Photo credit: thewhimsicalphotographer.com
The first rule of saving money while traveling is: Research and plan ahead! This applies whether you're traveling internationally or domestically; via plane, train, or automobile; alone or with your family. Read below for some advice on saving money while traveling.
Before You Go
Book airline (or train) tickets ahead of time, at least 2 months in advance. Being flexible about which days of the week you fly can also save you a few bucks (and lines at the airport); when searching for tickets be sure to check the prices a few days before and after.
Research accommodations ahead of time. Sites like Orbitz are convenient and can offer a general idea of prices, but many hotels and guesthouses have an online presence which can be cheaper to book directly. Consult a guidebook like Lonely Planet for places to start.
If you're traveling for vacation and can travel during your destination's off-season, you'll often be able to save a lot on accommodations. But be sure the activities you wish to do are available during the off-season. You may also want to plan to visit some places that are "off the beaten trail" and less tourist-driven, and therefore possibly cheaper.
Plan Small Purchases
Think about what incidentals you might need and determine if it may be cheaper to buy them at your destination or not. For example, outlet adapters are usually cheaper to buy ahead of time rather than at the destination airport or hunting them down once you get there. Other things, like medications such as baby Tylenol or allergy medicine may be the same price or cheaper there, so you can hold off on such items. Of course, balance these incidentals with what you're likely to encounter, you don't want to over pack for every possible situation.
Research Exchange Rates
Most times, withdrawing foreign currency from an ATM will offer you the best exchange rate. But circumstances may differ depending on your destination, so do your research. Familiarize yourself with the exchange rate right before you leave home, so that if you have to exchange at a bank or kiosk, you will at least know what type of rate you're getting. Calculate the exchange before the transaction so you are not cheated out of money. Using your credit card will probably incur foreign transaction fees, so save your credit card for larger or emergency purchases only (and don't forget to call your credit card company ahead of time to annotate your file with your travel plans so it does not get declined in an emergency!). If your credit is good enough and you travel frequently enough, consider applying for a credit card that waives international fees (these are usually premium cards which include annual fees, so first make sure it would be worth your while).
While You're There
Your Own Kitchen
Look for a guesthouse with a kitchen where you can cook the bulk of your family's meals. Of course, you may not want to miss out on the local cuisine and culture of your destination, so do plan to go out. Go out for a big lunch rather than dinner, since lunch prices can often times be much cheaper than dinner prices. Lastly, stick to local fare and avoid Western restaurants. If you stay in a hotel or motel, look for places that offer a free breakfast buffet. While you may pay a little more per night than somewhere else, if you have a big family and kids that love food, you will save money in the long run.
If feasible, walk between sights rather than hiring a cab. This way you will get to see and enjoy more of your destination. Of course, if you have kids to carry or push around in a stroller, this may not always be desirable, but sometimes if you plan your route ahead you can cut out a few taxi rides.
Skip the Tours
Skip longer, arranged, or private guided tours. They're often not flexible, especially if you have a family. You and your family may find it more enjoyable and relaxing to find things on your own and sight-see at your own pace, and you will save on tour fees.
If your family loves museums, look for passes that cover multiple museums, these will save you and your family money if you are planning to see many of them. And, of course, research ahead of time to see if and when museums may have special discounts or even free entry.
Buying souvenirs? In many countries, such as in Asia, haggling or negotiating is culturally acceptable. Also, know your (and your kids') weaknesses when it comes to spending money. If you impulse buy on souvenirs, avoid putting yourself and your kids in those situations.
Road tripping or heading to a domestic location?
Many of the tips above apply, but there are a few other things you may consider.
- Maintenance your car ahead of time. It will thank you and pay for itself in the long run. Get an oil change, change your air filter, and check your tires.
- Make as few stops as possible. Stopping for gasoline, then for the bathroom, then for snacks opens to window of opportunity for impulse buying. Make sure everyone uses the bathroom beforehand and at each stop. Pack plenty of water, healthy snacks, or perhaps a cooler of food ahead of time to cut down on food stops.