Vacations aren’t cheap, but there are ways to save big money while you’re away. All it takes is a little effort before you leave. Here are six ways make your next trip easier on your wallet.
Check an extra bag and save
If you know you’re going to have a lot of luggage, consider paying an extra $20 up front for permission to check a second bag. If you don’t, and you get to the airport and find your first bag is over the 50-lb limit, you could end up paying $20 for every extra pound.
Bid for cheap flights and hotels
Consider using travel auction sites like Hotwire.com and Priceline.com for your next holiday. When our features editor needed to travel from Toronto to Vancouver, she went to Priceline.com and bid on flights from Buffalo to Seattle (your departure must originate in the States, so she drove across the border to both U.S. cities). She got an amazing deal, and was able to save more than $3,000 on return flights for her and her husband. She also booked her hotel through Priceline, snagging a four-star hotel in downtown Seattle for less than half price.
Book a vacation home for free
How does 100%-free accommodation for your next vacation sound? Then consider a house-swap service. Paid exchanges, such as Homesforexchange.com and Ihen.com, and free services, such as Craigslist and Airbnb.com, allow you to search for suitable homes in the city you’re visiting. To ensure a good experience, plan early and communicate often with the prospective house-swapper. Email pictures, talk on the phone, and go with your gut. Many people who try the service love it and do it again and again, saving thousands on every trip.
Buy a local cell card
Want to use your cell phone while on vacation? If you have a GSM phone you can save big by swapping out the SIM card from your Canadian service provider and replacing it with a SIM card from a local carrier in the country you’re visiting. By doing so in Paris, for instance, you could reduce your cost from $2 a minute to 20 cents a minute. Most Canadian providers currently ‘lock’ their phones to work with the original Canadian network. But for $50 you can now get your phone unlocked, either at your provider, or at a mobile specialty store.
Avoid airport exchange kiosks
Not only do currency exchange booths charge high fees, but they offer terrible exchange rates and pocket the difference. Here’s how much it would cost you in Canadian dollars to withdraw 1,000 Euros through the most common exchange methods:
Exchange at your local bank: $1,359
Put the purchase on a credit card: $1,373
Use an ATM in Europe: $1,376
Use a foreign exchange kiosk: $1,416
Source: Oanda.com, Exchange rate as of March 1, 2011.
Research the local specialty
Kathy Borrus, a former merchandise manager for the Smithsonian Museum and the author of The Fearless Shopper, suggests spending a bit of time researching your vacation destination for the best deals before you leave. “A lot of countries have their own specialties, and you get the best value when you find the artisans that make this specialty.” Her suggestions include buying silver in Mexico, precious metals in India, garnets in Prague, pearls in Thailand, silk in China, ceramic in France or Spain, and leather in Italy.
Originally published in MoneySense Magazine in April 2011