Part of travelling around means you may not always have a home base to defecate in peace. You might be on a stopover for a day without accommodation, or the place you’re staying might be too far from the area you’re exploring. Either way, we’ve all been there. You’re out and about, and need to go, but you’re afraid that merely touching the door handle of the public park toilets will lead to a newly discovered type of Hepatitis…
Here is what you do:
Find the nearest fancy hotel and walk in like you belong there. Own it. Strut with confidence. You need to be able to scan the lobby fast while walking with purpose, leading concierge to believe you’re just another hotel guest. Almost every high end hotel has a well maintained lobby bathroom you can use. They’re typically located near other hotel amenities such as the pool, fitness centre or spa. Once you pass concierge and front desk staff, you’re free to make use of the hotel facilities. I stick to large chain hotels over boutique hotels with more attentive staff and have never had a problem or been questioned for not being an actual hotel guest, even when the sign at the Fairmont Lake Louise clearly stated hotel guests only beyond this point. A little confidence and looking like I belonged had nobody questioning my presence as I ducked into the main floor bathroom to do my thing.
In addition to finding a peaceful place to poop, I have a few other tips that will not only protect you from contracting the newest form of Hepatitis, but will save you money and make your travels more comfortable.
Bring your own water bottle – you want to buy that $4 bottle of water at the airport and waste your money? Cool. Except killing the environment isn’t cool, so don’t do it. Pack your travel water bottle, empty it before security, and fill it back up after security. Travelling doesn’t give you an excuse to kill the environment with your plastic obsession with convenience. Tap water is safe in many countries around the world and if it is not, there are often water bottle refill stations in hotels or restaurants, or you can buy a huge jug to fill your water bottle with each day. I was a little skeptical about water treatment tabs a friend brought to Cuba but the hassle of finding and carrying jugs of water had me give it a try, and by the end of the trip I was drinking treated tap water exclusively!
Food & Drink:
Besides the flight, food & drinks can be your next major expense. Try to eat and drink as the locals do, at least some of the time. Do you eat out every single meal at home? Probably not, so why would you when you’re travelling? You can grab picnic supplies from the local grocery store, or if you have cooking facilities where you’re staying, you can throw together quick meals. At the very least buy your snacks from local markets or the grocery store. This seems obvious, but I had to throw it in here as so few people do it and get into vacation mode of buying the $2 Apple at Starbucks instead of the 20 cent one from the market next door. The same applies to alcohol. You can save a significant amount by buying your booze at the local grocery or liquor shop than having every single drink at a bar. And that travel water bottle you’re bringing; also allows you to bring your own cocktails to the beach.
Just like walking into a fancy hotel like a boss will usually warrant free usage of the lobby toilet, the same generally applies to their pools and other amenities. I mean, who would actually sneak into a hotel pool? I would. And I have. And I enjoy my cucumber infused water courtesy of the Four Seasons while I do it, all while staying in a much cheaper hotel with no pool nearby. Some pools require key access so it may require a bit of coordination to ensue you get in behind someone who has a key first. Or you may keep a collection of hotel room keys from various hotels in Vegas for
your frequent trips there knowing they actually check room keys of every person entering their pools (the “I forgot my key” has worked once or twice but isn’t something to rely on). Another option to help gain access is the free hotel bathrobes found in the spa changeroom hamper. But back to that Hepatitis thing… after finding a stain on the bathrobe I borrowed to get into the Harrison Hot Springs hotel pool, I’m not sure I’ll do this again.
So many novice travellers walk out of the airport and hail a cab. This is the most expensive, and sometimes most time consuming way of getting around. If you absolutely need to be driven around by a chauffeur, at least use Uber or Lyft. However, usually major airports have public transit that is a fraction of the cost, and sometimes faster! Vancouver (YVR), Toronto (YYZ) and Newark (EWR) airports are examples where you will get to the city centre faster (and cheaper!) by public transit. Consider these options before bothering a friend to pick you up at the airport as well. The one exception to this rule is Los Angeles. Don’t take public transit here unless you want to be part of a reality based version of straight out of Compton. Despite the above, it is always worth inquiring about the price of taxis in non North American countries. After sitting on a broken down bus for an hour and a half in Cuba we ended up splitting a cab with two others for barely more than the bus fare, and got to our destination much quicker than if we had waited for a repair that may have never come.
Renting a car vs. public transit:
Believe it or not, renting a car is often more economical than even taking public transit. Especially in major centres in the US. Take Vegas for example… an Uber to the strip is about $15 each way. Add one trip on the deuce bus x 4 people for another $20. You’re already at $50 and haven’t even left the main touristy area of Vegas. Throw in 4 of those Grand Canyon bus tours and that car rental is becoming seriously economical. If you have someone willing to be sober enough to drive, a car rental is usually a cheaper option for Vegas with weekend deals as low as $10/day and free parking at some major hotels (and you don’t pay the extra insurance because you followed my tips on getting a travel credit card here) Despite this, I still rarely rent a car in Vegas because that shuttle to the car rental centre is far too time consuming and I usually stay within walking distance of whatever centre strip hotel I am booked into (a car rental also allows you to save big by staying off the strip) and Vegas is one of those examples where convenience outweighs cost savings for me. The moral of this story is that public transit is not always cheaper, especially with groups. One look at the New Zealand bus pass prices and shitty schedules had me sold on renting a car there, even though I was solo.
One last general rule with ground transportation, stay out of those airport shuttles. They’re usually more expensive than a taxi for two as they charge per person, so unless travelling solo to some remote place not served by public transportation with super expensive car rentals, you shouldn’t have a reason to take these airport shuttles.
If you decide to rent a car rather than taking a taxi or public transit (often far more efficient and cheaper!) you can still save money by parking for free. Almost every major city I’ve been to has little pockets of free street parking. Yep, even Vancouver. A recent trip to San Francisco had me meeting people at Pier 39 for dinner. They warned me parking was $20 for 2 hours. I parked less than a 10 min walk away on the street for free. I always check the street parking around hotels as well before paying their parking fees. In Napa, the Embassy Suites wanted $18/night for parking and I parked right beside the lot on the street overnight for free. A net
inconvenience of probably 12 steps. Do make sure you fully understand the local bylaws before street parking or you’ll end up mailing an envelope of cash to a friend in Germany to pay your Austrian parking ticket because none of the ticket payment options are accessible for a foreigner leaving town before the next banking day.
– If you missed getting the seat you wanted with advance check in online seat selection, give it one more shot. I prefer to be near the front of the plane (last on, first off) and in a window seat (extra space to sleep) and by politely asking the gate agent for this, I’m usually able to move up a few rows with my desired seat.
– If you’re not a fan of those long security lines at airports (who is?) get a Nexus card. For about $10/year I have saved myself countless hours at the border crossing as well as in airport security lines. If you’re a Canadian citizen without a criminal record preventing you from US travel, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t have a Nexus card.
– When you’re having a blast in Mexico and aren’t ready to go home for a few more days, you’ll be grateful to see a travel advisory for your connecting airport. The plane may fly anyway, but you can use this as a good excuse to extend your Mexican vacation. Check your individual airline but most allow you to rebook within a 7 day window if there is a travel advisory for weather. Airlines are notorious for lacking flexibility and this is one minor way to change your travel plans for free.
– Pack a snack. And maybe a drink (under 100 ml.) Airport and airline food is expensive and drinking is even costlier. Those travel shampoo bottles are perfect for bringing your spirit of choice on board to spike your complimentary beverage. Having a snack can prevent you from stealing Twizzlers from the stranger in the seat beside you when she gets up to use the washroom mid-flight when the munchies hit.
– With carry on fees getting expensive, know what you can bring on board for free. You are actually allowed one carry on AND one personal item which I choose to maximize by bringing a rolling suitcase AND a backpack (day pack size) when travelling. Everyone opting for carry on is likely what is slowing down security lines, and making boarding and deplaning take so long but until airlines address this, check your carry on allowance and try to take advantage of your full allowance before paying to check a bag. Carry on also reduces the risk of your bags getting lost and as someone who has had their bags lost at least 3 times, I can assure you that it does happen. Some airlines charge for carry on in which case a checked bag may be the way to go.
You have already downloaded as much offline content as possible by following my Apps to download tips, but sometimes you really want to post that amazing photo on Instagram and don’t want to wait until you’re back at your hotel. Skip the temptation to turn on your roaming, those charges are ridiculous. Every McDonalds or Starbucks has free wifi for customers, or non customers who stand outside their storefront borrowing their Wifi signal. Alternately, consider purchasing a prepaid SIM on the local network. You can usually get one at the airport for a fraction of what we pay at home in Canada or with roam like home. I typically pay less than $1/day. Make sure your phone is unlocked and you have a pin to exchange SIMs with.
Before you do anything currency related, find out if your destination is a cash or card spot. Argentina prefers cash, with surcharges on credit card payments in most places, whereas Norway is essentially a cash free society with even public washrooms only accepting cards.
Since smaller destinations only accept cash, or maybe you want to avoid credit card surcharges from both your vendor and credit card company, either way, travel often leaves you carrying around more cash than you would at home.
First of all, empty your wallet before you leave, only bring essential cards. You do not need your social insurance number card or grocery store loyalty card with you on a beach in Southeast Asia but losing them might be a hassle.
Make sure your wallet fits somewhere it can be easily concealed. Not your back pocket where pickpockets can reach in and grab as I observed at a train station in Naples. Your bra, waistband, sock are all great places to keep your wallet, while keeping a small amount of money for the day in your accessible pocket. You can buy those fanny pack/money belts but I usually just take advantage of opportunities that already exist. Those bras that have the little pockets for padding? Take the padding out and stuff your bra with cash instead. These tips extend to in your room as well. Your hotel rooms are not secure! I’ve had my room robbed in Nicaragua and Thailand, thankfully only for a small amount of cash each time because I had the bulk of my cash tucked away somewhere less obvious like in the pocket of a dirty pair of rolled up jeans.
If you’re travelling in a group you may want to have one separate wallet of cash for shared expenses rather than trying to figure out the math for every taxi ride or hotel room.
Carry local currency. Unless you’re actually American, you’re going to pay exchange fees twice to bring US dollars to a foreign country just to exchange it to their local currency. Know the local currency and obtain some before you leave from your bank (they require a few days notice) or a reputable currency exchange company that has good rates and doesn’t charge an exchange fee. Do not use the airport currency exchange kiosks under any circumstances.
One last tip about currency. You know when you have one day left of travel but you’re almost completely out of cash wondering if you should pay those extra bank fees to make another withdrawal or just not eat on your final day? Bring a small amount of currency from home (or US cash) with you. You can change a small amount at a local bank to get through that final day without paying crazy bank fees, and if you don’t need the money, you haven’t paid anything to exchange it and then have to exchange the unused amount back.
Be polite and at least attempt to learn a few words in the local language. Don’t be an ignorant tourist expecting everyone to understand your English. They probably do and will speak to you in English but your attempt at learning a few key words will be appreciated by the locals.
These are just a few of my travel hacks to staying cheap and Hepatitis free. For more packing tips, click here.
Have you got any tips to add? Feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org