There’s no question planning for and partaking in a vacation are the fun part of travel. But for me dealing with the credit card bills when I get home is not. In the past, I’ve just put everything on my cards, and worried about paying for it all later. But now that I’m married, my husband and I have been working hard on sticking to a budget to get our spending in check, and this includes travel. I’m no money expert though, so I consulted with one. Winnie Sun is the Managing Director and Founding Partner of, a financial consulting firm, and I picked her brain on how to keep a dream vacation from turning into a financial nightmare upon returning home. Here she shares her top 5 money saving tips for financially savvy travel.
1. Start with a budget
Before you begin planning decide on a budget. Then you want to stick with it through the planning process and on the trip itself, Sun says. “Vacations are one of the best rewards we can give ourselves and the last thing you want to do when sitting on the beach or touring your favorite city is hope you’ll have enough money for the unexpected,” Sun says. “Most people take hours planning our every last detail of their trip, and yet one of the most important things to do prior is creating a travel budget. A good rule of thumb is to have a 25% surplus saved for all your excursions. This gives you room in case you see something in a destination store that you must buy, your AirBnb has a last minute cancelation or anything else.”
2. Mind those credit cards.
Sun says if you’re a responsible credit card user and pay your balance off each month, consider using a credit card that earns you miles, points or cash-back to pay for your vacation. This can be a great way to rack up points quickly. Prior to using the card internationally, however, Sun emphasizes it is important to call the credit card company to inform them of pending travel and double check on any transaction or conversion charges, which can add up quickly. If you aren’t good with credit cards, stick to using a debit card to pay for you airline tickets and hotels in advance and then travel with cash on the road — this is what I do.
3. Pay attention to your cell phone usage.
In a foreign country, roaming charges, especially for data, can gobble up your travel budget in no time. Check with your carrier to find the cheapest way to use your phone overseas or find a service just for your time abroad. Some companies, like T-Mobile, actually offer free international data and texting in many countries, and if you travel frequently, it may be worth switching just for these savings. Even if you have T-mobile, you’ll still want to call the company before your trip to make sure where you are traveling to will be covered and that your plan qualifies for international roaming. Other cell carriers offer different types of international roaming packages that make using data abroad cheaper. And if you don’t have a free international plan, make sure you turn off data services while you aren’t on WiFi or your apps make push notifications through that will cost you money in fees when you get home.
4. Plan your trip during your destination’s “off season.”
To really save money and stretch your budget, consider traveling to a destination during the off season.
“You’ll not only likely get a better deal but will also avoid crowds that come with peak times,” Sun says.
It’s true. While we don’t recommend going to Thailand in the middle of monsoon season, traveling to say the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica at the tail end of the hurricane season can often save you hundreds of dollars of lodging and flights without significant weather impact.
5. Search for local deals
Finally, Sun suggests keeping an eye out for local deals in your destination to further optimize your travel budget. Try your destination’s information centers, hotel concierge and newspapers for discount coupons for local attractions. You can also search for local deals on sites like Living Social, Groupon, and even Yelp.