Earlier this month I spent 10 days in Australia. It was NOT enough time but it was an amazing trip. Traveling is my passion. I studied abroad for a semester in China and I did a short-term study abroad in Europe. During my senior year of college, I went to Costa Rica. I haven’t been a vacation longer than a long weekend since that Costa Rica trip. Last year, my sister decided she wanted to study abroad in Australia so I decided why not go. Traveling internationally is expensive like very expensive. With research and planning, it can be done without breaking the bank. Of course, yall know I love credit card rewards but below are some other tips for planning an international trip while sticking to a budget.
1. Start Planning as Early as Possible
Create an outline for your trip before you start booking anything. How many days will you be there? What activities must you do? What cities do you want to see? How much money would you like to spend? What is the most you can spend? The earlier you start outlining your trip the more you will be able to save.
The flight to Australia was the most expensive part. There are apps and websites, such as kayak and hopper, that will track flights for you and tell you when the best time to buy a flight is. I always compare airlines since I am not loyal to just one. Sometimes just changing your travel day from a Friday to a Thursday or your return day from a Sunday to a Monday can save a lot of money. If you are flexible on your dates I would try to play around with them and see what works best.
2. Book Transportation and Accommodations in Advance
Booking last minute accommodations when you get there might mean you will end up paying more or you will have to change your plans. Do your research on what is the best way to get around in the country. Sometimes it is easier to rent a car and other times it is cheaper to take a train. In Australia, we took the public transportation pretty much everywhere. When we got super fed up we took an Uber! When we were in Costa Rica, we booked a bus to take us from each city. It was so nice to know we had our transportation already figured out so it was one less thing to worry about.
Usually booking your transportation and accommodations in advance helps make the trip more relaxing. If you are looking for hostels I always check Hostelworld. They have the best budget accommodations. You can pay an extra $2-5 in case you need to cancel your reservation at any time which I highly recommend. If you do not like hostels (they aren’t for everyone) and hotels are too expensive, I would check out Airbnb. You can rent a home that meets your needs. Click here to save $40 off your first Airbnb stay of $75 total or more. Before booking flights, accommodations, or even tours make sure you always check Ebates first. You can even add the Ebates google chrome extension so that if you are on a website Ebates will alert you if they have any cash back opportunities.
3. Choose What Tours Are Important and Book Them
I do not recommend booking every single activity before you go because plans change. I do recommend booking any important tour before you go. This gives you time to research tours to find the most cost-effective tour that meets your needs. Also, when you are in the country you don’t need to worry about finding a similar tour or even worse, finding out the tour you wanted is completely booked. You can relax and enjoy the trip. When we went to Australia, our MUST do tour was the Great Barrier Reef. We ended up booking our tour on Viator, but I also always check TripAdvisor for honest reviews. Make sure to read what is included to make sure there aren’t extra charges when you get there. Some tours charge for lunch or any additional rentals you may need. You also want to pay attention to the details of the tour: where it picks up and drops off, how many people are on the tour. Depending on what country you are in you might have to tip so make sure that tip is added to your budget.
For the tours that you want to do but are not as important, make sure you write them down and bring the list with you. Some hotels/hostels (especially in very touristy areas) have a travel agent or tour bookings in the lobby. They can help you decide. Make sure to write down prices you found online so you don’t get overcharged.
4. Leave Room in Your Budget
I always add extra money to my traveling budget because I know when I get there things might happen. The worst thing would be to come home after a long trip and find out you overspent and don’t have the money for it. Be smart. Make sure you have enough saved and leave some wiggle room in your budget in case things go wrong. Depending on how expensive the country is will determine how much you need to leave. I left around $300 extra in my budget for Australia.
Be realistic. You might say “we’ll I booked every single thing in advance and I know exactly how much everything goes”. I promise you, something will come up. Whether that’s ATM fees, foreign transaction fees, a tax your hotel didn’t factor in online or it’s raining every day and you have no rain jacket or umbrella. The possibilities are endless. PLEASE do not go into debt over this trip so leave room in your budget for something to happen.
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5. Decide What Is Important Between the Three C’s
The Three C’s are: Convenience, Comfort, and Cheap. You must decide what is most important to you. For example: you might find a really cheap flight but you may have to drive 2 hours to a different airport. Is it more important to fly out of the airport near your house or do you want to save that money? For Australia, we wanted to fly Qantas because we trusted it and knew we wouldn’t disappear over the ocean never to be heard from again. They were also super helpful when we needed to change our flights. They were a little more expensive but to us it was totally worth it.
Another real-life example from our Australia trip: We booked a hostel in Cairns (after our plans completely changed which is a story for another time) and it got good reviews. We were hot and tired when we got there. The place had 3 bathrooms on our floor for about 30-40 people and they wouldn’t let us touch the A/C (it was set on 24 degrees Celsius) There were people partying outside our room and by 930pm all I wanted to do was sleep. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep well and we had our Great Barrier Reef tour the next day. I called the Hilton, got a room there, got our money back from the hostel, and went there instead. Was the Hilton more expensive? Ummm YES! Was it worth it? 100%. I had the money, I slept like a baby, we had so much room, we were so comfortable, and it really made our stay in Cairns 5000x better. Make sure before you go on your trip you know which of the C’s are most important. Sometimes it’s being cheap, other times its comfort, and with certain situations, you might choose convenience.
I hope you found these tips helpful! If you need any help planning an international trip let me know. I have been to over 10 countries with various budgets. If you need travel guides make sure to check out my friend’s blog, The Eclectic Voyager, here. She has a ton of tips and resources to help you plan your trip! If you do want to use credit cards for traveling internationally you should definitely check out the signup bonuses and plan to open a card around when you have big purchases. For other tips on travel hacking make sure to check out ChooseFI and Ellie Mondelli.