At a time when currency exchange rates tend to be working against Americans in many parts of the world, we should all be looking for ways to save money on vacation.
The U.S. dollar has lost between 15% and 20% of its value against the currencies of some of the more popular destinations.
Travelers can help themselves offset that with careful planning.
Many people believe that buying a package tour is automatically a way to guarantee the most for the least, but that's not always true. Buying a tour only makes good economic sense if it includes what you need.
The biggest expense is meals. Will your tour have meals built in? How many?
A tour package that provides three meals a day will cost more than one that doesn't, of course. But will it cost more than buying the cheaper tour and then eating at your own expense? Chances are the answer is no.
Sightseeing or Leisure
Also there's sightseeing. You'll want to see the points of interest. Does your tour include sightseeing? Or is there a lot of "afternoon/evening leisure?"
Generally, you'll fill the free time by going sightseeing . . . at local prices. So book something that offers that feature up front.
If you do decide to eat on your own, or if the tour doesn't include the odd meal here and there, where do you eat? There is a temptation, always, to eat in major hotel dining rooms.
The problem is that hotel restaurants are likely to be among the most expensive in town. Try to find good, dependable restaurants that residents use. Do you think Tokyo citizens pay $75 for a steak and $12 for a Scotch when they eat out? Of course not. Local people know where to get good food and drink at reasonable, un-touristy prices.
Find a clean-looking restaurant that's filled with locals. Such steps don't only apply to Tokyo, however, but to London and Munich and Paris and Sydney and a hundred other cities.
Markets for Locals
The follow-the-locals plan holds for shopping as well. If you don't leave the hotel/airport gift shops, you'll never get decent prices.
Look for shopping markets patronized by residents. And don't be afraid to haggle over prices. In some parts of the world it's almost mandatory to spend several minutes bargaining before agreeing on a price.
If you travel in a tour group, the air fare charged by the operator probably will be an advantageous price. But if you're traveling independently, check around for the lowest price.
Find out if lower prices are offered during certain dates. If they are, you might be able to change your vacation dates to take advantage of the situation.
Make sure that your tickets allow stopovers. If they don't, the additional charges can be substantial.
Maybe you can save money by leaving in midweek or late at night?
Compare Rail, Bus
When you go abroad and decide to visit another country, don't automatically reach for the nearest airline timetable.
Compare costs of other forms of transportation. Rail and bus, for example. Intra-European and intra-Orient air fares can be quite pricey. But there are good rail and coach services that could save hundreds of dollars.
Change at least some of your money before you go. And when you convert dollars abroad, do it in a bank. I have yet to find a hotel exchange rate that worked to my benefit.
Don't call home from your hotel room if you can avoid it, or unless you know exactly what the service charges are. Some of the charges at foreign hotels can be outrageous.
Make a point, as soon as you arrive, to find out if the hotel routinely tacks a service charge onto food purchases. It's amazing how many times visitors add a gratuity when one has already been added.
Also, find out what the local tipping policy is for cab drivers, bell captains, doormen, et al. Don't overtip.
If you enjoy premium brands of liquor, maybe you should go with a less-expensive, locally produced make.
Don't take more luggage than you need. Travel lightly and reduce the possibility of excess baggage charges on the airlines. Also, it cuts down on porterage.
Renting a car abroad? You ought to have insurance. In most places you must, by law. But it might be possible to buy some kind of acceptable coverage before you leave the United States, rather than pay the inflated prices when you rent.
More than anything else, saving money is a matter of forethought and common sense.