There’s one universal truth about travelers: We all want to get the biggest bang for our getaway buck. After all, isn’t a dollar saved on a bargain flight or on-sale hotel room one more that we can spend on meals, tours and other experiences once we arrive?
That may be the case, but in all of the travels we’ve done as The Lost Girls — from short weekend getaways to round-the-world adventures — we’ve realized that maximizing the value of an adventure doesn’t necessarily mean scoring the cheapest rates on airfare aggregators and flash sale websites. To us, it’s all about making creative tweaks to your travel routine, so you can get the most out of your on-the-ground experience.
While all of the tips we’ve included here will help you to keep a little more green in your wallet, they also do double-duty by helping you to reduce your carbon footprint, forge connections with locals and stumble into adventures that are rarely mentioned in any guidebook. We invite you to put our ideas to the (road) test — and feel free to ping us back with your own innovative ways to save.
Almost all airlines now charge baggage fees. Some are asking more than $35 for your first checked bag, and upwards of $150 for your second. When traveling as a duo or group, discuss who is bringing what before you leave to cut down on appliances and toiletries. Rather than packing 2 tubes of toothpaste or 2 hair dryers, for example, divide must-have items between your travel buddies beforehand, and agree to share them on the road.
Those flights that take off at ungodly hours and touch down at the crack of dawn may not save you sleep, but they can save you hundreds of dollars. Not only is the airline ticket price itself usually much cheaper (we recently opted for a 3:10 a.m. nonstop flight out of San Juan, PR, to JFK because it cost more than $100 less than the same 7 p.m. flight), but you’ll be able to spend another full day in your vacation destination without having to pay for an extra night at a hotel.
If you’re on the road frequently, switch to a card that offers up to 2 to 4 times the reward points value for every dollar spent on travel. Not only will those points stretch further when redeemed for free hotels, flights and rental cars, but some (like the Amex Gold card) automatically package in up to $100,000 worth of travel insurance. Should you get sick or need assistance on the road, you’re only a (free) phone call away.
Connect with locals for free who will introduce to you the hidden neighborhood gems (such as a cozy writers’ café) and cultural activities (like neighborhood football games) that you wouldn’t get from a typical pre-paid tour. We love Tripping.com, a site that puts you in touch with a global community of travelers and contacts all over the world. Or if you’re craving interaction with other cultures but taking a trip isn’t in your budget, you can also connect with foreigners visiting your city and show them around your hometown.
Part of the fun of travel is sampling the local cuisine, but packing your own breakfast is an easy place to save some bucks (and calories) so you can splurge on lunch and dinner. Bring your own box of breakfast bars, packets of instant oatmeal or plastic baggies filled with cereal and nuts or raisins. Then you can pair one each day with a piece of fruit, milk or coffee purchased in your destination. Rather than shelling out $10 or more each day for breakfast, you’ll spend that for a whole week’s worth of morning meals.
Many fine art galleries are free to the public, while museums may charge up to $20 per person. Go to artforum.com to find which galleries your destination city has to offer. Also, most museums offer a free or discounted entry fee one day a week, so look online ahead of time and plan to visit then. Sometimes they even feature live music.
Whether you’re sightseeing in a city or just relaxing on the beach, it’s important to stay hydrated. Rather than buying bottled drinks every day, invest in a water filtration bottle that you can fill with tap water. You’ll help your wallet by saving cash in the long run, as well as the planet by cutting down on the number of plastic bottles that make it to landfills or worse, the world’s oceans.
Find out from a trusted source what the average cab trip should cost — before you get in the back of a car. Then tell the cabbie you need to get to “such and such place” and agree to pay only that amount. Also, be sure to read up on the tipping culture of your travel destination. If it’s not expected — and perhaps even viewed negatively — there’s no need to give 20% at a restaurant or for a taxi ride. In many nations, you need only round up the bill to the next nearest increment, or leave a handful of change.