Just when you think you’ve carefully planned out your entire vacation budget, along come the hidden fees. Oh sure, some of them are small and seemingly harmless, but over the course of a one week vacation they can really add up. As you do the numbers for your next big trip, don’t get ambushed by these often-overlooked fees.
Editor’s note: Some of the services mentioned below may be operating differently due to the pandemic. Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules, and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.
In larger cities around the world, the price of getting to and from the airport can be a big expense. Bleary-eyed arrivees with armfuls of luggage may have trouble resisting the fastest option which unfortunately tends to be the most expensive. For taxis and ride-hailing apps, fares can easily exceed $100 depending on the time of day. Shuttle buses, shared rides, and metro services are cheaper options. On the lower side, it’s wise to budget at least $15 each way. Those who plan to drive and park can sometimes find bargains at lots outside of the airport, with daily rates typically ranging from $12 to $25 depending on the city.
You’d be wise to price your options in advance of your arrival. Ask your hotel about airport transfers which are sometimes complementary, or at least less than a taxi. If you’d prefer a taxi, a quick search online can usually turn up fare estimates for your route.
Local Entry and Departure Tax
You typically pay these without ever knowing it, as they are typically bundled into the taxes and fees tacked onto your airfare. However, some countries ask for these taxes separately upon arrival and departure, and the precise amount can vary depending on the length of your stay.
Many developing countries won’t accept cards for this charge, so make sure to have enough cash on hand, in either U.S. dollars or the local currency.
Visas for U.S. Citizens
Many countries require a visa for U.S. citizens, and that will cost you extra. Just how much it’ll cost will vary by country and, in some cases, how long you intend to stay. For example, the tourist visa necessary for U.S. citizens to enter Russia is $160 while a visa for Indonesia is $35. Some countries allow U.S. visitors to pay for visas on arrival, though many times these must be arranged well in advance of your trip. Make sure you’re up to speed on what the requirements are for your destination before departure.
If you don’t have the proper visa, your airline may not let you fly. Visit the State Department's website for more information on what types of visas you will need for international travel. Make sure to also check your destination's COVID-19 travel restrictions and special visa requirements. While not all requirements mean extra cost, they may mean extra planning. Visit our sister site to find a list of countries currently welcoming tourists from the United States along with their particular entry requirements.
International Data Plans
We rely so much on our phones day to day, and sometimes even more when we travel. All that mapping and Instagramming can eat up a lot of data, and the charges can be astronomical without an excellent international phone plan in place.
The cheapest international plans start at around $30 a month and will provide you with enough data for basic usage. If you have an “unlocked” smartphone or decide to purchase a burner phone on arrival, save money by buying a SIM card and using a local number.
As most Americans are used to subsidizing wages via tipping, it can be a shock to visit other countries where this isn’t the norm. That’ll save you some cash on dining out.
In countries where tips are expected, budget at least 15 to 20 percent of your bill, just as you would at home. And don’t leave out other services provided by hotel maids, baggage attendants, bartenders, taxi drivers, and others.
Wherever you’re traveling, know what the local tipping policy is before you get into a taxi at the airport.
Hotel Parking Fees and Tolls
Of course, you wouldn’t dream of taking a road trip without considering the price of fuel, but don’t overlook tolls and parking fees along your route. Toll road fees and especially overnight hotel parking can really eat up your budget if you’re not careful.
In some cases, it may make sense to arrange for a toll transponder like E-ZPass. Otherwise, make sure you have enough cash on you (at least $50) before your drive, as many of these tolls are unstaffed and don’t accept plastic.
Currency Exchanges and ATM Fees
Use your credit and debit cards overseas and you’ll probably rack up foreign ATM fees or transaction fees. For a trip to the ATM, that fee can be as much as $5, with transaction fees around one to three percent. Sometimes foreign airport ATMs run by currency exchange companies like Travelex or Forex will often hit you with rates as high as what you’d see at the exchange booth.
Not all banks charge foreign transaction fees. If you travel internationally somewhat regularly, it may make sense to switch to a bank like Bank of America which doesn’t charge fees at ATMs in many European countries, Australia, New Zealand, China, and much of the Caribbean. Likewise, there are plenty of credit cards with no fees for foreign transactions.
You can also avoid crazy exchange fees by ordering currency through your home bank in advance of your trip.
Impulsive Airport Buys
While not technically a fee, inflated airport prices can still wreck your budget if you let them. Plan ahead so that you aren’t tempted to buy reading material, neck pillows, and snacks at the last minute. Avoid the most overpriced products at the airport.
Similarly, airlines often charge more for bags checked at the airport versus bags checked online, so don’t wait until check-in to pay for your bags.
Emergencies and Travel Insurance
It’s impossible to know what if any emergencies you may have on the road, but you can certainly take some precautionary measures to lessen the sting. While foreign hospital stays are much less than what they might be in the U.S., they can still cost more than you have to spend.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have at least some form of travel insurance in the event of an accident overseas. This is especially true if you’re planning to take a longer trip or renting a car.
Hotel Taxes and Fees
From insane mini-bar prices to overnight parking that costs a third of the room, hotels have a well-earned reputation for charging sneaky fees.
Taxes on rental cars, hotels, clothing, and alcohol will vary by state and even country. Research online before your trip to get a sense of what to expect at your destination.
Unlike the U.S., most foreign countries include taxes into the given price, so there are no last-minute surprises when tax is added to the bill.
Airport duty-free shops may be fun for browsing but know that they aren’t always the best deal. You can sometimes find the same merchandise for much less at big retailers like Amazon or Target.
If you buy expensive items overseas, look into claiming back your tax using VAT forms at the airport or at certain foreign department stores, though this can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth.