Travelling should be about adventure, discovery and darn cool things that you wouldn’t do at home. But all too often it becomes stressful, frustrating and overly expensive, with more time than necessary spent queuing, complaining or doing unnecessary chores. Whether for business or pleasure, with the finest tips and tricks around for saving you money, blagging freebies, wiping out holiday costs, earning VIP treatment, discovering the best of a new destination or just saving time that would be better spent enjoying yourself.
Get a dummy wallet
Fears of being mugged while on holiday are apparently greater than ever this year, with more people returning to carrying wads of cash rather than relying on foreign cashpoints in the wake of events in Cyprus, according to a report on This Is Money. But one way to try and foil any would-be bandits is to carry two wallets or purses, put a small amount of cash and some expired bank cards in your dummy wallet to throw them off the scent then flee once they think they’ve got what they want. MSN offers some more tips on avoiding pickpockets and muggers when abroad.
Make the most of Frequent Flyer Schemes
With many business folk in the USA using internal airlines the same way that other people use buses, frequent flyer programmes tend to be more generous there than elsewhere in the world. But wherever you are in the world you can still sign up to frequent flyer accounts with most of the world’s major airlines or airline networks. This post from The Points Guy gives you the 10 best deals to sign up for outside of the US.
Work for rent
Backpackers the world over have managed to get by without paying hardly a dime for accommodation in some of the most stunning destinations on the planet, simply by putting in a bit of graft. Paid casual jobs in backpacking hotspots such as Australia’s east coast can be hard to come by, but blagging a bed for free in a traveller hostel in exchange for doing some of the less salubrious jobs is a common trade-off and well worth it if you’re not afraid of cleaning a few toilets. Backpacking Diplomacy has some good advice on how to stand yourself in good stead for getting that hostel job. You can also check out Workaway and Helpx which specialises in finding you a job that will give you a free place to stay in return for your blood, sweat and tears.
Keep your batteries in the fridge
Batteries running out is a pain when you want to take that killer holiday shot or you’re trying to enjoy a soundtrack to your chill-out session by the pool using your portable speakers. There are plenty of tips and tricks for getting cheaper batteries or extending their life, but keeping them in the fridge is possibly the easiest – and possibly oddest – that you can do while on your travels. It’s certainly an unusual use of the hotel minibar anyway. Nickel–metal hydride batteries will retain 90 per cent of their full charge when kept in the cold according to How Stuff Works and while alkaline batteries will only last 5 per cent longer if kept refrigerated, if you’re in a hot country then the heat will otherwise cause the batteries to drain quicker so you will notice the benefit.
Be a paid driver
Car hire costs can be a bit of a drain on your resources when travelling but very often there are people or companies that need their vehicle moving from one place to another and will pay you for the privilege of helping them out. The Lifehacker Ultimate Travel Hacking Guide has a few handy hints for getting cheaper travel, but this is the standout one where you can actually line your pockets (or at least cover your fuel costs) while you travel between destinations. Check with local car rental companies or visit Hit the Road if you’re on the move in Canada. Driving is just one option, there are loads options. This post by Micheala Abrera is great for anyone wanting to work while hopping around Europe.
Put the smart phone away
A great tip by Anthony who runs the very witty and funny blog, The Travel Tart.
‘The only difference between looking like a hipster and looking homeless is whether or not you are using a smart phone or not. Put the phone away and no one is going to think you’re worth robbing!’
Buy, don’t rent
Transport hire is one of those costs that often really eats into a holiday budget, but if you’ve got a bit of time on your hands and some upfront cash to play with, then buying can often work out much cheaper. Hiring a bicycle in Amsterdam, for example, can set you back up to €15 a day, whereas a quick glance on Craigslist and you can pick up your own second hand cycle for less than €50 then sell it again before you leave. A bit more hassle but if it’s a leisurely trip and you don’t mind putting in the groundwork, it can save you a wad of cash. Same applies to cars, camping equipment and campervans if you’re planning on staying somewhere for a couple of weeks or more. Another way to grab yourself pretty much anything is Gumtree.
Hack the elevator
In a rush, like to show off a cool trick, or simply impatient? You can apparently zip straight to your own floor, bypassing all others even if other floor buttons have been pressed, by kicking the lift into ‘express’ mode. While some require an engineer’s key, some types of lift let you do this by holding the ‘door close’ and your floor buttons at the same time. Some may dismiss this as an urban myth, but the chaps over at Darknet would testify to its success.
Pretend you’re looking to buy property
Giving the impression that you’re a property mogul looking to splash out on some local real estate is a window into a different world. Play your cards right and you’ll get a free tour guide and maybe even the odd glass of sparkling wine. Ever notice how people are nicer to you when they think they’ll get thousands of pounds out of you? Well, that’s how estate agents work, no matter where you are in the world. You’ll have to look convincing, but you’ll get some great suggestions if you explain you want to get a feel for a place. Open house viewings with drinks and refreshments are not uncommon in some countries either, which would be a nice bonus.
Pretend all of your bags are fragile
If you have had to check in some bags, then waiting for them at the other end can be a soul-sucking way to start or end your holiday. If you want to avoid the crowds huddled impatiently around the baggage carousel, then simply tell the check-in clerks that your bags are fragile. They’ll adorn them with the necessary stickers (which you can keep on for future journeys) and your bags will most likely come out before everyone else’s, or get sent to a special collection point away from the packed carousel.
Get bumped off your flight
Getting bumped off your flight may not sound like the coolest trick in the book, after all, who wants to miss a flight? But if you’re flexible with your travel dates and in no rush, then those who volunteer to be bumped from over-sold flights are usually handsomely rewarded. Accommodation and meals nearby until the next flight, an upgrade when you do fly home and a good chunk of travel vouchers are usually the least you can expect. Check out these 10 tips for getting bumped successfully.
Become a market researcher
‘Beer taster’ may be the sort of job that sounds like wishful thinking, but it may not be that unattainable. Ok, maybe beer is not so easy, but there are companies all around the world who need customer feedback on new products, flavours, ingredients, dishes and drinks. They usually pay companies to carry out this research and those companies employ ordinary folk to join tasting sessions or focus groups to give their feedback. Look up ‘market research jobs’ or ‘focus group companies’ in the city you’re visiting and you could be well on your way to a few free meals and some extra holiday spends.
Eat like a local
Tourist restaurants and eateries surrounding the most popular tourist attractions naturally hike up their prices to the point where you pay over the odds for very average grub. It’s unlikely you’ll find locals forking out €20 for a microwaved chicken burger and chips, just because you get a view of the city square. So, forget the tourist board map and ask some genuine locals for their tips, follow their lead and you’ll find some hidden gems that are often a fraction of the cost. The same goes for the menu when you’re in a restaurant or cafe, try asking your waiter what they would order, even if it’s a dish that’s not listed, and go with their recommendation for a true taste of local cuisine. For some more detailed advice on ‘eating like a local,’ check out Johanna Uy’s article on Lonely Planet. Another great resource for weeding out the good from the bad in the culinary world is of course TripAdvisor. If you class yourself as a bit of traveling chef, then this article by David DeFranza is worth a read.
Choose your time to fly
If you’re on a flexible schedule or in no rush to return home, then pick your dates wisely and you could save gazillions on the cost of flights. Ok, perhaps not gazillions, but a tasty three-figure sum is not inconceivable. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are on average the cheapest days of the week to fly according to this STA Travel insider, especially if flying to the USA (you’ll pay supplements to fly there at weekends), and staying away from peak holiday periods obviously helps. Planning ahead can pay off too, as unless you manage to snag a promotional deal or budget airline sale, the cheapest seats are available when the flights are released 11 months in advance of the travel date.
Learn to pack properly
Baggage fees are the bane of many a traveller’s life and they show no signs of reducing any time soon either. Fitting everything into a cabin bag, or reducing the weight of your check-in luggage can be a real challenge but is one that pays off by saving you wads of cash on fees or overweight fines. ‘Don’t just shove everything in there,’ may sound like something your mum used to say, but mum was on to something. There are plenty of tips to bear in mind to be savvy with space, such as rolling your clothes instead of folding them, tucking your underwear inside your shoes (the shoes -ones in your bag, not on your feet), and wearing as many bulky items onto the plane as you can bear. Sam Baldwin from Skyscanner has a great post on how to travel with only hand-luggage even if your going for more than a week.
Drink from coconuts
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling in a country with palm trees and fresh coconuts then make the most of it. Drinking the water straight from a young coconut is just as rehydrating as a sports drink, looks darn cool and is a heck of a lot cheaper if you find one on the beach or buy one from a barefooted fruit seller. You may need to invest in a machete to crack them open though, which may cause you difficulties at airport security. If you’re not near a palm tree-lined beach, then you can always buy from a supermarket, it’s still cheaper than a bottle of Powerade. If coconuts aren’t for you, this post has the 50 most delicious drinks in the world.
Snap up free samples
Learning to hoard miniatures and pocket freebies whenever you get the chance will become second nature to any travel hacker worth their salt. Stop splashing out on those travel-sized bottles of toiletries that cost top dollar at the airport, instead stock up whenever you can as you go. Facebook can be a lucrative hangout for getting free samples of brand name products just by ‘liking’ their fan pages, while a simple Google search can lead you to plenty more. You’ll also find sample packs from promotional stands around supermarkets and shopping malls, while stocking up on ketchup sachets or tea bags from the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet will help you collect vital supplies. If your out trekking in the wilderness, free samples aren’t going to be a possibility.
Always get a room on the second floor
If your personal safety preys on your mind when travelling in foreign climes then some simple tricks can help ease your worries. A second floor room is harder to break into than the first floor, but anything higher and you’re too high to jump out of your window in an emergency, as Christopher Penn points out. Of course, there are some personal safety items that are worth investing in depending on where you’re travelling too, personal attack alarms for women, portable carbon monoxide alarms and luggage padlocks among them.
Look up popular pub crawls
A pub crawl is always a great way to explore a new place, get your bearings, find nightspots you like quickly and make some new friends along the way. Inventing your own can be a hit-and-miss option in an unfamiliar destination, but many places have well-trodden crawls which may stick to a theme or show you a particular side of a city. Do some research online or in food and drink publications. If pub crawls aren’t your kind of thing and you like to just park yourself in a seat and drink the night away without working up a sweat then checkout Worlds Best Bars if you want to do it in style.
Be clever with your jewellery storage
Lost jewellery is often the bane of many a traveller’s life, especially when it comes to small items such as earrings, bracelets, cuff links or tie clips. Taking your jewellery box on the road isn’t always the most practical option but there are plenty of space-saving budget tricks which can help you keep your earrings in pairs, or stop you losing your favourite necklace. Lori Allen on The Traveller’s Life recommends using buttons to store your earrings together, pinning them through the holes in the button, while straws can be used to stop necklaces getting tangled and protect them in your bag or drawer.
Embrace the power of the plastic bag
This brilliant tip was shared by Matt Long, from the travel blog Land Lopers;
‘I never leave home without an ample supply of Ziploc or other plastic, resealable bags for several reasons. First, they are a cheaper alternative to compression bags in my suitcase, allowing me to both organize my clothes and fit more in. I then use the bags to store the dirty laundry I accumulate during a trip. Plastic bags are also great for carry-ons, I use smaller sizes to organize my in-flight bag to keep things neat and tidy but also safe and secure.’
Use your water bladder as a shower
A great tip by the lovely Megan from Mapping Megan;
When camping in the wilderness get creative and use your water bladder or camel back as a shower! Hook it up over a tree and let the water flow – there’s no need to go a day without a shower even in the most remote of destinations. For a little bit of added luxury, leave it on a rock in the sun for a bit beforehand for warm water.
Steal first class Wi-Fi
Those 1980s-style computers at airports offering 20 minutes internet for £1 to check your email are not the coolest way to stay in touch with the cloud, are they? Nor the cheapest. But if you’ve not got the moolah to cruise into the first class lounge, you can still take advantage of the free wi-fi offered to the prawn sandwich-munching classes.
Pitch yourself as some kind of class warrior if you like, stealing from the rich to give to the poor (or the not so rich, I mean come on, you’re at an airport after all, right?). Anyway, just cosy up on a seat near the first class lounge and the chances are you can surf on their wi-fi signal. Many have unprotected networks or dig around online and you might just find a password or two in advance of your trip. You’ll be streaming Game of Thrones in no time while you wait for your delayed plane, all thanks to Horatio paying an extra £500 for his ticket so he can enjoy a free glass of pinot and a comfy seat.
Pretend it’s your honeymoon
Ok, an obvious one, and it won’t work all the time, but it will certainly have its perks if you drop in this little snippet of information wherever you go. It can even start right from the off, with plenty of couples enjoying a free upgrade to first class on their flight out. Or reap the benefits before you’ve even got that far. Looking to book your dream holiday but can’t be bothered to do the research? Head to Kuoni, take a friend of the opposite sex if you’re single, and they’ll bring you up a load of options to ‘go away and think about.’ They’ll also crack open a bottle of bubbly for you while you’re in the shop. Cheers, suckers!
Meet free tour guides online
Couch surfing is by now a well known ‘hack’ for securing free accommodation in lots of destinations around the world, but the main Couchsurfing website is perhaps less well known for also putting you in touch with locals even if you don’t need somewhere to stay. There are plenty of hip, young locals keen to show you the coolest places to go, introduce you to people and basically show you a better time than you’ll have following your eight-year-old guidebook or paying for a walking tour with hordes of other tourists. A great resource if you’re travelling alone too as you’ll meet friendly locals keen to show you the best of their home city.
Befriend your local hostels
Even if you’re not staying in them, hostels can be a wonderfully social place to hang out while travelling and provide a valuable hub of information too. The staff are usually young travellers themselves or know the local scene inside out and are invariably friendly. They’ll tell you the coolest nights out and hopefully let you piggyback some of their events, such as introductory pub crawls, free tours and hostel parties. You’ll be finding local secrets and making new friends in no time.
Splash out on lunch, go cheap on dinner
Most people get into the habit of doing lunch on the cheap, wolfing something down quick on the go and then having a more leisurely and expensive meal for dinner. But if you’re looking for ways to save cash on your travels but don’t want to miss out on experiencing some fantastic local feasts, then change your habits. If you’ve got time on your hands then a relaxed, leisurely lunch is great fun anyway, but it also means you can benefit from lunch deals and special prices, even in Michelin-starred restaurants where you can enjoy fine dining for a fraction of the cost of many evening meals. Make it your evening mission to find street food bargains for dinner instead, or cook in your accommodation if that’s an option.
Sign up for a travel credit card
This is another one that you need to think about in advance, but it can bring you some great benefits from things that you would be doing anyway. Bonuses earned can include free flights, free hotel room, upgrades, cash back and more and there are countless cards and offers all competing for your custom, so choosing carefully can pay off. Again, these are more lucrative in the USA, but pretty much every country has its lucrative credit card offers. Usual warnings apply when applying for credit but for an expert guide on this core travel hacking skill, check out the Triphackr guide to choosing travel credit cards.
Be smart with your smart phone
A very smart tip by the wonderful Paul Johnson from A Luxury Travel Blog;
‘Avoid international roaming charges by using a local or global SIM card. By replacing the SIM card in your phone with one from a local operator, or one that is designed specifically for global travellers, you can make huge savings when compared with your carrier’s usual international roaming plan. And you can avoid a nasty shock (aka bill) when you get home.’
Take Tabasco Sauce with you everywhere
Last but not least travelling should be a culinary adventure, sampling new tastes and cultures with delicious meals in fancy restaurants or hearty grub from down-to-earth street stalls. But the reality is it often ends up blander than bland, pale, mass-produced dishes designed to serve as many people as possible as quickly as possible. If you like to spice things up a bit, then just slip a little bottle of Tabasco into your pocket with you. It’s small enough to carry subtly around and potent enough to jazz up any mealtime.