I break my travel expenses down into two major categories: the things I pay for before traveling, such as airfare, lodging and car rentals, and the things I purchase each day while traveling, such as food, entertainment and souvenirs. I find it's good to set a daily budget for the items in the second category so I'm not at the final days of the trip with little money left.
Even with a daily travel budget, I still want my money to go as far as it can. Here are some tips for saving money and stretching your daily travel budget.
Lists, lists, lists
One of the most infuriating travel expenses comes from having to buy something you already own but forgot to pack. Packing lists are essential to make sure this doesn't happen. I keep lists on my computer for road trips, air travel (with a specific, separate list for what goes in my backpack on a plane), overseas trips and even day trips to New York City.
With these lists I'm assured I won't have to buy headphones when I get to the airport, expensive snacks on a road trip, or even ibuprofen when a migraine kicks in. I found packing lists online and then I customized them to my personal needs.
Apps specific to your destination
Did you know there are apps such as SitOrSquat that help you find public restrooms? If you've ever been in a city where public restrooms are few and far between, you've probably ended up buying a muffin in a coffee shop or French fries in a fast-food restaurant just to use the bathroom.
Parking apps such as SpotHero can guarantee you a parking spot in a garage near your destination in the United States, and often at a lower price than the garage charges for those who just drive in.
In Philadelphia, there's the MeterUp app that lets you to pay your parking meter through the app. It charges you an extra 40 cents, but you get an alert that tells you your time is almost up and lets you add more time right from the app. This can save you a costly parking ticket, and also saves you from having to run out and move your car or feed the meter. Other cities may have similar apps.
Research the best apps for the city or region you'll be visiting. Before your trip, download, register and store payment options on all the apps that will be helpful to you while you're traveling.
Hotels with breakfast
Hotel breakfasts may not always be exciting, but they can help you stretch your budget. (Photo: CKP1001/Shutterstock)
When choosing a hotel — one of the things in my first major category of travel expenses — be sure to factor in breakfast, one of the expenses in my second major category. If two equally appealing hotels charge the same rate, but one offers breakfast and the other doesn't, choose the one with breakfast.
Even if the one with breakfast is slightly more expensive, it may end up saving you money if you're traveling with a group. And it's sometimes possible to grab a piece of fruit or other small item from the breakfast options to save for a mid-morning snack while you're out and about, stretching your budget a little more.
Hotel staff relationships
I'm friendly to those who work in hotels because they deserve to be treated with respect, but there's a difference between being friendly and respectful and making friends with the staff. When you make friends with the staff, hotel workers are usually more than happy to give you tips on where they go on their budgets. You can research for hours on the internet and still not find the fabulous hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop that has the most amazing $5 lunch special, but your hotel workers will know about it. They can also tell you about inexpensive entertainment, the best grocery stores and farmers markets to load up on food, and more.
This is the one tip that you really can't pre-plan, but you can decide ahead of time that no matter how frustrating your travel may have been, you won't take your frustrations out on the hotel staff when you arrive.
Bottles, not glasses, of wine
I often save a good portion of my budget for dinners out when I'm traveling. If I'm traveling with other people, one trick that keeps the bill down in a good restaurant is ordering wine by the bottle instead of by the glass. Wines by the glass are often priced much higher per ounce than full bottles of comparable wine. If you can get a good $35 bottle of wine to split with a friend as opposed to four or five separate glasses of wine at $12 to $15 each, you'll get the same amount of wine but save a nice chunk of money. If there are four people at the table, you can order two different bottles, saving money but giving you a little bit of a choice.
I'll frequently research restaurant choices before my trip or earlier in the day before dinner and take a look at wine lists. I look for restaurants that have good by-the-bottle lists with several options under $40. My final tip: Don't ever be hesitant to ask your server to recommend a bottle in your price range. You won't look cheap; you'll look confident.