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10 Sneaky Money Traps You Fall for Every Time You Travel

Updated: Dec. 23, 2022

If you're new to the nomadic lifestyle or simply can't get out of town that often, you might be paying more than you need to on expenses. Here, seasoned travelers and industry experts warn you about hidden fees to be mindful of the next time you get out of town.

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close up of hands with laptop and smartphone
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Not reading online reviews

Before you book every last tour, excursion, and experience, Elizabeth Blasi, travel expert and blogger, recommends taking the extra time to comb through reviews on popular travel sites before you click “book.” She explains that while many sites like Expedia and Booking.com make it super-simple to carve out an itinerary, many charge up to three times more than others that offer the exact service. “Read the reviews on TripAdvisor or Yelp, call the tour company directly, and see what is included in their tour,” she says. And if you want a better deal? Compare the cost of renting a car to see a treasured site or landmark or find out if you can hire a driver for the day instead. “Sometimes this route gives you an interesting local’s perspective, and they may have insights into making your trip more memorable,” she adds.

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Closeup woman hand holding the remote control car alarm systems.

Not checking the fine print of rental cars

Depending on where your wanderlust takes you, it is sometimes smarter to rent a car than to call an Uber or rely on public transport. If you decide to try driving on the other side of the road or on an infamous highway made for making memories, Ardene Emmelkamp, leisure travel consultant, urges travelers to read—and re-read!—the fine print in your contract before you sign on the dotted line. “On occasion, car companies will add insurance without your knowledge. This unexpected charge can add hundreds of dollars to your travel expenses,” she shares. Remember, since many travel credit cards, like Chase Sapphire, include car rental insurance, there may be no need to add additional coverage.

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Receptionist giving room keys to customer at reception in hotel

Not asking for an upgrade in person

Ever dream of the day when you randomly show up at a hotel for vacation and somehow, by the powers that be, you’re decked out in a fancy-smancy suite? Though a blockbuster comedy might suggest otherwise, Emmelkamp explains many of the upgrades that happen are based on request. In other words, you have to ask for what you want. “If the upgrade is available, they may give it to you complimentary,” she notes. “It’s much more difficult to say no to request such as that when you are face to face. And it never hurts to ask.” Psst… you’ll also want to check out these savvy secrets for scoring a hotel upgrade.

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Two business people, man and woman, catching yellow taxi in street of rainy autumn city

Not researching your travel to and from the airport

Making cohesive thoughts when you’re in #VacationMode is tough enough. Add in the aftermath of an red-eye flight or a sudden time difference, and thinking critically goes out the window. That’s why so many people make the mistake of not even thinking about airport transfers until they land, instead of securing a reservation in advance or researching the best route. “The majority of travel horror stories I hear is about taxis or airport transfers. Book all of that in advance—it’s cheaper and safer,” says Michelle Weller, vice president of sales at Travel Leaders. “If you use a travel agent, they can roll all of that into a bulk discount package price and you have the peace of mind knowing there is an advocate for you in case anything goes wrong.”

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Granola in packing

Not eating before you get to the airport

While you can’t bring more than that infamous 3.4 ounces in your carry-on, travel agent Jennifer McCormack reminds travelers you can BYOS. That is, bring your own snacks! “Purchasing food and beverages at the airport can add up, especially when you are traveling with a family, and food-for-purchase on the airplane can cost you even more,” she explains. “Simple items like whole fruit and sandwiches are easy to pack and bring along.” As for water, bring a refillable canteen and fill it up at the first water fountain you see once you’re past the security point. Don’t miss these other air travel tips to know before your next flight.

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Close up shot of hands using hand phone
Snezana Ignjatovic/Shutterstock

You spend too much on international cell service

Unless you’re on an international plan with your telecom provider, you might end up spending more than you budgeted for when your passport-collecting mission takes you to yet another country. Blasi explains that since Internet is essential for travel, many inexperienced nomads end up paying way more than they need to access Uber, Google Maps, and ya know, Instagram, for those jealousy-inducing posts. If it doesn’t make sense to switch to a plan that provides worldwide access, Blasi suggests purchasing a local SIM card at the airport instead. “With large amounts of data plans for very reasonable costs, it’s easy to see why it’s a preferred method. The rule of thumb, usually the kiosk/storefront furthest away from immigration and closest to the exit will have the cheaper SIMs as they’re paying less in rent for their location,” she shares.

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Close up of legs of young man going into the airport with suitcase
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

Not triple- and double-checking airline fees

Thanks to a growing curiosity and affordability with travel, more and more people are traveling than ever before. While it’s a great plug for the economy—and for widening worldviews and perspectives—this shift has also made airlines more competitive than ever. To make ends meet since ticket prices are down, McCormack warns many are becoming sneaky with hidden fees. “Many are charging for items that were once included such as seat selection, carry-on, and printing boarding passes, in addition to checked bags. Some will even charge more if you pay at the airport versus paying in advance,” she says. That’s why you should always make the extra effort to research your mile-high provider before booking and always purchase bags or seats online instead of once you arrive. “This is one place where it is wise to read the fine print so that you know exactly what your charges will be and whether or not you need to pay for any of your items in advance,” she says.

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Bedroom with lamp, grey background

Not researching hidden hotel fees

Much like airlines, a surge in tourism often equates to fierce competition at resorts, too. So while McCormack says you might be able to snag a cheap nightly rate, the small print once you arrive might shock you. “Review the final screen before committing to a rate. You just might be charged a resort fee that makes another property more affordable,” she says. “Even after you check out resort fees, parking may still be an added cost once you arrive.” When in doubt, call the property ahead of time so you know the final cost before you book.

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Brown leather wallet with money euro inside it
Vladyslav Starozhylov/Shutterstock

Not checking ATM fees out of the country

Even if you do your due diligence and exchange cash before you jet set, there’s a solid chance you’ll need more notes once you’re in a new country. Depending on who you bank with, you might be charged an additional fee to the exchange rate, which can definitely add up with each withdrawal. These fees are called “out-of-network” fees and a common woe from travelers, according to McCormack. “Plan ahead for any cash that you think you might need for tipping or incidental expenses so that you do not end up with $10 or more in ATM and bank fees for a simple $20 withdrawal,” she says.

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DUSSELDORF, GERMANY - JULY 28, 2016: Restaurants on the stree in Altstadt of Dusseldorf, Germany.
Takashi Images/ Shutterstock

Eating near tourist attractions

When you’re adjusting to a new time zone or just out of the comfort of your normal routine, you might find yourself overly hungry at odd times. This makes last-minute meals a common occurrence while you’re traveling, but when you can, Emmelkamp says planning ahead for your three-times-a-day noms can save you big. One of the sneakiest ways destinations make money off of tourists is via restaurants that upcharge in popular areas. “Try to eat at least four blocks away from the tourist spot. Or even better, ask the locals where they like to eat and head there,” she suggests. Read on for more little mistakes that make your vacation unnecessarily stressful.