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6 frugal travel hacks

How to travel without breaking the bank

When you get an opportunity to visit one of your bucket list destinations, how can you say no? If only those opportunities were followed by someone telling you “And it’s all expenses paid!” Unless you’ve miraculously won some sweepstakes, it’s up to you to find a way to have the best time ever on a budget you can afford.

I know that’s easier said than done. Believe me, I really know. In the same month, I got opportunities to visit New York City and San Francisco. Both bucket list trips, and both two of the most expensive cities in the U.S. to visit. I didn’t want to pass either of them up because they both seemed like once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Then again, I also didn’t want to come home and have a credit card balance to deal with.

So, here are some of my tried-and-true frugal travel hacks that I always implement to ensure I have a blast without breaking the bank. Try them out for yourself, you’ll be happy you did!

1. Do your research to find deals on airfare and accommodation

I can’t remember the last time I booked a flight or hotel without going through a deal site like Expedia, Kayak or Trivago. Why would I when I can save anywhere from 20 – 50 percent on airfare and accommodations just by doing some research and finding the best deal?

If doing hours of online deal hunting isn’t your ideal scenario, then I highly recommend doing just a bit of research, then using that data to help you work with a travel agent. I must preface that not all travel agencies work the same. However, the best ones (in my opinion) are those who work on commission, meaning there is no extra cost to you.

This is actually something my husband and I tested out when we wanted to book a week-long vacation to Mexico this past winter. We did a ton of research online, but couldn’t pull the trigger and decide where to stay and what airline to use. So, we called a reputable travel agent and they found us a travel package similar in price to what we found online. They were able to offer us some savvy travel tips, get us a room upgrade, and take care of the admin work. All without us having to pay them any extra fees outside of our travel package.

2. Do like the locals do and take public transit to get around

You may be enticed to rent a car for your trip, but really think about whether you need one (if you’re staying in the city, you probably don’t). You should also be asking yourself if you really need to hail a cab or use Uber or Lyft every time you need to get from A to B (also, the answer is probably no). Here’s a crazy idea … do like the locals do and use that city’s public transit system instead! Most major cities have amazing transit systems that will rarely put you back more than $10 per day.

As a real-life example, for my New York City trip, I took an Uber from Harlem to Midtown. That Uber trip cost me $50. For one trip! For the rest of my stay, I either walked or took the subway. I even took the subway and bus to the airport when heading home. How much did all of those trips on public transit cost me for two full days? $20. I rest my case.

3. Use coupons and take advantage of excursion packages 

Whenever I’m about to book an excursion, like going to a museum or doing an adventure day, I always make sure to see if there is a coupon, promo code, or special deal offered through CityPass, Groupon or Costco. You wouldn’t believe the deals that are out there for the taking if you just take some extra time to plan and book in advance!

4. Don’t waste your money on breakfast or lunch

This might be the opposite advice you may get from other frugal travel hackers, but let me explain. Yes, breakfast and lunch are in general way cheaper than dinner. If you plan on going out for a meal, you could absolutely save money by eating out for breakfast and/or lunch, then going to the grocery store and making something yourself for dinner.

But be honest with yourself, are you really going to pass up dinner in a city you’ve always dreamed of visiting? Unlikely. Instead, just do the reverse. Go to the grocery store to prep your own breakfast and lunch, or just eat on the cheap for those meals (i.e., to-go sandwich shop, street meat). If you’re going to splurge a little, make it count!

5. Get a roaming phone package

If you’re travelling outside the country, don’t forget about phone fees! Most likely, you’ll be using your phone’s data to look up maps and reviews, and without a special travel phone plan, you could be spending hundreds of dollars on data fees and roaming charges without even knowing it. Before you go on your trip, contact your cellphone provider and ask about their travel phone plans. You may be surprised how affordable they are and can be installed within minutes.

6. Use credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees

You may not even be aware that your credit card is charging you foreign transaction fees when you’re abroad, but most credit cards do. Why it’s important to know is because those fees can be upward of 3 percent on each transaction. That’s a lot of money! So, before deciding on what credit card to bring on your travels, double check if your credit will charge you foreign transaction fees. If it will, it might be worth it to apply for a credit card that won’t.