Unpredictable variables can change travel relaxation into stranded frustration: Financial riots in Greece, oil spills off the coast of Spain and Florida, ash storms from an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano … it’s a mess out there.
Insurance is now good, in fact its a rip-off in most cases as it does not protect you from the most likely causes of travel problems – best to buy the tickets on your credit card, thus benefitting from the cardholder travel insurance offered on many cards to guarantee your basic medical bills and rely on your own wit and intelligence for the rest.
There are several things you can control when planning your summer vacation. Strategic planning will allow you to make the most of your money while still having a good time. (Just in case, however, you might want to pack a sleeping bag for long airport waits.)
1. Travel off season
Hotel room prices skyrocket during the height of vacation season. Travel just before or just after the beaches are packed and you’ll avoid lines and higher costs. The weather may not always be ideal, but some possible payoffs will make it worthwhile. For example, I scheduled a five-country, five-week European trip in mid-September. Total cost was $450 (without airfare) and I received more personal attention from service staff.
2. Go off the grid
Try the un-touristy places. For example, visit Laos instead of the more popular Vietnam and Thailand, and you’ll experience a country that is less expensive and still wild and undeveloped.
Volunteering may not sound very relaxing, but it may prove to be the best experience of your life. CharityGuide.org can connect you with opportunities around the world.
4. Use travel discounts
Some credit cards entitle users to discounts in hotel accommodations, car rentals and entertainment venues. Make sure these discounts are available outside the U.S.
5. Lock in airfare and hotels
Many travelers wait until the last minute to book their airline and hotel reservations. Experts recommend locking in the best price early to avoid currency fluctuations. As much as possible, avoid traveling during early mornings and evenings, when business travelers fill seats.
6. Eat in
Look for rooms with complimentary breakfasts and happy hour buffets. Look for efficiency apartments with kitchenettes. Hostel hoppers should seek out free breakfast offers that can be stretched into free lunches through careful sandwich constructions.
Stick a couple zip-top baggies, a small sealable container, silverware and a corkscrew in your luggage for on-the-go meals. Shopping farmers markets and grocery stores is a great way to interact with the locals and sample regional foods.
7. Currency exchange
Credit cards are the most convenient way to make purchases overseas and most cards offer fraud security. Since fees vary, research the best offer. For example, Capitol One charges no fee for overseas purchases, (just make sure you call before leaving the country to avoid an alert being placed on your card.)
For cash-in-hand, ask your bank about international fees on debit cards. Some banks will charge a flat fee and others charge a percentage of your withdrawal. Also ask about ATM transaction fees, which can vary from those charged in the U.S.