Back to school for travellers

travel budget savings insider tips

Temperatures are cooling off, the kids are back to school and the crowds have gone home. Fall may just be the ideal season to hit the road, travel abroad or starting planning for a sunny winter escape.

Whether you’re planning a fall or winter getaway, here are some top tips to make the most of the season.

Book ahead for the holidays. Too early to think about Thanksgiving or Christmas? Not if you want your pick of the seats and access to potential deals (like early booking discounts on train tickets). It won’t be long before experts start warning people to make their arrangements. You may even want to plan some family get togethers before or after the holiday travel season to keep your budget in check — not to mention those holiday stress levels.

Embrace the shoulder season. Think of it as the sweet spot between pricy peak season and less-than-desirable off-season when days are shorter and weather goes from bad to worse. Shoulder season rates on  packaged tours, accommodation and airfare can take the edge off expensive destinations like London and Paris. However, you can find deals across the globe if you’re willing to dig a little deeper — like finding out which places are best for November travel (think less rain and fewer people!). (For more information, see When to snag off-season deals.)

Check availability. More than prices change when fall arrives. A decline in visitors often means services, activities and attractions aren’t running at full capacity. For instance, many local museums and historic sites reduce their hours or close for the season at a certain date. Some outdoor activities like boat tours or zip lining may shut down too — but there’s often still time to take advantage of those fall colours if you plan carefully.

Update your documents. Is your passport ready for an international jaunt or last minute deal? If you need to apply or renew, processing times are shorter during the off-peak season from June to November.

Make sure you’ve got plenty of time left before your passport expires — many countries require at least six months remain after the date you plan to travel. Now is a good time to check your other I.D. too.

Also, if you plan to drive, find out if you need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) before you book. Some car rental companies require one even if your destination doesn’t. It might hurt to check on road conditions too as weather can be unpredictable in the fall months. (See 5 things you should know before you drive abroad for details.)

Review your policies. If you haven’t done so recently, take a look at any insurance or credit card policies that might affect your trip. For example, do your employee benefits offer out of country health coverage? Does your credit card offer some trip cancellation coverage or discounts? Knowing what coverage and perks you have — and what gaps to address — can help you make smarter decisions when planning.

You’ll also want to be aware of any carrier policies, like your airline’s luggage limits, to avoid any surprise fees. Even booking over the phone can cost you.

Check your tech too. Another common mistake travellers make: not understanding roaming charges and additional fees for services. Using your cell phone, smart phone or tablet can rack up bills in the hundreds of dollars, but there are solutions — like purchasing a cell phone abroad or using an international SIM card. (See Beat big mobile bills when you travel for details.)

Get your car checked. Planning a road trip? Better book your pre-winter check up earlier than usual. Experts warn to take care of any repairs or maintenance at least a couple of weeks before your trip, plus top up your fluids, replace wiper blades and check your tires — including the spare tire. Unloading items you won’t need can also save some fuel.

Protect your health. Some vaccines require multiple doses spread over several weeks or take time to reach their full effectiveness — so it’s best to plan ahead for those winter sunshine getaways. In addition to destination-specific concerns like hepatitis A and B and typhoid, experts say it’s a good idea to check up on your routine immunizations too — like measles and tetanus. Some experts even recommend a flu shot to help prevent getting sick on vacation.

In some cases, vaccines are more than just a “good idea”. Proof of a yellow fever vaccine is an entry requirement for many countries in South America and Africa. (For more information, see Travel Health 101 and Avoid travel health mistakes.)

Dodge the scams. Had one of those questionable calls lately, or received an email with a too-good-to-be-true offer? Don’t let your vacation fund end up in the hands of scammers while you’re hunting for deals. Take a few minutes to refresh your knowledge of how to spot scams — like high pressure sales tactics, payment required up front and requests for credit card numbers or other confidential information before you can claim a prize or get more information. Experts advise to stick to reputable businesses, ask a lot of questions and do a little background research on any new company you plan to work with. (For more tips, see Vacation scams: what you need to know.)

What about while you’re on vacation? There are many common tactics to take advantage of tourists — like fake cops or taxis and “front desk scams”. Read up on your destination before you go to find out the latest scams and criminal tactics — you can often find this information through guidebooks and government travel advice. (See Don’t get scammed on vacation and Beware these 5 hotel scams for more tips.)

Brush up on safety. Crime isn’t the only risk you might face. While you’re not likely planning a trip to Somalia or Iraq, conditions in “safe” countries can change quickly — like the recent riots in England and the nuclear crisis in Japan. Not only should you research your destination in advance, you can also bookmark some sources to keep you up to date. Risks don’t have to deter you, but the information can help you be better prepared.

Where can you start? While guidebooks can fill you in on the background, government travel advice can alert you to changing conditions — like an approaching storm or protest. Check multiple sources including Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. as each government has different sources and response times. (See How safe is your destination for more tips and resources.)

Brush up your language skills. Got the back to school bug? Online or in person, classes can help you learn the local language. You don’t have to be fluent, but knowing some basics like how to ask for directions, read signs, order food or ask someone for help can make your travels smoother.

If a college class isn’t for you, there are other ways to pick up grammar and vocabulary. Software applications, online workshops and tutoring are also good options, depending on your learning preferences. (See Learn a language online for resources).

Whether you plan to travel now or travel later, try some of these tips to for a cheaper and more convenient trip.

Any tips you’d like to share with other readers? Post them in the comments!

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