12 Hidden Costs of Taking a Vacation That Nobody Really Talks About

Before getting wrapped up in the excitement of booking a trip, keep these often-overlooked costs in mind.

couple preparing for vacation and calculating expenses
Updated May 28, 2024
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When planning a vacation, it’s easy to focus on big-ticket items: the flights, hotels, experiences, and nights out to eat.

However, there are plenty of other travel costs that are a lot less obvious but can really add up. Even if you use one of the best travel credit cards, these extra expenses can make future trips less feasible.

Expert travelers cut (or minimized) these expenses years ago — it's how they keep traveling. And you can on your next trip, too.

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Taxi and rideshare costs

Snapic.PhotoProduct/Adobe taxi driver sitting in a car with businesswoman

Part of the budgeting process should include transportation — not just to your destination but also to other excursions where you might need to take a cab, Uber, or Lyft.

Savvy travelers know that taking public transportation is likely the most affordable option when it’s available. To avoid exorbitant rideshare costs, familiarize yourself with your destination's public transit systems and chart your routes.

Extra snacks and drinks

Friends Stock/Adobe family stands near the car having a lunch

If you’re heading to a hot tourist destination, the price of food — including on-the-go drinks and snacks — is likely to be high.

Savvy travelers save money by packing snacks or looking for cheap places off the beaten path. You might find some cheap grub just a short walk away from areas tourists frequent.

Frequent-flyer booking fees

Pavel Losevsky/Adobe crowd on registration

Enrolling in frequent-flyer programs is a great way to save money, but there are occasions when travelers still have to pay certain fees just to use their miles.

For example, you might be charged a “redemption fee.” Policies vary from airline to airline, so double-check before using miles to book.

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Hotel and airport parking fees

bander/Adobe paying money from a car at parking lot

Some hotels allow guests to park for free, but others charge a fee to leave their car in the lot. Check the hotel’s website beforehand to get an idea of what the daily parking fee is.

If you plan to drive to and leave your car at the airport, expect parking fees there too. Be sure to crunch the numbers; it might be less expensive to take a cab or public transit to and from the airport.

Airbnb cleaning fees

Photographee.eu/Adobe cleaning service employees with professional equipment

If you opt for an Airbnb over a hotel, have a firm understanding of additional fees that might be tacked on.

The benefit of hotels over Airbnb is that hotels tend to include cleaning services in the price of the room. Airbnb hosts often choose to charge additional cleaning fees, even if they ask guests to tidy up.

Luckily, Airbnb now includes all fees in the listed price. Choose your accommodations wisely.

Checked or overweight baggage fees

milkovasa/Adobe large backpack lying on a control cage

Many travelers jump at a bargain flight deal, only to find that they also owe carry-on or checked-bag fees.

Make sure you’re clear on the carry-on, checked bag, and oversized luggage policy when you’re booking an airline ticket. These extra baggage fees can add up quickly.

To avoid the fees entirely, pack lightly and efficiently. Many accommodations will offer laundry services that, if they cost anything, are likely more affordable than airline fees.

ATM fees

PKpix/Adobe sad woman standing in front of a ATM bank machine

You may owe a fee if you withdraw money from an ATM that's not associated with your bank. Foreign transaction fees also can be common while traveling abroad.

If you're traveling for an extended period and run out of cash, make one large cash withdrawal to avoid repeated fees — both at the ATM and the checkout counter (if you're in another country).

Currency exchange fees

pathdoc/Adobe woman with euro and dollar currency banknotes

Avoid converting currency at the airport at all costs. Airports and exchange counters in high-tourist areas tend to charge hefty fees when exchanging currency.

Instead, see if you can exchange currency at your bank before heading out on vacation. It’s wise to add this task to your to-do list in the weeks before a big trip in case your bank needs to order the currency.

Cell phone fees

Vadim Pastuh/Adobe man amazed with news received on the smartphone

Check your cell phone provider’s rates for international travel. This is another money-waster that many travelers tend to overlook when planning a trip.

If the price is a bit hefty, purchase a prepaid global SIM card before traveling. Since the cards are prepaid, you know you won’t be going over budget.

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Eating and drinking at the airport

Kathy images/Adobe breakfast on the run in airport

Airport shops are notoriously overpriced, no matter what you’re buying. Financially savvy travelers know to bring snacks to avoid eating in the airport if possible.

When you do need to buy food or drinks at the airport, keep things simple. Remember, items such as alcoholic drinks are especially costly.

Departure fees

auremar/Adobe arrival of a guest

Some countries actually charge visitors a “departure fee” before they leave. These fees vary a great deal and may even change based on the airport you fly out of.

This expense is unavoidable, but make sure to look into your destination’s traveler fees before booking. You don't want to get caught with too little funds at the end of your journey.

Of course, if you minimized the previous expenses, you shouldn't have to worry about coming up short.

Wi-Fi fees

Monkey Business/Adobe man in kitchen using laptop frowning

Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi, but travelers should never assume anything is included unless it is explicitly stated.

There may be an additional fee for Wi-Fi inside the hotel room, for example. If this is the case, local coffee shops or libraries could be solid free options.

Bottom line

Halfpoint/Adobe woman with tablet and map indoors at home

To make the most of your travel budget, make sure you plan ahead, book hotels with the amenities you need, and watch for hidden airline and airport fees.

Smart vacation planning involves considering the oft-forgotten costs of traveling. Doing this can help you stay out of debt as you enjoy your time away.

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Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.