How to Save Money (and When to Splurge) While Traveling

Sometimes opportunities come up when you least expect them. When is it worth derailing your travel plans or sinking extra money into an exciting opportunity, and when are surprise adventures a waste of time and money? 

Deciding where you can save and where you should spend isn’t just for adventure opportunities. It’s a part of the everyday ins and outs of travel, too. For example, should you buy 24-hour car insurance? Which restaurant should you try, the fast food or the fine dining? 

Here are some tips for capitalizing on opportunities and avoiding money sinks and scams when traveling.

Adventures Worth the Money

One of the ways to help you decide if the activity in question is worth splurging on is to find out if you could do the same thing at home.

For example, you might want to splurge on a day at an indoor rock climbing facility, but if you have a similar place near home, you can plan a day there later in the year to spread out your purchases.

On the other hand, if you enjoy rock climbing and spend time doing it while you’re at home in a warm climate, splurge on a guided ice climbing trip because it’s something you’re likely to enjoy and you don’t have access to ice and snow where you live. 

While the following is by no means an exhaustive list, it gives you an idea of activities that may be worth spending money on.

Horse Drawn Carriage Ride

Along the East Coast, many cities established in Colonial times have horse-drawn carriage rides available for tourists. Is it a tourist trap? Sure. Is it worth it? It can be. 

Riding through Colonial city streets as people would have in the 18th century can make history feel alive. Plus, if you get a good tour guide, you’ll learn a lot as you ride.

Whitewater Rafting

Even if you have whitewater rafting near where you live, it may be worth paddling through a new canyon. If you have no experience and try to conquer the rapids on your own, whitewater rafting can be dangerous, but if you use a guide, it’s safe but still thrilling.

Local Festivals

Festivals are some of the best things to splurge on. A community that gears up all year for a one-week festival is sure to put together the best event possible.

They may bring in famous music stars, they usually plan special events like a rodeo or a dance, and they’ll feature the best of their local culinary specialties.

Plane or Boat Tours

Depending on where you’re traveling, you might have an opportunity to view the area from the air and check out wildlife, mountains, and maybe even glaciers.

If you’re near the ocean, a boat tour could take you to watch for whales or dolphins, or it may take you to reefs for snorkeling or on a scenic tour of the shoreline.

If an adventure opportunity presents itself, don’t let anyone push you into purchasing tickets. Instead, step back and consider the activity, question what’s involved, and decide if it’s the kind of thing that’s a good fit with your interests.

If you take a few minutes to weigh the cost and benefits of opportunities presented to you, you’ll be able to avoid travel scams more effectively.

Travel Scams to Avoid

When you’re traveling, trust your gut. If something seems off, take it as a red flag and proceed cautiously. If you’re careful, you’ll save yourself from throwing your money into false claims. Let’s look at scams you should watch out for.

Free Stuff

The “stuff” can be anything from a vacation to a dinner. Not everything free is a scam, but you should be wary when someone tries to push free things on you. There’s almost always a catch when someone tries to talk you into something costly for no cost, so always be looking for the catch. 

Besides the risk of a catch, though, the offer may be an attempt to get your personal information for identity theft or credit card fraud.

People Offering to Take Pictures

If you’re out with your family and want a picture and ask a stranger to take one for you, you’re probably going to be OK, but watch out for people stationed at popular picture spots which offer to take your picture. 

If you’re not prepared, you’ll probably let them take your picture and thank them, but they’ll be expecting you to pay them. And they can really pressure you.

Donations to Good Causes

Charitable giving helps make the world a better place, but a scammer posing as a charity representative does not. If you’re presented with a pitch for making a charitable gift to a cause that sounds worthy, slow yourself down. 

Let the person know that it sounds like a good cause, but you’ll check out the charity online later. That answer should be good enough. However, if the person pushes you to donate now, you should be even warier about the cause’s legitimacy.

Keep in mind that these types of scams are more prevalent on busy city streets than in rural areas.

Ways to Save While Traveling

If you can save a little bit of money in many different ways, you could end up saving 20% or more on the cost of your trip.

Here are some other simple ways you can save every time you go on vacation:

  • Avoid peak travel days – Weekends tend to be more expensive for airfare, and the weekends before or after a major holiday can be even more costly. If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you can find tickets for 40% cheaper.
  • Compare fuel prices – You can use one of several fuel comparison websites to find the lowest fuel price along your route. Sometimes, you can save 50 cents or more per gallon by stopping a few miles sooner or later than you had planned.
  • Prepare your own meals – Eating out for dinner every day is convenient and a fun way to try new regional cuisines. You can save if you reserve eating out for dinner and prepare your own breakfasts and lunches.

Practicalities Worth Buying

There are a few optional expenses you might be thinking about skipping. Some extras are worth buying, and some aren’t. We’ll look at some necessities worth buying.


If you rent a car, even for a short period like 24 hours, you will need to purchase rental insurance for it unless you already have full coverage for your personal vehicle. You may wonder if companies like AAA cover rental car insurance? 

Well, if you have a full coverage policy, it should transfer to your rental car. On the other hand, if you only have liability insurance, you’ll need better coverage when you rent a car.

Travel insurance is a good idea, especially if you’re traveling overseas or have a lot of money invested in your trip. If you’re traveling across the state and staying with friends, you can get by without it, but for extended trips, you should compare travel policies to help you find the one that’s right for your situation. 

Audible Media

You could just drive, or you could listen to a good audiobook, album, or podcast while you drive. From entertainment to education, there’s something for everyone. Getting your playlist set before leaving will help you focus on the road instead of scrolling through options.

Travel Clothes

You’ll need comfortable shoes or hiking boots for all the walking you’ll do while traveling. Your whole body will feel better when your shoes provide a good foundation.

Wrinkle-free clothes and layers are perfect for looking good and being prepared for whatever the weather may be. 

When you save when you can, you’ll have more flexibility to spend when you want to have an exciting experience. In addition, setting yourself up with the right practicalities will help improve your enjoyment of your travel experience.

Melanie Musson writes and researches for the car insurance comparison site, She’s passionate about sharing insurance tips with others so they can protect their finances and be free to enjoy life. 

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