Traveling abroad can be a life-enhancing experience. Exploring other cultures, getting lost in beautiful museums, or just kicking back on the beach takes you out of your routine. But – let’s be real – the joy of that experience is lost if it drains your bank account.
Luckily, saving money on your next big trip abroad isn’t hard. With a little planning, you can see the world without breaking your budget.
Check out these 7 tips to keep costs in check for your next international trip.
Try Alternatives to Expensive Hotels
At this point, we’ve all heard of Airbnb. But have you ever considered a home exchange or house sitting? A home exchange entails swapping houses with someone in another country or location. It allows you both to see new places while avoiding lodging costs. You’ll also be able to save money on food by cooking in a kitchen and eliminate laundry costs as you may have access to a free washing machine and dryer.
My mom has taken advantage of this travel method for over a decade. In fact, for her first home exchange, she swapped two-weeks at our Cape Cod home for two-weeks in a Paris apartment. This created a lifelong friendship. My mother met her exchange family on Home Exchange, a website that allows you to list your home for potential exchange and communicate with those interested in a house swap.
Twelve years later, my mom still travels to France for a few weeks each summer. She now cat sits for the same family in exchange for staying in their home. I’ll let you in on her little secret – cats are pretty self-sufficient.
Use a Card With No Foreign Transaction Fees
Here’s a tip: try not to pay money to spend your money. An easy way to live by this rule is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
These fees can indeed add up as the standard international transaction fee at major banks is three percent, often with additional ATM fees. To avoid these charges, try to get a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees before you take off on your trip.
Even if you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, you should also make sure you have a plan in place to access cash while you’re away. Why? Those beautiful flower markets in Paris or a busy bazaar in Istanbul won’t take your AmEx. So, make sure you carry a debit card with no foreign transaction or ATM fees. Chime Bank, which offers the Chime Visa Debit Card, has no fees at all. Not only this, but you can actually use your Chime card to start saving up for your trip before you leave. By enrolling in Chime’s Automatic Savings program, you’ll save money every time you make a purchase on your debit card. How? Chime rounds up your transactions and transfers the amount directly into your Savings account.
Find Deals to Save Money on Tourist Attractions
Museums and popular sites with high entrance fees aren’t the only way to experience a city. Get out and walk around your new surroundings. Explore small shops, have a picnic in a local park, and people watch.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to use free entertainment guides to find cultural events and free activities. TimeOut, for example, offers up-to-date cultural activities for over 20 cities, including free options, like this tourism guide for London. These guides often include outdoor concerts, parades, or free entrance nights at museums and art shows.
If you also want to visit popular tourist attractions, be sure to look for deals. For example, London Pass, HIPPO Singapore Pass, and I amsterdam City Card offer steep discounts if you plan to see multiple attractions, while still giving you the flexibility to set and change your schedule.
Get Around for Less With Public Transportation
Most tourists choose to take taxis or ride shares around foreign cities. It is the simplest way to get from point A to point B without getting lost. But taxis get expensive fast. Instead, you can save big by familiarizing yourself with a city’s public transportation system before you visit.
In London, for example, Taxi Fare Finder estimates it would cost you $20.17 to take a taxi from Big Ben to The Tower of London. Yet, it would cost only about $3.30 if you took the Underground.
You can even save more on public transportation by adding a transport pass to a city tourism package, like the ones mentioned above. Barcelona’s City Pass from Turbopass, for example, costs $97 for two days and includes an unlimited public transportation pass that would cost $24 if purchased separately. This is a great deal as your transport pass is paired with free admission to more than 20 tourist sites with skip-the-line entry, a pass for the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour, transportation from the airport, maps, and more.
Check Out Restaurants Locals Recommend
Restaurants in major tourist destinations often jack up prices and fill menus with Americanized options. This may be best for business, but it isn’t great for your wallet or taste buds. Instead, wander outside of tourist areas and look for local hot spots.
Save on Cell Phone Costs
Failing to prepare to use your cell phone while overseas can lead to sticker shock when your next bill comes in.
To plan ahead, ask your cell phone provider for information on global plans. You may be able to add this service for just a month. Another option is to have your cell phone unlocked. A locked phone can only work with one carrier, but an unlocked phone can pick up signals from other carriers. This means you may be able to purchase a SIM card for a local cell service provider for $10 to $50 on Amazon, depending on where you are traveling.
If you can’t unlock your phone or add a global plan, be sure to lean on text and voice apps using free Wi-Fi, such as WhatsApp and Facebook messaging.
Set (and Keep!) a Budget
Whenever you’re preparing to travel, be sure to create a budget. Incorporate spending money for transportation, food, lodging, experiences, and souvenirs. Then check in on your travel savings account regularly as you plan your activities. This will ensure that you stay on track.
With a little planning, the confidence to stay away from tourist traps, and a no-fee bank account, you can make room for foreign travel in your budget. Bon Voyage!