Worrying about the cost of international travel is valid. Not everyone has the wherewithal to plop down thousands of dollars to leave the country when they want to. However, with some discipline and planning, international travel isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.
If you’re looking for tips on back-packing through Europe or your steeze is more hostel than Hilton, this blog ain’t for you. I’m not that girl. I know nothing about couriering packages overseas in exchange for a cheap flight, or bunking on a freighter for eight days as it crosses the Atlantic. However, if you want to travel abroad comfortably, use the following tips as a guide in booking your dream vacation.
1. Most trips can be put into a lay-away of sorts.
If you can put jewelry or clothing in lay-away, then you can pay for a trip in much the same fashion. Many tour companies permit you to make payments on a trip after making your deposit. The only catch is that you must have the trip paid for by a certain date — generally between forty-five and sixty days before the day of departure. Therefore, the key is to book as early as you can and make regular payments towards your trip.
It’s my understanding that you may be able to make payments on non-tour vacations, as long as you book airfare at the same time that you make your other trip arrangements (booking the hotel at the very least). You wouldn’t have to pay the entire cost of the airfare at once. You could pay as you paid for the trip.
It is rare that I travel internationally less than nine months from booking the trip. I usually know specifically when and where I would like to travel, and how much the trip will cost. This permits me to plan my payments and take advantage of various cost-saving measures.
2. Use frequent traveler, and all other, discounts when possible.
On an upcoming trip overseas, I booked within thirty days of returning from another trip with the same tour company. I took advantage of a $100 immediate booking credit, as well as a 5% frequent traveler discount of the land-only portion of the upcoming trip. In this case, frequent traveler meant I had taken at least one trip within the last five years with the same tour company.
By booking more than a year in advance, I gave myself ample time to pay off the upcoming trip. Moreover, I was able to take advantage of the then-current trip prices for 2013. Glad I did because the trip I chose increased by a cost of $700 when the 2014 trip prices were published!
Finally, I was able to pay off the trip early and earn the greatest early payment discount. By combining all the discounts available to me, I saved myself $1400!
I am already thinking ahead to the trips I would like to take within the next two years, and will be planning my bookings with cost savings in mind.
3. Travel during the off-peak season.
Every tourist destination, from Detroit to Kandahar, has an off-peak, shoulder, and peak season. Consider traveling overseas during the off-peak season, which is usually November through March. Know that if you are traveling to Europe or Asia, the climates differ greatly in the off-peak season, just as they do here in the U.S. It may be possible to vacation in certain parts of Europe and Asia that stay warmer during the winter months, and save yourself half the cost of going there during the peak or shoulder seasons when it’s likely to be unbearably hot.
If traveling to the Southern Hemisphere (Africa, Australia, South America), know that our winter is their summer. It will be more expensive to travel to those destinations from December through early March. Consult a travel agent to decide the best times to travel south of the equator.
4. Don’t be afraid to room with someone you don’t know on a guided tour.
As you can tell, I am a huge fan of guided tours. I don’t mind traveling alone, or the possibility of rooming with someone from another country I don’t know. I travel with Trafalgar Tours, and that company offers a cheaper rate to those willing to be matched with a roommate. There is a steep increase in price for the solo traveler who insists on having a single room, regardless of the tour company.
I have not yet had the opportunity to room with a stranger. The roommate I was scheduled to have throughout my first European tour did not show up, so I had a single to myself the entire trip! Not gonna lie and say I was sad about that. The even better news was that I was not made to pay extra because my roommate did not show, nor would I have been required to pay extra if the tour company could not have matched me with a roommate before the beginning of the tour.
5. Try to book as a group to cut costs and earn perks.
Some guided tours allow several people to room together, which certainly reduces the overall cost per person. For large groups, guided tours may be willing to negotiate a lower price since the group guarantees that that particular tour will not have to cancel due to lack of enrollment.
One of the most popular options for groups is a cruise. The group’s cruise coordinator can earn perks which include a reduced cost, or free, cabin; or free dining at the premium restaurants on board. Members within the group might find that they are entitled to a complimentary cocktail reception, or free champagne.
6. Find a good travel agent and stick like glue.
I use Divas on the Go Travel, an agency with offices in Nevada and Ohio (divasonthegotravel.com). Senior Travel Consultant Annette McCrary’s excellent customer service and attention to detail keep me loyal to her agency. She responds to my emails, phone calls, and texts immediately. More importantly, she goes out of her way to make sure that every single question I have is answered — regardless of whether it’s a domestic or international trip.
A good travel agent is invaluable because he or she has access to a wealth of information through their networks, and can make smart recommendations. If your agent does not know, he or she can quickly access their network and find out. And, if you experience bumps and set-backs during your trip, your agent is the person you want to call.
7. Add more cities or countries to your itinerary if you can.
Roundtrip airfare to Europe will cost between $1200 and $1500. Airfare between European countries is relatively cheap. Then there is the excellent train system that links most of Europe. Why not think about adding in more cities or countries? Flying into London? Make sure to use the excellent train system to explore Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Visiting Italy? Switzerland and France are its neighbors. Don’t limit yourself to just one country or city if you have time. It’s cheaper to fly to another European country while in Europe than it is to cross the Pond again.
8. Find out how much things cost before you book a trip to the country. Or, may the exchange rate ever be in your favor.
Just like Scotty and his friends found that their $1.50 stretched for days in Bratislava in the movie Eurotrip, so, too, did my American money enable me to live like a queen in Hungary. I made it rain on the daily at the shopping venues in Budapest. London, however, killed my wallet. The pound was mighty against the dollar, and London is an expensive city. I was prepared for the harsh exchange rate and calculated how much everything would cost in U.S. dollars, down to the cab rides and tips.
Consider the exchange rates and general expensiveness of the cities and countries you would like to visit. The cost of cabs, meals, and attractions will ultimately affect your bottom line.
SN ~ Bratislava’s Old Town is pretty expensive. Businesses accept Euro and, of course, charge the tourists through their nose. I doubt if Scotty would have lived so lavishly considering Slovakia was not a member of the European Union when the movie was filmed.
9. Read the fine print to know what your trip covers.
If you’re not on a tour, then it’s obvious that you are responsible for all meals and transportation. If you are on a tour, the tour will usually cover at least transportation from city to city and some sightseeing. However, you need to find out whether meals are included, if admission to certain attractions are included, and whether you will have any other costs.
It’s been my experience traveling with a particular tour company that all breakfasts are covered, a few dinners are included, many attractions on their itinerary are included, and all hotel charges (except incidentals like wi-fi and telephone calls from the room’s phone) are covered. However, it is customary to tip the tour operator and the bus driver at the end of the trip, similar to the custom on cruise ships. The tip is a small price to pay for guided direction and expert driving throughout foreign lands.
10. Strongly consider travel insurance to save the headache of losing an expensive trip.
The last thing you want to do is plop down thousands of dollars only to fall ill, experience a tragedy, or be prevented from traveling for whatever reason. Travel insurance is just what it says — it will offer some protection against emergencies that pop up right before, or during, travel. Most people decline it. I always buy it, whether I think I need it or not. We don’t always need car insurance, but it sure is handy if there is an accident.
Hope these tips are helpful as you plan your first or second, or third trip abroad. There is nothing as liberating as boarding your first flight to a land that you’ve only dreamed about.
Sail away with me. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Together we can explore, dream, and discover.