Plan ahead and don't let high airport prices kill your budget.
There are few things more infuriating for a world traveler than paying hugely marked up prices and fees at the airport. Even for the most frugal of us, just passing through an airport seems to magically suck money from our wallets and leave us with less spending money at our destinations. With the cost of travel rising, and airports and airlines finding new and ingenious ways for you to cover their expenses, saving money when on the way to your destination is more relevant than ever.
Take this aggravating scenario, and ask yourself how many times you've experienced a variation of it (costs are shown in dollars but the charges are just as relevant to all travelers):
You have an early morning flight to catch. You wake up a little later than you should after hitting the snooze button twice, and find yourself rushing to get out the door. You have planned to take public transport, and begin your willful march to the subway/bus stop/train station, checking your watch on your way and hoping that you haven't missed your budget-friendly transport to the airport. You experience delays, and end up hopping in a taxi. C-ching! This is your first $25 down the drain.
You arrive at the airport, and after begrudgingly tipping the driver (that's another $2), you enter the airport, only to realize that you forgot to eat breakfast and you are desperately hungry. You grab an overpriced, sad looking sandwich and drink, and cough up another shocking $8.50.
You march to the check-in desk, and add your bag to the scales for check in. Oops. You probably didn't need to pack your industrial-strength 2000 watt hairdryer (which will no doubt blow up when you plug it in overseas anyway) or your entire shoe collection. You pay another $60 just to check your overweight bag.
During your layover in Germany/Hong Kong/Mexico, you try to buy lunch at a café, only to realize that your credit card is denied. Ouch. Forgot to let the bank know that you'd be traveling, and now your account is frozen. Since you don't have any local currency and have no idea how to use the payphones in the departure lounge, you call on your cellphone, using your carrier's roaming service. That's another $15 gone. Since your connecting flight is delayed and you now have access to your credit card, you spend another $20 on food, only to be charged an extra $1.50 for the luxury of using your card overseas. To entertain yourself, you pay $6 to connect to the internet, and surf the web until your flight is ready for boarding.
Once seated on your connecting flight, you realize that your seat doesn't recline properly, and your neck starts to ache terribly. With six more hours to go, you pick up your copy of the inflight shopping magazine, and pay $25 for an inflatable pillow.
On arrival at your destination, you become totally confused by your transportation options, and resort to jumping into a taxi. You pay with your credit card, and fork out another $35, with another $2 foreign transaction fee.
What else could you have done with $200?
So, now that you have promised yourself that you'll never be a victim of airport daylight robbery again, here are ways for you to plan your next trip and save money doing so.
Check for transport delays. If using public transport, make sure that you leave with plenty of extra time. If driving, make sure you allow for heavy traffic if leaving anytime near rush hour. Double check the rates for parking at the airport if you plan to leave your car there. For your destination, do your research. Will you be arriving during rush hour? Maybe the airport website claims that trains and buses leave directly from the terminal, but exactly how close are they? Can you realistically walk there without problems? How close will public transport bring you to your accommodation? Will you be lugging 60 lbs of hair mousse and stilettos up and down the subway steps of Madrid? Will you be safe waiting for the bus at 2:30am in Rome? Your public transport plans should be realistic and well-planned so you don't face even more costs when things go wrong. Sometimes four people sharing a taxi is cheaper anyway.
Pack plenty of food. Airport food is incredibly expensive, and often layovers can add additional costs, especially if you're not familiar with exchange rates. Pack food that will still be appetizing in five or six hours if you have a long flight or connections. No one needs to buy $20 stale sushi wrapped in polystyrene, or a hamburger that will only make you feel revolting later.
Call your credit card company and let them know you'll be traveling. Only use a credit card that doesn't have a foreign transaction fee, such as American Express, and make sure it's one that will allow you to earn points for spending. Also, many credit cards have a concierge service for help when traveling. Make a note of their collect call/reverse charges international number and keep it safe in case you run into issues.
Purchase a calling card with international access numbers for each of your destinations, before you leave. Double check that you can call these numbers from payphones. Choose one that you can recharge online, or that is recharged automatically when your credit is low. Make sure you also know how to dial internationally from each of your destinations.
Check to see if Boingo or a similar service is available at your departure or connecting airport, and use Skype for internet access and call people. That way, saying goodbye to grandma over Skype from the departure lounge won't cost you more than she paid for her new dentures.
To avoid high roaming charges from incoming calls while traveling, sign up for a VOIP online number so that people can contact you and leave voicemail if it's nothing too urgent. You can pick a local number from home so that friends and family don't incur international calling fees. Make sure you also have credit to call landlines and mobiles, in case you can't use your calling card with local phones. Make sure you know your cell phone company's roaming charges before you leave, and avoid using your cellphone if possible unless you have cheap service. Don't assume that using VOIP with your smart phone's internet access will save you money; data roaming is often extremely expensive.
Pack lightly, but research before making assumptions about what will be available at your destination. If you have never stayed in hotels or hostels overseas before, you may be in for a surprise. Weigh your bag before leaving and take out anything that isn't necessary, but pack the things that you will not want to buy when you arrive.
Pack for inflight comfort. An inflatable travel pillow, an empty water bottle that you can fill when you're past security, and earphones are essential for long-haul travel. A book or Kindle is also helpful to pass the time if you can't sleep on the plane and the movie choices are unappealing.
Don't be lured by duty-free. These days you can almost always find a better deal online, and you really don't need any more perfume.
Have local currency available before you leave if possible. If you need cash when you arrive, often your debit card may charge you less than the exchange rate offered at the “Bureau de Change” overseas.
These are just a few of the many ways you can save money while getting to your destination, but generally, planning ahead will help you avoid unplanned fees and expenses. After all, who wants to spend $200, and only have a sandwich wrapper, a luggage receipt, a Samsonite pillow and indigestion from the airport cafeteria to show for it?