One of the great money-wasters of all time is not knowing the details of your credit card before you leave town. Most major credit card companies charge a foreign transaction free of 2-5% on any charge made internationally. Call your credit card company before you go away — fees change often, and you don’t want to be stuck charging the bulk of your trip on a card with hefty fees. See “6 Tips for Charging Your Travels” for more information.
Avoiding hotel Web sites
Checking online booking engines for hotel deals is a good idea, but it’s also wise to check the Web sites of your favorite hotels. The major hotel chains quite often have last-minute discounts, and because they’re not paying a middleman (the consolidators), they sometimes have better deals than the travel sites.
Traveling only during high season
Consider visiting your destination during off-season periods (November through March for many parts of Europe, and September through December for the Caribbean). This is a sure-fire way to avoid crowds and high prices. And remember, too, that hotels are hungry for business in the “off” season, so this is when you’ll find the best room discounts. It’s true that you might get some rainy days in Europe, and in the Caribbean the threat of hurricanes is always real, but not every year is a ‘cane year, and you’ll be shocked by the savings.
Renting cars instead of using trains and buses
The idea of hitting the open road with nothing but a map and a keen sense of adventure sounds great, at least until you go to fill up the gas tank and are stunned by how much it costs. Or until you return the car to the agency and discover there’s a hidden fee for returning the car 4.5 hours early. You can get around the agita of renting cars by using trains and buses — these days you’ll find sophisticated transportation systems just about anywhere, and rail passes can save you money on multi-destination trips because you know in advance how much you’ll be spending — there are no hidden fees. If Europe is your destination, see The Skinny on Eurail Passes. Click here for information on rail and bus service in Asia.
By not considering alternatives to hotels
The hardest part of organizing a trip is figuring out where to stay. Most travelers opt to stay somewhere cheap. But cheap isn’t always safe or practical. Why not consider renting a home or villa? It’s not as pricey as you’d think, and you get the luxury of space as well as privacy. One of our far-flung correspondents priced an 18th-century townhouse in Edinburgh, a seaside flat in Puerto Rico, and a castle in France — all for $750 per week (in low season). For more info, check out Unusual Budget Accommodations.
Eating in pricey restaurants
Many travelers make a habit of eating in expensive restaurants night after night because they think it’s the best way to authentically experience their destination. Big mistake. Do it once, but not every night, otherwise those $150 meals start to add up. Just as bad are the expensive cafes offering $4 and $5 cups of coffee. Have several of those every day and before you know it you’ve spent $100 on caffeine, which you can usually get free at the hotel. Here’s a money-saving tip: Make lunch the main meal of the day. That way you’ll avoid the pricier dinner hour. Or if you’re traveling in summer, purchase the makings for a picnic each day from nearby supermarkets.
Ignoring budget restraints
Nothing can put a damper on euphoric holiday afterglow quite like seeing your credit card bill when you get home. “How did I end up spending so much money?” you whine while surmising the bill. You can mitigate credit-card shock by censoring that little voice in the back of your head that convinces you to indulge in every little unnecessary purchase. The rule of thumb on expenditures should be to ask yourself if you’d buy that item at home. If you wouldn’t buy it at home, why buy it on vacation?
Not knowing your destination
There are several things you should know about your destination before the plane lands:
*Is there a city pass that allows access to major sights and museums at a discount (like the Go Card in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco);
*Is there a transportation pass (like London’s Oyster Card) that can be purchased with pre-loaded amounts good for 5 to 7 days on subways and buses;
*What are the free days at the museums you want to visit (most museums have them);
*Where is your hotel in relation to your selected attractions and restaurants? Taking cabs in most cities — especially in Europe — will cost you a fortune. Learn the bus and subway routes in advance to save time and money.
To learn about city and transportation passes, consult the official Web site of your destination (most cities have a convention and visitors bureau or a tourist agency). These sites also contain useful information on getting around town, promotional discounts at restaurants and hotels, and more.