Traveling is the best. There's only one problem with packing your bags for that dream trip: it's expensive, right? Well, it doesn't have to be.
With a little extra planning and getting access to the right tools, you can save a ton of money. Here are 10 ways to save a bundle before you even step on the plane, so you have extra cash to spend once you arrive.
Hack your phone
Switch your mobile carrier. Want to avoid exorbitant roaming charges? T-Mobile offers free texts and calls across all of North America and free data throughout the vast majority of the planet. And somehow it remains the cheapest of the major cell phone companies. The service can be pretty spotty in certain cities, but in exchange for dealing with the occasional dead zone, you can post on Instagram, chat to your heart's content on WhatsApp, and look up directions on Google Maps in countries ranging from Kenya to Costa Rica.
Unlock your phone. If you don’t want to switch your cell provider, another great – though less convenient option – is to unlock your phone, which most companies have made extremely convenient in the last couple years. After you call your provider to unlock, you can go to a cell phone store when you arrive and pick up a local sim card, which, in most countries, is ridiculously cheap compared to U.S. prices.
Hack your flight
Sign up for fare announcements. Websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying will send you daily emails with cheap fares and “mistake fares” that can be shockingly low – like $300-round-trip-to-Asia or $350-round-trip-to-Africa low. Just be prepared to book quickly because these deals don’t last. Similarly, Hit List will inform you about the cheapest flights for more than a month according to either your home airport or desired destination.
Search smart. Use the ITA Software Matrix to search for flights. This is the back-end software that most third-party booking sites use to power their search engines. Among other things, you can use ITA to search dates up to a month at a time, search many destinations and departure airports at the same time, and search anywhere within a specified number of miles from your destination, all in one search. While you won’t be able to book flights through through this engine, you can see what’s available before booking on another site.
Become a travel hacker. The only thing better than a cheap flight is a free flight. Many credit cards offer 50,000 points or more just for signing up and meeting a small minimum-spending requirement in the first few months. That’s enough points for two free round trips in the U.S. and nearly enough for a round trip to Europe. Sites like View from the Wing and Million Mile Secrets offer great tips for which cards to sign up for, how to get started and the best ways to use your points.
Hack your accommodation
Book direct. Use sites like booking.com – or even HotelTonight, an app that specializes in last-minute offers – to find the cheapest rates. But don't book. Instead, call the hotel to ask if they can beat the offer. Most hotels will match the offer at the very least, and booking direct with hotels has many advantages. A couple of the best: Direct booking is the only way you’ll get reward points, and hotels are a lot more likely to give an upgrade to guests who booked directly than those who booked with a third party.
Bargain. Renting an apartment on Airbnb can definitely save you money compared to staying in a hotel, but don’t just accept the listed price. Bargain. If you find a a place you like, you can message the host and ask for a discount. Often, they’ll offer you a considerable discount (20%-50% off) – especially if the date of your stay is coming up and/or you’re planning on staying for at least a week. It never hurts to ask.
Barter. Again, even better than discounted rent is free rent. Sites like couchsurfing.org will hook you up with local hosts who will host you for free and give you local insight into the city, usually for nothing more than a cultural exchange. Not comfortable staying with someone you’ve never met? Sites like Nomador will hook you with a free house in exchange for tasks like watering plants and feeding the cats. Similarly, Home Exchange gives you the opportunity to score a free place in your desired destination by offering up your own place to someone looking to visit your hometown.
Hack your bank
Get reimbursed for ATM fees. Forget changing money (especially at the airport). Taking cash out of an ATM is the best way to get the best exchange rate possible, but getting hit with double fees from both the local bank and your own bank usually offset the savings. That’s why you should get a Schwab ATM card, which not only has no fees, but will reimburse any ATM fees you do incur from any local bank on earth.
Get a no-fee credit card. Similarly, most credit cards will charge you around 3% for using your card abroad. If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up for a credit card that has no international fees. There are even some that have no annual fees, either. Again, sites like View from the Wing and Million Mile Secrets are great resources for finding the right card for you.