Hack Your Way to the Top
Episode #9 of the course A practical guide for budget travel by Damon Dominique, Joanna Franco, and Alyssa Perrott
Now that we’ve delved into the major areas of budget travel, today, we can explore an overarching concept that will add additional spice to how you navigate them all: travel hacks!
As budget travelers, what we lack in funds, we make up for in hacking. Not the spying-on-the-government-from-our-mother’s-basement kind, but the travel kind: secrets to finding the best deals and smart ways to make the money work.
Let’s throw away the traditional rule back and get hacking!
Escape the Cookies (Not the Edible Ones, Because We Like Those)
Websites can track you just about as closely as Hansel and Gretel followed those crumbs. Use a private browser when booking flights and accommodation to avoid price hikes; you’ll essentially become invisible. Consider also using a VPN to hunt down deals from different (virtual) locations. Hansel and Gretel will be very, very confused.
Makin’ Money Moves
There are complete travel blogs dedicated to explaining and breaking down how credit cards work, but we’ll give you the skinny version.
Credit cards. You might already have one, you might be looking to get one. Regardless, do your research. Tons of big banks want you to spend money on travel using their cards, and they’re willing to reward you for it—cha-ching! Our personal favorite card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred (USA only), which gives you two points for every $1 you spend on travel and has no international transaction fees. In terms of the points, buying any ticket will give you points that never expire, to be used on—you guessed it!—more travel.
Frequent flyer programs. Not to be confused with credit card points, these FF programs are totally free, global, and available for anyone who has a flight and an email address. Almost every major airline has its own program and an alliance. There are three major alliances, so it’s strategic to pick airlines that are part of the same one—you’ll be accruing points with all their partners as well. How to track the points? There’s an app for that.
Cash Money and How to Know You’re Not Getting Ripped Off
If you’re like us and barely had time to wash your dishes before heading to the airport, odds are that you had no time to pick up cash before your flight. That’s okay! When you land at the airport, you can either withdraw from a local ATM using your home debit card or wait until you’re in the city center to withdraw. If you’re going the ATM route, the hack is to withdraw more than less because every time you withdraw, you’ll be getting charged three fees: the ATM fee ($3-$7), the international withdrawal fee your bank will charge you (usually $5), and the conversion rate, which could be hiked up at the ATM. Make sure to go directly home with your $400 worth of local currency, to avoid getting mugged five seconds later. That’s almost happened to us too.
Other Useful Things
Acorns: If you want to start saving for your trip but aren’t disciplined enough to do it yourself, let a robot do it! Acorns is an automatic investment app: You choose the risk, they turn your pennies into hundreds, and in a few months, you just bought yourself a semester abroad by doing none of the hard work.
Another great investment app is Mint. You set a budget for everything you spend money on: from coffee to needing a new chapstick every month. The app will then create pretty pie charts and alert you when you’ve gone over your “wine for when I’m down” budget.
Learning the Language
The ultimate hack when traveling abroad is being able to speak the language. You’ll be able to understand if you’re getting ripped off or not and earn the respect of the locals—they’ll be more willing to point you in the direction of your new favorite restaurant that serves gourmet ramen for less than $5.
Here are ways to brush up on all languages, including your rusty high school Spanish (bet you now wish you hadn’t been chatting with your friends on Facebook when Señora Diaz was lecturing you).
Now that you know how to hack better than Joanne, we’re going to give you the last bit of knowledge you’ll need to pack to become a master budget traveler. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s lesson!
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