I clearly enjoy a certain amount of luxury when I travel, so can hardly be called a budget traveler, but I can be an incredible cheapskate about certain things. Like bank charges. And roaming fees.
So here are some ways I found to save on these things. Along with some ways to save your sanity, and maybe do less damage to the planet.
Tip 1: Use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees
We do tend to use the plastic a lot when traveling, but it only dawned on us recently that we were being charged an extra 2.5% per transaction for the privilege. That’s a lot!
Some web research revealed that there are cards that don’t charge such fees. This motivated me to accepted Amazon.ca’s persistent offers to get their Visa credit card.
Now, I don’t know if it’s the only credit card that offers this perk, but we’ve been happy with it so far. It charges no annual fee, and you earn 1 point per dollar spent in general, 2 points per dollar spent at Amazon. Once you’ve earned enough points, you automatically get a cash back credit of 1% on your credit card.
As with most points credit cards, the interest rate is terrible, so we must always pay it off in full. But by using that on our Seattle trip, I estimate that we saved a good 2.5% in total! And we earned $20 back in points.
Tip 2: Get some foreign currency before you leave
Haven’t yet found a way to avoid out-of-country ATM fees, so we always try to get some foreign currency before we go. Our supplier of choice is Currency Converters, who charge no fees and carry a wide range of currencies, and can order anything not right in stock.
Tip 3: Use a US SIM card in an unlocked phone
My Canadian cell provider offered one week of US service for $40 with unlimited texting and calling, but capped at 250 MB of data.
Or, I found I could buy a Roam Mobility SIM card and pay $4 a day for unlimited texting calling, and 350 MB of data every day! Sold!
In fact, there are a lot of options for US SIM cards, and I don’t know if this one is the best. I did like that I could buy and set it up in advance, (right from my local gas station), and that it could be activated for the exact amount of time needed, down the hour. And unlike some cards, it included calls to Canada, not just the US.
Setting it up couldn’t have been easier (beyond struggle to not lose the tiny SIM cards), and it worked a treat.I totally loved the novelty of not worrying about using data on my phone! The only times I had service issues were in the mountainous regions, which is understandable.
At Lake Crescent, I had only “emergency service”, and was a bit stunned when my phone started shouting out Amber Alerts. At regular intervals. I finally had to just turn off the phone.
Then when home, I watched Sleepy Hollow, and Ichabob Crane encountered the same phenomenon! So I guess that’s a thing. (Do they not do that here, or would they if we ever had Amber Alerts, but we never do?)
Tip 4: Take the light rail to and from the airport
The train from Seattle airport to downtown, where our hotel was, was $2.75 each. A cab would have been about $55.
Furthermore, the train runs frequently, and traffic in Seattle is terrible, so I’m not sure you’d save much time in the cab, either.
So go LTR.
Tip 5: Consider flying out of Kitchener Airport
OK, this one is perhaps not a money-saving tip, as I’m sure it’s a lot cheaper to fly out of Buffalo.
But it’s much nicer flying out of a tiny airport, where yours is the only flight they have to deal with at that time. And yes, we had to transfer through Chicago, but honestly, I have never had so much assistance with an airport transfer in my life. All along were staff making sure we got in the right line, used the machines effectively, found the right gate.
It was even easier on the way home, when our luggage transferred through and we didn’t have to do double customs and security.
Parking—right at the airport, of course—was only $55. About half the off-airport cost at Pearson. So there’s that…
Tip 6: Rent a Prius!
Did we really save money? I don’t know. It was only $17 the one time we had to fill up, but the rental was slightly more than with a conventional car.
Did we help save the planet? Dubious, given that we also flew across the country.
But how often do you get to drive a Prius? Though I must say your odds are much better in Washington State, because they’re all over the place there. Must be the Prius capital of the continent.
(We also, by the way, stopped and looked at Tesla which was being exhibited in Seattle. Very nice! Of course, they didn’t let us drive it. But they did mention that Washing state was also the Tesla capital of the continent. Bit of a granola state, I guess.)
Most notable difference on the Prius vs. a gas guzzler? Lack of zoom zoom. Although there is a Power button you can push if you really do need some acceleration in a hurry. And it is a pretty quiet car. It also has these neat displays showing you when you’re drawing on battery power vs. engine power, so that was some built-in entertainment.