Travel can often go one of two major ways: fun and exhilarating, or frustrating and exhausting.
As to which camp a trip falls under often depends on a few key factors, but perhaps none of them are more critical than money.
The thrill of a great deal, the terrible or unwanted surprise of a budget-busting expense or hidden fee, the confidence in knowing that you got the most for your money: finding ways to save on travel can make even the best experience better.
Here are 49 ways to save some cash the next time you hit the road.
1. Be prepared to get it home
It can be fun to shop in a new place, but don’t forget it all has to get home somehow. Most airlines now have fees in place for extra or overweight bags, which can make that deal you couldn’t turn down an expensive hassle.
Some stores offer shipping on goods purchased, but be sure to pay with a credit card and have a receipt. Shipping it yourself is also an option for some bulkier items, but planning ahead will ensure you don’t waste money on transportation.
2. Know when to haggle
Outside of major purchases, like cars and houses, Americans are used to paying the sticker price. Haggling, however, is much more common outside the United States. For best results, ask if the listed price is the best price and see how the merchant reacts — you may be able to score a better deal.
3. Don’t forget about custom duties when shopping internationally
In the U.S., there is a cap on how much can be brought back without paying customs duties. The exemptions vary based on the country and the duration of the trip, ranging from $200 to as much as $1,600. Other countries run about $800 duty-free, with a 3 percent duty on the next $1,000.
Make sure to review U.S. Customs and Border Protection for prohibited items and exceptions, as they can vary widely.
4. Budget what you’re willing to spend ahead of time
If you’re traveling on a budget, the last thing you want to do is blow it all at the gift shop. Keep the money you plan to spend separated from the rest of your finances — it’ll save you from budget-busting temptation.
5. Plan ahead
Hotel rates go up around holidays, festivals, major sporting events and other in-demand times. Check the calendar before you book any accommodation to make sure you’re not paying high prices for an event you’re not even attending.
6. Read cancellation policies
Depending on the chain or the booking services, cancellation policies can vary wildly. Some services will allow free cancellation within a certain amount of time before the stay, while others may have fees equal to one night’s stay, and others still may have no refunds.
Booking services like KAYAK often combine multiple travel services, so if you searched through them, you may have bought with someone else.
7. Membership benefits
Some hotel chains offer discounted rates for members of AAA or AARP, while many others have loyalty programs that reward travelers for staying within their ecosystem regularly. It is often a good idea to call a hotel directly and see what kind of discount or loyalty deals they offer, especially for frequent travelers.
8. Credit Card Rewards
Many hotel chains have partnered with credit card issuers for travel and reward credit cards. Some cards may give a major sign-up bonus that can be parlayed into a vacation, while others have special perks such as free upgrades or free nights.
9. Avoid peak travel times
On ridesharing services Uber and Lyft, the time of day you call for a ride can impact the price you pay. Referred to as ‘surge pricing’ on Uber or ‘peak hours’ on Lyft, travel rates increase when demand is high, such as after a special event or during rush hour.
Surge rates can often disappear as quickly as they begin, so if you have the time to wait for the surge to go down, it’s often worth avoiding doubling or quadrupling your fare.
10. Only use authorized vehicles
A legal taxi will often have distinctive markings, phone numbers, and drivers usually have identification and meters clearly visible. If it doesn’t feel right, get out.
11. Call ahead versus hailing a taxi
In places like Las Vegas, a taxi stand may be located right outside the hotel, while in other places, the front desk will often know who the reputable providers are and can help you organize transportation. Taxi stands are also common at hotels, sporting events, or theme parks.
12. Know where you’re going
While consumer protect ion laws are enforced in some areas to prevent taxi and rideshare drivers from manipulating passengers and hiking fares, checking out a map or GPS service such as Google Maps before your ride can help you detect driver scams.
Do your homework about fees
13. Some resorts have fees that are not included in the base rate, including resort fees, WiFi usage fees, or daily parking fees. For instance, Walt Disney World in Orlando and many of the resorts on the Las Vegas Strip now charge daily fees for parking. To avoid a nasty surprise later on, do your research. Call the resort and ask about fees, or visit their website for a breakdown of them.
14. Know peak season
It’s a basic rule of supply and demand: the more people that want something, the more it will cost. Tropical destinations will be more expensive in the winter when northern parts of the U.S. and Canada are covered in snow. Popular tourist destinations like Disney or Universal Studios can be busiest and more expensive when kids are out of school. Often called the shoulder season, planning a trip in the fall can save you a lot of money.
15. Inclusions matter
Price tag fixation may end up costing you more money. While a lower price tag is attractive, sometimes higher priced resorts include free perks and inclusions that may otherwise run up your bill. For example, some resorts may include alcohol and airport transportation in their daily rate, while others may charge an additional fee for these options.
16. Bring what you might need
One resort downside is the high markup on little things you may forget such as toiletries or over-the-counter medications. That heartburn could get a lot worse when you see the price tag in the resort gift shop for that bottle of antacid — try to make a list and pack accordingly to cut down on these costs.
Food while traveling
17. Read the fine print
Breakfast in bed at your resort may sound like a wonderful idea, but make sure to read the fine print on that menu. While most hotels list prices and menu items together, they may also charge a delivery fee that could add an additional 20 percent or more to your final bill. Ordering from an in-resort restaurant and picking it up yourself may help you avoid the most expensive elevator ride you’ve ever paid for.
18. Big lunch over big dinner
Many restaurants have both a lunch and a dinner menu, and the lunch menus can often be a good way to get the same food for less money, just often at the cost of a slightly smaller portion. Eating a larger lunch can mean getting a lighter and less costly dinner later in the day.
19. Eat local
Services like Yelp and TripAdvisor can help you eat like the locals eat — both avoiding tourists and the high prices that follow them. If all else fails, ask the locals where they like to eat out.
20. Be safe when eating abroad
When eating in a new place, especially abroad, food can cause illness if you’re not vigilant. Saving money on a trip is moot if the whole trip is spent sick in the hotel room, or worse, a hospital. The FDA recommends avoiding raw or undercooked foods and tap water – especially in developing countries. It isn’t that the food is less safe than what you eat at home, it’s that your body isn’t accustomed to it.
21. Figure out what you need
The type of travel insurance you buy should depend on what you’re doing. The longer and more complex the trip, the higher the risk of complications from travel delays or lost bags. Or if there’s a possibility of having to cancel parts of all of a trip, travel insurance can help recoup those costs.
22. Check what your health insurance will cover outside the country
For older travelers, Medicare generally does not cover health care when outside the country. Even in domestic cases, some travelers may find themselves out of their usual insurance network. Both of these situations can be expensive if an issue comes up while traveling. Countries labeled “at-risk” by the U.S. State Department may also not be covered by traditional insurance. Medical insurance plans for travel can shore up any gaps in your insurance.
23. Shop around
Like with any other type of insurance, shopping around for the best deal and coverage option is important. Aggregators like Insure My Trip allow for comparing insurance plans to find the right coverage for your travel needs.
24. Are you already covered?
Find out what you’re covered for already. Some credit cards carry protections for lost baggage, flight cancellations or damage to a rental car if you make the purchases using that card. Read your cardholder agreements to see what protections your cards offer.
Currency Exchange Rate
25. Use a credit card with no or low foreign transaction fees
Whenever possible, try to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. Read your credit card agreement to see if your card has a fee, typically they run about 3 percent. That means 3 percent tacked on to the bill – and what’s worse is you won’t get any rewards points or miles on those fees. Use Bankrate’s credit card shopping tool to find the best cards with no foreign transaction fees.
26. Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion
Some retailers give international travelers the option to see prices in U.S. Dollars versus the local currency, called Dynamic Currency Conversion. When they do this, the merchant gets to set the exchange rate. These rates are often unfavorable — and you may still be charged for the foreign transaction fee on top of it.
27. If you need cash, plan ahead
Don’t use those airport or hotel currency exchange desks – while the rates may be posted on a big board, the fees aren’t. Instead, find out if your bank has any international partnerships that will allow for fee-free ATM usage. If that isn’t an option, call your local bank about an exchange before you leave. The fees will be lower and you can rest assured that you have cash before you go.
28. Don’t swipe that credit card at an ATM
This isn’t any different than using your credit card for cash at a domestic ATM (already a bad idea), just more expensive. Using your credit cards for cash accrues a lot of interest – often at a higher rate than purchases – from the moment you withdraw the money. That doesn’t account for the local ATM fees, or any cash advance or currency exchange fees you may also get charged with.
29. Know what matters to you when traveling
Plane fare is rarely the only cost associated with air travel. Some airlines, like Spirit or Frontier, offer extra low fares, but have fees for everything from carry-on luggage to printing a boarding pass to drinks on the plane. If you’re the type of traveler who needs to check a bag, or wants a seat with more legroom, know what you want in a fare before you book, or risk paying more later.
30. Airports matter
If there are multiple airports in the city you’re traveling to, it’s well worth it to shop around and look at all possible options. For instance, when flying to Los Angeles, be sure to also look at options to fly into nearby airports in Burbank or Long Beach, especially if you’re renting a car anyway. Tools like Skyscanner can help view multiple airports and options at once.
31. Be flexible
If you can manage it, be flexible with when you want to fly. Flying mid-week or during less popular travel times can make a huge difference as those flights are often in lower demand. This can also benefit in other areas, such as hotels and car rentals, as if there’s less demand for air travel, there probably is for accommodations too.
32. Points, points, points
Once again, it pays to be loyal. Signing up for a loyalty or frequent flyer program, or a credit card connected with an airline can get you some extra perks and cheaper flights.
Traveling with kids
33. Consider buying passes over tickets
If you’re traveling with a family and hitting the theme park, it is often cheaper to eschew the day pass for a season or annual pass. For example, a ticket to a single Disney park for a single day is now over $100, while an annual pass gives unlimited access to all parks, can give discounts on food and merchandise and free parking and can pay for itself after just a few days. And some theme parks also offer monthly payment options with no additional interest, easing the initial sticker shock.
34. Bring what you can
Paying for snacks and drinks over the course of a trip can add up, big time. For those traveling with a family, bring water bottles or pack lunches when possible. Even for those flying, plan ahead by checking out local grocery stores.
35. Hotel with room to save
Traveling with kids can mean picky eaters. Look for larger hotel rooms or vacation homes that are more likely to have refrigerators and kitchens allowing for home cooked meals.
36. Off-season travel
If you can afford to pull your kids out of school for a few days, avoiding summer and holiday breaks can mean huge savings on travel and hotel costs. It can also result in a less crowded experience at popular tourist destinations such as theme parks or national parks.
37. Scour for bargains
If you know where you’re headed, be sure to look around for deals on activities and destinations. Sites like Groupon and Entertainment could yield some great unexpected deals. Alternatively, plan ahead and check for purchase specials that m ay pop up for the places you want to visit.
38. Look out for free stuff
Search local newspapers and websites in your destination area to find upcoming entertainment options that don’t cost a thing, like weekday outdoor concerts, local farmers markets, and free admission festivals.
39. Find the combo deals
Many cities offer sightseeing packages that allow access to multiple tourist destinations for a certain amount of time. With some options, you can even get faster entry and skip the line.
40. Membership matters
Some membership programs such as AAA and AARP will offer discounts on things such as show or theme park tickets. Some credit card programs also have special deals and booking assistance as well or give extra reward points.
41. Drink Packages
Buying drinks on a cruise is a quick way to run up your bill. Some cruise lines over a daily all-you-can-drink package for both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks that’s well worth the money. Just be sure to read the fine print as some options may have stipulations that require the full cabin buy in or limits access to top-shelf drinks.
Depending on the cruise line, some will allow passengers to bring non-alcoholic drinks on-board, meaning a trip to the grocery store on the way to the port for a case of soda or bottled water can yield huge savings.
43. Pick your cabin
Inside cabins are often cheaper than ones with a view. Odds are, you won’t be spending much time in your cabin in the first place, so if you don’t need an expansive balcony, don’t pay for it.
44. Last-minute deals
If you know you want to go on a cruise, and you have your passport and everything you need already, sometimes last minute deals can be a bargain way to go, especially for off-peak season travel. Watch cruise line social media accounts and signing up for cruise line mailing lists for good deal options when they come available.
45. Know how much skiing you plan to do
Lift tickets are a vital, and sometimes very expensive, part of a ski trip. Half-day lift tickets can save you a ton of money if you’re only planning on making a few runs on arrival or departure day. Alternatively, consider multi-day tickets if making a longer trip. For more frequent skiers, a season pass can be the best way to get multiple trips — or one long one — for a good deal.
46. Advance rentals
For those who don’t have their own equipment, consider renting the equipment in advance as some resorts allow advance booking. In other cases, rent from somewhere off the mountain. For example, if you’re skiing in Vail but flying to Denver, rent your equipment while in Denver to avoid the captive pricing that resorts often stick tourists with.
47. Consider off-brand hills
The big resorts may be glitzy and full of all of great amenities, but for someone looking to ski for less – less money, less time, less crowds – consider looking away from the mega-resorts for some lesser known mountains. Sometimes, as in the case of Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, they’re still not far from those more familiar destinations and can be combined into an already existing trip to a more expensive mountain.
48. Ease of travel
Nearly by definition, ski resorts and slopes are going to be far away from the city. Resort airports can be more convenient, but remember – demand drives prices. After all, there’s not much skiing to do in July. Instead, consider flying to a major airport and just drive the rest of the way.
49. Know your phone plan
Check with your cellular service provider before traveling anywhere outside your usual network. In some cases, a new SIM card or international calling plan are needed to avoid mega roaming fees.