Travel can open the door to new experiences, foods, and people, all of which can make lasting memories. But before you can start snapping selfies in front of ancient monuments or sampling exotic local cuisine, you’ve got to do some planning.
Aside from packing, booking flights, and choosing an itinerary, you’ll also need to decide how you’ll pay for it all. When you’re caught up in the excitement of heading to lands unknown, it’s easy to forget or overlook the details. That’s especially true if you’re planning a getaway at the last minute.
Having some go-to travel tips in your back pocket can ensure that your next adventure goes off without a hitch (and without breaking the bank). We’ve compiled a list of the smartest travel hacks to help you.
Best tips before you book a flight
Booking flights can be one of the most stressful parts of planning a trip. You want to find a flight that aligns with your travel plans and get an affordable deal on tickets.
We get it. So here’s what we recommend when it’s time to book.
- Look for nearby airports. If you’re not picky about which airline you fly with or what airport you depart from, you can check for deals at airports near you online. Google Flights and Skyscanner are two free tools you can use to explore cheap flights.
- Review flexible dates. You might get a better deal on airline tickets if you can adjust your travel dates. For example, say June through August is the peak season for where you want to go. You might be able to find less expensive flights if you can move your trip up to the shoulder season in September. (Shoulder season is the in-between period after the peak season ends but before the off season begins.)
- Assess extra luggage costs. Aside from the cost of your tickets, it’s also important to consider what you’ll pay to bring your stuff along. Airlines can limit the number of bags you can check for free; anything over might trigger a fee. The same goes for bags that go over maximum weight limits.
- Review the baggage policy. Carrying luggage onboard with you could help you save money on checked bag fees. If you’ve already chosen an airline, it’s a good idea to look at the checked bag policy to see what size bags are acceptable and what you can store in them.
- Know which credit card points you can use. Credit cards can be a huge money-saver if you’ve accumulated points or other rewards that you can apply toward flights or other travel expenses. If you haven’t added up your credit card rewards lately, you may want to do that before you start looking into flights.
Here’s one more tip: review your credit card perks. Some travel cards can offer added benefits, like free checked bags, complimentary airport lounge access, or built-in travel insurance, which can help enhance your travel experience and save you money.
Best tips to travel like a pro
Whether traveling around the country or the world, you want to enjoy yourself. After all, you go on vacations to avoid stress, not bring it with you.
These budget travel tips are designed to help you avoid any speedbumps that could derail your plans.
1. Duplicate important documents
There are certain documents you might need for travel, depending on where you’re going. Making a backup copy of each one can come in handy if your luggage gets lost or misplaced along the way.
Here are some of the most essential travel documents you may want to copy:
- Travel visa
- Travel insurance policy, if you purchased one separately
- Vaccination records, if required for your trip
- Your schedule or itinerary
It’s also wise to keep a copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued ID and passport with you at all times. These documents can be difficult and costly to replace, so you may be better off having them on your person rather than putting them in your luggage. If you’re uncomfortable carrying them in your pocket, you might invest in a waterproof cross-body sling bag or fanny pack that you can easily wear.
2. Travel with minimal luggage
Airlines may charge added fees for checked bags over the allowed limit or overweight bags. Packing fewer items can save you money on airline fees and make getting around easier, too.
For example, say you’re interested in becoming a digital nomad, so you plan a backpacking trip in the Amazon. It wouldn’t make sense to have multiple bags with you. Instead, you’d likely want to limit yourself to just one bag with everything you need for the time you’ll be trekking through the rainforest.
3. Use a card with no foreign transaction fees while traveling
You might be using travel credit cards to cover expenses while you’re away, but bringing along a debit card in case you need to withdraw cash or make purchases can also make sense. However, knowing what fees you might pay to use your card is essential.
For example, your financial institution might charge a foreign transaction fee for international transactions. In terms of how much you might pay, we found that the maximum foreign transaction fee is typically around 3%. Chime doesn’t charge these fees, so be sure to bring your Chime debit card along.1
4. Master basic phrases in the local language
If you’re going to a country you’ve never been to where the native language differs from your own, try to master a few basic phrases and their responses. You don’t need to become an expert in the language, but it may help to be able to say phrases like:
- Do you speak English?
- Where is the bathroom?
- How much does this cost?
- Which way is…?
- I am going to…
- I would like to have…
- Speak slowly, please.
- I don’t understand.
- I need help, please.
- Excuse me.
- Thank you.
There are free resources you can use to learn these phrases. Duolingo, for example, is one of the most popular platforms for learning languages and there’s no cost to join. If you have some money to invest, you might consider a paid language resource like Busuu or Rosetta Stone. You could also look into free language-learning books at your library or free websites.
5. Avoid full-size toiletries in your luggage
You may not be able to think about leaving the house without your favorite moisturizer or shampoo. But full-size bottles can take up a lot of room in your luggage. If the containers get damaged, they could also leak all over your stuff.
Swapping out full-sized containers for smaller bottles can free up space in your bag.
6. Try local food
One of the best parts about traveling is tasting new dishes from each place you visit. What you might consider odd or unusual at home might be a delicacy somewhere else, but you will only know if you like it or not if you try it.
If you’re looking for the best cafes or restaurants nearby, you can check out a local travel guide written by someone who’s visited the area. There are also travel apps that offer restaurant recommendations.
But don’t stop there: some of the best places to eat might be hidden gems you’re overlooking. Local markets, for example, are often populated by vendors selling delicious street food if you’re willing to seek them out. If you’ve mastered enough of the language, you can also try chatting up locals to find out where the best food is.
7. Plan your outfits in advance
This travel tip can save you time, so you’re not scrambling to decide what to wear. Instead, you can plan out daily outfits based on the weather and temperatures you expect to encounter.
If you bring limited clothing, look for a hotel or other lodging with on-site laundry facilities. And if you’re going somewhere that tends to experience temperature swings throughout the day, dress in layers. Layering allows you to take clothes off (or put them back on) to stay comfortable regardless of the changing temperature.
8. Seek advice from locals
Local residents can be the best resource for exploring a new area. After all, they likely know the best places for sightseeing, dining, or recreation. You’ll want to learn some of those basic phrases mentioned earlier to speak comfortably to residents if there’s a language barrier.
Also, think twice before using your hands or face to articulate if your words aren’t getting across. Certain hand gestures you might be used to making at home could be considered rude in other countries.
9. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen
Sunscreen is a must if you’re going to be spending time outside while traveling. As with other toiletries, you may want to choose smaller, travel-sized containers that can fit into your luggage or bag.
Remember to reapply your sunscreen. Even if you’re not dipping in the ocean or lounging poolside, you could still sweat it off, leaving your skin vulnerable to sunburn.
10. Keep a lock with you
While you might be traveling light, protecting the things you’re taking with you on your trip is essential. Keep a suitcase lock on hand to help secure your possessions at the airport, hotel, or out and about.
11. Use lunchtime to visit historic places
Planning a trip to a popular destination could have you fighting the crowds every step of the way. If you plan to see the sights, waiting until lunchtime can help you avoid getting caught in the rush. While everyone else is grabbing a bite, you can explore with some room to breathe.
Aside from lunchtime, you could go very early in the day or later in the evening to avoid crowds. You’ll just need to know the opening and closing times for the places you want to see.
Also, note that there may be periodic closures during prayer hours if you want to visit a religious site, like a mosque.
Best tips if you're traveling on a budget
Being on a budget can make planning for travel a little more challenging, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck couchsurfing all the time. These travel tips are simple and budget-friendly, so you can keep spending to a minimum.
- Travel light. The less you bring along, the less you might pay in baggage fees. And you don’t have as much to keep up with, leaving you free to focus on enjoying the trip.
- Don’t (always) fly direct. Taking a direct flight to your destination might be the fastest option, but it’s not always the cheapest. You could save money by booking one or more connecting flights to other cities along the way. It may take you a little longer to get where you’re going, but that might be worth it if you reduce the airfare cost.
- Look for free walking tours. Walking tours allow you to stretch your legs and experience the local area you’re visiting up close. If you’re on a budget, you might consider taking a free walking tour and skipping the paid options.
- Stay in a hostel. Hostels can be substantially cheaper than hotels, especially if you’re booking a shared room. If you don’t mind skipping some of the perks hotels offer, consider choosing a hostel for accommodations to save money.
- Look for flight sales and deals. Flight prices change constantly, and if you’ve got a small budget to work with, it pays to be on the lookout for deals. You can use Skyscanner or Google Flights to track inexpensive flight options.
- Book your trip in advance. Waiting until the last minute to book travel could cost you if it limits your choices on flights or hotels. Planning early gives you time to scout out deals on airfare, lodging, and other travel expenses.
- Use public transportation. Booking a rental car is one way to get around a new city but can be expensive. Taking public transportation – a bus, subway, taxi, tram, or ferry – could be the cheaper bet.
- Bring your own water bottle. Drinking plenty of water is a must if you spend hours walking around, especially in warmer climates. Instead of buying bottled water everywhere you go, you might save money by bringing a refillable water bottle.
- Stop in at cafes or libraries with free WiFi. If you need to get online while traveling, you can probably find options for tapping into free WiFi. Libraries and restaurants, for example, may offer free WiFi access, though keep in mind that a cafe might expect you to buy something to use it.
- Consider house-sitting if that’s an option. House sitting is an unconventional way to save on travel, but it’s worth considering if you don’t mind living temporarily in someone else’s space. As a house sitter, you could get paid to water plants, take care of pets, or check the mail while the homeowner is away, and you get a free place to stay.
Planning a trip doesn't have to be a headache
Whether solo or with a group, traveling can be a fantastic experience. Taking time to prepare can help you work out any wrinkles so that you’re not stressed while away.
These budget-friendly travel tips can help you save on flights, but what if you’re planning a road trip? In that case, you’ll want to check out our best tips for saving on gas.
What time should you book your flight?
The best time to book a flight is once you’ve finalized your travel plans and are certain that they won’t change, particularly if you’re purchasing nonrefundable tickets. There’s no specific time of day that might be better to try and reserve seats, as airfare prices can fluctuate at any time. Wednesday is usually the cheapest day to fly, with fares as much as $100 lower compared to other days of the week.2
How far in advance should you book your flight?
The best time to book airfare is around 70 days before your trip in most cases. The exact time frame for booking flights can depend on where you plan to go, how confident you are that you’ve found the best deal on airfare, and whether you think your plans might change at the last minute.2
Using apps to track flight prices can make it easier to choose your timing. If you want to use rewards earned with credit cards to pay for travel, planning in advance can give you a larger window to rack up points or miles.
How much should you budget for holiday travel?
The amount you should budget for holiday travel depends on where you’re traveling to, how you plan to get there and back, where you’ll be staying, and what you plan to do while you’re away. Researching budget travel tips, including looking into how you might be able to save money with travel credit cards, can help you prepare for your next trip.