How to Cut Corners and Save on an International Trip

It’s no secret that international travel can be expensive. Especially when visiting countries with an exchange rate not in your favor and a high cost of living. Luckily, there are some cost-saving tricks you can take before and during your trip that can ultimately save you hundreds of dollars.

Identify Cost Differences

It’s not a mystery that some countries are more budget-friendly than others. Checking out the beautiful Australian Outback and the iconic Sydney Opera house may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but keep in mind the high price of everyday expenses in a the country. For instance, a simple cup of coffee can easily cost upwards of $5 USD.

Alternatively, one can take an exotic vacation to Thailand and score budget accommodation for about the same price—easily $6 USD a night.

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Before you book flights and hotels, determine average costs between home and your destination. Having an idea of typical prices beforehand will help you budget wisely pre-arrival. Or, perhaps, rethink a vacation spot altogether.

Save on Flights

Google Flights has great tools for scouting the cheapest flights. You can search across month-long spans to see the most affordable day to fly. Ultimately, this can save hundreds of dollars. For instance, I did a recent search for a round-trip ticket to Tokyo. Google Flights helped me score a $400 USD savings just by booking three weeks after my initial search date.,br>

Obviously, shifting travel dates to the following month only works for those with flexibility. Nonetheless, Google Flights still offers tips like, “Save $53 if you return one day earlier.” Beyond Google, another booking tool that displays helpful flight fare charts is Sky Scanner.

Bear in mind that there are particular times of year where flight prices skyrocket. So, if you do have some flexibility, aim to take a vacation during low season to save even more.

Save on Accommodation

Just like flight-booking services, there are tons of hotel-booking services. Nowadays, there are even options like Airbnb, Roomorama and Couch Surfing, which offer lodging in apartments/homes.

Not taking into consideration these alternative methods, my favorite way to book online is Agoda. Agoda has fabulous customer service representatives who have helped me many times in the past.

This is the last thing you want to see when traveling!
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For example, once I got incredibly ill while traveling through Cambodia. I knew there was no way I could make my prearranged travel plans. Unfortunately, the hotel I booked had a no-refund policy.
However, a quick call to Agoda’s customer service not only got me a full refund, but they also helped me reschedule. Beyond superior customer service, Agoda has a rewards program where you acquire points for each stay and receive discounts on future bookings.

Another way to save while traveling is by staying at guesthouses or hostels instead of big-name hotels. Guesthouses tend to be smaller, with fewer amenities like a pool or gym. At the same time, they are far less expensive and still quite comfortable. If you’re really looking to save, and don’t mind sharing a room with others, definitely look into hostels. As far as formal accommodation goes, hostels are undoubtedly the most inexpensive way to go.

Exchanging Money on Arrival

There’s debate about the best places to exchange money. Some say certain banks or right at the airport. Maybe others still rely on traveler’s checks. Nevertheless, one thing is definite—it’s always smart to travel with spare USD in case of an emergency. I always stash cash and an emergency credit card in a secret place.

Just like other aspects of the trip, it’s important to research. Especially when visiting more off-the-beaten-path countries. For instance, during a recent trip to Myanmar, I found that exchange counters were very picky about the quality of US currency. Any rips, smudges or bills with older serial numbers were not accepted. In fact, the crisper the bills, the better exchange rate.

As an avid traveler, this was the first time I had witnessed such a dilemma. Nonetheless, it proves that proper research pre-arrival can avoid such hiccups.

ATM Withdrawals

Another way to get cash overseas is via ATM. However, unless you have an internationally prominent bank like Citibank, it can be very difficult to find your bank overseas. In fact, it is most likely impossible. When you withdrawal cash from a local bank, not only will they charge a fee, but typically your bank at home will, too.

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Personally, I hate carrying wads of cash and exchanging it on arrival. So I always end up taking money out of an ATM. I avoid excessive ATM fees by utilizing the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. With this account, all ATM transaction fees are reimbursed—domestic and international. This is a huge cost-saver when overseas, where every withdrawal can cost between $5-10 USD.

Take Advantage of Credit Card Rewards

There are multiple travel credit cards available. And I am certainly no expert in the minutiae of APR rates and point systems. Nonetheless, if you are a frequent traveler, domestic international, I highly suggest acquiring a travel card that best fits your needs. For instance, some cards are better for racking airline miles while others come with no foreign transaction fees.

For detailed information on travel credit cards and which is right for you, check out this breakdown of the best travel cards.

Research, Research and More Research

Overall, the most important cost-saving tip is researching the destination before arrival. Acquaint yourself with the typical price of meals, transportation, accommodation and activities. Also try to understand the money culture: Is it a country where credit cards are commonplace? Or is it a predominantly cash culture?

Moreover, find out in advance if it is a country where bargaining for goods or taxi fare is the norm. Some shopkeepers and taxi drives will charge sky-high when given the opportunity: Don’t be an unsuspecting foreigner.

In the end, don’t become too bogged down in daily expenditures. You’re traveling and should be having fun. It’s hard to enjoy yourself if you’re tracking every purchase on a spreadsheet.


Laurence Bradford has lived and travelled throughout East Asia. She has experience in the medical device manufacturing industry in Shanghai. More recently, she took on a short-term economic policy research position at a renowned Thai think tank. You can read her website at to learn more travel tips. Or follow her on Twitter @SEAdevelopment.