If you're like most travelers, you probably do a lot of things automatically without thinking much about it. You may look for the biggest or the cheapest hotel chain, or you automatically rent a car at the airport without checking to see how close a hotel is to public transportation.
These are things you've done over and over again, and they've worked for you in the past so it doesn't pay to change, right?
It you're willing to switch gears and break some of these long-time travel habits, you may come out money ahead.
Here are a few strategies to consider:
Look for hotels away from city centers
Sure it's convenient to stay in downtown Chicago, New York or Atlanta. But if you have the flexibility and time, consider staying at a hotel close to the airport or in the suburbs.
Not long ago a traveler stayed at the Courtyard (Marriott) Chicago O'Hare, and the room rate, which included transportation to and from the airport via airport shuttle, was about $100 a night.
If it's imperative that you stay in a downtown location, go online and look at what public transportation is close to the hotel you're considering. You may be surprised at how easy it is to hop a city bus, take the subway or El (in Chicago) or shuttle van from the area of your hotel to major attractions.
In Helsinki, a traveler found the location of the Sokos Hotel Vaakuna, built for the 1952 Olympics, perfectly situated for getting around town. The train station is a block away and the local bus stops right out front of the hotel.
Fly via other gateways
You may have adopted the comfortable habit of flying in and out of the same airport. But you might save money if you used another airport that's not too far off the beaten track.
No, you shouldn't have to spend hundreds of dollars renting a car or riding a bus to an alternate gate city, then staying overnight just to save a few dollars. But you might be able to realize substantial savings by flying out of Milwaukee versus Chicago, for example, if you can drive or take a shuttle bus to the alternate airport.
It's worth looking into. The next time you book a flight, compare fares between two different airports. Then do the math. Even with the extra cost of riding a shuttle bus from your area to the alternate gate city, you may be money ahead.
Stay at a hotel that offers free amenities
Shop for a hotel that has a continental breakfast or, if you're in Europe, make sure you stay in a hotel that offers a hearty breakfast as part of their fee.
Many travelers purposely look for hotels, lodges or bed-and-breakfast inns that offer huge breakfast buffets as part of the daily room rate.
If you're not a breakfast person, start thinking like one and you'll save money. You're already paying for the breakfast anyway, so why not take advantage of it? And, if you're smart, you'll eat breakfast as late as possible, grab a few pieces of fruit to go, and you may be able to skip lunch altogether.
If your hotel doesn't have a complementary breakfast, find out if it is within walking distance of fast food or low-cost restaurants. There's no reason you have to spend big bucks on a lavish breakfast. Small mom-and-pop diners are worth discovering, and their prices are usually very affordable.
Keep a budget
One of the biggest mistakes travelers make when it comes to spending is not having a budget for discretionary spending like food, entertainment and gifts.
Before you leave home, put together a general plan of how much you can afford to spend while you're on vacation. Average it out per day and then try to stick to it.
And don't pay for everything, or the majority of what you buy, in cash. If you're out of the country, you'll typically get better exchange rates when you use your credit card.
Sure, it's difficult to stick to an exact budget while you're on vacation, but if you keep a daily budget in mind, you'll be where you want to be and not find yourself overloaded with travel debt.
It's easy to spend money on knickknacks when you're having fun and the last thing on your mind is counting pennies. Still, if you keep track of expenses, you'll be happy you did in the long run.
Once you have that budget set up, periodically take a look at how you're doing. Pull out the receipts and credit card slips and add up how much you're spending. Do it a couple of times during your trip.
It's easy to overspend in the heat of the moment, but if you keep yourself accountable to the budget you set up, getting back home to bills you expect, not fear, will be a piece of cake.