When Going Cheap on Travel Can Come Back to Bite You

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Ken Yam/Unsplash

Saving pennies here and there is a way for most of us to get ahead of where we want to be financially. However, pinching those pennies in the wrong places can be a huge mistake, especially when it comes to travel.

You can make your own decisions when it comes time to save money on your next trip. But first, check out these reminders of how much you could compromise enjoyment of your vacation if you pinch pennies the wrong way.

Going Cheap on the Rental Car

With a few exceptions, there's a good reason why a budget rental car service is as cheap as it is. Sometimes you can find a deal on a rental car that’s only slightly lower quality than the standard or premium rental car services, but other times, skimping on the rental car will have you wallowing in regret.

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Picture it now. You've just gotten off a pair of connecting flights across the country. It’s past midnight, and you have to wait for a shuttle to some remote outpost to get your rental car. When you pick it up, you realize the seat doesn’t go back far enough to accommodate your legs. Doesn’t sound nice, does it?

Scheduling a Flight That’s Unreasonably Early (or Late)

The term "know thyself" is a time-tested piece of advice for good reason. Knowing yourself is the key to scheduling a flight time that’s not going to cause you to miss your flight or be completely miserable because you decided to save a few bucks by booking a crack-of-dawn departure when you’re already a night owl.

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Even if you’re a morning person, don't underestimate the hassle that can come with getting up early, triple-checking that you have everything, driving to the airport, checking bags, waiting in the security line and finally getting on your flight. Know thyself.

Going Cheapo Mode on Lodging

Whether it’s a motel in the seedy part of town where nobody seems to sleep or a hostel where everybody seems to sleep (and snore), going cheap on your lodging accommodations is a surefire way to ensure a miserable day of travel.

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The airport’s flying experience is intolerable enough even after a good night's rest. Attempting to navigate a crowded airport, potential delays and a cramped seat next to a random person when you’re running on just a couple of hours of sleep can be unbearable. Make sure you choose a hotel that’s comfortable and relaxing.


Convincing Yourself That the Middle Seat Is Just Fine

"You've lost weight," you told yourself, "so what’s a couple hours of clenching your elbows to your sides when you can save a few bucks?" You went ahead, purchased the middle seat near the back of the plane (likely the cheapest seat available) and convinced yourself that everything would be rosy.

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And then, you boarded the flight and sat down in between two average-sized humans. Regret instantly set in. You fully realized that you, in fact, had bought the middle seat near the back of the airplane. You can’t relax at all. You messed up.

Squeezing Into the Economy Rental Car

There are any number of downsides that can arise from going too cheap on your rental car. If you go with the budget company, you could end up riding a ramshackle shuttle to a different time zone than the airport, and you could run into similar misery if you save money by renting a super-economy vehicle.

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Going with a car that’s uncomfortably small will predictably lead to you being tightly flanked by your luggage, sitting on a fellow traveler's lap, feeling generally cramped or wondering why you didn't try to save those dollars somewhere else and splurge here.

Relying on Public Transportation

As you probably know, many of the costs of traveling are hidden. You know how much your flight costs, what you’ll pay for a hotel room and the price tag for whichever activities you choose during your trip. But the hidden costs that you don't pay up front, such as transportation to and from the airport and everywhere in between, can bite you.

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Some people look to cut these backend costs by taking public transportation. Whether it’s a free airport shuttle, trolley, subway or train, you don't want to be hauling luggage on public transit, period.


Cutting It Close With Connections

One of the more popular ways of saving money while traveling is getting cheaper flight prices. You can find plenty of travel sites that put together connecting flights on budget airlines, and often those flights are cheap because the time to connect from one to the other is razor-thin.

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Paying for flights spaced too closely together will have you stressing during the entire trip. If you can't make your connecting flight, an unlimited slew of nightmare scenarios might arise. And, it's likely that you scheduled similar connections on the way back, too. Don't go cheap on the flights if it results in these crazy connections.

Avoiding the Booking Fee

It doesn't matter what activity you’re getting a ticket for. It could be a day at Disney World, a ride on the Bateaux Mouches in Paris or a tour of Alcatraz Island. If you choose to save on booking fees, instead deciding to roll the dice and purchase a ticket at the window, you could be left kicking yourself in a major way.

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Booking fees can be exorbitant, but you should consider that the larger the fee is, the larger the potential line may be if you don’t pay the fee to secure your spot in advance.

Taking the Slow Train or Ferry

There’s a reason why express trains and speed ferries exist: They get you where you want to be faster. But from a broader perspective, express trains and ferries exist to help you avoid boredom and, in certain cases, misery.

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You may convince yourself that the slow train will lead to better sight-seeing, but you have to remember why people fly instead of driving — the less time in transit, the better. You'll remember this reality once you're three or four hours into the slow route and have another seven to go.


Eating Near Tourist Zones

Restaurants in tourist hotspots have you right where they want you, and it may be your inclination to eat at a place that’s convenient, sometimes in an attempt to save money. However, it may actually save you money by paying the taxi fare to go somewhere authentic.

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Dining establishments that specialize in tourists as customers know that many eat there because it's convenient, and they'll jack up the prices to capitalize on this convenience factor. They also don't plan on you coming back, so the food may not be very good.

Exchanging Money at the Airport

The urge to exchange money while you’re at the airport can lead to a costly mistake. It’s easy to rationalize exchanging money at the airport, though, as you may convince yourself that this will save you money by preventing the extra trip somewhere else specifically to exchange currencies.

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That’s flawed thinking; it’s almost always costlier to pay the rates to exchange money at the airport, as these travel hubs rarely offer anything but the worst exchange rates around. Who knows? You may not even need to exchange money.

Springing for a Deal Before Checking All Your Options

Travel sites intentionally remind you that, if you wait too long, that deal that looks so appealing could be gone. In an attempt not to lose the deal, you may be inclined to hit the purchase button straight away out of the fear that this is the best deal you’ll find.

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Being overly hasty in locking down a flight or other travel accommodations can ultimately cost you money. Ironically, out of fear that you’ll pay more by waiting, you may actually pay more because you didn't explore all of your options and find a better deal.


Skipping Travel Insurance

There are times when warranties or insurance are a complete waste of money, and there are times when those safety policies are lifesavers at relatively low prices. Though you may be inclined to think of travel insurance as the former, it can very easily be the latter if things go wrong on your trip.

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Whether the travel insurance covers your health, belongings or both, you probably won’t regret coughing up a bit more for travel insurance, especially on longer or exotic trips. You'll definitely regret not having travel insurance if you’re forced to cancel your trip at the last minute.

Taking a Cab in a Pinch

It's a good rule of thumb that cabs are generally something to avoid when you’re traveling. All around the world, cabs are typically more expensive than virtually every other mode of travel (unless you're talking helicopters) with respect to the value you get from them.

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With that said, you have to remember that your time is valuable. If, for example, your only options are to walk or take a cab to a destination that's an hour-long walk away, it's probably worth the extra money to pony up for the cab if it’s just this once.

Booking Your Trip Too Early

It's generally true that the earlier you book a flight, the cheaper your flight is going to be. With that said, booking your travel arrangements and accommodations too early can also be the ultimate waste of money.

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It’s difficult to foresee an hour in advance, let alone months or years in advance, so you’re always gambling when you book your travel arrangements too far out. There are countless potential vacation-enders that can arise before your vacation arrives. Book flights about 70 days before your trip to get the best prices.


Skipping the Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

You're going to rack up memories from your travel regardless of whether you go all-out on the spending or take the economic hostel route on your trip. There’s a healthy middle ground when it comes to spending money on any vacation, and saving money where you can is always wise.

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With that said, don’t deprive yourself of that dinner you've been dreaming of for months at the Michelin-starred restaurant or that tour that you’re sure is going to be a blast but costs a bit more than you hoped. If you never get to visit this locale again, will you regret not doing something? If so, try to do it.

Budgeting on the Fly

Whether you’re budgeting for a night, a week or a month, sit down and think hard about where you want to save money and where you want to spring for the top-notch experiences. A bit of foresight is a strong general approach to making your trip all that it can be.

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Budgeting on the fly is never advisable, and if you don’t put ample thought into what you value most and what you’re willing to sacrifice, it could force you to make last-minute financial decisions you’re not totally comfortable with. Being impulsive can blow your budget.

Not Traveling in an Ethical Way

Depending on where you’re going, there may be more or fewer ethical ways to go about your vacation. For example, when traveling in developing nations, you may want to find a tour that puts its profits into the pockets of the people rather than the state — that's your call.

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If you decide that you want to go the ethical route, it may cost you a bit more. You just have to ask yourself what price you put on conscientious tourism and then act appropriately.


Choosing a Less-popular Destination

For many people, this is a big factor in where they take a vacation. You might want to go somewhere "off the beaten path" that isn’t packed with tourists so you can get a more authentic feel for a culture. If you've saved up money and are considering two comparable destinations, pick wisely.

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Ask yourself whether you’d rather travel to one destination that has been on your bucket list for years rather than another that’s more affordable but, in your mind, less memorable. Sometimes spending more on the trip of your dreams is best.

Missing Tangible Personal Growth

This piece of advice could be seen as a license to spend, spend, spend, but that’s not the intent. When you consider whether an experience will lead to personal growth, consider that a pricey cab ride will almost certainly not, while a stroll through the historical old downtown probably will.

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You have to judge for yourself which enriching experiences are worth paying extra for and which are not. One thing is for sure: You don’t want to be left with the feeling that you missed out on a life-changing experience for a couple of pennies saved.

Not Bringing Others Along

This is especially true for families. While couples' retreats are an essential part of maintaining a happy marriage, don't let expenses be the reason why you choose to leave the kids at home. If you need to spend a bit more to include a kid or two on the trip, you may thank yourself later.

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"Later" is when your kids are entering their teenage years and testing every boundary possible. At that time, you might reach for fond memories of yourself and your once-innocent kid(s), and you'll then realize the value of family time.


Compromising Your Health While Traveling

Nobody says that you have to spend your vacation in a five-star resort or that roughing it isn't good for you sometimes. With that said, if you go cheap on any aspect of your trip that could compromise your health, you might regret it.

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Whether that’s purchasing a water filter to use in countries known for waterborne bacteria or eating at a restaurant that costs a bit more but is virtually guaranteed to spare you from food poisoning, the modest investment will be well worth maintaining your health.

Saving Money Dangerously

Just as you shouldn’t save money in any way that puts your immediate health in danger, you also shouldn’t put your life in danger of human threats because you wanted to pocket a few bucks. Many travel destinations worth visiting have seedier parts of town, and while you can probably find cheap lodging there, you shouldn't.

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There are countless stories of tourists who wanted to be overly adventurous or frugal who then paid in the form of their safety, whether that involved enduring mugging or worse. You can rest assured that none of them were happy with their decision to go frugal.

Saving on Luggage Fees

It really has gotten absurd how willing airlines are to gouge every price, and baggage fees are just one of the more egregious forms of "airline theft." Though you may be inclined to try to avoid this by downsizing your belongings as much as possible, don’t leave out essentials to save a buck.

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If you go too light on luggage, you're either going to compromise in terms of necessities for your trip, not have room for souvenirs or both. Saving on luggage fees may cost you more through its limitations.


Failing to Snatch Up the Perfect Souvenir

Impulsivity can get you into a lot of trouble. On the other hand, when you have to have something, you have to have something. When you decide to pass up on a travel trinket or souvenir that catches your eye, make sure that it’s something you can afford to pass up.

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The instinct not to spend carelessly is a noble one, but don't let it get in the way of you and the perfect keepsake that’ll remind you of your epic adventure for the rest of your life.

Cutting Your Data Short

The interconnectedness of the world has made keeping in touch easier and more affordable than ever before. Even if you’re traveling across oceans, you may be able to remain in contact with your loved ones back home, and you may want to do exactly that.

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It's tempting to idealize a trip where you’re completely disconnected, but the truth is that you may want to be able to have a bit of connectedness to keep yourself grounded and ward off homesickness. Know yourself, and pay what you need to for the right amount of data as you need it.

Not Springing for a Tour Guide

Tourists are tourists for a reason, and this becomes infinitely more apparent when a tourist is in a foreign nation. You've paid a nice chunk of change to travel to a new place and soak up the culture, so why wouldn't you spring for a local guide if they can make your trip far more enjoyable?

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A guide can be the difference between eating at a hidden gem of a restaurant and getting food poisoning. They can spare you from literal hours lost in translation. If a guide is worth their value, hire the guide.


Haggling Yourself out of a Deal

Many nations consider haggling or negotiating to be a central part of buying anything. This can be a blessing and a curse if you know (or don’t know) where to draw the line at the bargaining table. You can save a few bucks by negotiating a price down, but you also risk going too low and offending the seller.

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Of course, many sellers are good-natured and understand that if you're not low-ballin', you're not tryin', but don't try to save extra money on what’s already a good deal and lose the item you covet altogether. A guide should be able to tell you an appropriate price for an item.

Skimping on Quality Footwear

Almost no part of your body is more important when traveling than your feet. You’re going to be away from home, away from the couch or bed where you’re used to kicking your feet up and relaxing. So you want to make sure that your feet are taken care of, especially considering all that walking you’ll be doing.

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It may mean doing some pre-trip shopping for both athletic shoes and sandals that aren't going to leave you blistered and miserable. Whatever you've got to do, make sure that you get the shoes you need to make the trip a success. And try to break them in a little beforehand.

Getting Too Attached to Guidebooks and Maps

You know who everybody starts to really feel resentful towards after a few days into a trip? Fair or not, the person who insists on stopping every 30 feet to consult a guidebook becomes a real pain for fellow travelers who are trying to soak in the sights with minimal interruptions.

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Having one trusty guidebook is fine. Investing in no fewer than five of them and breaking them out whenever you get the chance to justify the money you spent on them is just a bad idea. Save money by not splurging on a trove of guidebooks.