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8 Ways Travelers Waste Money

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
March 5, 2019
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

Money-Exchange-booth.jpg?mtime=20180710124404#asset:102443

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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11 In-Flight Essentials to Pack for Your Next Trip TEST

While we can’t do anything about the seatmate who takes over your shared armrest, or the drink cart that bumps your elbow with every trip down the aisle, or the lack of legroom in coach, we’ve put our frequent-flier miles to good use and collected the gear to make your time in transit as enjoyable as possible. From pillows and earplugs to blankets and socks, here’s what you should stash in your carry-on for a smooth, no-friction travel day. 1. Charge Up Yes, most planes have in-seat outlets these days, but if you’re on a short hopper flight, your aircraft probably won’t have a plug. Avoid outages with Anker’s tiny power bank—at just four inches long and weighing less than five ounces, it’ll keep your devices humming along until you’re back on the ground. Anker PowerCore 5000, $22; amazon.com. TES TO DISPLAY A TEXT 2. Get Some Rest When it comes to long-haul travel, catching those Zs is critical, and Travelrest’s memory-foam neck pillow is one of our most highly rated nap-time tools. Between the under-chin support that keeps your head from dropping, an angled back that cradles your neck just-so, and a velour cover that feels extra-cozy against your cheeks, you’ll be nodding off in no time. Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. SHOP CARD HERE 3. Avoid the Noise Whether you’re blocking out your seatmate’s snoring or trying to catch every last word of your favorite podcast, a solid set of headphones is non-negotiable. These Bluetooth earbuds from ISOtunes come with a noise-reduction rating of 27 dB and a selection of foam tips—much more comfortable than, say, Apple’s hard-plastic AirPods. Plus, with 10 hours of playback time, they’ll take you from check-in to deplaning in one go.ISOtunes Audio Professional Noise Isolating Earbuds, $90; thegrommet.com.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

11 In-Flight Essentials to Pack for Your Next Trip SHOP

While we can’t do anything about the seatmate who takes over your shared armrest, or the drink cart that bumps your elbow with every trip down the aisle, or the lack of legroom in coach, we’ve put our frequent-flier miles to good use and collected the gear to make your time in transit as enjoyable as possible. From pillows and earplugs to blankets and socks, here’s what you should stash in your carry-on for a smooth, no-friction travel day. Find these items in the Inflight Essentials Collection in our Shop. 1. Charge Up Yes, most planes have in-seat outlets these days, but if you’re on a short hopper flight, your aircraft probably won’t have a plug. Avoid outages with Anker’s tiny power bank—at just four inches long and weighing less than five ounces, it’ll keep your devices humming along until you’re back on the ground. "="" link="https://www.amazon.com/Anker-PowerCore-Ultra-Compact-High-Speed-Technology/dp/B01CU1EC6Y/ref=as_li_ss_tl?keywords=anker+powercore+5000&qid=1551360005&s=gateway&sr=8-1&linkCode=sl1&tag=budgettrave0c-20&linkId=d0afbba1168baaa34a806ecfa9bc7dd2&language=en_US">SHOP CARD HERE 2. Get Some Rest When it comes to long-haul travel, catching those Zs is critical, and Travelrest’s memory-foam neck pillow is one of our most highly rated nap-time tools. Between the under-chin support that keeps your head from dropping, an angled back that cradles your neck just-so, and a velour cover that feels extra-cozy against your cheeks, you’ll be nodding off in no time. Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. "="" link="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MQG1BA7/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=budgettrave0c-20&linkId=43fec2cd0a1b6a7a944a4f39a459f4a9&language=en_US">SHOP CARD HERE 3. Avoid the Noise Whether you’re blocking out your seatmate’s snoring or trying to catch every last word of your favorite podcast, a solid set of headphones is non-negotiable. These Bluetooth earbuds from ISOtunes come with a noise-reduction rating of 27 dB and a selection of foam tips—much more comfortable than, say, Apple’s hard-plastic AirPods. Plus, with 10 hours of playback time, they’ll take you from check-in to deplaning in one go. "="" link="https://www.thegrommet.com/isotunes-audio-noise-canceling-bluetooth-headphones-pro">SHOP CARD HERE 4. Organize Your Essentials With labeled pockets and pouches for your tablet, smartphone, passport, and more, Flight 001’s in-seat organizer is a Type A personality’s dream. Unfold it and hang it from your tray table’s hook, or keep it zipped and put it in the seat-back pocket in front of you—either way, you’ll have instant access to your gear. "="" link="https://flight001.com/seat-pak-pro/">SHOP CARD HERE 5. Stay Moisturized Recirculated cabin air is notoriously drying and germ-ridden, but a good lip balm can help keep your skin's moisture barrier intact. Skinny & Co.’s formula relies on coconut oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, and vitamin E to prevent against the painful cracks and chapping that allow bacteria to sneak into your system, and it feels light yet substantial when applied. Stash one tube in the aforementioned organizer, one in your Dopp kit, and one in your coat pocket, and you’ll be covered on all fronts. "="" link="https://mx.skinnyandcompany.com/collections/lip-balm/products/lip-balm-3-pack-2oz-tube-peppermint-vanilla-sweet-orange?utm_campaign=pr_r&utm_source=https://theskinnybrand.com&utm_medium=wi_proxy&utm_content=en_US&utm_term=c">SHOP CARD HERE 6. Get Comfortable First-class tastes on a main-cabin budget? Slip’s pure-silk pillow and eye mask will keep tangles, flyaways, and sleep creases at bay, so you’ll arrive at your destination looking refreshed. The set is a bit of a splurge, both in terms of cost and how much space it takes up in your bag, but if you’ve got a serious beauty routine, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected, especially when you're crammed into a middle seat in coach. "="" link="https://www.slip.com/collections/sets/products/beauty-sleep-to-go-pink-snow-leopard-travel-set">SHOP CARD HERE 7. Guard Your Ears Changing air pressure on takeoff and landing often wreaks havoc on sensitive ears, especially during cold-and-flu season, when congestion can result in all kinds of aches and pains. Travel-specific earplugs, like this pair from Pluggerz, alleviate the pressure and keep your ears from popping, even when everyone around you is suffering. "="" link="https://www.walmart.com">SHOP CARD HERE 8. Corral Your Cords If you’re an artist, by all means, load up this adorable waxed-canvas pencil case from Aseismanos with your must-have pens and tools, but don’t fear if you’re less creatively inclined—you can still put it to good use. At 7-½” long by 2-½” wide, it perfectly accommodates a small, two-port plug, an extra-long phone cord (complete with Cable Bite), and a small charging cable or two, and it’s slim enough that it'll slide seamlessly into your bag, no matter how full. "="" link="https://www.aseismanos.com/product/small-pencil-pouch-2/">SHOP CARD HERE 9. Keep Your Blood Moving To reduce swelling, improve circulation, and give tired legs an energy boost, compression socks are the way to go. Most of the offerings on the market tend to be orthopedic in style, but with colorful patterns in cotton, nylon, and merino wool for men and women alike, these fun little numbers from VIM & VIGR grant you all of the therapeutic benefits with none of the seatmate side-eye. "="" link="https://vimvigr.com/collections/nylon-compression-socks">SHOP CARD HERE 10. Stay Warm In-cabin temperatures can be unpredictable at best, so you'll want to be prepared if you’re susceptible to the chills. This light, quilted blanket from Sparrow & Wren will have you snuggled up quickly, thanks to its down fill and generous 50" x 70" size. "="">" link="https://www.bloomingdales.com/shop/registry/wedding/product/sparrow-wren-packable-down-throw-100-exclusive?ID=1755597&CategoryID=3865#fn=ppp%3Dundefined%26sp%3DNULL%26rId%3DNULL%26spc%3D1%26cm_kws%3DPackable%20Down%20Throw%20-%20100%25%20Exclusive%26spp%3D1%26pn%3D1%7C1%7C1%7C1%26rsid%3Dundefined%26smp%3DallMultiMatchWithSpelling">SHOP CARD HERE 11. Pack It All In Too many items for one central organizer? Split your gear between a few smaller pouches, and your bottomless tote will seem much more manageable. These accessory bags from Topo Designs are ideal: Stash eye drops, lip balm, and Advil in the smallest; hand sanitizer, lotion, and a compact in the next size up; and laptop chargers, power cords, and social-media equipment in the largest. Made from hardy Cordura fabric and boasting bright-red zipper pulls, they’ll withstand potential snags and tears, and they’re easy to spot in your bag too. SHOP CARD HERE

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

11 In-Flight Essentials to Pack for Your Next Trip

While we can’t do anything about the seatmate who takes over your shared armrest, or the drink cart that bumps your elbow with every trip down the aisle, or the lack of legroom in coach, we’ve put our frequent-flier miles to good use and collected the gear to make your time in transit as enjoyable as possible. From pillows and earplugs to blankets and socks, here’s what you should stash in your carry-on for a smooth, no-friction travel day. 1. Charge Up (Courtesy Anker) Yes, most planes have in-seat outlets these days, but if you’re on a short hopper flight, your aircraft probably won’t have a plug. Avoid outages with Anker’s tiny power bank—at just four inches long and weighing less than five ounces, it’ll keep your devices humming along until you’re back on the ground. Anker PowerCore 5000, $22; amazon.com. SHOP CARD HERE 2. Get Some Rest (Courtesy Travelrest) When it comes to long-haul travel, catching those Zs is critical, and Travelrest’s memory-foam neck pillow is one of our most highly rated nap-time tools. Between the under-chin support that keeps your head from dropping, an angled back that cradles your neck just-so, and a velour cover that feels extra-cozy against your cheeks, you’ll be nodding off in no time. Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. 3. Avoid the Noise (Courtesy the Grommet) Whether you’re blocking out your seatmate’s snoring or trying to catch every last word of your favorite podcast, a solid set of headphones is non-negotiable. These Bluetooth earbuds from ISOtunes come with a noise-reduction rating of 27 dB and a selection of foam tips—much more comfortable than, say, Apple’s hard-plastic AirPods. Plus, with 10 hours of playback time, they’ll take you from check-in to deplaning in one go.ISOtunes Audio Professional Noise Isolating Earbuds, $90; thegrommet.com. 4. Organize Your Essentials (Courtesy Flight 001) With labeled pockets and pouches for your tablet, smartphone, passport, and more, Flight 001’s in-seat organizer is a Type A personality’s dream. Unfold it and hang it from your tray table’s hook, or keep it zipped and put it in the seat-back pocket in front of you—either way, you’ll have instant access to your gear. Seat Pak Pro, $40; flight001.com. 5. Stay Moisturized (Courtesy Skinny & Company) Recirculated cabin air is notoriously drying and germ-ridden, but a good lip balm can help keep your skin's moisture barrier intact. Skinny & Co.’s formula relies on coconut oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, and vitamin E to prevent against the painful cracks and chapping that allow bacteria to sneak into your system, and it feels light yet substantial when applied. Stash one tube in the aforementioned organizer, one in your Dopp kit, and one in your coat pocket, and you’ll be covered on all fronts.Lip balm, $17 for three; skinnyandcompany.com. 6. Get Comfortable (Courtesy Slip) First-class tastes on a main-cabin budget? Slip’s pure-silk pillow and eye mask will keep tangles, flyaways, and sleep creases at bay, so you’ll arrive at your destination looking refreshed. The set is a bit of a splurge, both in terms of cost and how much space it takes up in your bag, but if you’ve got a serious beauty routine, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected, especially when you're crammed into a middle seat in coach.Beauty Sleep to Go! Travel Set, $120; slip.com. 7. Guard Your Ears (Courtesy Pluggerz) Changing air pressure on takeoff and landing often wreaks havoc on sensitive ears, especially during cold-and-flu season, when congestion can result in all kinds of aches and pains. Travel-specific earplugs, like this pair from Pluggerz, alleviate the pressure and keep your ears from popping, even when everyone around you is suffering. Pluggerz Uni-Fit Travel earplugs, $10; jet.com. 8. Corral Your Cords (Courtesy Aseismanos) If you’re an artist, by all means, load up this adorable waxed-canvas pencil case from Aseismanos with your must-have pens and tools, but don’t fear if you’re less creatively inclined—you can still put it to good use. At 7-½” long by 2-½” wide, it perfectly accommodates a small, two-port plug, an extra-long phone cord (complete with Cable Bite), and a small charging cable or two, and it’s slim enough that it'll slide seamlessly into your bag, no matter how full.Small pencil case, $28; aseismanos.com. 9. Keep Your Blood Moving (Courtesy VIM & VIGR) To reduce swelling, improve circulation, and give tired legs an energy boost, compression socks are the way to go. Most of the offerings on the market tend to be orthopedic in style, but with colorful patterns in cotton, nylon, and merino wool for men and women alike, these fun little numbers from VIM & VIGR grant you all of the therapeutic benefits with none of the seatmate side-eye.Compression socks, $33; vimvigr.com. 10. Stay Warm (Courtesy Bloomingdale's) In-cabin temperatures can be unpredictable at best, so you'll want to be prepared if you’re susceptible to the chills. This light, quilted blanket from Sparrow & Wren will have you snuggled up quickly, thanks to its down fill and generous 50" x 70" size.Sparrow & Wren Packable Down Throw, $45 (regularly $90); bloomingdales.com. 11. Pack It All In (Courtesy Topo Designs) Too many items for one central organizer? Split your gear between a few smaller pouches, and your bottomless tote will seem much more manageable. These accessory bags from Topo Designs are ideal: Stash eye drops, lip balm, and Advil in the smallest; hand sanitizer, lotion, and a compact in the next size up; and laptop chargers, power cords, and social-media equipment in the largest. Made from hardy Cordura fabric and boasting bright-red zipper pulls, they’ll withstand potential snags and tears, and they’re easy to spot in your bag too. Accessory bags, from $15; topodesigns.com.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

The Best Neck Pillows for Every Kind of Traveler

Anyone who’s impulse-bought a seemingly suitable neck pillow just before boarding a redeye, only to discover midway through the flight that it’s a glorified beanbag, knows that the proper structure and support can make or break a long-haul flight. Functionality is key: First and foremost, you need to keep your head upright (too much bobbing up and down, and you’ll wake abruptly; leaning too much to one side or the other, and you’ll wake with a cricked neck). But portability and design are also important. We like models that don’t take up too much space in your bag, or come with a case that attaches to your carry-on—you don’t want something that’s going to be up against your face coming into contact with those notorious airplane germs. Comfort is subjective, but whether you’re a side-sleeper or someone who wants to feel cocooned in their seat, our picks will have you deplaning well-rested and refreshed, ready to take on that next adventure. 1. The Standout (Courtesy Cabeau) With firm memory-foam padding up to the ears, a cool, quick-drying fabric cover to keep you from overheating in fluctuating cabin temps, adjustable chin straps for a customized fit, and more straps that attach to your seatback to keep it all in place, Cabeau’s Evolution S3 pillow is our pick of the bunch. At just under 12 ounces, it’s slightly heavier than the others we tried, and the extra level of padding makes it difficult to use with over-ear headphones, but it easily rolls up to a quarter of its size to fit inside the included travel case—and at six inches wide by five-and-a-half inches high, it’s not a problem to find space for it in your bag (and it won’t be in the way if you decide to attach it to your suitcase, either). It even has a zippered pocket for keeping small essentials, like lip balm or eye drops, close at hand. Grade: ACabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. 2. The Utilitarian One (Courtesy Travelrest) A close runner-up, Travelrest’s thermo-sensitive memory-foam pillow may look like your standard, u-shaped model, but this version provides substantial cushioning without making you sweat, even with a plush velour cover. This well-padded headrest has an angled back that won't force your head forward, and a Velcro tab under the chin that allows you to adjust the fit, which does give it a bit of a doctor-prescribed cervical collar feel. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, given the quality construction and level of support. It comes with a set of earplugs and a small bag to carry it in, but our tester had trouble cramming the stiff foam into the little sack from her seat in coach, where the elbow room is nonexistent. Grade: A- Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. 3. The Cozy One (Courtesy BCOZZY) This one may require some personal adjustments (our tester found it a bit tight at first), but once you’ve figured out the best way to wrap it around your neck, get ready for some solid Zs. With a cushiony filling that keeps your chin from dropping mid-nap and a soft microfleece fabric on one side and microsuede on the other, the BCOZZY pillow is best for overnight flights, or those lasting six hours or more: Though it has a Velcro strap that’ll attach to your carry-on handle, it’s bulkier than other neck pillows and doesn’t really squish down much. If you prefer to stash it in your tote, it’ll occupy substantial real estate—and for shorter trips, the space-comfort trade-off may not be worth it. Grade: B+BCOZZY Chin-Supporting Travel Pillow, $30; amazon.com. (Budget Travel readers receive 20% off with coupon code BUDGETTRAVEL, good through April 15, 2019.) 4. The Compact One (Courtesy Trtl) When you’re committed to traveling light, the Trtl pillow is a good bet. It folds to take up the least amount of room in your bag, and its scarf-like style offers a unique form of support: Instead of bracing your head at 360 degrees, a fleece-covered plastic insert nestles into the side of your neck to prop you up while you snooze, and the fabric wraps around to secure it snugly in place. Our tester had a hard time finding a comfy fit, but we’ve heard from others that they won’t fly with anything else. (The company recommends experimenting before you travel and suggests this video with tips on how best to wear.) It’s ideal for those who lean to one side or the other while they sleep, so if your head tends to roll around a bit, this may not be the model for you. Grade: BTrtl Pillow, $30; trtltravel.com.

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