Traveling overseas can be pricey, and many people work hard for years in order to be able to afford to travel. I recently visited Japan, a trip I’d been planning for ages, and learned a few tricks along the way.
If you’re headed overseas soon, try these handy techniques to save money on transportation within a country or region, see the key sights economically and even save when you’re trying to get your hands on some local currency.
Who knows — you might even be able to stretch out your trip a little longer!
Get a Rail or Transit Pass
While you may spend hours poring over flight websites, trying to find the best deals and wondering what day to buy the cheapest airline ticket, have you considered the cost of transit once you arrive?
A little forethought can save you a ton of money on travel within a country or region. Here are two rail passes that can help you save big:
Japan Rail Pass
When I traveled to Japan earlier this year, I made sure to snag a Japan Rail Pass before I left home. These passes are specifically for foreigners traveling to Japan on a tourist visa.
You must buy your pass from overseas; you can’t pick one up once you arrive. If you’ve waited until too close to your departure, you can get the pass delivered to your hotel in Japan, as long as you’ve purchased it from outside the country.
A week-long pass is 29,110 yen (about $235) and a 14-day pass is 46,390 yen (about $375), which is a great deal if you’re doing much traveling around the country. You could also spend a little more to access the first-class (green) cars.
A single one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is $161, according to the Man in Seat 61, so if you’re planning on doing much intercity travel, this pass could save you quite a bit of cash.
Traveling by train is the classic way to see Europe, and it’s often much cheaper with a Eurail pass.
Choose from a number of different options, including a Global Pass valid in 28 countries (starting at $347 if you’re under 25 years old), a Select Pass which gets you around in your choice of four bordering countries (starting at $133) or a regional pass for popular two-country combos (starting at $122).
If you’d like to explore one country more fully, you can get a one-country pass for any of 27 different nations. Single country passes to Romania, Slovenia and Poland start at just $69, while Italy is $159 and Spain is $214.
While you can buy certain passes at select European train stations, you’ll get the best deal by purchasing online before you leave home.
Also, if you’re planning on taking the trains around Europe, be sure to check out Eurail’s deals for youth, families and small groups. Young travelers aged 12 to 25 receive a 35% discount on their passes, kids under 12 travel free, and groups of two to five people can get a Saver Pass which provides a 15% discount.
Look for European Sightseeing Discount Passes
If you’re planning on exploring any major European city in depth, consider snagging a discount card.
These cards can help you save on major attractions and public transit, and some even have the added perk of letting you skip to the head of the line at certain attractions.
If you’re Italy-bound, consider getting a Roma Pass. The regular pass is valid for three days at a cost of 36 euros ($40), while the abridged 48-hour version is only 28 euros ($31), great for a quick trip through the ancient city.
The pass earns you one or two free entries into museums and archaeological sites (two for the three-day pass, one for the two-day pass) and discounted tickets to other attractions. Plus, you can take the city’s metro, buses and trains for free.
Viator City Passes
Viator offers a lengthy list of deals on European sightseeing and city passes, including the Madrid Tourist Travel Pass, which sells for just $10 and will bring you all around the city on public transit.
The Paris Pass (for $138) gets you all around town on public transit for free and grants free admission to many attractions, including Musée Grévin and Tour Montparnasse Tower. It also lets you skip the line at the Louvre Museum, Musée d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe and Centre Pompidou, among others.
The London Pass (for $78) lets you into 60 different attractions for free, including Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. You can also skip the queues at some attractions and get great deals at some stores and restaurants.
Avoid Getting Ripped Off When You Change Cash
Wherever you travel, you’re almost certainly going to need to find some local currency. What’s the best way to get this cash?
Airport money exchange offices are convenient, but typically charge high fees. You don’t have to spend a fortune to grab some local currency. Instead, try these options:
When I travel, I typically just grab cash from ATMs as I go. This saves me from carrying excessive amounts of cash as I travel, and it usually involves minimal fees.
Call your bank to see what fees are involved with using foreign ATMs and if you’ll need a special PIN number for overseas (some countries have a different number of digits in their PIN numbers). Also, be sure to let them know you’ll be using your card out of the country so they don’t freeze it and slap your account with a fraud alert.
Bring It With You
Some savvy travelers call their banks ahead of time to pre-order foreign currency. For example, if you’re headed to Japan, you can often call your home bank a few weeks ahead of time and ask to order some Japanese Yen.
Many banks offer this service and, if you’re a customer, the charges are often minimal.
Want to learn more great ways to save money on international travel? Join the Travel Hacking Cartel, a community of expert travel hackers.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to save money when you travel internationally? Share your advice in the comments!
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Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.