Travel is food for the soul but also can take a bite out of your wallet.
Yet you can leverage technology to keep costs down: Apps can sniff out the best deals. A few simple tips can reduce roaming expenses for your mobile phone. Hotel hacks can keep you sane when you want the comforts of home.
To save money, time and aggravation, consider the following suggestions whether you're embarking on a road trip, flying the friendly skies or cruising in style.
That way, like Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, you can travel for travel's sake — and not get frustrated along the way.
Having the right apps on your smartphone could mean the difference between a good trip and a great one.
- Travelzoo. Before you visit your travel agent, first check out prices on Travelzoo. Type where you'd like to go — a beach getaway, tours in Europe or road-trip destinations across the country — and you'll receive live push notifications, so you'll be the first to know of any price drop on flights, hotels and cruises. The app also is ideal when you're in a new city; your phone's GPS will identify where you are and reveal local restaurant and entertainment deals.
- Hotels.com. At more than a quarter of a century old, the longest-running hotel-booking service — now a popular app — benefits from a clean interface, maps, Uber integration, a “secret price” feature, and the best loyalty and rewards program around, including its stay-10-nights-and-get-the-next-one-free feature. To reduce the likelihood of fake reviews, all customers who rate or review a hotel must have stayed there.
- GasBuddy. If you're planning a road trip, GasBuddy helps sniff out deals on gasoline and diesel in the U.S. and Canada. Using your phone's geolocation, the app shows you which nearby stations have the lowest prices — for regular, midgrade and premium fuel — and provides maps if you don't know the area. View gas stations by distance, price, company or amenities such as car washes, restaurants and restrooms.
- Waze. Another way to save money on gas is to get to your destination without getting lost. Now owned by Google, Waze is a stellar map app for drivers that crowdsources traffic and road data from millions of Waze users. That way, you get real-time information on the roads around you, including congestion, accidents, construction zones and even notifications about speed traps — before it's too late.
- TripIt. Quite simply, this app helps you organize your itinerary and access it all in one place. Forward all your confirmation emails to firstname.lastname@example.org — such as flights, hotels, rental cars, and such — and the service will “automagically” organize everything into a detailed summary, complete with confirmation codes, maps and other info.
Money-saving roaming tips
If your travels take you outside of the United States — even to Canada and about two dozen Caribbean and Pacific countries where phone numbers have three-digit area codes and seven numbers like in the U.S. — you will incur roaming fees. These tips will help you continue to use your phone in another country.
- Contact your carrier to inquire about its best travel plan or stick to Wi-Fi hotspots to pull down your messages in an airport, hotel or coffee shop.
- Never pay for a GPS unit from a car-rental company when you have your smartphone with you. If you don't have a good data plan, Google Maps now lets you download directions to use offline, which you can do before you leave home or when in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Download TV shows and movies from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime before you leave on vacation to watch offline. That way, you won't incur any roaming charges. Downloading also works for many music streaming services such as Spotify.
- Use your phone or tablet to make free calls back to the U.S. over Wi-Fi. Apps like Talkatone (iOS and Android) even give you an incoming phone number so others can call you, too. It also works on an iPad or Android tablet.
- Back up important files, such as irreplaceable photos and documents, just in case your phone, tablet or laptop becomes lost, stolen or damaged (important to do even when you aren't traveling). Take advantage of free cloud storage, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud or OneDrive.
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As a frequent traveler, here are some of my favorite hotel-related tips — and not all are high tech.
- Left your smartphone plug at home? If you still have the cable, plug it into the hotel room's television and it will charge your device.
- Bring your Amazon Fire TV stick or Roku stick to watch a movie without paying through the nose. Simply plug it into the television's HDMI port, join the free hotel Wi-Fi and watch your favorite shows.
- Send a few emails without lugging your laptop by using the hotel's business center to log in. But don't forget to log out before you walk away; clear the browser's cache, too, for a little extra security.
- Go to the second floor, sometimes referred to as a mezzanine, or near conference rooms if you can't find a spot in the lobby to browse the web on your phone or tablet. You'll find seats, quiet and plugs, too.
- Unwrinkle your clothes with the ol’ shower trick. Hang your clothes above the tub, turn on a hot shower and point the shower head against a wall. Close the bathroom door for 5 to 10 minutes. When you return, your clothes will seem perfectly pressed.
- Are the drapes open just a crack and light disrupting your sleep? Take a clothes hanger from the closet — the one with clips — and clamp both sides of the curtains together. This hotel hack can be a real sleep saver!
- Use the hotel's disposable shower cap if you don't need it elsewhere to shield your shoes in your suitcase. That keeps everything clean.
Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast 'Tech It Out' aims to break down geek speak into street speak.