parks, and hands-on experiences too.” @BudgetTravel “Kid-friendly travel should be fun for the whole family! Ride the Giant Dipper at the @beachboardwalk and then hop on a @roaringcamp train through the redwoods. Ditch the phone and discover nature together with these 5 kid-friendly hikes. @visitsantacruz “Get everybody outside! Hunt out hiking trails, waterfalls, zip-lines, unique rock formations, wildlife experiences, and timeless aquatic activities.” @enjoyillinois “Check out the deals with the Museum Row on Main Ticket! Can be used for admission to 8 different museums & attractions in Downtown Lou! [Louisville, KY]” @gotolouisville “Boise is a blend of urban & outdoors - big enough to have the comforts of a big city, small enough to enjoy it all.” @BoiseCVB “Pack snacks, have a killer road trip playlist and make sure everyone in the family can choose a spot to visit in #Pennsylvania!” @visitPA 4. Any money-saving secrets for a spring trip? “Stay flexible in terms of choice of destination, flight dates, and airports. Window-shopping a site like Kayak or Skyscanner can yield surprise deals to places you didn’t know you needed to visit.” @BudgetTravel “Have a work obligation this Spring? Stay a few extra days and bring the family. Make it an ‘Obli-cation!’” @HamptonByHilton “If you head to Louisville, start at our Visitor Center downtown! Discounted attraction tix & friendly faces! Also check out our free museums.” @gotolouisville “Hiking & biking are great ways to enjoy #Boise's views. Plus they won't cost your family a dime.” @BoiseCVB “Do your research and seek out authentic local experiences and events. Spring signals the launch of so many free festivals, markets, music, theater performances, and sport.” @enjoyillinois “We share tons of budget-friendly attractions in #Pennsylvania where families can have amazing experiences without breaking the bank!” @visitPA “Booking a trip in the spring months of April + May means visiting during Alaska’s ‘shoulder season.’ Many tour operators + hotels offer discounts for shoulder season travelers – just ask!” @alaskatravlnews 5. What's your favorite "secret" for a successful couples getaway? “Delete the word ‘romantic’ from your travel vocabulary and get real: What activities do you and your partner love to share? What new experiences are you open to? @BudgetTravel “There is nothing that builds relationship with another person quite like climbing a mountain together! I love doing strenuous hikes in National Parks.” @LBonPlanetEarth “Fire pits with an ocean view are a great way to relax at the end of a fun-filled day. We've got a helpful list of where you'll find them on Cannery Row.” @VisitCanneryRow “We love to do something adventurous - a hard hike, snorkeling, skiing but also fun stuff, like #wine tasting in @InsideSonoma.” @ctopkin “I think the best romantic weekends are when you experience or learn something new together. That's why I love hotels that offer things like mixology classes, etc. for romantic getaways.” @DestinySibert1 “Definitely opt for something unique and memorable. Step out of the comfort zone and try something new together whether it be a cooking class or challenging your special someone in a NASCAR style race!” @visitPA “Explore the @niagwinetrail with over 22 wineries, breweries and cideries. Fresh air + delectable wines + tranquility of the countryside make for a peaceful, romantic escape!” @NiagaraFallsUSA “Connecticut's comfy, cozy inns make for the perfect romantic getaway this spring.” @CTvisit “Try something new - together. Hubby and I did a hot air balloon outing in @AspenSnowmass - I flew, he helped the crew assemble the balloon! Good times.” @theopensuitcase