Airports are some of my absolute favorite places in the world. I love (nearly) everything about them. I love people watching, I love perusing the duty free shops, and most of all, I love the feeling of excitement I get being in an airport, off on another adventure. Airports just have a feeling of promise. Some of the things I like less about airports include layovers that are too short to go into the stop-over city for the day but too long to maintain sanity whilst waiting for your connecting flight, waiting areas with insufficient electrical plugs, and how much of a money leech airports can be.
There are a few tactics I have picked up over the years that can help you avoid blowing your travel budget before you even arrive at your destination.
1) Know your baggage limits. Arriving at baggage check-in to find that you’re going to have to dish out an additional $50 on the spot to check your too-big-for-carry-on bag is the absolute worst. Whether this is hand luggage that is stretching the limits of the acceptability for the carry on limits, or you brought a suitcase to check only to find out that it wasn’t included in your flight price, it is never fun to have to fork over additional money to bring your stuff along with you. Over the past few years, airlines have become more stingy with their baggage allowances, so always check before you pack. That way, even if you do decide to pack heavy (why people?!) at least you can make an informed decision rather than be blindsided by a fee at the check-in kiosk.
2) Buy your magazines and books beforehand. Or better yet, if you’ve got a Kindle or Ipad, download a bunch of free Kindle books before you leave, and you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied on the plane without going ham at the magazine, books, and gummy worms shop. I usually find that those shops tend to have either expensive bestseller hardbacks or trashy romance novels anyway, so getting those on Kindle either for free or a fraction of the price if it’s a bestseller, is always the better option. If you don’t have a tablet to download books from, get your stash before you go on your trip. Lots of bookstores have bargain basement sections where you can buy great books for amazing prices. If magazines are your poison, your local magazine stand is always going to be cheaper than the magazine, books, and gummy worms shop in the airport. (Having good reading material to keep you occupied will also help prevent the dreaded SkyMall impulse purchase wherein after 3 hours of staring at the leather miniature tweezers cases you’ve convinced yourself you MUST own one NOW).
3) On that note, don’t buy your food at the airport, bring it with you. I didn’t actually discover this until last year, but although the restrictions for fluids are incredibly tight, you can bring almost anything food related through the security line. Especially for international flights I tend to fly out in the evening so I can get my travel time out of the way at night and maximize my vacation days (9 to 5 Wanderer pro-tip!) Because of this, I’m usually dashing straight from work to the airport, and obviously there is no way this girl is going to survive from lunchtime to the airplane “dinner” that is bizarrely served at 11:30 at night. Dinner at the airport is always going to be expensive, and it is totally avoidable. I once brought roasted chicken and potatoes and asparagus spears straight through security in my backpack. Totally fine. I usually bring a little disposable container that I buy in packs of 6 at the Dollar Store with plastic fork and knife pilfered from my office caf, and chuck it all in the bin after I’ve eaten my meal. If you’ve got a little extra space in your carry on then you could just take a Tupperware container and rinse it out and throw it back in there, but I like to avoid that hassle. I also usually throw in a few granola bars and maybe an apple or banana, so I’m not tempted by the junk in the airport shops. The only thing I would caution against (although I’ve never had issues) is bringing nuts or seeds through. Basically anything that you have to check a box for on your customs form.
4) Bring a reusable water bottle. Just do it. Always. Not only do 99% of airports have a water fountain that you can refill it with as soon as you get through security, but as long as you are travelling somewhere with safe drinking water, it will save you money you’d otherwise be wasting on bottled water for the rest of your trip. Also, unless you want to have reptile skin when you get off the plane, hydration is a must. And no, those little free bottles of wine they give you don’t count.
5) If you’re going to buy duty-free, do your research. Ok, ok, sometimes even the frugal traveler gets sucked in by duty-free shopping. “But it’s tax free and a special airport discounted price!” you say. “I’m at the airport and I forgot to get gifts for XYZ person!” you say. If you’re going to succumb to duty-free, at least do your research and make sure you’re getting a good deal. For example, I ran out of MAC finishing powder once, while passing through London Heathrow and was drawn into the MAC duty-free counter. Despite the seemingly low airport duty-free cost, getting it at the MAC store for retail price in the US was still a better deal after the exchange rate conversion. If you’re going to shop, shop smart!
Do any of you have any favorite airport budget tips to share?
Happy Wandering! -xo