7 Biggest Ways You’re Wasting Money While Traveling

Couple on vacation.
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Travel demand has soared in 2023 — and naturally, prices have soared right along with it. According to CNBC, airfare, hotel rooms and living costs in global destination cities have all risen sharply as pent-up travel plans continue to flood the post-pandemic market.

If you have a vacation coming up, you should expect to spend more — but you should also strategize to spend less wherever you can. Knowing which purchases don’t deserve your dollars, pesos and euros is the best way to start. Here are the most common budget-busting wastes of money to avoid when you travel.

Buying Pricey Gift Shop Trinkets

The easiest way to waste your money on any vacation is in the gift shop. Usually, the shot glass, coffee mug or indigenous mask you splurge on winds up collecting dust in a box soon after your return flight touches down.

“Most tourist destinations have souvenir shops that charge significantly higher prices for their merchandise compared to the local markets that are outside the tourist hotspots,” said Kevin Mercier, founder of the travel blog Kevmrc.com. “Travelers often end up wasting their money by purchasing souvenirs like keychains, shirts, and magnets at these over-priced shops. I always compare prices at different shops before purchasing, which helps me make a more informed decision.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Overspending on Hotels

As the COO of Exotic Voyages, a luxury travel company offering private and custom-made tours, James Thai knows that it’s easy to save money on hotels and resorts no matter your budget or lifestyle. However, it’s also just as easy to overspend.

“One of the biggest money traps for travelers is splurging on accommodations,” said Thai. “While a comfortable stay is important, it doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. Avoid overpaying for hotels in prime locations or choosing luxury options when budget-friendly alternatives are available. Consider staying in guesthouses, hostels or vacation rentals, which often offer excellent value for money without compromising quality. Additionally, booking your accommodation well in advance or taking advantage of last-minute deals can help you secure affordable rates.”

Dining at Tourist Traps

When you eat at the crowded and trendy restaurants you see in hotel and train station brochures, overspending is always on the menu.

“Another common mistake is falling into the tourist trap of expensive and mediocre restaurants,” said Thai. “Instead of dining at heavily advertised tourist hotspots, explore local eateries and street food stalls where you can savor authentic cuisine at a fraction of the cost. Engage with locals or consult online resources to discover hidden gems that offer delicious food and an immersive cultural experience. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also embark on culinary adventures that create lasting memories.”

Paying Foreign Transaction Fees

Although overpriced souvenirs and tourist-trap restaurants are ill-advised purchases for tourists on a budget, at least they give you something to show for your dollars. But when you pay for the privilege of spending money, you might as well just throw your cash in the trash.

Make Your Money Work for You

“One of the things people spend the most amount of money on unnecessarily are foreign transaction fees,” said Nicole Cueto, a certified travel advisor with Fora Travel who has visited 41 countries and all seven continents. “When paying for something abroad with your credit card and prompted with the choice of whether to pay in the local currency or your home currency, always choose the local currency. You’ll get the best conversion rate. It might not seem like a big difference, but it adds up.”

Overpacking

It costs money to move stuff — the more you bring, the more you can expect to spend.

“Packing too much can lead to unnecessary expenses like baggage fees or the temptation to purchase additional luggage,” said Joshua Haley, founder of travel and relocation site Moving Astute. “Optimize your packing by carefully planning your outfits and considering the weather and activities at your destination. Traveling light not only saves money but also offers convenience and freedom during your trip.”

Passing on Public Transportation

When you get to your destination, you can spend a lot moving from place to place. If you don’t take the time to learn about public transit so you can get around like a local, you’re certain to spend like a tourist.

“Failing to research local transportation options can result in overspending on taxis or other expensive modes of transportation,” said Haley. “Take advantage of public transportation systems, such as buses, trains, or subway networks, which are usually more cost-effective. Additionally, consider walking or cycling for shorter distances, allowing you to save money while exploring the destination at a leisurely pace.”

Booking High-Priced Tours You Could Have Arranged Yourself

Audra Edgington is the owner and author of the travel blog Passports and Photographs, and she’s seen far too many travelers waste money booking tours for their entire trip because they didn’t know that they could usually DIY a similar experience.

Make Your Money Work for You

“People think if they want to see a place that is slightly more difficult to travel to — such as Machu Picchu — that they have to spend several thousand more and have a tour company do all the arranging rather than doing it themselves,” she said. “It may require a little more research and planning, but you’ll save so much money if you can just book everything yourself. One of my biggest planning tips is to see what these tour companies are offering, look at their itineraries and try to duplicate it yourself to see how much money you can save.”

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