Unless you’re happy to hitchhike and sleep on people’s floors, vacations generally aren’t dirt cheap. Having a good time will cost you, even at the most inexpensive destinations.
But don’t ever fall into the trap of paying too much. That’s easy to do, because needless expenses are as much a part of travel as painful airline seating and paper-thin hotel walls.
With that in mind, I’ve put together my top 10 pet-peeve travel costs — and, more importantly, ways of getting around them.
Eds note: Graham Hughes holds the Guinness World Record for visiting every country on Earth without flying. He hosts the Travel Channel’s “Lonely Planet: Odyssey with Graham Hughes” and is the author of Man of the World.
1. Roaming charges
Few things in life are as maddening as coming back off your vacays to discover you’ve been charged up to hundreds of dollars for data, a few texts and even fewer phone calls.
It’s even worse when you discover that the dastardly phone company has charged you for receiving calls — even those infernal robo-calls that you didn’t even want. No. Just no.
So, unlock your phone and buy a local SIM card as soon as you arrive at your destination. It’ll cost you a few bucks and save you a small fortune. By the way, if you get a SIM card in any of the 28 European Union countries, it’ll work in all of them.
2. Foreign transaction fees
As we dive headfirst into a cashless society, it’s worth remembering that some credit cards ding you with fees when you spend or withdraw money abroad.
A 2018 study from LendingTree’s CompareCards found that nearly half of all credit cards have foreign transaction fees. You’re typically charged an extra 3% each time you make a purchase outside the U.S., and the fees can apply to ATM withdrawals, too.
Spend $3,500 during your travels, and you’ll pay more than $100 in fees. What to do? That’s easy: Just shop around and find one of the many credit cards without foreign transaction charges.
If you ever want to see steam coming from my ears, put me in a hotel and then charge me for the freakin’ Wi-Fi. Why are you making me pay for this?
I mean, come on — it’s free at McDonald’s, it’s free at Starbucks, it’s free in $5 backpacker dorms. This is another good reason to buy yourself a local SIM card (make yourself a hotspot if you’re using a laptop), and a good reason not to stay at hotels.
Oh and if, for whatever reason, you can’t use a local SIM, be sure to download any Google Maps you might need before you leave home, so you can use them offline during your trip.
I find myself almost feeling sorry for the national tourist boards that make it a requirement to pay for the privilege of visiting their country (And it’s always the “best” ones, like North Korea.)
I say I almost feel sorry. But I don’t — because of the cost and all of the bother: filling out forms, scheduling appointments, often having to send your passport through the mail and arrange for its return to you, and so on.
Seriously, there are dozens of countries you can visit that do not require you to get a visa, so go to one of those instead.
5. Hotel room minibars
I know, I know — it’s so very convenient. But the moment you open that nice cold bottle of Perrier, your hotel bill is about to skyrocket.
My advice? Find the local 7-Eleven (or equivalent), get your beverages there, and make some space for them in the minibar fridge.
If you’re desperate, you could try raiding the minibar, hanging the “do not disturb” sign on your door, then going out and picking up replacement items. However, some hotels have gotten wise to this workaround and electronically scan anything taken out of the fridge.
In that case, maybe stay in a cheaper hotel? You can save up to 45% off hotel bookings with code SAVE5JUL19. Book by 7/28, and travel by 9/1.
6. Baggage fees
I recently took a trans-Atlantic flight that wanted me to pay an extra $250 for a single checked bag, which would have increased the cost of my ticket by almost a third.
Airlines are increasingly using fees to pull dirty tricks like this, in pursuit of the lowest “headline” price on Google Flights or Skyscanner, even on long-haul journeys.
Beat the system by traveling light (hand-luggage only), wearing as much of your clothing as you can (I have a friend who wore seven T-shirts and two pairs of trousers on a flight) and ensuring that all of your liquids are distilled into 3.4-ounce bottles.
7. Water in airports
You get to the security checkpoint, they take your water bottle, and once you’re airside the cheapest bottle of water you can purchase costs a small fortune.
This common rip-off is not just infuriating, but it’s actually dangerous: Dehydration increases your chances of suffering deep vein thrombosis, the blood clots that can develop in your legs during air travel.
Bear in mind that you’re allowed to take an empty bottle through security — so get one, and fill it up at a water fountain on the other side.
8. Unmetered taxis
The humble taxi meter was invented in 1892, five years before the internal combustion engine. Yet this cutting-edge technology still hasn’t made it to every corner of the world, including places where you also don’t find ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
That being the case, whenever you find yourself somewhere new, make sure before you get into a taxi that it has a meter.
If you see one, ask if it’s working. If no meter is present, ask how much it will be to go to your destination, and be prepared to walk away if the price is more than you’re willing to pay.
If you’re thinking of picking up souvenirs and you’re not pressed for time, it’s definitely worth scoping out your options and finding the best prices.
The most outrageous markups I’ve ever seen were in Egypt and India, but it’s the kind of thing that happens everywhere that tourists congregate.
Remember, even if an item is tagged with a price, what you pay is at the vendor’s discretion. So haggle. And be prepared to walk away.
10. Airport drop-off charges
A good rule of thumb is to never just turn up at the airport without doing your research first, so that you won’t be surprised by new and unwelcome hits to your wallet.
Most major airports in the U.K. now charge motorists the equivalent of $5 or more just to drop off a friend at the terminal. In the U.S., a few airports have introduced surcharges for Lyft and Uber riders.
But there’s usually a free (and often remote) drop-off area with a courtesy bus that’ll take you to a main airport entrance. A bit of an inconvenience to be sure, but it beats shelling out a few dollars for no good reason.
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