Boy oh boy.
This post is long overdue.
I'm going to tell you about one of the most frustrating "travel-related" truths that doesn't always get spelled out.
Total honesty: I'm guilty of not always spelling it out...
Why? Because it's often subjective, and sometimes it seems like "common sense stuff"...
But even the most seasoned traveler easily overlooks or forgets about the
HIDDEN AND UNEXPECTED COSTS OF TRAVEL
If you follow my Facebook page (link here) you know that me and my family are gearing up to go on our first cruise to Alaska in less than 2 weeks. Exciting, right? Four generations of my family all cruising to Alaska together is a dream come true! However, over the past few months that we have been preparing for this trip, I have made a mental note of the things that annoy me about travel (I'm a negative Ned, what can I say?). Don't get me wrong... the experience of traveling is incomparable... but sometimes the hidden costs leading up to --- and during--- your trip can really put a damper on it if you are not expecting them.
This list is not all-encompassing by any means, and not all of this is specific to my upcoming trip. It also is in no specific order. I really just wanted to make a post that might benefit you all... whether you are clients of mine or not (but I would love it if you were so please reach out!). Let me know what you think in the comments below!
1. Airline baggage
The cost of the ticket pretty much NEVER gets you a free checked bag anymore. With Southwest Airlines you still get checked bags included so I recommend checking their ticket prices to compare with the cost of those that do charge per bag. It's not always the better price, but it's worth checking out. Most airlines charge $30-$50 EACH WAY just to bring your suitcases with you. I don't know about you, but I really don't love spending $360 round trip (at $30 per bag) for the 6 of us to each have a checked bag. We WILL be combining our checked items into less bags and stuffing as much as we can into carry-on luggage. Even if we manage to get all of our things squeezed into 3 suitcases, that is still going to run us $180 or more. Also beware of the restrictions for each airline... If your suitcase is too big or too heavy you may be assessed an oversized baggage fee which can be another $50 or so depending on airline.
That leads me into the next luggage related hidden cost... Did you know that some of the bargain airlines such as Spirit not only charge for checked luggage, but the also charge for you to bring a carry-on? They often advertise the lowest prices but you'll need to keep in mind that you may end up paying a lot more than the original price once you add baggage.
To avoid this, you have a few options. As I mentioned above, Southwest Airlines does offer free checked bags, so that might save you a bit of money. There are also certain credit cards that you can get that include travel perks such as free checked bags if you travel with a particular airline. Lastly, go minimalistic and combine luggage or squeeze what you can into a carry-on.
2. Airport Parking
We live close to a very small airport which flies to most major hubs so I like to fly out of there when possible for a few reasons: I don't have to wake up so early if the flight is an early one, and I can often find a friend or relative that can drop me off and pick me up so I don't have to pay for parking. Parking costs are rising. The economy lots at the airports are often $15 per day. If your trip is 7 days, you're looking at spending around $105 or more JUST TO PARK. The problem with this small airport is that it usually costs a lot more per ticket, so when it is not an economical choice, we usually go to either O'Hare, Midway, or Indianapolis. There are not many people wo want (or have time) to do that round trip drive so we often have to drive ourselves. Last time I went to O'Hare the Economy Lot was closed, so sometimes you don't even have that as an option if the lot is full or if they are doing construction.
What can be done? You do have choices! Again, it is best if you can find somebody who will drop you off and pick you up, but if that is not an option you can try these: 1) Find a hotel near the airport that has a complimentary airport shuttle and will allow you to park your car there for the length of your trip. These hotels will often charge you per day to park there, but the price is sometimes better than the airport parking prices. 2) Find an off-site lot that will let you park for a fee and shuttle you to the airport. This is what we are doing this time around. It's not a huge savings over airport pricing but it did knock off a small chunk. You can (and should) book these in advance to avoid any unexpected hiccups when you get there.
Tolls are sometimes an insignificant amount, and a lot of you might not have to pay them during your trip anyway. But for those that do, it helps to plan for that expense in advance. Not only should you plan for the added cost, but also plan to bring cash incase the card readers don't work or the toll is cash only. When my family and I went to Disney the first time, we paid tolls on our way to get to Chicago and then we paid tolls to get around in our rental car while we were there in Orlando. It definitely added up since we were not expecting it. We were better prepared the next time! We will have to pay tolls again when we head to Chicago to fly to our cruise port. Blah. Yuck. But tolls roads are often really nice so I guess that helps!
Obviously you can choose to go around the toll roads (in most cases) but it can add time to your trip and I am often too impatient to get where I am going... Plus with 4 kids in tow they can get antsy so every minute counts, haha!
This is a good one to add to the list because, while you don't have to, you usually should. This list is mostly things that are an inconvenience but tipping really is not one of those kind of things. There are a number of circumstances in which you may find yourself needing to tip somebody during your trip. A few examples:
a. If you are taking a cruise, I like to pre-pay gratuities and you may find that helpful as well. When I quote a cruise for a client I will always include pre-paid gratuities in the quote (when available to do so). But the pre-paid gratuities get split between many people. You may get exceptional service from your waiter or housekeeping and want to tip them a bit more which I really do encourage. Cruise employees work so hard and really make the cruise experience so great. Aside from the cruise employees, there are others you should consider tipping including the bus driver (if taking a shuttle to the port) as well as the luggage handlers. These are the people that collect your bags as soon as you arrive at the port and deliver your bags to your stateroom for you. I can not tell you how helpful that service is, and I also can't imagine not thanking those guys with a tip.
b. All-inclusive resorts are so awesome, especially because you don't have to worry about the cost of food while you are there. But people often overlook the fact that the waitstaff, bartenders, and housekeeping deserve a little appreciation in the form of cash. Not that our saying "thank you" isn't appreciated (please always say it), but they rely on tips to give them a boost above what is likely a low wage.
c. Bellboys- certain hotels offer to bring your luggage up free of charge. Yay! But please give the employee who brings your things a few bucks. Contrary to what you might have seen in Home Alone 2, they don't want your gum. They would like cash.
This is a newer annoyance for me, but I bet some of you have dealt with it a number of times. Pets. Our furry (and maybe not so furry) friends have to be taken into consideration. I have always had relatives that could take care of my pets (and before I had pets I never even thought about it) but this time is different because we are all going on the trip this time. Here is what I have run into. Your situation might be different. We have indoor cats so we purchased an automatic feeder and water bowl that can hold enough for both of them for the duration of the trip. We are also planning on purchasing an additional litter box so that they can have... overflow...
Next, we have had to figure out what to do about our dog. She is an indoor/outdoor dog but she can't be left alone for a week. We looked at kennel pricing as well as pricing from pet sitters and ultimately we have chosen to go with a girl we found on Rover.com (If you use my referral to join we will both get a $20 credit!). She was not only the best priced per night, but also had good reviews from other Rover users and provides pictures and updates of our dog while we are gone. But... The annoying part is that this is another $350 that we were not planning for initially.
I have some clients who would prefer to bring their pets with them on their vacation. This is often doable but the cost can really add up. First, we need to find accommodations that allow pets. Then we need to see if they have a pet surcharge. Some places require additional money per night per pet, and other places require a pet deposit (either refundable or non-refundable). Then you need to take into account the cost of either flying with your pet or driving with them. Flying a pet is often incredibly pricey... Often upwards of $200. Then you will have to make sure you have an airline approved pet carrier, and some airlines require you to take your pet for a vet appointment prior to travel. If you are driving, you still may need to purchase a pet carrier and other supplies.
My recommendation for those who want to travel with a pet or two is to look into vacation rentals. I can help you find pet friendly vacation rentals and you can decide if you want to drive or fly there.
6. WiFi & Data/ Roaming
You likely won't have to worry about this if you are traveling within the continental United States. If you are traveling internationally or on a cruise this is an additional expense that is often overlooked. For our cruise, I opted to purchase the ship's wifi package... not only because I want to keep in touch with everyone back home, but also because I need to have internet access for work! This cost me about $100, which seems fairly average for a 7 day cruise regardless of the cruise line.
If you are going out of the country and staying at a resort or hotel, you will likely have access to their wifi, but it isn't always free. If you are going to be out and about, it's a good chance that you won't have wifi and you will either need to keep your phone on airplane mode or pay for the roaming charges.
There ARE exceptions. Check your wireless plan or contract to see if it includes international data/ calling/ messaging. Our plan allows for service in Mexico and Canada so we will be covered while we stop in Victoria on our cruise. Sometimes you can even do a temporary upgrade which allows you to pay extra to have international calling and messaging during the time you are traveling. Yeah you pay extra but it would likely cost a lot more to have your phone on roaming the whole time.
7. Travel Insurance
People please... PLEASE get some sort of trip protection/ travel insurance. As a travel agent who runs my own business, I made the decision a while back that I would not book international travel for anybody who does not purchase some form of protection plan. I just won't. I don't care what the excuse is. If you don't want the protection, I can not be your agent. Domestic travel is slightly different and I will book your trip regardless but I still *always* push for it because I've witnessed the consequences of not having it.
The reason I added it to this list specifically is because I can't tell you the number of times that people have been put off by an insurance quote. You can spend $10,000 on a vacation but $400 to cover you and your family in case of emergency, trip delay, COVID, lost luggage, etc... is asking too much? Give me a break! I say that in a snarky way, but I am very serious. This is super important and you should make sure to factor in the cost to have it.
If you don't plan on traveling internationally, this won't apply to you. If you are planning on going on a trip outside of the United States, you will absolutely 100% need a passport (with the exception of most closed-loop cruises). This is something people are aware of, but sometimes don't consider the price of getting before booking a trip. For an adult to get a new/ first passport with standard processing and standard delivery, you're going to pay $165. That passport is valid for 10 years. For a minor to get a passport you're looking at spending $135. Passport renewals for adults are slightly less costly, but a child can not do a renewal like an adult can, they need to redo it in person every 5 years and there is no reduced cost for minors to get another one. Here is a calculator that will show you what you'll pay based on what you need and how fast you need it: travel.state.gov
You know I love cruises. I really, really love cruises. But I don't love the cost of excursions a lot of time. You get a really good deal on your cruise and you think "yay, a cheap but awesome trip!" and that's usually true. But if you decide to add excursions it can add up so fast you won't even know what happened. For my family of 6 to do an excursion in Alaska it could cost anywhere from $600 to well over $2,000... That's at each port. You might want to do excursions at 3 ports and so you will need to prepare for that added cost from the beginning. I love Celestyal cruises because they include 2 free excursions in the already affordable cruise cost.
The same concept applies to all-inclusives as well. You get a great price on your trip that includes your food, drinks, activities, entertainment, and more but if you want to venture off-property and do an excursion it will cost you extra.
The nice thing is that excursions are not mandatory. You don't have to do one if you don't want to. If you plan on going anywhere and want to find the best prices on excursions and tours I recommend checking out Project Expedition. I prefer this company over Viator (although I do use Viator, too) and they even have LOADS of excursions that are centered around cruise schedules. You just type in your cruise into the search bar and they populate the excursion list that ties into your cruise! Click this link to see what I mean: Project Expedition
If you are flying to your destination, you will need to factor in the cost of transportation. Whether you choose to purchase shuttle service (such as from the airport to the cruise port or from the airport to your hotel), rent a car, reserve an Uber, hail a taxi, or use public transportation such as busses, the subway, etc... you will find yourself paying for these in many cases.
Some examples of situations where you don't need to pay are:
1) If your hotel offers a free airport shuttle and you aren't planning on needing to drive anywhere else.
2) If you are staying at a theme park such as Walt Disney World you can use their transportation to get from part to park, resort to park, resort to Disney Springs, etc. However, Disney no longer offers complimentary airport shuttle service so you will at least need to pay to get from the airport to the resort and back.
Yeah, I know it sounds like the "odd man out" here... but trust me, it is not. Almost every vacation I have ever taken has included me purchasing at least one photo from some tourist attraction, ride, etc... When I did a beginners scuba dive I wasn't allowed to take my underwater camera (being a beginner and all... probably for the best) but I wanted to commemorate the moment so I forked over some cash and bought the photos plus the video of our dive. My husband might read this blog so I won't tell you how much I paid for those... Just know it was worth it but it was not just a few dollars.
At a lot of resorts and on cruises you can hire a photographer to take beautiful family photos, honeymoon pics, etc. and they often also have certain locations where a photographer is located that will take your picture. You have to purchase these. Sometimes it is an individual photo and other times you can get a package.
Then... there are places like Walt Disney World that have a photo package that you purchase up front (at WDW it is called the Memory Maker). I actually recommend this most of the time... Especially to moms who are often the ones behind the camera. Memory Maker is really nice because you get literally ALL of the pictures taken around the 4 WDW parks including most ride photos, character meet and greets, castle pics, and more for a fraction of what you would pay individually. We got hundreds of photos of us last time so I would say it is worth it.
12. Airport Food
I don't really need to explain this one, I just want to point out that it is often overlooked and it gets very expensive very quickly.
13. Pre/ Post Departure Hotel
This should probably be listed up toward the top with the parking and baggage section but I'm too lazy to scroll back up now... I'm on a roll...
Using our upcoming cruise as an example, our flight leaves out of Chicago around 7am. We live about 2-2.5 hours from O'Hare (depending on traffic) and we are also in a different time zone than the airport so it gets confusing trying to keep track of the different times. Anyway, we plan on arriving 2 hours prior to departure (and of course we will need to purchase airport breakfast & Starbucks) which would be 6am our time, 5am their time... We would need to leave our house by 3:30am our time. Nope, no thank you. We're heading up the night before and staying in a hotel near the parking service we chose. We wanted to make sure we were at a hotel with indoor pool so the kids could wear themselves out, and we also like to stay at places that have a separate sleeping area for the kids. We spent less than $200, but still. It wasn't an expense we thought of when we first booked our cruise.
14. Hidden Resort/ Hotel Costs
Most booking sites are pretty good about including destination taxes, damage deposits, and resort fees in the total cost. However, there are some (especially 3rd party sites) that don't include these in the total price at checkout. So you may get to your hotel or resort and get charged additional money at check in or check out.
A good example of this: Today I was looking at a hotel (domestic) for a client and the price was fair for the location. I was pretty happy about it! This is a direct booking (meaning I am not using a 3rd party site, I'm booking direct with Marriott) so I was surprised to see that there was an added destination tax that the clients will have to pay upon check in. There is also a $200 refundable damage deposit that they will have to pay at check in. Of course this will be refunded as long as there are not any damages to the room, but it's still inconvenient. These clients are driving to the hotel and upon looking closer, I also see that parking is available on-site but it is not free. It's $22 per night. So these are costs that aren't always readily available... You may have to really go looking for them.
15. Rental Car Taxes & Their Added Costs if Your Flight Changes
Alright, so two things here. I like to have a rental car when I fly somewhere. It's just my personal preference and I think it can be more convenient especially for a family. Again, that's just a personal feeling on the matter. But there are some added costs that come with that choice. The first is that the rental car taxes and fees are not often charged at the time of booking so even though you have paid for the car itself, you will still have expenses to pay at the counter. When making your reservation, be sure to read the fine print. You may also be required to pay a refundable damage deposit which is often several hundred dollars. As with the hotel damage deposit, you will get it back once you check out as long as there were no damages.
Something that is not often considered is the change in rental car price if your flight changes. Sometimes it can be to our benefit (such as if the flight changes to have you arrive later than originally scheduled and you might be able to recoup a little bit of what you were going to pay) but other times it can be a real annoyance.
When the change can be annoying: I'll just give an example here... I had clients who were originally booked on a certain flight itinerary. However, there were airline changes and they ended up having a change that got them to their destination (Maui) around 8 hours earlier. Because their car rental was booked based on their original estimated arrival time, we had to change the rental car pick up time to 8 hours earlier and this resulted in them having to pay for an additional day (which also increased the taxes due at the counter as well).
This might sound like an obvious thing to keep in mind, but sometimes we forget that we will also have to budget for gas for the rental car as well. Last time we flew to Walt Disney World there were 8 of us that needed a car so we rented a Suburban (which we loved... I want one) but the cost of keeping the gas tank full was more than I was used to since my car gets pretty good gas mileage.
16. COVID Testing
I don't really want to put this on here because people are very opinionated about this and I'm not very opinionated about it and it quickly drains my soul when people talk to me about their hatred or support of the vaccine and/ or testing requirements. I am Switzerland. I am also realizing how long that first sentence was in this paragraph. Oh well. I don't know what the options are in your area as far as COVID testing so this is not going to be very helpful as far as where to go get your test. Here in NW Indiana Walgreens does free testing. You need to have a negative test to board a cruise ship, and there are still countries that require you to test before arriving. When I was visiting my sister in British Columbia prior to the U.S. dropping their testing mandates for entry, I could not find a place to do free testing and the airport was going to charge my mom somewhere around $60 or $80... I can't remember. Anyway, I ordered some of the Abbot BinaxNOW home tests (the proctored ones... be careful because there are two different kinds and only the proctored one is accepted by most places). I paid $69 for a 2 pack and gave 1 to my mom so we saved some money that way. But just be aware that you may need a test and it may not be free. Another example is the Margaritaville at Sea cruise line... They offer testing at the port but it is not free. You must have a negative test to board the ship. However, good news for unvaccinated cruisers, you can sail on this cruise ship without being vaccinated. The sad news is that the itinerary is not as long as most other lines.
Ok, that's all I have for now. I will add more as they pop into my head,
or as I run across them while I am prepping myself and my little army of travelers for Alaska.
Have something to add? Drop it in the comments!