One of the scary and daunting things about travelling is spending more than you intended to. Sometimes, this can mean the difference between booking a trip and staying home — if you just don't feel like you have that little extra you might need, you figure even if you have enough for the vacation, it's not worth the financial risk.
I've definitely encountered that feeling, and so I've figured out some good guidelines for sticking to a travel budget, so you can head out to your dream destination without constantly worrying that the 'little extras' are going to add up and do you in.
Book lodgings close to public transit: One of the easiest ways to end up spending too much money - whether you are going to spend a week on Cape Cod or ten days in Costa Rica (two of my favorite destinations!) - is picking a less expensive place to stay that's not conveniently located. You'll just end up taking cabs when you inevitably try to return to your room late at night after a tiring day. It's so easy to think you are saving tons of cash by choosing an out-of-the-way location, but if you are travelling on a budget, you're probably not wasting money on a car rental. In order to access the bus, train, subway, light rail or water taxi, you should make sure it's an easy walk from your hostel, hotel, or guesthouse. You can estimate this by using Google Maps. Input the address of your accommodations and get directions to some of the main places you want to hit (the beach, museums, shopping areas, etc.) then choose public transit as your option - Google will show you how far the nearest stop is to the place you are thinking of staying. While this doesn't mean you should stay in the most expensive centrally-located hotels, it does mean that should have a simple, easy way to get where you want to go (this will make you a happier traveller too). Potential savings: $20 cab fare times 3 or 4 rides.
Figure out the least expensive public transit options: Sometimes even shared transportation can be pricy. In London, for example, the Tube is much more costly than the excellent bus system, by a wide margin. Not only do you see more riding the bus, but they go more places, and it allows you to get a feel for the city. I almost never take the Tube when I visit London anymore (though it's worth checking out for fun!). In New York City, by contrast, the subway and buses costs the same amount per ride, so you can choose the fastest or most scenic route depending on your destination and time schedule. Potential savings: $15-$30/week.
Cut your 'getting to the airport' cost: There's no reason to waste half the cost of your flight on a ride to the airport - you might end up spending more time, but a shared ride of some kind is going to be the cheapest, lowest-hassle way to go. Another option, especially for people in more rural areas who may not have access to an airport shuttle, is asking a friend or acquaintance to drive you to the airport in your own car. You pay for gas and tolls, and something extra for the person's time. I've never heard of an airport car service that didn't charge at least twice what I would pay a friend to take me. Potential savings: $40 each way.
Bring snacks: I always travel with plenty of snacks - most packaged food can be brought in and out of countries (be aware of local rules, but usually only fresh produce is banned), so I tend to keep a dozen nut bars or protein bars in my bag and pack one in my bag when I head out for the day. That way you don't have to stop for a full meal (costly), every time you get tired and hungry. You can also really save by bringing your own food from home for your flights, since airlines and airport vendors tend to sell their offerings at a high price since they have a captive audience. Potential savings: $40 in airport food, $50 in avoiding buying snacks or a meal when you don't need one.
Pack light: Extra bags cost money, extra weight in extra bags costs more money. Be sure to know your airline baggage rules before you fly - it is the simplest thing to do (they make this info easy to find on their sites) and it might end up being the single thing that saves you more cash than any other choice. Airlines make tons of money from people who show up with too-big and overweight bags - and remember there will be a fee when you return too. Are there certain things you can't bear to leave behind for a longer trip? Raingear, extra sweaters or winter layers, backup reading material, a big pair of boots, a hairdryer, etc. Fine. Mail them to your hotel the week before, regular mail. It's way cheaper (and easier) than bringing it in your suitcase. Even FedExing can sometimes be cheaper than paying baggage fees, depending on the size and weight of what you're sending. (I have sent books ahead to myself numerous times! Yes, I know I should get a Kindle or Nook....) Potential savings: $150-$300
Even using the conservative estimates for the above money savers, it still comes to about $400 in potential savings. Which might mean the difference between taking a trip or staying home.
What are your best budget travel ideas?