The worst travel tips ever

Presenting the eight worst decisions many travelers make in planning and trying to save money

Some things just aren't worth the money you save, and some of the most important travel advice involves how not to try to save money on the road.

Money-saving tips are a dime a dozen (a nickel if you shop in the right places), but no one ever bothers to tell you about dumb ideas that cause far more hassle and heartache than the money they save.

Don't kneecap your own vacation by trying to shave a few bucks off your budget in the wrong places. Here are a few examples of terrible travel tips.

Carry only cheap or antique guidebooks

I can't count how many times I've seen bookstore browsers pick up a guide, peer at the price, then put it back on the shelf. What's wrong with these people?

The cost of the book is completely irrelevant; it's the stuff inside that counts. You'll likely drop a few thousand bucks on a given trip. Spending $10 to $40 for the advice that'll help you plan your days, pick your hotels and restaurants, and avoid pricey pitfalls is a miniscule drop in the bucket of your budget.

Do yourself, and your vacation, a favor: flip through several guidebooks, see which are right for your tastes, budget, and travel style, then—without even glancing at the cost—buy two or three that complement one another (one might have great sightseeing and background material, another be packed with practical info).

Also, get the latest editions, people. Never borrow a friend's or the library's three-year-old guide—in which the information is four to five years old. Take it from someone who used to write these things for a living: they go stale faster than you'd think. I've been known to buy a second copy of guide already in my backpack at the airport bookstore if I see a brand-new edition has come out. And you know what? I've always been glad I did.

Skimp on sightseeing

Occasionally, some touristy thing like a wax museum may be a waste, but any sight of true cultural, artistic, or historical value is invariably worthwhile. Sure, $20 to get inside the Leaning Tower is a rip-off—but you wouldn't want to go all the way to Pisa and not climb the thing, either.

Accept that the major sights charge $10 to $15 admission because they're worth it. Going a bit over budget will soon be forgotten, but the memory of climbing that Mayan pyramid, riding a donkey in the Grand Canyon, or spending a day lost in the Louvre will be with you forever. That said, there are also loads of things you can see for free to make up for all those high admission prices.

Save money at the expense of time

Your precious vacation time is your most valuable travel asset. Don't take a five-hour bus ride merely to save a few bucks over the 90-minute train. Case in point: The Eurostar train from London to Paris costs $150 and takes just under three hours. The old train-ferry-train route via Dover and Calais costs $130 and takes 10 hours. That's $20 cheaper—but wouldn't you pay a measly $20 for an extra seven hours in Paris?

Take Dad's old army duffel

Invest in a good pack or bag that you can carry the distance and won't fall apart (I've watched it happen more than once). This is a pay-off you never get to see, because a good pack won't fail you. In my closet is a $200 REI pack that saw me through a year of study abroad, countless shorter trips around the U.S., and six months of researching and writing my first travel guide before the seams started to go.

Pack only Converse All-Stars and high-heeled shoes

Get a good pair of durable, lightweight walking shoes—something you can use to trudge around on cobblestones for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Rockport, Memphisto, and Ecco make some of the best.

While I'm on the subject: leave the family jewels at home, too. The best way to avoid having your valuables lost or stolen on vacation is not to bring them at all. If your personal style dictates it, take a piece or two of costume jewelry—cheap earrings, a fake necklace, whatever—that, if lost, will elicit merely a shrug and a mental note to stop into a local shop and get a replacement (bonus: new souvenir!).

Pass on the CDW

Some people will argue this one, but the collision damage waiver on rental cars can be worth the peace of mind. The rules of the road (not to mention the signs) abroad will be strange to you, and your chances of getting into an accident are considerably higher than they are back home.

Credit cards often cover CDW; if yours doesn't, skip the rental agency's overpriced policy (typically $12 to $15 a day) and buy Travel Guard's $9 daily coverage (www.travelguard.com).

Settle for a cheap hotel on the outskirts

Don’t be tempted by rock-bottom tourist-class hotels out on the edge of town. Anything 30 minutes or more by public transportation from the historic center is a mistake.

Say you're in town for a week, but waste an hour or more each day merely commuting downtown. That's seven hours—a whole day, in sightseeing terms—utterly wasted (plus around $20 in bus tickets). Your vacation is short enough as it is.

(Note: this doesn't mean you can't use the tactic of staying in a nearby town, so long as the secondary city is of significant interest in its own right—Haarlem for Amsterdam, Padova for Venice, Avila for Madrid, etc. This technique can save you money while also nabbing you a more varied vacation—two cities for the price of one, as it were, with the second city where you're actually shacking up significantly less touristy to boot.)

Forgo that wonderful one-of-a-kind souvenir

That absolutely perfect, never-find-again, handcrafted, utterly unique, reasonably priced gift? Buy the darn thing. You're on vacation. Indulge your impulses, feed the needy kid inside whining "I wannit, I wannit, I wannit!" and get yourself that perfect souvenir.

Just figure a bit of shopping into your standard travel expenses. Believe me, regret can be far costlier than you think.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in November 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.


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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.