20150907_203445My wanderlust for historical places knows no bounds…unfortunately my wallet does. In order to travel frequently and comfortably while still experiencing little tastes of luxury, I do a lot of pre-planning that invariably saves money and enhances my travels. Before I became a history professor, I was a financial advisor. The lessons I learned, plus my inherent frugality have helped me travel in style while keeping costs down. I try my best to watch my pennies so that my dollars will take care of themselves, Here are five of my best tips for saving a few cents.

  1. Since airfare comprises the lion’s share of my total trip expenses, high costs in this area can blow my budget. As I have yet to convince an airline to give me a standard discount, I’ve had to devise a system to get lower prices. First, I use of combination of airfare tracking companies, like Airfare Watchdog (tracks low-cost carriers too) and Sky Scanner, with big booking companies (Priceline, etc.) to get an idea when is the least expensive time to fly. I evaluate different dates, airports, carriers, and round-trip versus one-way. Once I find the combo that works best for me, I call the carrier to see if it’s their best fare. I once saved a tidy sum when the airline agent alerted me to a lower-cost flight I had missed. I almost always book directly with the carrier and I always purchase a non-refundable fare. If I fear needing to cancel, I buy travel insurance.
  2. Lodging can also cost a pretty penny, which is why I set a price range and research all hotels in that range. Ultimately, I choose one in a city-center location with great amenities. A hotel in the midst of everything generally means lower transportation costs and greater restaurant variety. Once I’ve picked my top three, I email the hotelier to see what deals they may offer. I’ve been offered room upgrades, lower rates, and extra perks by contacting the hotel directly. The hotel with the best deal wins. I don’t sacrifice comfort or safety for price though. If I find little luxuries missing, I stop by a fancy chocolatier for decadent treats to place on my pillow, or ask my husband to turn down the bed (he’s generally quite accommodating). Voila—luxurious details at budget-friendly prices. As an alternative to a hotel, Airbnb offers rooms, apartments, or entire homes for rent in many of the world’s most costly cities.
  3. Loads of money can be wasted on expensive transportation from the airport and around town. If you don’t have a big enough group to justify sharing a taxi (or the distance is too great), trains, shuttles, and the metro system are great options. They might not be the most glamorous form of travel, but they are fast and less costly, especially when purchasing a multi-trip pass. You know what form of mass transportation I think is just sensational? Water taxis! I love using them as an alternative to costly river cruises. I may lose the narration of the boat tour, but I also lose a substantial portion of the price. I’ve had wonderful views of Chicago, Paris, Boston, and other places by using public water transport.
  4. Sightseeing—I am shameless when it comes to asking for a discount on admission tickets. Seeing historical sites brings me such joy that I cannot give up this expense, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t try to reduce it. Many museums offer free times or days; although they are often most crowded during these times, the price can’t be beat. When traveling, I check out city or museum passes that offer free admission to their member sites for a series of days. These can be a good value, especially since some come with unlimited metro fare. I weigh the price of individual admission versus the pass; if I would have spent that much on single admissions, then I happily purchase the pass knowing that I can stop by other little treasures that I might not have otherwise seen. I also check to see if I fit one of the reduced-price categories (I’m hoping sites will soon add a “rocking their 30s/40s” category to the youth, student, and senior discounts) or if a lower fee is available through my membership in another group, like AAA.
  5. When planning a travel budget, eating in restaurants can break the bank. Unless you have a kitchenette available , these expenses can add up quickly.
    • If breakfast is included in my hotel’s rate, I take advantage of it. I do, however, ask when booking if there is a lower rate without breakfast. I’ve found “free” breakfasts costing up to $30/person. I don’t eat that much for breakfast, so unless the rate for the included breakfast is the same as the rate without it, then I don’t pay for it. Plus, I just love finding the best café in any town.
    • I make lunch my biggest meal of the day. Many restaurants have generous portions at a fraction of their dinner prices. It’s also a less expensive way to try out a star chef’s restaurant.
    • For dinner, I may make a picnic, visit a restaurant where my husband and I can share an entrée, or get a few small plates to share.
    • In any city, restaurant costs are generally lower in areas where rent is cheaper. In big cities, this means getting away from the most popular sites. Exploring areas where locals live is an awesome way to get to know a place’s culture and experience some of the tastiest eats.

I still haven’t been able to find a magical transporter to zap me to far-flung locations in the blink of an eye, or managed to eliminate other travel costs, but these tricks have helped me and I hope that they help you. Please share your tips on how to save money and stay tuned for the next part of this article when I discuss saving money on foreign currency fees, using a cell phone, and other tips.