15 ways to not lose money when travelling abroad

Summertime brings days filled with adventure and relaxation. But, especially if you plan to take a trip abroad, it can also bring lots of unexpected expenses. I’ve been fortunate to have taken many memorable trips to foreign lands, but have inevitably made some dumb mistakes which squeezed the life out of my already trim budget! Today I highlight some of the many monetary hazards you should steer clear of.

Traveling for holidays should be a time of unceasing relaxation; but for some reason they can turn into something even more stressful that normal life! Losing concentration, letting your guard down, not doing enough planning ahead or just having unreasonable expectations can result in unnecessary and unplanned costs and can add up to you losing a substantial amount of money when travelling. 

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Here I've given a few ways in which to save on costs associated with travel, given from the perspective of my own experiences over the years.

1. Don’t reserve a seat

Some airlines make it seem as if you must pay for a seat as part of your flight cost. This is, in most instances, only an option and not a requirement. Unless you have a special need for extra space, or really can’t stand to be stuck in a particular seat, don’t pay extra just to pick your seat. Chances are the seat you’ll be assigned to on your day of travel will be perfectly suitable, and even if it isn’t, unless it’s a really full flight, if you smile sweetly at the flight attendant or a fellow passenger, you’ll have the chance to switch once on board. That’s especially true if you’re travelling with your significant other – I’ve only once been forced to sit apart from my husband on a flight and that’s only because it was the dead of winter and our flying companions were from the family of Grumpy McGrumpy.

2. Never convert money in the airport


Money converting companies that set up shop in the airport are pure evil. Their aim is to prey upon you at a vulnerable time - you’ve just landed in a foreign land, feel a bit off-kilter and know that you need some local currency. The exchange rates these places offer are brutal and you will without fail lose money.

The key is to plan ahead; check out and compare the options for getting the currency at your local banks, the rates offered by bureaus/banks in your destination country, and the exchange rate your bank will charge you for transactions using your debit/credit cards, including any fees incurred for withdrawing cash from an ATM. The best option will vary, depending on where you’re going and the currency type.

Tip: Even when foreign companies take payment from your card in your normal currency, they still can charge the “foreign transaction” fee. Find out what that fee is from your bank before travel.

3. Stick to carry-on luggage

Unless you’re doing a long-haul flight, you’re likely going to have to pay separately for check-on luggage. Take it from the Queen of Overpacking herself , chances are it will be cheaper to buy stuff at your destination than to pay extra for check-on bags. Shove as much stuff into a ruck-sack or carry-on bag as possible, and get everything else (e.g. toiletries) when you’ve landed. Of course, the validity of this bit of advice depends on how far-flung your adventure is and whether these things will be readily available there.

Tip: Pack less clothes, wash as needed to re-wear and use a handy-dandy mini steamer to smooth out the wrinkles and you’re good to go!

4. Don’t be caught with overweight luggage

Speaking of overpacking, one of the most needless waste of money that I’ve experienced was paying for overweight luggage – I paid a whopping US$100 for being a few kgs overweight, all because I hadn’t weighed my bag before goingto the airline counter (go easy on me, I was young and it was my first extended solo trip abroad!). This is such an easily avoided scenario that I urge you never to find yourself in. Luggage scales are incredibly cheap and easy to use – buy one!

5. Book connecting flights sensibly

Don’t be overly ambitious with how fast you think you can sprint from one side of the airport to the other. Bear in mind that flights can be, and often are, delayed (conveniently the flight you’re on, but never the one you’re trying to catch!) So, give yourself leeway of at least an hour or 2, to deal with delays and any other eventualities like long security checks and miles between different terminals.

6. Do not pass on the travel insurance

“What’s the worse that could happen” you may be tempted to say. Well, the answer is: lots! Ranging from losing your luggage, not being able to go on your expensive 10 day holiday for whatever unforeseen reason, or having to visit a hospital or doctor abroad and discovering just how astronomical health care costs can be!

Have no fear, travel insurance is actually really cheap and easy to get; there are lots of online providers. Do take the time to read through the details of coverage to make sure you’re happy with them.

7. Avoid flagging down taxis

If you need to take a taxi, if you can, phoning a taxi company and booking one in advance will save you money (and is also a way to increase your safety!). There’s a strong possibility that taxis you flag down on the road are going to charge you more, plus, if you’re in certain parts of the world, these guys are unregulated and you could be jeopardizing your own wellbeing.

Tip: Those iconic black taxis in England are a real temptation- but be aware that their rates are much higher than going through a taxi firm!

8. Discover the joys of Bla Bla Car

Before going abroad to Spain a few years ago, I hadn’t yet heard of this company. The modes of transport that spring to mind readily when planning your city-to-city travel are flights, train, bus and car rental. But pause now to consider the brilliance that is Bla Bla Car. It’s virtually the AirBnB of transport, wherein you’re paying for a ride in someone’s car – a person who’s going to your destination anyway, and who you can find out about (driving record, recommendations etc) before booking your space. We’re talking about significantly cheaper costs, taking away the stress / dangers of driving in a foreign land, and meeting some really interesting and (in my experiences) very nice people in the process. It’s worth learning more about; click here.

9. Go off the beaten track to eat

You’re sightseeing, caught up in the beauty of this great place you’re visiting, and happen upon a delightful restaurant - suddenly a sharp hunger pang strikes you. Stop! You’re about to fall for another tourist trap. Restaurants near popular tourist attractions are bound to be expensive and often serve non-quality food. You’re much better off walking down a few more streets to the more authentic local spots.

Tip: If the restaurant is heaving with locals, you, my friend, are in for a treat and you should find a table pronto!

10. Renting a car? Skip the extras

Rental car companies are notorious for getting as much money from you as they possibly can. Apart from the actual cost of renting the car, there’s all sorts of extra costs you should be aware of and carefully avoid. These include child car seat rental (bring your own), sat nav rental (use your phone with either an app like Tom Tom or Google Maps instead). But the most assiduous of them all has to be the excess insurance. Oh yes, the sales team at the rental company will feed you the scare tactics, but you’ll be undaunted, because you’ll be smug that you’ve already bought this insurance beforehand for a fraction of the price. We’re talking about saving like £15 or more per day! Use comparisons sites like Confused.com to get the best quote. Plus, when you book it in advance of your trip, you’ll have more time to read through the fine print and make sure you’re getting good coverage. It will be 100% worth it.

Tip: Few things in life annoy me like phone holders with flimsy suction cups that fall off when you’re trying to navigate your way while driving. Invest in good ones that keep the phone stable, on the windscreen or dashboard, and will fit any phone.

11. More rental car precautions

Speaking of rental car traps, do be very vigilant at inspecting the vehicle before driving off. Careless (my euphemism for ‘dodgy’ in this case) rental companies will trying pinning the blame on you for any scratches, dents or marks on the body of the car. Take a few minutes to look for any imperfections on the car (inside and out) and make sure the representative makes a note of all these. As extra guarantee, follow up with your own pics of the car’s condition that become invaluable if rental companies try to dispute anything on your return.

Tip: Here’s a list of credible companies the European Car Rental Conciliation Service will help you resolve any issues with.

Another thing to be aware of is the fuel policy. When choosing your rental company, check if they have a full-to-full, full-to-empty, or pre-purchase fuel rule. A full-for-full policy, that is, they give you with a full tank and you return it with a full tank will be the most economical option in most cases. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly difficult to safely make sure the tank is empty before bringing back the vehicle- and that’s where they get you!

12. Avoid toll roads

When mapping your route and punching in your destination in your sat-nav, be sure to specify that you want a route that doesn’t involve toll roads. As we quickly discovered while traversing the Portugal on holiday, all those cents for each toll add up big time! A non-toll route might make your journey a bit longer, but hey, they could also be more scenic, right?

13. Fill up before rolling out

Always fill up your tank in the city before hitting the road- chances are the petrol stations along the motorway or in that cute town with the population of exactly 200 people is going to be far more expensive. So it makes sense to set off with a full tank if you’ve got many miles ahead before the next major town, with some (hopefully) decent petrol prices.

14. Understand parking restrictions

This tip brought to you by a girl who recently had to pay her first parking fine, and man was it juicy! Pay special attention to signs when parking – clearly understand any time restrictions, and payment criteria to avoid getting a hefty ticket stuck to your car. If you don’t understand the language or symbols on the sign, ask a local passing by to help – unfortunately, the authorities aren’t going to be impressed with that as an excuse. Also, be aware that 2 hours parking, means just that, and not 2 hours and 10 minutes.

15. Use a backpack responsibly

Tourist laden sites and public transportation are havens for thieves and pickpockets. And let me tell you, these guys are skilled (after all, it is their ‘profession’!) Even the little kids know the tricks of the trade. So be aware, everywhere, and know that you are a prime target. If you’re wearing a back-pack, wear it to the front of you when in a crowded space, and do use a small padlock to secure your zippers otherwise. You might feel a little silly doing this, but losing your valuables, money and worse yet your travel documents are the last things you want to happen while your abroad.

Holidays are brave adventures into many times, the unknown, and can be filled with as many unpleasant surprises, as pleasant ones. At least now you'll be sure to make 15 less mistakes! 

As always, I'd love to hear from you in the comments; anybody have any more travel tips to share?