When you are traveling, being spontaneous can be exciting. Becoming liberated from your day-to-day routine can feel very refreshing. However, such impulsive actions are almost always coupled with spending more money. By planning ahead, you cannot only leave your conscience a little more at ease since you know where you’ll be sleeping that night. Making plans in advance can also save you big bucks. If you’re on a budget, here are ten simple ways to plan ahead and make less of a dent in your wallet:
1. Rent an apartment ahead of time
There are many perks of staying at a vacation rental instead of a hotel. One of them is definitely saving money. Whether it is a studio, a four or five bedroom condo or an entire villa, vacation rentals are usually priced well below the usual hotel rates. It is common to rent by week and the weekly rate will often equal a three or four night stay at a hotel or resort with comparable amenities, according to arrangeyourvacation.com. Vacation rentals thus frequently offer much higher value than the typical hotel room. If you book in advance, you can score further deals as the prices haven’t skyrocketed just yet.
2. Picking the right neighborhood
It’s amazing how much of a difference a neighborhood can make. Cheap Hotels just released their most recent report, in which they compared 2 and 2.5 star hotels in the 30 most popular travel destinations in the United States. The results revealed significant differences in rates. In New York’s Times Square area, budget hotels averaged $225 a night while Long Island averaged only $135. Budget hotels in L.A.’s top beach cities – Santa Monica and Marina del Rey – averaged $175 while L.A.’s Downtown district offered rates of just $90 a night.
The exact same trends that occur with hotel prices apply to rentals, too. Thus, when you are looking at rentals abroad, check not only the price, but a map, too. By picking the right neighborhood AND renting an apartment, you can save double!
3. Get a SIM card before leaving
Ever since the advent of Skype and Google Voice, making calls overseas has become much less expensive. However, for the times that you aren’t carrying a computer around (or aren’t using Wi-Fi or 3G on your smartphone), a SIM card can come in handy.
Companies such as Cellular Abroad offer several options: (1) only a SIM card; in this case, make sure that it will work with your current phone, (2) Phone and SIM packages, (3) Phone rental and (4) Data Services, meaning either MiFi hotspot rentals and sales or Data enabled SIM cards.For all of these, you’ll need to know whether you are traveling to a single or multiple countries. Cellular Abroad sells SIM cards that are specifically designed for the traveler and the rates are often much more economical than what you can typically find locally upon arrival. You also have the added advantage of having the SIM in hand before the trip; you can tell people your number beforehand, and reach friends and family right away when you have arrived.
4. Connect with local hosts before you go
Thanks to the Internet, you can know get to know people in your destination before you even arrive. Websites such as Triptrotting pride themselves on allowing their members to go beyond the tourist experience. You can sign up for free, and the website will use an algorithm to pair you up with a local host who shares similar interests. You can then chat and meet up with the local host once you are in-country. Many times, they will offer to put you up in their homes, too.
5. Consult local tour operators
Again, the internet is what makes it possible. Simple web research can allow you to consult local tour operators, which are frequently significantly cheaper than if you book through an international booking service. Tourist Link is a new traveler’s social network that not only allows you to find what interest you and meet traveling companions; it also allows you to meet local tour guides and get their help planning and customizing your trip. Ask them questions, see reviews from other members and find the best price for you!
6. Take advantage of offline apps
Travelling has become considerably easier thanks to smartphones and tablets. However, when you are abroad, one of the big disadvantages can be a high international data bill. If you don’t want to have an unpleasant surprise when you return back home, be sure to de-activate your 3G. Instead, you can download apps beforehand that will work offline. The app OffMaps, for example, allows you to access searchable maps, your position and bookmarks wherever you are, offline and abroad. The same goes for apps that can translate, convert currencies, find you a cab, wi-fi, a toilet or just about whatever you might need. Browse the web before you go – chances are that someone will have come up with your need and you can download it right away.
7. Play around with travel dates
Sure, there are always last-minute deals. However, when you book well in advance, you can save even more, particularly if your travel dates are flexible. If your job allows for it, travel during the off-season; a week after Thanksgiving, the crowds are sure to be less. Moreover, flying out on Saturday instead of Friday can result in lower airfare prices, as can returning on a Monday instead of a Sunday.
8. Check out alternative airports and routes
Did you know that Heathrow isn’t the only airport serving London? There’s also Gatwick or Stansted. You may be able to score a cheaper flight to either of the latter two. Note that alternative airports might be further out than the ones that most people use. Thus, be sure to weigh additional transportation costs against the money you might be saving by going to the airport that is further away.
9. Take advantage of discount cards
As with airfare, getting discounts for train tickets will vary according to where you are going and when. Checking online for reduced prices can be highly beneficial. In Spain, you can score 40% off at Renfe (the national train operator) if you book via the web at least fourteen days in advance. Also, for Europe as a whole, plan ahead by getting the Eurail Pass. Different conditions will apply for a One-Country, Regional (2 Countries), Select (3,4 or 5 countries) or Global (22 countries) Pass. Also check discounts for students, retired people and groups. You can also check out forums such as BootsnAll or Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree to see if there are others traveling to the same destination.
10. Embrace internet research and search engines
More often than not, booking directly through an airline or hotel website will result in higher prices. Online search engines, in turn, often have great deals as they incorporate various airlines. Also, in some cases, they don't charge the normal service fees that are added when booking directly through the airline in question.
Last but not least, consult a price comparison service, such as those offered by TripAdvisor. Another plus about booking online is that you can often get a package deal that includes hotel accommodation, rental cars, show tickets, and more.