According to the U.S. Travel Association, five of the top six types of travel spending — food services, public transportation, auto transportation, recreation and retail — are the kinds of expenditures you make once you're already at your destination. In other words, if you're making an effort to find cheaper hotel rooms but ignoring other travel costs, you're losing most of the battle.
Nora Dunn has been traveling a lot over the past seven years.
"I sold everything I owned in Canada in 2006," she says. Now she considers herself a "professional hobo." She travels year-round, supporting herself on a location-independent writing career. Naturally, she knows how to pinch a penny on the road, and she shares her tips at theprofessionalhobo.com. She offered these suggestions for folks who've already made arrangements for early summer travel:
Plan your souvenir purchase
Notice that's not plural.
Dunn bans impulse buys.
"You're entitled to treat yourself, but the extent and depth of those treats erode away at your travel budget," she says. She plans to buy a single souvenir per trip — and to make it something practical that she'll use in her daily life, "so that I'm reminded of my time in that place."
She uses what she's learned from preliminary research for her trip to choose something unique to the area, and instead of gathering up a carry-on full of refrigerator magnets, enjoys shopping for the one item she knows she's after.
"When I went to South Africa, I knew that it was one of the only places in the world that you can get blue tanzanite so I knew I wanted a little pair of blue tanzanite earrings."
Be smart about meals
Many travelers know that eating dinner out can be needlessly more expensive than eating lunch out, even for similar dishes. If you're going to dine out, dinner is the meal to avoid.
"Your ability to eat in depends entirely on the accommodations that you've booked," Dunn says, "but even if you don't have a kitchenette, there's nothing stopping you from having a nice picnic." She says that shopping for food to bring back can lead to a bit of adventure and more cultural education. "You just don't know what's going to be accessible until you're walking the aisles," she says. "I think that's half the fun."
Grocery stores in different countries carry different items, and shopping for and buying food can look very different from destination to destination, she says.
Get something done
In the same vein, Dunn likes to attempt to accomplish something ordinary while traveling.
"I will often set myself a mundane task or a regular errand," she says. In Spain, for example, she needed to buy a new SIM card for her phone. Determining where and how to do that was a bit of a trick for the Toronto native, who speaks only English with hints of French and Spanish.
Running an errand like that gets travelers off the beaten path and into real life while on the road.
Plan to save more next time
Maybe you've still got time to make a less expensive lodging choice. If your tolerance for a little work and a little adventure is higher than average, you might follow Dunn's suggestion to see lodging that doesn't cost money.
"One of the best ways to save on your travel budget as well as — in my opinion — to increase your cultural experience is to volunteer in exchange for your accommodation," she says. "You can find all of these opportunities online."
She recommends perusing a few websites that specialize in finding volunteer work (caretaker.org, helpx.net, wwoof.org, among others) or housesitting gigs (housecarers.com, trustedhousesitters.com, mindmyhouse.com, among others).
It can't hurt to ask
After talking, Dunn felt compelled to e-mail one last simple tip: "Ask for an upgrade. It's that simple; just for asking, I drove a shiny blue convertible around Hawaii (for the price of their cheapest compact car), and have even been upgraded to first-class flights."