Traveling Abroad? Budget-Saving Tips for Your International Vacation

In the excitement of planning your trip abroad, you might be focusing more on the sights you want to see rather than how to get the best deal. But putting in a little bit of legwork before and during your trip can help make your money work harder for you, and ultimately give you more vacation (and more fun) for your budget. Keep these six tips in mind to help maximize your money while traveling.

1. Think creatively about your flights and accommodations

When it comes to scoring a deal on travel, timing is everything. If you're eyeing up a pricey destination, like Paris or London, consider visiting during the off season, when prices are lower. Just be sure the attractions you want to see will be open. Or if you have some flexibility on time, consider flying earlier or later in the day — or taking a connecting flight rather than a direct one. Having a layover may not only help cut airfare costs, it can also give you an opportunity to briefly explore a new city.

If you're considering a trip to Europe, check its budget airlines for deals, suggests travel writer Hillary Richard. Besides competitive prices, you may also land a free stopover in a new country or business-class service for less. "Think a little outside the box when it comes to airlines," she adds.

To get a better deal on accommodations, think about renting a place through a home sharing site. It could prove to be cheaper than a hotel room and will give you access to a kitchen, which means you won't always have to dine out. Your host can recommend good local grocery stores. But if your heart is set on room service and a concierge desk, check price comparison sites to secure the best deals on hotels.

2. Book your ground transportation early

Before travel writer Imogen Rowland jets off to her next far-flung locale, she always makes sure her ground transportation is arranged, especially car rental reservations. "The earlier you book, the more you'll usually save," she says. "Experience has taught me that leaving it until the eleventh hour will mean that not only are costs higher, but you're less likely to secure the car you want."

For more tips on how to plan a trip on a budget, check out 7 Strategies to Make Your Dream Vacation a Reality.

3. Make the most of travel rewards

There are a number of ways you can use your credit card to earn rewards on your vacation spending. If you're a frequent traveler, you might benefit from a credit card that lets you collect miles or rewards points that can be used toward your flight or hotel stay. Another option is a cash back credit card, which allows you to recoup some of the costs of your trip. For hints and tips on choosing the right card for your travel needs, read our guide on How to Pick a Travel Rewards Program: 4 Questions to Consider.

4. Save on smaller expenses

When you're away from home, daily expenses can add up quickly. One simple way to help trim costs is to stock up on all the essentials before you leave so you don't have to buy them when you're abroad. Think over-the-counter medications and bandages; an umbrella or poncho; toiletries; a map of your destination; a water bottle with a built-in filter or water purification tablets; protein bars and packaged snacks; and a travel-sized bottle of laundry detergent or a stain pen.

5. Dine off the beaten path

Meals are a major expense on any trip. To keep spending in check, avoid touristy spots and instead seek out the hidden gems where locals go, Rowland advises. "The restaurants won't necessarily be in the main area, but tucked on a back street," she says. "But I'd argue it's probably the best meal you're going to get, because it'll be fresh from the market and cooked in the most authentic manner. Likewise with drinks, go local. There will undoubtedly be a locally brewed beer, and it most likely will be more affordable than what's imported on draft."

Wondering how much to tip? It depends on your destination. For example, tipping is frowned upon in parts of Asia and isn't expected in much of Europe or mainland China, but it's standard practice in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Mexico, and Canada.

6. Get to know your destination's exchange rate

Using a credit card overseas can make transactions much easier and won't add any additional cost, so long as you use a card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee. Just be sure to alert your bank of your travel plans to avoid any disruption in service.

Still, you'll probably want to have some cash on hand when you arrive at your destination, and it can be helpful to know your destination's exchange rate ahead of time. Instead of waiting until you get to the airport to change your money, use price comparison sites to shop around for the best exchange rate.

Richard suggests getting foreign currency from your bank before you leave. "This will help you avoid those money exchange kiosks, which don't give you the best rate, and avoid ATM fees," she says. "You can order currency ahead of time from your own bank – often for free – for the universally recognized exchange rate of that day and then return any bills you have left over when you get home." Remember, you can often get a better deal the more currency you exchange, so make sure to do your research and check your bank's policy on foreign exchange fees.

Apps and online calculators can help you keep track of exactly how much you're spending, but check that the data plan on your phone will allow you to use them abroad without racking up additional fees. Also consider jotting down on a piece of paper the main currency conversions – for, say, $10, $20, and $50 – and carrying it around for easy reference. "It's often faster to access when getting ready to pay," travel journalist Abigail King says of this low-tech approach. "I also write out the key amounts so that I don't have to do the multiplication on the spot. I like to think that I can usually manage it, but jet lag and dealing with a foreign language all at once can be challenging."

Ready to go, but not sure where you want your next big adventure to be? For more travel planning advice, check out our article Epic Vacations: 5 Essentials for the Best Vacation Ever.


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