I just finished my first block of exams this semester, and I’m already looking forward to my next escape from the US (3.5 months!). Since I finally have time to think about something other than working out and studying, here are a few tips for pinching pennies while traveling!
Tips for Budget Travelers
- Figure out what your bank/credit card company charges for foreign transactions and withdrawls from foreign ATM machines
- Pay attention to exit and entry taxes. Charges in customs can add up! Also, ask for a receipt. Sometimes employees will tack on a “surcharge” that goes in their own pockets. A receipt can prevent this practice.
- Take public transportation! It’s a fraction of the price and a great way to get integrated into local culture.
- Get the most updated guidebook for a country. Prices for recommended hotels, restaurants and travel options change all the time so you’re less likely to be surprised if you have a current edition.
- Be careful when exchanging money. Look up the exchange rate online and shop around. As a rule, banks offer the best rate. I’ve also had good luck with money changers at the border if you bargain. Airports tend to be a rip off. As long as the surcharge is resonable, ATMs are also good.
- Eat off the main path. Comedors and small local run places give a ton of food for a great value.
- Travel with earplugs. You’ll stand a much better chance of getting a good night’s sleep in that noisy dorm or budget hotel overlooking a busy street.
- Learn a few phrases in the native language to help your bargaining skills. My favorite was learning to say “Ana abuya Masry” which means “I have an Egyptian father.” Being blonde and blue eyed, I don’t look very Egyptian so this always got a laugh when we were shopping at the marketplace.
- Don’t fall in love with an item. The ability to walk away from something increases your negotiating power. Be willing to call the shopkeeper’s bluff. In any case, you can always return later and say you changed your mind!
- Don’t buy a Fodor’s guidebook. I tried Fodor’s on my trip to Central America and was dismayed by they budget offerings. They actually suggested that flying to one of our destinations was our only option when a public bus could get us there in about 6 hours for a few bucks. I love Rough Guide and of course the Lonely Planet series is a close second.
- Love Chinese Food. Always bottom dollar and enough to split with a friend or save some for later. I’ve had cheap Chinese food everywhere, from London to Belize.
- Run. Running is a great (free) way to see your destination. And burn off all that Chinese food!