I love to travel.
It would be friendlier to my wallet if I loved gardening herbs, or distance running, or … pretty much anything else. But for me, there’s nothing like a good view over the Mediterranean, even if it’s thousands of miles — and dollars — from home.
The internet is brimming with money-saving travel tips, and there are some great ones! For instance, you can select your destinations based on a favorable exchange rate. Or you can stalk flight websites to avoid the most expensive days, or manipulate hundreds of thousands of credit card and hotel points.
But you know what they all have in common? They’re work. Work to research, work to track, work to manipulate.
I’ve found my own best strategies to save money while traveling are the easy decisions I make before I ever go. Before pretty much every trip I’ve ever taken, I’ve made the following decisions:
I choose to align my spending with my priorities.
It might sound like I’m hitchhiking across barren desert gnawing on a single allotted apple per day, but in fact, I’m happy to spend money while I travel — as long as it’s on the things I care about.
For instance, in Hvar, Croatia, I shelled out a few hundred extra dollars to extend my stay in a seaside luxury hotel because I couldn’t remember a time in recent history I’d been happier than I was tanning next to the Adriatic. Later on in that same trip, I bought a bus tour over the border into Montenegro, to fulfill a years-long plan of seeing where the beautiful James Bond film Casino Royale was filmed.
Side note: Turns out it was not filmed at the actual Casino Royale. Know that before you take an 8-hour bus tour.
Things I don’t care much about: food, daytime flights, adventurous excursions, clothing, jewelry, posh stores, spas. So I don’t spend much on them.
I choose to hit the grocery store.
If you read the previous point, you might have noticed one of the things I don’t care much about is food. Michelin-starred restaurants hold little appeal to me, and there is no way you’re going to convince me to take two hours out of the sun to eat a sit-down lunch.
I do recognize that many people travel for the food. If that’s you, feel free to vent your derision at the computer or scroll on down to the next point.
But the cool thing about being in another country, or even city, is that a lot of the best food, the food local people eat, isn’t found in those sit-down restaurants. It’s found at the corner store, the street fair, or the grocery store. I’ve never eaten mediocre bread in Italy or Spain. The English Cadbury chocolate you find below every retail counter. And for some reason, European countries always seem to have the best flavors of yogurt.
When I land somewhere new, I plan on hitting the grocery store on day one. That way, I’m set for a handful of delicious, easy, and cheap meals right off the bat.
I choose to travel in shoulder season.
I’ve written before about traveling in “shoulder season,” that season just before and after the high season in your destination.
In the Caribbean, high season is the winter. In most of Europe, it’s the summer. It’s the time when that place is best shown to its advantage, so people go see it.
It’s also the most expensive time to go because the tourism industry knows what’s up.
By choosing to travel six to eight weeks before or after high season, I save money on flights, accommodations, car rentals, and most everything else by making one decision and never thinking about it again.
It seems obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it.
It isn’t the off-season. I’m not going during monsoon season or blizzards. Really, the only difference is a few degrees — a light sweater, or removal thereof.
And the financial benefits are huge.