I’ve always said that the first day of your vacation is the most expensive. Why is that? Chances are you don’t know prices or currency conversions. You probably have to exchange money, get transport to your hotel and then tip a bunch of people who stand between you and your hotel room and you don’t really know how much. For many people, the unknown factor of not knowing what you’re getting into is enough to keep them from making the journey. I’ve come up with a few tips that’s made things a lot easier and cheaper. Here they are:
Once you leave the USA, your phone becomes a brick unless you leave your data running (an expensive mistake). If you take a screenshot of your hotel confirmation, your car rental or anything else that you’re going to need to remember, then you won’t have to worry about printing it or finding a wifi zone to recall it once you arrive. You can show it to the taxi driver when he doesn’t understand your Czech or to the hotel when they can’t find your reservation. Problem solved.
2. Know your currency exchange rate–
Look it up before you ever arrive. Airport banks can have terrible exchange rates if there’s no competition and you’ll have no perspective to judge what a taxi or anything else costs. Once you start asking what prices are in dollars, you might as well just empty out your pockets.
3. Do a tiny bit of research–
When you’re traveling on the fly, it’s important to know what your transportation options are and your destination isn’t the best place to begin looking. A few minutes on the internet can arm you with information that can save you money.
4. Know tipping customs and have change- (or not) –
If you’re staying at a nicer hotel. As soon as you pull up, you’ve suddenly got to pay the taxi driver, the baggage handler and sometimes a completely different guy who throws your luggage in the elevator and opens your door. It’s all well and good until you realize that all you have are $10 bills. Knowing the tipping policy and having smaller bills available in local currency can save you a bit of money. The other option is grabbing your own bags before they can or pretending to be British (who usually don’t tip)
5. Watch out for hustlers-
Airports can be more rife with crooks than Washington DC. I’ve had taxi drivers lie about prices, distances and even tell me that my hotel is closed ( so they can get a commission at another hotel). If you feel hustled, ask a few other drivers and watch them turn against each other or find an information kiosk.
6. Trust the food–
Don’t end up at Margaritaville (sorry Jimmy Buffett) or The Hard Rock Cafe like every other American. You’re in an exciting new place! Eat the local food. Try new things. Not only will you gain new food experiences, but you’ll save a lot of money. Look around to see where the locals eat. At the moment of this writing, I’m in Guatemala. The street stalls are much more interesting than the restaurant food and are fraction of the price. Make sure it’s clean and go for it. You’ll be glad you did.
7. Turn of your data –
Your phone can cost more than your trip if you leave your data on. I once racked up a $1000 phone bill while I was driving in Canada and wiki-pedi-ing Canadian history. You can usually find wi-fi somewhere and save a bundle. It’s not as convenient as home, but do you really need all those distractions?
8. Avoid the concierge–
Many travelers arrive at their destination with no plans and nothing to do. Asking the concierge for a hookup can cost you a ridiculous amount of money by the time he makes his money, the hotel makes their money, the venue makes it’s money and everyone gets tipped. Use a site like tripadvisor to find out what attractions have the highest ratings and are worth your time.
9. Use WiFi –
Instead of calling home and spending $3/ minute to tell everyone you’re okay, connect to your hotel’s wifi and use a free app like Whatsapp to text or Skype to make free video calls.
10. Don’t be afraid of non-hotel chains-
Travelers who don’t get out much are often afraid that they’ll make a bad choice with a hotel, so they opt for a Hilton, Hyatt or some hotel chain they trust. Unfortunately, they’re missing out on some very interesting choices. Boutique and Eco-hotels can really make a trip fun. Airbnb gives travelers a chance to stay at someone’s apartment, boat, motor home, mansion, or whatever. You really don’t have a lot of risk if you take a moment to read the reviews. A really interesting hotel can make your trip so much more interesting and often you can save money by booking this way rather than the hotel chains.