Browsing beautiful pictures of magnificent Ireland on the web and wishing I could take a week off to enjoy the seclusion, I suddenly wondered; “why not?” Further investigation and some number crunching revealed the glorious truth – I could feasibly travel to Ireland for less than $2,000. Then I wondered just how cheaply (and reasonably) I could make the trip. This prompted me to research the finer details of how to save money while traveling internationally, from flights to sight-seeing.
During my research of airfare, I was astonished to find out how many variables affect the prices of tickets. An interview with Rick Seaney, the CEO of FareCompare.com with more than a decade of expertise on the subject, revealed this information regarding when and how to purchase a flight ticket:
“Airlines all live by a motto; ‘never be a dollar more than your competitors because otherwise you’ll be on page 30 of the shopping results,’” Rick Seaney said. Airline companies compete in price wars in an effort to out-sell their competitors — posting their tickets on Friday and knocking the prices down over the weekend and into the next week. By Wednesday, ticket prices become final and new tickets and prices are posted on Friday.
When asked when consumers can expect the best price during these price wars, Rick replied; “Less than 10% of the passengers on the plane paid the cheapest price, so 90% of the people sitting next to you paid more than you. There’s three things you should do; you’ve got to pick the perfect day to buy, you’ve got to pick the perfect time to fly, and sometimes pick the perfect time of day to buy. In general you need to be shopping earlier – earlier is always better.”
“If you’re buying your ticket any earlier than 3 or 3.5 months, you’re probably paying too much, but you don’t want to buy your ticket any later than about 14 days before. The cheapest day to shop is on a Tuesday at 3pm eastern time — the perfect shopping window is Tuesday through Thursday.”
Because Friday, Sunday, and Monday are the most popular times to fly, tickets are typically cheaper if you choose to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. In fact, when pricing tickets, “many of the airlines have a rule that [the] prices are only good for [flying on] Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday,” Rick noted.
Knowing the day, time of day, and departure dates that will result in the cheapest ticket can shave several hundred dollars off your ticket. Watching airfare rates to Ireland for early November, I noticed the prices fluctuated between approximately $780 and $980 daily. Unaware it was the ideal time to buy, I seized round-trip tickets for $761 on a Wednesday for a flight departing on Saturday.
Weather and Quantity
In addition to those variables, travelers should keep in mind how weather and season affects the pricing of tickets. “The warmer it is, the more you pay. Summer is the most expensive, spring is also expensive. The cool thing about that is that one day it’s summer, the next day it’s fall. If you fly on that first day of fall, you’ll basically get out in the summer weather for a cheaper price. So departures for the last week of August typically have a nice price range,” said Rick.
When discussing whether or not families purchasing multiple tickets at a time had an effect on the prices, he stated; “It can dramatically affect it because if there are only two cheap seats on a plane and you’re querying for a family of four, the reservation system is going to automatically put every family member in the next higher bracket. One thing I always tell people is to always shop for one passenger first, so you can see if there’s a difference.” This can knock off extra from the total price for more than one ticket if you can get at least one at the sale price.
When deciding which form of transportation to use while traveling internationally, narrow down the options based on what you will be doing, where you intend to go, your radius of travel, etc. Since my travels will take me all over Ireland and I prefer the flexibility of being able to travel to any destination of my choice on my own schedule, I will need long distance transportation and something that won’t confine me to the tracks. For this purpose, I found two options: renting a car or renting a bike.
Rental cars are certainly pricier than bikes but you have the luxury of protection from the elements, substantially less physical exertion, the ability to pack luggage, and speed. Educating myself on the subject of car rentals, I stumbled upon a few important details.
- Book car rentals well in advance as prices are generally higher 24 hours prior to your rental date.
- Ask about hidden fees and exact drop-off times so you aren’t charged excessively for the little details.
- The majority of international car rentals will be manual transmission and although a few automatic transmission cars might be available, they are usually accompanied by an additional fee.
- Young drivers may be charged a daily fee for insurance purposes which can add up significantly. If two people are traveling together, the older of the two should rent the car to save the extra cost.
- If traveling in a country where English is not the primary language, it may be necessary to acquire an International Driving Permit, which translates your driver’s license information into multiple languages.
- Since the United States fuel prices are lower than most other countries, calculate the miles you expect to travel and the average cost of fuel in the country you are visiting for a rough estimate of how much to budget for gas.
- Make note of unique traffic rules or common issues a driver might face in the country of destination to avoid expensive mishaps or tickets.
Looking at the last few years of fluctuations, I found that Ireland’s petrol runs a few cents cheaper in the fall and winter, presumably because that is a less popular time to travel. After comparing the pros and cons of renting a car I determined it would be the best method of transportation for the duration of my trip, as it will allow me to travel quickly from city to city while still affording the opportunity to visit sites off the beaten path. To ensure I don’t end up lost on the confusing country roads I plan to invest in an up-to-date paper map and plan my route each day, marking alternative routes in case of detours.
Trains & Busses
Traveling on trains or busses provides a certain level of flexibility in that you can travel longer distances quickly, but does not allow for deviation from the established route; any additional sight-seeing must be done by foot or bike. For most major international destinations, train or bus passes can be purchased for extended periods of time that allow passengers to get on and off anywhere and anytime during the day or night.
The Eurail Ireland Pass (for train travel) costs $288 per adult (ages 26-59) and $246 for youth (ages 16-25) and lasts for five days within a 30 day period. For about $57 a day, the ticket holder can take any train as many times a day as necessary to any destination within Ireland. This price is comparable to the daily rate for a car rental and fuel but eliminates the risk of driving on unfamiliar roads in various weather conditions. In addition, trains afford spectacular views.
Pedestrian & Bike travel
If the duration of your trip will be spent in one major city or area, consider renting a bike or walking wherever you need to go. Before deciding on a rental car, my first choice was to purchase a week-long Eurail pass and rent a bike to branch out from there. However, the distance from the stations to my other destinations was too excessive for bike travel.
The prices in Dublin for bike rentals were outstanding. Dublinbikes has 44 stations distributed throughout the city centre with no less than 15 stands for bicycles at each station. Riders 14 years or older can rent a bike from a stand and drop it off at any of the other stations. The Long Term Hire Card costs 10 euros (about $12.60) and a 3 Day Ticket costs two euros ($2.50) – these can be used at any station to rent or return a bike. This is a fantastic system if you don’t want to hire a car but have too far to travel to walk.
One of the most overlooked options for saving money is accommodations. Prior to researching hotels in Ireland, I was given a surprising revelation: apartments can be rented for short-term stays in popular international locations. After researching and crunching numbers, I was even more surprised by the discovery that one person renting a small apartment (complete with kitchenette and bathroom) would spend about $25-$65 a night in Dublin. Having a kitchenette allows travelers who are staying in one city to cut even more costs by buying local groceries and preparing food at the apartment. On the downside, you don’t have a maid to clean the apartment or restock the towels while you’re gone for the day.
If you are like me and want to visit multiple towns and major areas during your stay, hotels or bed and breakfasts are the only reliable option. Thankfully there are several strategies for reserving hotels for a decent price. Looking for hotels in Dublin, Ireland during early November for my first night, Priceline.com quoted decent hotels between $50-$80 a night with free internet and parking. However, only two of the listings offered free breakfast and both of those were on the higher end of that price range. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will most likely need to purchase breakfast items during my trip.
Kayak, the discount hotel finder site I will be using listed several hotels between $65-$70 a night with free breakfast, internet, and a close proximity to the airport. Overall, I expect the total cost of my hotel accommodations for 7 nights to be approximately $450-$500.
Hotelfinder provides a unique option to singles traveling: a shared room(four beds rented individually) costs about $15 a day in Ireland and comes with free breakfast and internet.
Not coincidentally, how you spend money translates into how you save money. Avoiding hidden international fees when processing monetary transactions can save you a small fortune in unexpected charges, especially when it comes to your phone and credit cards. International Cell Phone Fees
After receiving more than 27,000 complaints against the cell phone industry in one year, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) decided to advise consumers of the dangers of being charged exorbitant fees for international data usage.
In one instance, a customer who received emails daily on his phone was charged over $1,200 while he stayed in Jamaica for one week. International roaming charges can take all the fun out of vacations and destroy any hopes you had of saving money on your trip. There are several ways to avoid being charged excessively for data usage as suggested by the BBB:
- Leave your phone at home or turn it off. Anytime you are not in desperate need of contacting someone while traveling internationally, turn your phone off to avoid roaming charges.
- Contact your cell phone provider. If you use your phone excessively and expect to continue doing so, it may be in your best financial interest to add on an international extension to your cell phone plan. At the very least, your provider can give you advanced notice of the policies and charges associated with your international destination.
- Invest in a prepaid SIM card. These provide travelers who are going to be international for an extended period of time or who need to use the phone on a regular basis with the option to access a local phone number and forego the international fees.
Credit Card Charges
Before leaving for your trip, contact your bank and let them know in advance the exact dates you will be out of the United States to clear your card for charges. Since using a credit or debit card is a necessary part of financial transactions, taking care of this well in advance is crucial.
The decision to use cash or card is one that is heavily debated on both sides because of safety and financial concerns. Essentially, it all comes down to cost. Credit and debit cards incur a sushi bar of hidden fees and charges that make their debut on your statement after the trip is over but on the flip side, conversion fees for withdrawing local currency can add up significantly, and if carrying around lump sums of money, you run the risk of being robbed.
Forbes investigated the pros and cons of these two forms of popular currency options and came to this conclusion: either you pay transaction fees or you pay conversion fees, the deciding factor is which method takes more out of your account. Banks will charge excessive percentages of your transaction amounts every time you swipe the card, but if you withdraw enough cash from a local ATM machine, the one-time fee may not be as high an impact compared to swipe-charges. Because I will only be in Ireland for a week and since the crime rate is so low there, I plan to withdraw my local currency for the week and pay the conversion fee only once.
Food & Navigation
Prices on international food vary greatly depending on the location; in Europe it happens to be quite expensive. Importing costs drive up the price of food and in some places, a meal can be twice the price of U.S. food. By far, the cheapest way to purchase food for extended periods of time internationally is to buy from local markets. In this way you don’t buy more than you need and experience the local lifestyle of the country you’re visiting. During my research of Ireland food prices, market purchases were consistently reportedly half the price of pub or restaurant food.
When it comes to taxis and navigation, the best way to avoid extra money-sucking adventures is to purchase an up-to-date guide and/or map for the territory and plan your route. Becoming lost in a big city or wide open countryside can lead to expensive taxi rescues. Apps are also available for additional navigation support – helping locate bus stops, shopping and food outlets, and directions to hotels among other things. However, this does incur additional data charges.