Going abroad? Lucky you.
This time of year, I get many questions about how to save money on trips to foreign destinations. Here are answers to some questions:
1. Get WhatsApp. Wondering how you’ll stay in touch with the folks back home? Thanks to this free smartphone app, you no longer need to buy expensive satellite phones or calling plans. Just download the app. Anywhere you have access to Wi-Fi, you can call anyone, text, video call, talk on the phone, send photos and more. You need to have your friend’s phone number in your contact list. Then just import it into the app. I’ve used this to stay in touch with my teenage son in Europe, and also while in Mexico.
2. Stay in a guesthouse. In Europe, these are sometimes called a “zimmer” or a “gasthaus.” Other countries might call them “hostals” (which doesn’t mean youth hostel) or “posadas.” You’ll have a clean room in someone’s home. Look for signs in people’s windows that they accept paying guests. Not only do you save money, but you interact with actual foreigners. Imagine that. Note that you will typically have to pay cash.
3. Drive a stick. If you’re renting a car, you’ll find that in many countries they’ll have manual transmissions. If you need an automatic, you’ll pay considerably more. Maybe it’s time to learn, if you haven’t already.
4. Reserve in advance. Speaking of car rentals, reserve one before you go because you’ll often find when you arrive that prices will be higher for walk-up guests.
5. Hire a driver. I used to work for a car rental company, but I hate getting lost like the blazes. That’s why I often hire a car and driver instead of renting a car. And guess what? In developing countries, it often costs about the same. On our recent trip to Cuba, I discovered it’s actually cheaper to hire a driver than to rent a car yourself. Not only that, but the poor maintenance, potholes and flat tires are their problems, not yours. Also, some drivers can be fun and show you places you wouldn’t find on your own.
6. Use a credit card with no foreign fees. Most credit cards will charge you somewhere around 2.7 percent for the privilege of converting your purchase into dollars. However, some cards don’t charge this fee, including my Hyatt card and the Capital One Venture card. Look at the interest rates, though, if you expect to carry a balance.
7. Buy a rail pass. I love taking trains on vacation. They’re relaxing and a great unhurried way to see scenery and meet locals, but the best deals need to be purchased in advance. This applies to rail passes and individual tickets. Go to Seat61.com to find out about train options available to you.
8. Get out of the tourist district. Want to see other tourists and spend a lot of money? Then stay in the areas frequented by fellow travelers. Just wander a few yards outside though and guess what? The prices drop and you’ll see actual foreign people who are going about their foreign business as if you didn’t exist. In London, I got tired of tromping around old cobblestones, so I went to visit Greenwich and then took the Docklands Light Railway to see the modern skyscrapers. It was a fun ride, just for the price of a commuter ticket, and I got to see more of the city than just the Tower of London.
9. Look for a free walking tour. The new trend in travel is guides who are willing to give you free walking tours of their cities that generally start in a central location. If you like the tour, they expect a tip at the end, but there’s no obligation. This is a way for would-be guides to get around regulations imposed on traditional guide companies since they’re just walking you around for free. Do an online search for your chosen city and “free walking tour” and you’ll find choices popping up. Some common ones include freetoursbyfoot.com and freetour.com but there are plenty of others.
10. Join STA Travel. If you are a student, teacher or college professor, you’re eligible to join STA Travel, which offers discounted travel and services at thousands of locations. I bought one of these for my son after he was too old to get the child’s discount. Book cheap student and teacher flights, hotels, hostels and more. Pay $20 for the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which is recognized at 125,000 locations worldwide. Teachers are also eligible. Read the rules online. Learn more: STAtravel.com or call 800-781-4040
Got a travel tip on how to save money? Send it to me. If I use it, I’ll give you credit. Contact Marla Jo Fisher: firstname.lastname@example.org
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