Travel—who doesn’t love it? Setting off to distant lands to discover the unknown and seize new opportunities. It’s freedom at its finest, but, like most great things, freedom and travel can come at a cost—both financially and mentally. However, there are ways to eliminate some of those daunting negatives and expand on the positive. Let me share with you some simple tips from over a decade of traveling to 120+ countries.
1. Rewards Credit Card (if you’re disciplined with your money)
Personally, I don’t play the points game. I’m not a hotel or airline points wizard and would rather focus on making money than saving nickels and dimes. However, I’m also not a fool. My happy medium is to have one rewards credit card, one hotel booking website, one home-sharing website, and be a part of airline programs just in case. Remember, it’s a big world and although they try through various partnerships, the hotel chains and airlines you’re used to aren’t everywhere. My rewards credit card on the other hand is and it rewards me wherever I go. The point being, whether it’s paying for office supplies in London or that small charter plane through West Africa, I know I’m earning points —points that provide me with free travel regularly.
Note: This approach is primarily due to the areas of the world I travel being so sporadic. If you’re mainly a domestic traveler and/or frequent the same locations, being loyal to a hotel rewards program and airline may be a smart move.
2. Saving On Flights
We have all heard the myths:
- Searching for flights while in incognito mode.
- The day of the week or the time of the day matters.
- Websites can predict prices.
- Certain websites have better prices than others.
Unfortunately, these are myths and nothing more. You’re not going to get the deal of the century simply because you’re buying tickets at 11:00 PM on a Tuesday. The good news is there are still legitimate ways to save on flights.
- Be flexible. Supply and demand exists and you can see it front and center with commercial flights. If you want to save some money, I recommend being flexible with your departure dates, times, and locations. For example, instead of visiting Paris in the summer when it’s pricier (and crowded), try Paris in the fall. Instead of Spring Break in the Yucatan Peninsula, wait until schools are back in session and then go. As for which day to book your flight, booking sites like expedia.com allow you to see day-to-day price comparisons.
**In 2013 a last-minute business deal had me leaving the World Cup in Rio De Janeiro 2-days early. The flight back was 60% off and I was 1 of 12 people on the entire plane. The road less traveled had significant perks.
- Embrace Layovers. I know, I know. Long layovers- it sounds horrible. But, long layovers often come with price breaks and give you the opportunity to explore. In my early 20’s I saw the Mona Lisa in Paris and explored the streets of Istanbul during long layovers.
- Get Across The Pond. As I previously mentioned, longer trips can help save on accommodations, but they can also help keep your overall flight expenditure low. For example, I have a friend that used to take 5 trips a year. He would leave Los Angeles for another part of the world, stay 2-weeks, then fly home. A few weeks later, he would do it again. This changed when I asked why he didn’t just hit more travel destinations once he got across the pond (ocean) and combine some of his trips. Instead of flying from Los Angeles to Rome and then home, fly to Rome, Paris, Barcelona, and then home. Understand that the first flight is going to be more expensive, but once you’re there, bouncing around a particular region is pretty reasonable.
- Frequent flyer accounts. Although my loyalty is with my rewards credit card, there is no reason not to sign up for these accounts since they are often free. By creating these accounts, you can collect valuable miles that can be used to finance your next trip. There’s nothing better than hopping online to book your next trip and realizing you have enough miles to cover it!
3. Know the Basic Currency Conversion Rate
Being overcharged (or scammed) is a common concern when traveling, but most people don’t even realize it’s happening because they don’t know the basic currency exchange rate. To help avoid this, I don’t suggest pulling out your calculator with every transaction, but simply knowing 650 Thai Baht is roughly 20 US Dollars for example. Knowing the basic currency conversion rate can go a long way.
**Never show your money until you hear a price. Never pay before services are delivered. If it’s a taxi, make sure there is a meter on the dash or a confirmed price before getting in.
4. Act Like You’ve Traveled Before.
Drop a traveler and myself in a distant land and 9/10 times the unwanted solicitations and less-than-desirable agreements will be directed to the other traveler. Why? My demeanor says I’ve traveled before and I’m competent in the environment. Alternatively, I often see tourists in uncomfortable interactions or being pushed to agree to things simply because they don’t carry themselves in the right way. They act timid and often confused, causing them to stick out. They can’t navigate getting across the street or they fumble with money at checkout counters. If you want to avoid what boils down to being taken advantage of, plan ahead and move with intent. Pushy salesmen and less-than-ethical tour operators (among others) will think twice if you learn to adapt to your environment and act like you belong.
Note: The people that I speak of that may take advantage of others are far and few between, but they do exist. These individuals aren’t necessarily bad, but most likely just trying to take care of themselves and/or their family. They exist in every country (including yours). Although it may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s not their fault if you make yourself an easy target so act life you’ve traveled before.
5. Hire a Local
One of the greatest ways to really get to know a country is to step away from the big group tours and hire a local. He or she may not have the most professional car/boat, but they’ll be cheaper and will take you on a better adventure. They will tailor it to your specifications, work to keep your business, and oftentimes become a longtime friend.
6. Go With An Open Mind
Lastly, be sure to travel with an open mind. You will undoubtedly come across situations and cultural aspects that are different than your own. I urge you to embrace the different and leave judgement behind. Step forward with curiosity and an eagerness to learn. Afterall, this is what travel is about. To expand our horizons, not merely reinforce our personal truths. If you can lead with an open mind, what a wonderful journey you will have.
- Always carry a power strip, external battery, USB cable, and multi-pin plug with you.
- Have photos of your important documents on your phone.
- Use Whatsapp and/or a local sim card to stay connected
- Invest in a pair of noise-canceling ear muffs (you can thank me later).
- To avoid falling ill on your vacation, make sure to regularly wash your hands and even sanitize commonly touched surfaces in your hotel room, such as door handles, the TV remote, etc. In addition, be weary of what you eat. Food storage/preparation in different parts of the world is not always what it should be.
- Before leaving your hotel/Airbnb, make sure to download the directions to wherever you may be headed. Cell phone service isn’t always great in other countries, and you don’t want to be the tourist wandering around with a puzzled look on your face.