Over Thanksgiving, I felt a little guilty when I realized how much I spent on unnecessary items while traveling: $18 for a cab (subway would have been $3 max), $7 for lunch in the airport, and $15 in the airport bookstore for a book that has been out for awhile and is available at the library. Total, that’s a whopping $40 I could have used on almost anything else!
Adding it up definitely made me feel bad – in fact, when I told my mom I had taken a cab she said “don’t blog about it!” I tell you this story for two reasons: one to show that even people who write about money aren’t perfect, and two to show you that travel expenses add up VERY quickly.
If you’re taking to the skies or hitting the road, between now and the start of 2010, heed these tips on your journey. I will be doing so, and promise to spend less during my Christmas travel than I did over Thanksgiving!
Frugal Travel Tips
- Get a ride or use public transportation: If you’re flying out of town, don’t spend money on airport parking (up to $25/day or more!) or a cab ride. Ask a friend or family member to drop you off and pick you up, or use public transportation when available. I know it’s tempting to opt for convenience when you’re dealing with luggage and/or bad December weather, but your wallet will thank you!
- Bring entertainment from home: This is applicable to both car and plane trips. If you know you need something to keep you busy during the trip, bring a book or some music from home, or visit the library for some new material. On the road, you’ll have a limited selection and may end up paying more for something you’re not even that interested in.
- Eat before you leave: If you’re going to be gone for awhile, this could have the double effect of using up groceries that would go bad before you come back and saving you from buying food on the road.
- Pack snacks: If you don’t eat before, or will be traveling for several hours, pack a small bag of snacks. Nuts are a somewhat healthy snack that don’t take up much room at all. You can also take raisins, dried or fresh fruit, or even a sandwich.
- Bring an empty water bottle: If you’re flying, you know that you can’t take liquids through security. But bottled water can be $2.00 or more for a 20 oz. bottle. Instead of paying that, bring an empty bottle and fill it at the water fountain once you pass security. Of course if you are driving you should just bring your own drinks from home.
- Pack efficiently: Wear your bulkiest items, like a winter coat and boots, and pare down the rest of your luggage to only the essentials. I read once about a woman who picks two-three complimentary colors for each trip (say black, yellow, and white) and only brings items in those colors so that everything can mix and match. Doing something similar can help you cut down on the number of bags you need. This in turn can improve gas efficiency if you’re driving, or save you luggage fees on planes.
- Carry on your luggage: Speaking of luggage fees…in case you weren’t aware, almost every airline is now charging $15 or more  to check a bag. Across major airlines, the only exception to this that I am aware of is Southwest. If you can possibly fit everything in a carry-on bag, do so. Even buying a larger carry-on bag might be worth it if you travel frequently. I’ve been able to fit up to 6 days of clothes and toiletries in a small roll-on, so it can be done!
- Consider shipping gifts ahead: If you are traveling with lots of gifts for family and friends, shipping them ahead using ground or flat rate shipping may be a more frugal option than checking extra bags to bring them via plane. Check rates at USPS.com, UPS.com, or FedEx.com.
- Utilize rewards programs: If you belong to MyPoints , Swagbucks , or a flexible credit card rewards program , you may be able to get gift cards to use during your travel. Look for gift cards for your favorite hotel chain, restaurants on your route or at your destination, or gas cards. I’ve been able to get gift cards for all sorts of items, saving $50 or more per trip.
If you plan ahead, you can take a trip without spending any more than you would at home – but of course the key words there are “plan ahead.” If you’re traveling this year, set aside a few minutes right now to put together an action plan for saving money: print out this post and highlight the tips that apply to you. If any of them require planning ahead (like ordering gift cards or scheduling a ride), write down the date you plan to complete that item. Then stick to your plan! You’d be surprised at how little travel can cost.