Worst Ways to Waste Money on Vacation
Splurging on vacation doesn't have to make you feel guilty. It's nice to treat yourself. Just be mindful of where all your vacation dollars are going. The less you spend on unnecessary things, the more money you'll have for all the things that are actually worth it.
Some of the ways that waste money while traveling are sneaky. They will slowly poke holes into your wallet before you realize it. Others simply require changing your perspective on things like destinations, hotels and tap water (yes, really).
These are the top money wasters when you travel and ways you can avoid them. The best part about avoiding money suckers is you won't have to sacrifice anything, so your trip will still be amazing.
Not Using a Travel Rewards Card
Few things pain our hearts as much as seeing people not optimize travel rewards. Having a credit card that gives you points is literally getting free money to spend on travel. Many cards have a $0 annual fee and offer protection that debit cards don't, so it's really a win-win situation.
If you're one to think that the travel point game doesn't work, let's just say we've booked about half a dozen reward flights thanks to this trick.
What to do instead: Find a card that works for you and apply to it ASAP. Our favorite travel cards are from Chase. If travel isn't your utmost priority, you can even get Chase Freedom Unlimited, which has a $0 annual fee and offers cashback that can also be used for travel when you need to.
We also like the Capital One Venture cards. If you tend to use a specific airline or stay at a specific hotel chain most of the time, we suggest getting their brand-specific credit card to maximize rewards.
Not Paying Your Card in Full When You Do Use It
Listen to us very carefully. The credit card rewards game only works if you are paying your credit card in full every month. Getting a 1 percent reward for every dollar you spent does not make sense if you're going to be paying 15 percent interest on that dollar.
We've seen way too many people play the game and lose, then turn around and complain about how travel reward credit cards are useless.
Don't be these people. Be a smart player.
What to do instead: The only thing you have to do is spend the money you already have in the bank. Think of credit cards as a debit card that gives you cookie points.
Flying Without Collecting Miles Whenever Possible
The other thing that pains our heart is hearing people say that frequent flyer programs are a scam and never work. We're sorry to say it's not them. It's you.
We concede that these programs can be confusing and people who don't know enough about them may end up losing their points. But let us assure you that many frequent flyer programs don't even have expiration dates for their points and the ones that do have ways you can keep points from expiring, even if you don't travel.
There's also the misconception that joining a program only makes sense if you fly exclusively with a specific airline. Thankfully, this is not true thanks to the three major airline alliances: OneWorld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam.
What to do instead: Pick a single airline in each alliance and join their free frequent flyer program.
Then, whenever you travel, see if the airline is part of an alliance and transfer the points for the flight into the program you chose. This means that you can earn points with Delta by flying Korean Air or American Airlines points with British Airways.
These are the U.S. frequent flyer programs that are worth it, and the ones that aren't.
Forgetting to Weigh Your Bags While Packing
There was once a time where airlines actually cared about their customers, but those times are history. Today, American Airlines will try to charge you $100 for being 1 pound over the weight limit (true story).
Many travelers get caught off guard at the airport when they realize their bags are too heavy. They either end up paying a hefty price or, if they're stingy enough, having to throw away some stuff (also true story).
What to do instead: Buy a portable suitcase scale. This $11 one fits in even a purse or a small backpack so you can bring it with you wherever. It has saved us many times from some awkward — and expensive — moments at the airport.
Neglecting to Compare Prices
So you found a great flight on Skyscanner or a gorgeous hotel on Tripadvisor. You should buy it immediately, right? Wrong.
Sometimes, prices vary depending on the site that you're using. You may not be getting the best price out there.
What to do instead: When you've found your perfect ticket (or hotel room), be a smart shopper and do a quick comparison with other sites. You'll usually find that the price is the same across similar websites. But sometimes you'll be able to find a cheaper alternative for the same flight or hotel.
If the price is the same, see if you can book with whoever gives you rewards. For instance, Expedia has a loyalty program that doesn't cost anything and can earn you discounts on hotel rooms.
Paying for Car Rental Insurance Your Credit Card Already Offers
Renting a car can be nerve-wracking, especially when the salesperson tries to convince you an accident is inevitable and you'll be left paying the expenses for the rest of your life.
We definitely recommend making sure your car rental is insured. However, many travel credit cards offer the same coverage as the basic insurance from car rental services.
Unless you plan to go premium, paying twice for the same coverage is definitely a money waster.
What to do instead: This one is easy. Just check your credit card perks. Read the fine print to see whether you have rental car insurance and what exactly is covered.
Then decide whether getting additional insurance from the car rental company is worth it.
Not Getting Travel Health Insurance
We get it. You want to be thinking about Hawaiian beaches and nightclubs in Berlin, not about accidents. But the reality is that sometimes accidents happen.
To instill fear into your heart, let us just say we've known multiple people who've broken a bone while traveling.
The ones without insurance suffered much worse.
What to do instead: Shop around for good medical insurance to cover you in case of an emergency. Chances are nothing will happen, but if something does, you'll be thanking yourself forever. Companies like Axa Travel Insurance, World Nomads and Travelex Insurance Services offer good coverage.
As with cars, many credit cards offer certain protections for travelers, including lost baggage, trip cancellation, and loss of life or limb. Normally, they don't cover medical emergencies so check before getting additional travel insurance.
Forgetting to Check Parking Rates at Your Hotel
During road trips, travelers can get so excited about having parking at the hotel that they forget to check if it's even free.
Unfortunately, hotels are very well aware and feel no shame about exploiting this weakness of the human psyche. They'll often advertise parking as a perk and will conveniently neglect to say that you'll have to pay for it.
What's worse, the fees can be pretty high sometimes.
What to do instead: Be diligent about this. Remember to check every single time.
It's not just a victory over your own betraying brain, but over hotels that want to take advantage of your lack of awareness.
Don't let them win.
Paying Foreign Transaction Fees
This is one of the most tragically common ways travelers waste money on the road.
We get that you don't always want to carry around cash, and in some countries, paying with a card is so much easier and convenient. We support this.
But there is no reason for anyone to be paying foreign transaction fees.
What to do instead: A debit or credit card that charges you foreign transaction fees is like a bad partner. It needs to go immediately. Cancel and cut that card like you (symbolically) did with your last relationship and get back on the market for one that will treat you better.
There are many, many cards that offer no foreign transaction fees, including ones with no annual fee. All the cards we recommended above fall into this category.
Paying Too Many ATM Fees
It's true that the best way to get cash while abroad is to take it out from the ATM rather than to exchange cash. The exchange rate tends to be better and the fees are comparable or lower than at a currency exchange.
Most debit cards will charge an ATM fee when you're abroad, but that doesn't mean there aren't ones out there looking out for you.
What to do instead: Open an account with Charles Schwab, even if you're only using it for when you travel. The bank is famous for reimbursing any ATM transaction fees worldwide.
This perk also applies domestically, so you don't have to drive around looking for your bank in order to take money out. Any old gas station ATM will give you cash for free.
Not Learning How to Bargain (When It’s Fair)
A sad reality of travel is that people will try to overcharge you constantly. No matter where you are in the world, this is bound to happen at some point.
Some people are shy about bargaining down prices and end up paying a "tourist tax" that often overvalues items. While we don't believe in bargaining for the sake of bargaining, and we always condone paying a fair price — especially for hand-made items — letting people take advantage of you is just a bad financial (and moral) choice.
What to do instead: Learn how to bargain. Again, only do this if someone is overcharging you, not when you want to save a couple of bucks on an item that took an entire month to make.
People don't realize that bargaining is as simple as asking. Sometimes it won't work, and people will push back. You can then decide to either push again or go somewhere else.
But merely asking can be magic, and people will often concede right away. Asking has gotten us discounts for restaurants, wedding gifts, and even a New York City apartment.
Not Researching Prices Before You Get There
You may have gotten the art of bargaining down, but it won't do much good unless you know how much something is supposed to cost within a country.
For instance, travel websites always tell you to set the price with taxi drivers before getting in so they can't scam you. But then you get to Prague, and when you attempt to set the price, you agree to whatever the taxi driver tells you because you have no idea how much the ride is supposed to cost.
Of course, you later realize that the driver overcharged you. By a lot.
What to do instead: Google is a gift to modern people. Use it. It is so easy to find out the price for anything in any country in less than five minutes.
You don't have to research every single thing, but search for the cost of a cab ride at least. Finding out how much handcrafts and food cost also can save you money.
If you forgot to do this before leaving home, you can easily compare prices by asking multiple people offering the same service or selling similar things. That'll get you a better idea of whether the price is inflated or not.
Deciding to Not Use Public Transit
It's baffling how many people refuse to use public transit when they travel. Yes, taxis can be pretty cheap in many places, but they add up quickly.
Ride-sharing apps, while cheaper than traditional taxis, also can end up costing you more than you'd expect, even when rides are a mere $7.
What to do instead: We're not saying you should be extremely stingy and suffer the pain of pushing a giant suitcase around the metro in New York City. We also would never recommend that you ride Bogota's Transmilenio during rush hour (just don't do it).
But for your normal touring, buses and metros in most cities in the world are great. Not only are they cheaper, but they're also a perfect way to actually get a feel of the city and the day-to-day life of people. You'll see fewer tourists and more people going to work.
Oftentimes, this is a perspective travelers miss.
Believing Myths About Street Food
As experienced travelers, we've gotten food poisoning many times. Not once has the culprit been street food.
Many travelers are wary of street food, despite it consistently being the cheapest and best food in a country.
It's a tragedy.
What to do instead: Go to street food stands where there are many locals. People know their city and know where the food is good and where it's not trustworthy. If you see more tourists than locals, be a little wary.
Also, know your own gut. Sometimes it's not that the street food is bad, but that your gut isn't compatible with it.
Eating or Drinking Only at Your Hotel
There are moments where we condone eating at the hotel. Like if the meals are included in the price you paid or if you're stuck in your room with a bad case of food poisoning (from a restaurant, not street food, of course).
But most of the time, hotel food is criminally overpriced and often not that good. Even when it's delicious, we're willing to bet you can find food that's just as good at a restaurant in the city for better prices.
What to do instead: Don't be lazy, get out there and enjoy the city. Even if you're a business traveler and are somewhere just for a night, make the effort to walk around and find a place to eat.
We're not even saying you have to eat traditional local food. Most places in the world are like your hometown, people like eating other cuisines, so you're likely to find a variety of options.
Always Buying Alcohol at a Bar
Alcohol is one of the things that will burn a hole in your pocket — at home and abroad. This is especially true if you're always going to bars when you want to drink, since you end up paying a higher price for drinks and, depending on the country, giving tips.
What to do instead: Go ahead and enjoy going out to bars. But sometimes, consider cheaper alternatives that can be just as fun. In Lisbon, for example, you can buy a bottle of delicious wine for €1 ($1.19) at a store and enjoy it at one of the city's many miradouros, or lookout points.
You also can buy drinks at a local store and take it back to your hotel/Airbnb to enjoy with your travel companions (or random new friends if you're at a hostel).
Only Eating at Restaurants in Touristy Areas
We're not saying to not do this. Sometimes, you care more about enjoying the view of Venice's Grand Canal than about saving money. That's great, and you should go for it.
But if you find yourself always eating at the most touristy spot in the city, chances are that you're paying more than you need to and that the food won't be that great.
What to do instead: Dare to get a little lost. Start from the tourist spot you've been visiting, and then go ahead and walk 10 or 15 minutes in any direction.
Will you magically find the secret place locals love? Probably not. But you might find something more "authentic" that caters to residents rather than tourists.
If you're not willing to take chances, there are always blogs by locals and long-term travelers with great recommendations.
Spending Money on Random Souvenirs You’ll Never Use
We all love having a concrete, physical reminder of the places we've been to. We love souvenirs and think they're great.
But they often can be impractical and random, rather than bring great memories, and they end up in a box in the garage collecting dust.
It's a complete waste of money to buy things that you won't use at all, not even as decoration.
What to do instead: Be mindful about the kind of souvenir that fits with your home and lifestyle. If you're the kind of person that loves to decorate their house with trinkets from around the world, by all means, collect them. If you have a mug or an earring collection that you use all the time, explore the four corners of the ocean in search of the coolest ones.
There's no "good" or "bad" souvenir, but there are souvenirs that you simply won't use. Opt for things that will be present in your normal, everyday life.
Pro tip: They're often things that aren't in souvenir shops.
Buying Souvenirs for Every Single Person You Know
While we all love having someone open their bags after a trip and taking out whatever they brought us, we've also all received a random souvenir that ends up lost somewhere in the deep spaces of our closets.
This is also a waste of money. Money that you could've used during your trip.
What to do instead: Be intentional with the gifts that you buy people. Buy stuff that each person will actually love and use. Food and alcohol are great gifts, for instance, but only if you know that person enjoys trying out new flavors.
Also remember that you don't always have to buy something for every single person you know.
Not Considering Cooking at Least Some of Your Meals
We hear you, we hear you. You didn't go on vacation to cook and clean. But eating out three meals a day plus snacks can quickly become your major in-country expense.
This is especially true if you're in a country that isn't too budget-traveler friendly.
What to do instead: Choose the meal that's the least important and think about cooking instead of eating out, even if it's just for a couple of days on your trip.
If you don't eat a big breakfast, for instance, you can go to the local store and buy fruits, yogurt or cereal. Make yourself something quick and delicious before you go out to explore.
Cooking also gives you the opportunity to go to fresh food markets and try out local ingredients.
Assuming Tap Water Is Unsafe Everywhere
There's a myth shared among people from North America and Europe that they're the only places in the world with safe tap water. This is simply not true.
This misconception ends up costing you money from an accumulation of all the plastic bottles of water that you end up buying.
It's also pretty bad for the environment.
What to do instead: Once again, Google is your friend. Research a specific city before you go there to see if the water is safe to drink.
We say city because water quality varies greatly within countries. For instance, while many places in the U.S. have perfectly safe tap water, there are cities where it contains lead. Conversely, tap water in Bogota is safe, but it's usually not drinkable in the Colombian countryside.
Do the research, and you can save your wallet while saving the planet.
Going for Your Favorite Snacks Instead of Buying Local Ones
Snacking while traveling is more than a joy. It's a necessity. Many budget-savvy travelers pack snacks in their daypack so they don't end up spending money on the first thing they see when hunger strikes.
While this is a good strategy that we condone, we've seen travelers spend more money than they need to buy their favorite snack from their home country. Often at inflated prices.
What to do instead: Go local. Yes, you love your Doritos or your healthy Clif Bar. But they'll probably cost more in a foreign country, and you can always enjoy them when you're back home.
We recommend going into a local grocery or corner store and getting local snacks. You'll be learning a bit about the country, trying new foods and saving money.
That's a triple win.
Paying for International Data When There’s Free WiFi
If you can't live without connection, you're not alone. This is why cellphone companies allow you to pay good money for roaming. And why airports are filled with shops selling international SIM cards at high prices.
In the end, you get 24/7 access to TikTok that you (hopefully) don't even end up using that much.
What to do instead: Consider how much you actually need access to constant data. If you're going to be navigating or need to be able to communicate with someone else the whole time, it may be worth it.
Otherwise, there's usually Wi-Fi at accommodations and cafes around the world. Many countries even have free Wi-Fi at public parks.
Skip paying anything for something you can get for free.
Paying Way Too Much for Tourist Traps
Some places are amazing and worth every penny that you spend on them. Others are just overhyped and overrated tourist traps that are best avoided. The worst part is that they're often pretty expensive. (We're looking at you, Epcot.)
After spending your life savings on them, you're only filled with regret and pictures crowded with other tourists.
This is 10/10 not recommended.
What to do instead: Just because a place is popular doesn't mean that you have to go. This is true even if it's free, but be especially careful about tourist traps that are expensive. The regret is much more bitter.
Once again, researching pays off, as does knowing yourself and your interest. One person's overpriced tourist trap may be another's must-see spot.
Thinking You Have to Cram It All In
Trying to cram a million things into a day can be expensive in many ways. You'll be spending more on transportation, entrances and guides.
You'll also set yourself up for good old-fashioned burnout.
What to do instead: We'll let you in on a secret that took us years of traveling to learn: You don't have to see everything.
If you love a place, you can try to come back later and see more of it. But the truth is, you never see everything, even within your own hometown.
So let go of that pressure and prioritize the things that you will enjoy the most and which are worth your time and money.
Always Traveling During Peak Season
Peak season is notoriously expensive and crowded. Yes, sometimes it really is the best moment to visit a place (who wants to go to Greece in winter?), but the difference in prices for flights, accommodation, transportation and even food can be astronomical.
What to do instead: Not everyone can travel outside of peak season. If this is you, make the most of it by following the rest of the advice on here.
But if you have some flexibility, try to go when fewer people are going. If the weather is what drives peak season, a good idea is to travel right before or right after it. This way, you'll still get the weather that you want, but you'll avoid being overcharged.
Waiting Too Long to Book Things
You don't have to book things six months in advance, but we've made the mistake of waiting until two weeks before a trip to book trains or accommodation or to buy plane tickets.
And we've paid for this mistake with tears (from our wallet).
What to do instead: Plan ahead. If you book too far in advance, you might also pay more, so try to find a sweet spot of two months to three weeks before your trip to get things ready.
This is important with accommodations, since waiting usually means fewer options. And that translates to spending money on something that might not have been your first choice.
On the flip side, sometimes you can get discounts on things that are reallylast minute. But play this game at your own risk.
Not Following Travel Discount Sites
There are entire websites whose sole mission and purpose are to give you a heads-up about awesome discounts on hotels or flights.
Yet many people who love travel simply ignore their existence, refusing to even see if one of the deals can apply to them.
What to do instead: You're already spending hours on social media, so you might as well let it help you.
Follow places like Travel Pirates, Secret Flying and Flight Deal to see discounts, deals and airfares. These sites also have newsletters and apps that send you notifications. Use whatever mode of communication best suits you.
Some sites (none of the above) will try to get you to pay money for their "premium" deals with the promise of thousands of dollars saved. Ignore these sites. They're never worth it.
Not Considering Budget-Friendly Destinations
We all want to walk around London and go to a temple in Tokyo, but when you're on a budget, these destinations might not be feasible.
Consider places that are just as great but less pricy. Not doing so is a mistake in our book.
And it can cost you a lot of money and give you less value.
What to do instead: If your heart is absolutely set on a destination, then go, even if it's expensive.
But if there's not really a reason to go to an expensive destination, just go for what's more affordable. An open mind is actually pretty good for the wallet.
You can do this even if you are dying to go to Europe, where's there's plenty of cheap travel destinations.
Not Being Open to Alternative Destinations
Similarly, not looking into alternative routes can sometimes be an expensive mistake. Plenty of second cities are just as cool — if not cooler — than capitals and getting off the beaten tourist path is often incredibly rewarding.
Not being flexible about the places you visit, or where you come into, can add hundreds of dollars to your expenses.
What to do instead: At least look up alternatives. You may find that you are just as happy visiting Osaka rather than Tokyo or that Boston coincides with your interests more than New York does.
Alternative cities also can be a gateway to your real destination. Cities near major hubs can sometimes be hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly into. Often, they'll have public transportation that will connect you to the major city.
The money saved may not be worth the inconvenience, but calculating the difference can allow you to make a decision. Google Flights is great for this.