A vanishing earthly heaven crested the mountain as our bus rambled along the pot-hole strewn roads. We were heading toward the last remaining cloud forests on the planet. A unique biosphere or constant moisture that helped coin the term for the area, Monteverde, or Green Mountain. We didn’t quite know what to expect but wish we would have known the variety of things to do in the Monteverde Cloud Forest before we visited. It is listed (by Costa Ricans) as one of their own seven natural wonders, in their country. It is the jewel in the crown of cloud forests, according to National Geographic. To be honest, I didn’t know if it was worth the money to see this rain forest, as I had already hacked my way through the jungles of Jamaica – how wrong I was to even slightly compare the two.
Initially, the area was owned and operated by environmentally conservative Quakers for their dairy farms and cheese production in the 1950’s. In 1972, with the help of several international groups and organizations, more land was purchased, and by the end of that year was officially named a protected area and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Of all the rain forests in the world, only 1% can officially be classified as a cloud forest, as it takes the right atmospheric conditions to allow for a consistent cover of clouds.
Our guide explained what it was like to live in Costa Rica, to have all the beautiful nature surrounding you – and to take pride in caring for it. Yet climate change was causing an uphill battle for the locals in preserving their beloved cloud forest. He fears that soon the cloud forest will disappear and dry up completely, taking with it, the rare species and incredibly biodiversity of plants and epiphytes that existed there.
It made me incredibly sad to think of this international wonder disappearing, because of our carbon footprint on the world. It made me more resolute in my efforts to not only educate myself on responsible tourism but to share discoveries like this with the Culture Trekking Community. We have more power, and influence than we can even imagine.
Drink Coffee, Eat Ice Cream, and Local Cuisine
Our tour guide took us to a cafe near the start of our guided hike, where we were able to try ice cream just like the Quakers would have made it. We were also able to pick out different selections of meat, and local cuisine along with the world-famous Costa Rican Coffee.
The coffee smelled better and was far more potent than anything I had tried in the USA. It was even better than the espresso from Morocco I grew to love. This is the place to drink coffee like a King, and it is a great way to warm up and give you a little pep in your step for the hike.
Visit A Nearby Coffee Farm
You haven’t had good coffee until you have had Costa Rican Coffee. This is a major source of pride for locals. There are plantation tours, tastings, and even opportunities for you to make your own cup of coffee. Just be prepared to get the shakes after you drink it, even a small cup is quite strong.
Begin with the cocoa bean, roast it, and grind it. Last, learn how to extract sugar cane juice into a delicious glass of juice the old-fashioned way. Tasting is encouraged throughout the tour!
Hiking Through Monteverde Cloud Forest
Having a naturalist guide with us, gave us insight into the plants, ability to spot animals we wouldn’t have seen before, and even keep us safe from some that were deadly yet so cute.
Hiking through the small spot of the nearly 35,089 acres of land, with eight life zones, 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians was a phenomenal experience. We learned that this particular cloud forest was one of the few remaining habitats that is able to fully support all six species of cats including jaguars, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays, and jaguarundis. If you are able to take a whole week to hike the 8 miles (13km) of trails you might spot the endangered three-wattled bellbird and the Quetzal.
Go Bird Watching in Monteverde
The Quetzal is a bird unique in the cloud forests of Central America and survives in higher numbers here in Monteverde compared to the other two nearby rainforests. It is a bird of stunning brilliant colors for feathers, has a very shy disposition and is frequently spotted if you go on a birding tour in Monteverde Cloud Forest. Some argue that the Curi Cancha Reserve is the best place to guarantee seeing these birds, but I prefer to see them in a natural environment – the hunting for that perfect shot is so rewarding.
If you miss your chance to see one, then I would head over to Curi Cancha where you can also get a glimpse of toucans, hummingbirds and many other birds. Be sure to take some good binoculars with you!
Trekker Travel Tip: If you put your Iphone up to the opening of the binoculars, you can take photos of the animals up close without a fancy camera. If you don’t document it, it didn’t happen right!?!?
Walk the Suspension Bridges in the Clouds
With all the trails and changes in elevation, suspension bridges were built in the Monteverde Cloud forest to help visitors explore this wanderful ecosystem. With some of the larger bridges being up to 800 feet long and 2400 feet in altitude (240 meters to 730 meters).
Walking along these bridges feels like something out of Indiana Jones, or like they are the pathway to heaven themselves. The clouds mist over, through and around the cables like a wave of air, engulfing the bridge in myst and mystery.
It is pretty surreal to stand on one of these, be surrounded by this protected land – yet also sad knowing that not everyone in the generations beyond me will be able to experience this.
Plants and the Culture Of Costa Rica
Because of the unique climate here, the plants are just as unique. In fact, there are over 1,000 different kinds of orchids in Costa Rica. The plants and wildlife are nearly worshiped by the local people. They are painted on their buildings, can be found represented in every souvenir shop, and even in their classes and customs.
The hibiscus, in particular, was often, and still sometimes is – worn as a signal to those in the community of your marital status. If you wear it tucked behind the right ear, you are indicating you are single. If you wear the hibiscus tucked behind the left ear, then you are indicating you are married.
Go to the Hummingbird Refuge
These hummingbirds aren’t caged but know where their food supply source comes from. There are Hummingbird feeders, about 20 of them, placed on metal trees in a small area that has been slightly cleared of trees for better viewing. This discourages predators from taking advantage of the Hummingbird watering hole and allows visitors to witness several different species whisk and flitter in and out of the small refuge.
If you go in a group to the refuge, I would suggest standing a little way away from the crowd – disperse your group so it isn’t so concentrated. This allows the birds to not feel so shy or threatened by those coming so close to their source of food.
This beautiful garden of transformed caterpillars was like walking into my inner child’s dream. It is hard to keep your eyes on where the butterflies were going, where they were coming from, and how best to avoid other people from scaring them away.
These butterflies are quite shy, they fly away at any sudden movement, loud sounds, or a small wisp of air. So I suggest picking a spot, wearing a shirt with brightly colored flowers on it – and let them come to you. Have your camera ready, and just be still and enjoy the moment.
Canopy Zip-Line and Bungee Jumping
If you are really into the adrenaline rush, then take a canopy zip-line tour that takes you across the forest for over a mile of zip lines. You can also bungee jump from a 489 foot (143m) tower. Even just looking at the tower and the people jumping from it made my heart flutter a bit.
Contact 100% Aventura to book your adrenaline rush fantasies come true.
Climb Up the Giant Ficuses
If you have the time and aren’t afraid of heights, get your adrenaline pumping by climbing up the Giant Ficuses. To get a fantastic view all the way at the top of the cloud forest and perch like a bird.
There is a legend about these trees, in that many believe that the trees actually walk. The roots reach out to find any kind of sunlight, and the massive trees end up slowly moving with the roots.
As the roots move, there are some roots that die, and at times the roots take over another tree – strangling it. The tree that is strangled dies as the strangling tree takes over, basically ingesting it, leaving the center of the living ficus empty. This hollow center is what you climb up inside of, then rappel down.
There are many different animals at night than there are during the day. Take a hike with a guide in the evening and see the unique animals that most tourists miss.
Watch the Sunset
I was stunned as we drove back to our cruise ship from our shore excursion in Monteverde Cloud Forest at the sunset we were greeted with. The colors are incredible, the air is clear and it truly feels like you get a glimpse of heaven every time it sets.
What To Pack
A sweater or light jacket and long pants are essential in the cool, nearly sunless environment. Make sure you layer your clothing if you are coming from the port or the center of Puntarenas it is going to be sunny, hot and humid. As you get deeper into the cloud forest the cooler the temperatures get, so a light sweater is a good idea.
I would also make sure to bring sunscreen, as the cloud cover and cool air can be deceiving – but UV rays can still penetrate the cloud cover and cause blistering sunburns if you aren’t careful.
Like it? Pin it! Sharing is Caring!
How To Get There
Taxis are readily available. Ask the hotel staff to arrange a taxi for you from a reliable company.
To be on a massive floating hotel, seeing the huge anchors for the first time, the wonder of seeing inside the cruise ship for the first time and the best part is how much the staff cater to their guests. Going on a cruise makes any traveler feel like they have hit the height of their financial glory! Yet there are a lot of fees that are tacked on, after you pay the initial fee for the trip that many first time cruisers don’t know about. There are also the rules on tenders, drinks, gratuities and so much more that I wish I would have known before taking my first cruise. After traveling all over the world on several different cruise lines, seven different cruises, and during different seasons and hemispheres – here are my travel hacks for first time cruisers.
Booking Your First Cruise
First step is booking your cruise. I would pick out the cruises that you want to go on, even if they are your dream cruise or they are super expensive. Write them down, and head over to Cruise Fair Monitor. This website will track your cruise prices for you, to search for the lowest possible fare. Simply put your destination, desired dates, length of cruise, and even the cruise line you wish to cruise with and emails will be sent with stellar discounts are available.
If you book right around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) your cruise will be much cheaper.
If you have more than two people going with you, then your going to find that your total cost of the cruise will be significantly reduced. Just be sure to let the cruise ship know that there will be 4 people, or 3 people with you. Some rooms don’t have more than just the two beds for single person to fit. They would need to put you in a room that had the fold down bunk beds (for four people), or the rooms with a couch (three people).
Ships that are repositioning, going over the transatlantic and even last minute deals are going to be incredibly affordable. I have some friends that scored a transatlantic cruise for around $201 total! While that was several years ago, it is still possible to find incredible deals if you diligently look.
If you are trying to book a cruise right during the busy season, then call the cruise ship booking agent and ask for a “guaranteed stateroom” to get the absolute lowest price on whichever cabin type you’re interested in (inside, outside, balcony, suite). With this type of room you are guaranteed a room within that particular type of stateroom range or higher. What’s the catch? Well you don’t get to choose the cabin’s exact location on the ship. This could mean a balcony, but it could be under the dance floor, or have an obstructed view (aka life boats are in the way).
I highly suggest calling the booking agent and asking them what side of the ship they would suggest for the best views on the way to the last destination. Also ask them which room has an unobstructed view, and the rooms that are further away from the elevators. When people drink too much, they get loud. If you can, get a balcony room. You can watch the wildlife of the ocean from the comfort of your room and don’t have to take photos through the window of the dining area, or the plexi glass put up to prevent people from climbing over the railing. Otherwise the few spots that are unobstructed, you are typically fighting all the other passengers for that perfect photo.
Travel Insurance For Your Cruise
There are a lot of reasons to get insurance for your airline flight, but why would you need travel insurance for your Cruise? Well with how frequently cruises have been in the news, let me just remind you of a few reasons as to why you SHOULD get travel insurance.
What if you get sick while on the ship, and need to see the ship’s doctor. What if break your ankle on land, but don’t want to miss the ship and end up going to the doctor on the ship – your going to end up with a massive medical bill.
If you miss your flight, and then miss your ship – travel insurance should fly you to the next port. It can also cover the cost of your cruise should you have to cancel it.
There was a couple that had their luggage taken from the cruise ship staging ground and it was taken to the wrong ship. So they went on a 2 week trip with just the clothes they had bought with the minimal clothing they were able to find in the cruise gift shop. The cruise did happen to provide a $100 gift card for the mistake, but trip insurance can reimburse you for the full cost of the clothing you had to purchase from lost luggage.
Culture Trekker Tip: Don’t book trip insurance with the cruise ship. They often have minimal coverage and is very expensive. It doesn’t cover your pre or post trip, nor your flights to or from the trip. You need to specifically ask the cruise ship to NOT include their trip insurance. I suggest using World Nomads Travel Insurance, because you can tailor make it to your trip and activities you plan to participate in.
Solo Traveler Cruising
It is more expensive to travel as a solo cruiser, but more and more ships are realizing not everyone has a special someone or family that can afford to travel. There are also some hard core cruising Facebook groups that people are looking for someone to travel with. If you book a group tour cruise, then you can typically find someone to room with in those groups.
If not, then here are a few cruise ships starting to offer passage for solo travel crusiers.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Royal Caribbean International
Seabourn Cruise Line
Packing for A Cruise
While there are amenities like laundry services available, if you are wanting to save a little money – bring laundry soap, color catcher sheets (temperatures aren’t reliable), clothesline and pins from the $1 store for hanging things in room. Get a balcony room so you can air out the room for drying things off and two swimming suits to trade off while . I would also ask a cruise agent if they use tokens or quarters for the laundry room. Getting tokens on our last cruise was the hardest part. The tokens often run out, and you are left to go fight the crowds at the concierge desk for more.
There is typically only one plug available in a cruise ship, so traditionally people would bring power strips. The power strips with surge protectors are now banned, but there are a few like this power strip that are Cruise ship approved. So be sure you bring this one otherwise your other power strip will be confiscated.
Some cruise ships are still working on allowing notifications being able to be delivered to the other members of your party through their app. Walkie talkies tend to not work, as the frequencies get lost between the metal floors and structure. So bringing a pen and sticky notes, or a small white board to leave notes for other people in your party in case they come back to the room and/or can’t find you is one of the best things you can do. Along with this, it is also a good idea to bring a watch, or a phone with a clock that you can all set to the ships clock. This will save you on missing the boat, missing shows, and more. The crew goes by the captains clock, so be sure you are back at least an hour before they say they will depart.
Over the door organizer this is a life saver if you have more than a few people in your cruise cabin, especially kids. This gives each person 3-4 pockets they can store shampoo, toiletries, or extra shoes/flip flops in. You can over the door organizers on amazon, or at the dollar store.
Many people don’t realize the walls of the cruise cabin are actually made of metal. So bringing magnets to post up pictures of the dog at home, the daily schedule, or even hooks that you can string up an extra clothes line to let clothes/snorkel gear dry out. These are the metal hooks I use.
I wish I would have had binoculars on my last cruise, it would have made seeing the Manta Rays, jelly fish and all the other sea life on the cruise of South America so much easier to see from the 15th floor. I would also highly suggest bringing a reusable travel straw to save a few more non-recyclable plastic pieces going in the ocean. While your at it, stuffing a pair of reusable silverware (I suggest Bamboo silverware) for shore.
I used to bring Tupperware to take a roll or sandwich to shore, but they do not allow this any longer. Now I just bring protein bars for shore excursions if I’m tied up having an adventure, or can’t find something that doesn’t have peppers in it.
You have to think of how much parking in an abandoned dock is going to cost you while your gone. Sometimes the parking can start at $140 for 7 day cruise. You also have to take into account the traffic in the area, on the way to the cruise ship. The ship will have 2000-4000 other people arriving at the same time. If there is more than one cruise ship going out that day, then there could be more people arriving all at the same time.
I suggest allowing at least 3-4 hours prior to the ship leaving to get in and to the port. I wouldn’t suggest getting a taxi at the port if you are disembarking, the taxi drivers know your desperate. This is for those cruise ships who are relocating, or will only be going one way and not round trip. Will you have to fly back to the airport you departed from, and then pay to make your way to the dock as well? It is definitely something to think about if you are looking for transportation to or from the dock, or will be parking near the port.
I would also consider the safety of your vehicle in a parking lot at a working port. These areas are commonly abandoned, and have cars broken into if they are not guarded 24/7 while your gone. These guarded areas are more expensive, but well worth the peace of mind.
Drinks on a Cruise
Drinking while on a cruise is quite common, you will see loads of people doing it. The cruise ship will often give you a credit to use on board. What many people don’t realize, is that each and every time you buy a soda or alcoholic beverage – they will automatically add 15% gratuity to the bill.
Limit yourself to only having alcoholic beverages at night or every other night or just on the formal nights. You make the rules, and both your waistline and pocketbook will thank you. If you try to buy an unlimited alcoholic beverage package before the ship, everyone else listed in your room will have to buy one as well.
Regular coffee on the ship is typically free, but a speciality drink like a Latte is going to cost more.
Culture Trekker Tip: Buy the drink buckets with beer, which are far more affordable and come in a variety of packages. You can also brink one bottle of wine or 750ml champagne bottle per person on board.
You can also bring Starbucks insta-latte packets and just ask for hot water. If you are a soda drinker, then stop by a store on the way to your port and get a 12 pack of soda. Just ask your room porter for a bucket of ice if you like a cold drink.
Motion Sickness on a Cruise
I have an entire article on motion sickness and ways that you can treat it while traveling. You have to ensure that if you are prone to motion sickness while traveling, then it is imperative to treat yourself before you get on the ship.
There are some people who claim that getting in the pool if the waters aren’t too crazy, can help with the inner ear issue. It can help with calming the feeling of motion sickness. If the waves in the pool are too aggressive, then the cruise ships may close down the pool, so just keep this in mind.
Get Away From the Crowd
While vacations are great, I am one who likes to get away from the crowds and have some alone time. Just to unwind, be present in my own thoughts, and just enjoy the sound of the ocean lapping against the boat. Places I highly recommend going are the aft and bow of the ship. They tend to be two very overlooked places to relax onboard. The Library during mealtimes and/or the side of the anytime eating that is closed when the ship switches from lunch to dinner.
Get in the hot tub during movies to stay warm on the cold nights on the ship instead of snuggling under a blanket. Getting in the pool when it is raining, or going to the pool that isn’t the easiest one to get to is also a great option.
Avoid the buffet on the first day, eat before you get on the ship. It is going to be a mad house of people gorging themselves on their first ship meal. I suggest going to a specialty restaurant for the first day instead as a way to celebrate your first cruise in style. Just make sure there is one that will be open on the first day of the cruise.
How to Not Gain Weight On a Cruise
Weigh yourself as soon as you get on board so you can keep tabs of any weight gain during the cruise. This a particularly good idea if you’re on a longer cruise, it gives you strict accountability. I also tend to wake up early on each day at sea to workout, and if we are docking/arriving in port later in the day I will typically workout as well.
Something else I love doing, is signing up for the cycle classes, you can burn up to 1000 calories in an hour participating in one of these. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, it is easy on the joints, and you won’t lose your balance if the ship is rocking.
The first day is always a freebie for me, but after that I make a rule to always use the stairs…no excuses.
Take your FitBit or bring along an inexpensive pedometer to track all your steps and calories burned. You may be surprised at just how much walking you can unconsciously do on a big ship! Make a goal of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. Typically there is a good track around the outside of the ship you can walk. Just be careful of the wet floor from the waves, especially on stormy nights.
Ask for the early dinner times, so you aren’t eating really late. Also ask your waiter to avoid bringing bread to your table, if your with a large party – then just make a rule you can only have it WITH your meal, not before.
Sign up for classes, take advantage of the massage discounts once you get on board – the days you have shore excursions will be cheaper than sea days.
DIY Shore Excursions
Always look at your itinerary and see if the ship requires you to tender to shore. Those who utilize the ships excursions are always the first ones allowed to get off the ship. So take that into account should you DIY your own excursions. I would suggest doing your own excursions as much as possible, unless it is an excursion that is a small group.
I have found when I do my own excursion, there are less people around, I enjoy it more, and I can go off the beaten path a little more.
Keep in mind that the port may not be close to town, and the ships may have paid the port authorities to block the transport you paid for from picking you up – or dropping you off at night. There have been several ports I have watched people RUN all the way down the dock, to make it just in time onto the ship, just as they were pulling in the loading ramp.
There are a few guidelines to doing my own shore excursions. I will look on Trip Advisor for “Shore excursions in ______”. If it says shore excursions, then I contact the company via email. Let them know what day I’m coming in, and what times we will be in port. I will typically give them a time that is 1.5 hours prior to when we are supposed to leave, that way I have a little time for souvenir shopping & know if we run into problems or traffic that I still have a small window to reach the ship.
When you are scanning yourself off the ship, be sure to check the time on your watch to the crews ship. I will bring a watch, because I take so many videos and photos that I end up with 2% battery. I do have an external battery on my phone, but the watch is a surefire way to keep good track of the time.
Cutting Costs on a Cruise and Things You Need To Know
Unfortunately, your cruise fare doesn’t include every activity that happens on the ship, which can be disappointing for some people. There are things like the cycling classes, art classes, IMAX theater, BINGO, murder mystery dinners or wine tastings that will require an extra fee. So be sure to factor that into your budget, as each activity is designed by the cruise director, and could be confirmed with the cruise agent upon booking which activities will require a fee.
If you are bringing kids on the ship, and think you will want babysitting -it will cost you an hourly rate on some ships.
Specialty restaurants such as steakhouses, Italian restaurants, chefs table experiences, or Sushi will all cost you more money.
Cruise ships have now started to pre-authorize $200-$300 for each passenger on the ship. If you get below $200 then they will keep re-authorizing it at each port. So I suggest you go ahead and put the money on your account prior to boarding, that way you avoid any overspending of the budget while onboard where it is very easy to blow a lot of money. (They don’t call them floating piggy banks for nothing).
If you pay the porter $5-$6 and when you get to your room, your bags will be there so much faster than if you just waited for them. I have personally never had an issue with this, but if you see other bags showing up at a neighbors cabin and not yours – well…..I would start asking where you luggage is and if it got on the right ship.
Tips and Gratuities Quick Guide
Tips and gratuities will be automatically deducted from your card on file at the end of the trip, unless you tell the customer service desk otherwise. You can also tip the staff directly, because the tips are shared among the staff. It is pretty shocking to hear what they make, how many hours they spend working and who they are trying to support at home. Here is a quick guide on how much each person who helps you should be tipped.
Suite attendant: $7.25 USD a day per guest Stateroom attendant: $5.00 USD a day per guest Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 USD a day per guest Assistant Waiter: $2.15 USD a day per guest Headwaiter: $0.75 USD a day per guest
Wifi On Board a Cruiseship
WiFi packages on board are so incredibly expensive, it could easily add a couple of hundred dollars to your bill. There are a few tricks to minimize your usage and still keep in touch though.
You can use the internet for 30 seconds or less and it won’t deduct from your time. So quickly get online download your emails, then get offline and read them.
If you need to send an email, pre-write the email in your notes, then paste it into your email after you connect, quickly disconnect after the email is on its way.
Please keep in mind the internet on the ship is INCREDIBLY slow. I would also suggest to buy it beforehand for a 10-15% discount.
If you put your phone on airplane mode and turn on WiFi and you can still get push notifications — you just won’t be able to respond to messages, but at least your will still be able to see when someone messages you. That way you are still slightly connected, even if you don’t exactly pay for the WiFi.
Connect your computer through your phone when your in port, for free internet while in port. Just use your phones data plan, but keep in mind it may cost you more if you don’t have an international plan and are traveling into a different country.
You can also purchase a WiFi If your phone carrier doesn’t include free international plans. I am personally considering making the switch to the new Google Fi phone plan, which includes international roaming in nearly every country where cruises go. Google Fi plans typically are about $20 per month, plus just $10 for every gig of data used. And there’s no contract so you can use it just for a month or just for a cruise and cancel. It would be worth it to sign up, just for peace of mind – especially if you have little ones at home.
Other First Time Cruiser Tidbits
Download the app for the cruise beforehand, so you don’t have to use the expensive WiFi to do so. Most ships have these apps, and even have in app messaging that you can use to contact other people in your party.
If you need cash, avoid the ATM costs ($15 to withdraw cash), buy your money you need in chips then take it over to the cashier and you will only be charged $3 instead of $15 to get the money out of your bank.
These are all the tips and travel hacks for first time cruisers that I can think of right now. I will regularly update this post with each cruise I go on, to give you the most up to date and relevant information. So be sure to bookmark this page, and check back before your cruise for a refresher. If you have any cruise tips I missed, feel free to jot them down in the comment section below. Love having other Culture Trekkers contribute to a better travel experience for all. Cheers and Bon Voyage on your first Cruise!
Saving money for a trip can be really exhausting, pulling those extra shifts, adjusting your daily expenditures etc.. Then when you FINALLY get the money to go on your trip, you get hit with hidden fees and surcharges you didn’t even know existed. So for the newbie traveler, less seasoned traveler, or even those who feel they are professional travelers – here are a few of my tips on how to avoid hidden charges while traveling.
Airline Reservation Hidden Fees
You pull out your card, and punch in the numbers…you finally booked that dream vacation. Now you are faced with the first hidden fee….the travel insurance for your trip. Do you use it? Do you need it?
My typical rule of thumb is that if I am spending more than $300 on a plane ticket, I typically get the travel insurance. I don’t typically use the travel insurance with the airline as I can get travel insurance with World Nomads that includes flight rebooking or airline cancellations.
If you attempt to get a refund for a canceled flight and booked with a third party, you have no promise of getting your money back. Be sure to read my article on hazards to choosing cheap flights and I explain a lot of the intricate hidden fees there as well.
If you book your ticket online, it will also avoid the hidden fee of trying to book it with an agent online. If you use your mileage, or reward points to book a ticket, with most airlines – you will also need to pay for fuel charges, airport taxes, and fees that can range anywhere from $77 to $1000 (depending on the flight).
Trekker Travel Tip: Call the airline to ask questions, but do it on a computer where they can give you the numbers you need and walk you through booking your ticket if needed. They also may have good ideas on how to get cheaper tickets by connecting or arriving at different airports.
Baggage Hidden Fees
According to a report Forbes Magazine did, there was nearly $28.1 billion in revenue from bag check fees taken in by the world’s airlines in 2018 was more than double the $13.4 billion they collected for checking bags just four year earlier.
It may be worth it to leave a few things home, layer your clothing, or just travel with a purse and carry-on luggage within size and weight restrictions required by airlines. Checked back fees can range anywhere from free to over $200 per bag. It largely depends on where you are traveling as well, in country, or out of your home country.
If you are overseas, and decide to buy luggage and bring a bunch of items home with you- it can nearly double the cost of the checked luggage fee. If your bag is overweight, it can nearly double the cost of the bag as well.
Trekker Travel Tip: Always bring a portable luggage scale with you! It may be cheaper to pay for the checked luggage in your own currency than having to pay for it in another currency as well.
I would also be aware that some airlines allow free personal items, and one carry-on bag for free, and some will charge you for it. If you luggage is outside the size limitations for carry-on luggage, you will be required to check your luggage at the gate, which can tack on another $15 to $35 on top of their checked luggage fee. Know your airlines rules, regulations and limitations! Sometimes cheaper tickets aren’t always better.
In Airport Fees – While Waiting
Trekker Travel Tip: DO NOT GO TO THE AIRPORT THIRSTY OR HUNGRY!
If you go to the airport hungry, you can count on food costs to be 5% higher than what you would pay outside the airport. For example, going to McDonalds to get a $4 burger can cost you $7 in the airport.
Going through security lines can be very stressful, especially with kids. Once you get through and rush to your gate, sometimes running, sometimes walking – all you and your kids would want is a drink of water. As mentioned before, some airports have limited the availability of water fountains to refill your reusable water bottle at. The minimal water fountains that are available may be in another terminal or obscure part of the airport you can’t reach. Restaurants won’t refill it for you from the tap, because that is considered a health code violation (allegedly).
If you want to buy water – a $1 bottle outside the airport will cost you $3.50 inside the airport. If you are traveling solo and/or backpacking through countries or multiple airports or even cruise ports – you will have to count on another $25 (at minimum) for water to be available.
If you are traveling within the country vs out of your country the fees may differ. Gone are the days when you received a free pair of headphones, or asked for a free blanket (on some airlines). Gone are the days, when you could stretch your legs, or even easily bend over to grab something you dropped under the seat in front of you.
We pay for every square inch we occupy now, and every item and morsel we use. I’m personally just waiting to be charged for oxygen used on board, and the number of times the alternator in the engine rotates. Lest I digress on this unsavory topic….here are a few things you should be aware of.
In flight WiFi or streaming of videos is not free on most flights. If you are on a long flight with a budget airlines, you will have to download and watch your own movies – or pay a theater cost to rent one movie, on top of the WiFi fee they may charge to do so. If you are traveling with kids, and didn’t realize TV wasn’t available for the 10 hour red-eye flight….well, you may as well hand people in the airplane the tomatoes to throw at you when your kid starts screaming.
If the pilot likes the cockpit cold, then the whole plane can be freezing (fair enough) – but then some airlines are starting to charge you for wanting to use a pillow or blanket now.
Trekker Travel Tip: Make a sleep sack that has your pillow, a small fleece blanket, eye mask, headphones, and any other bedtime routine item in it. Stuff it in your personal item and you won’t be burdened with a few fees. You can also just pay for WiFi, and stream your Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu shows as well. Just be aware, once they start using foreign WiFi, those streaming platforms may be unavailable or blocked in certain countries.
Rental Car Hidden Fees
When I booked my first rental car online, I thought I had my budget laid out perfectly. I paid for the car, ticked all the boxes, read the fine print, got to Scotland and BAM! Was hit with additional hidden fees all over the place.
THE PRICE YOU SEE ONLINE ISN’T THE ONLY THING YOU HAVE TO PAY! If you don’t have a credit card (like me, because don’t like using them) – and your paying for a debit card a large deposit is required. This money can range from $100 to $500 deposit depending on the car and the company you are using.
On top of this, if you are picking up or dropping off in a different location – they can tack on another $50 to $1000 to the bill!
Then they hit you with rental insurance, where they scare you and threaten to take your dog, your life, and your grandma’s life if you damage the car whatsoever. Remember how people say sex sells? Well I’m seeing more and more companies use the tactic of ‘fear sells’ just as much. The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know – you don’t know that you might not even need car insurance through the rental company.
Trekker Travel Tip: YOU MAY NOT NEED RENTAL INSURANCE! It of course depends on your individual plan, but most car insurance companies will cover you. If you have a high deductible, it may be worth just forking over the money. If you pay for the rental with a credit card, most of them provide collision insurance. Call before you trip to make sure it covers you, the car, and will still cover you in the country you will be driving in.
After paying $220 to rent the car for a trip in Scotland, I ended up having to pay an additional 660 Euros to the rental company. This was pre-authorized, so it tied up any money I had saved for a special dinner/lunch or souvenirs. It really bummed me out, and I was kicking myself for not being more careful on my first trip as a Solo female traveler.
Now the rental companies have a new rule, where before the age of 25 you weren’t able to rent a car – now you can. IT COMES AT A COST TO RENT A CAR UNDER 25! Some rental companies will allow drivers below 25 to rent the car, but they will tack on a $20 to $30 daily surcharge for it.
If you want to add an additional driver, in case you get drowsy or tired – safety first right? WRONG! They will add an additional $20-$30 per day for an extra driver. So better bring some energy shots, and caffeine along with you.
If you lose the car keys, you’ll have to pay up to $300 for a replacement. So bring that tacky chain, and keep those suckers glued to your body.
Trekker Travel Tip: Bring a laynard with you, I have one stuffed in my suitcase for every trip that can hold a hotel card, car keys, and a small round tube where I stuff a copy of my passport to hang around my neck.
Last but not least, they may try to get you to use their gas at their rental station to fill up the car. The gas is always costs a lot more if you fill it up through the rental dealer vs just making a quick stop about 2 miles outside of the airport.
Accomodation Hidden Fees
Mid-range accommodations for all of us normal folk are all the rage nowadays. When you realize how much you can save booking a B&B, Airbnb, or just renting out 2 beds in a hostel is cheaper total price than one night in a hotel right next door – well….its hard to pass that up. Yet the companies are getting smarter about hidden fees, and charging more. When I booked my first Airbnb and went to check out, I didn’t realize that they charge you a cleaning fee, taxes, and a service charge on top of it. So be sure you go all the way to checkout before deciding on an accommodation. The owners of the apartments decide how much they want to charge for the service fee. I have seen it range anywhere from $5 to $35 on top of the total stay.
If you are thinking, ‘Awe screw it, I will just stay at an all inclusive hotel’ —ummm, think again! There are many hotels that are now charging a “hotel resort fee” upon checkout. This additional fee can be as much as 10% extra per night, most countries require this to be disclosed on booking – but the hotels are trying to hide it. They hide it as an ‘electricity fee’ which an be an additional $4 a day, some hotels charge more, especially if they use more electricity (think Las Vegas), and can charge up to $12.95 per day per adult.
If you want to bring your own food to save on money, even opening the door to the refrigerator can cost you money. You can be charged a ‘restocking fee’ if you move the drinks or items that are in there. So always ask the concierge if they charge for the use of the fridge, as well as the safe in the room. Some hotels take inventory of the safe you use for your valuables, and can charge a fee per day you use the safe.
Are you visiting a big city? Rental car fees can be steep enough, but then you have to consider how much it is going to cost to park your car. If the parking at the hotel isn’t free, you could be paying out the nose (depending on the city you are in) for a parking space. For example, in Greece, a parking space can cost several hundred Euro. If you are in LA, forget finding parking. Headed to Boston? Even if you are a patron of the hotel, you could be charged $75 per night to keep your car in their garage. Might as well just sleep in your car in the garage at that point.
Some hotels now have designated Bell-hops that will take your bags for you, if you want to drop them off and explore the city before check-in. These bell-hops often expect to be tipped for watching your bag. Some hotels charge you a small fee to watch your bags, or tack on the extra cost for someone to watch the bags. For me, giving someone $2-$3 tip to watch my bag(s) is worth the peace of mind; but for those on a tight budget, I wanted to make you aware of this hidden fee.
If you want to work out, some hotels are charging a daily fee to cover operation costs within the gym. Granted some of these offer massages, spas, and other perks when using the gym – but be careful when using your room key – and make sure all charges are asked about and spelled out for you before you use any amenity.
If you accidently take a hotel towel with you, or leave it at the beach – this can cost you money as well. You will see it on your bill when you check out or will be charged for it later.
Culture Trekker Tip: Don’t take things from the hotel….not even the water unless it is from a water fountain. If your mid-range accomodation host tells you something is free, make sure you have an email or sign telling you it is free. Also ask them if they charge extra if the place isn’t reasonably clean prior to leaving. I personally make it a rule of thumb to leave a place at least picked up or just as clean as when I found it.
Souvenirs and Impulse Buys
When it is your first trip, or your dream destination it is easy to get sucked into the shops full of souvenirs. Many people don’t realize that these souvenirs are often made in China and shipped to the destination.
Be selective and very careful what you think or the people claim as ‘authentic’.
I will typically go with something in mind to buy before I get there. Clothing is something I can wear over and over, and will be very unique. I also get something to hang on the wall, for my ‘world wall’ – until that got too full, and now I get pins. After moving so much, souvenirs become less important, and I save my money to spend it on the experiences (and camera gear to capture the experiences).
So before you go into a store because you want to buy a souvenir, ask them where their products are made. Search for the store that was made by locals, and you will have a better quality product and be contributing to sustainable tourism.
Phone Charges and Mobile Data
It is definitely hard to turn off your phone, especially for work-a-holics who feel like you chopped off their arm when you ask them to turn off their phone. It is also hard to convince family you will be safe traveling as a solo traveler if you can’t check in with them every day. What about those of us who are severely directionally challenged, how do you stay connected to the internet to find your way around the city?
Some people just leave their phone on and don’t realize that your phone provider/company will charge you double (sometimes up to $2.00 a minute) for international calls, or the internet usage will cost you an additional $20 a day. So be sure to check with your phone company provider BEFORE YOU TRAVEL.
Currency….expecially when looking to exchange you currency – can be rife with hidden fees that will make you feel almost violated at times. If you read my Travel Hacks for Prague, you will know that there is a new-ish scam going around of people trying to exchange your currency in the street. They wear things that make them appear as officials, but when you go to use the money it is actually fake.
If you exchange your money at a bank like a Western Union then you will get the best deal. I also follow the locals, and will look for the bank with the longest line. If I don’t understand the language, then your best bet is to grab money at the first ATM that has a line – as this will likely have the best exchange rate & be the most secure.
Each ATM withdrawal will have a fee associated with it, so having a budget in mind and getting the money from your bank at home is the cheapest option. If you need more than that, then it will remind you that you are going over-budget and the extra fee may deter you from spending too much in the thrill of traveling.
Keep in mind though, if you do take out foreign currency – you will have to either spend it all or pay another fee with your bank to convert it back. Banks typically do not accept change, and the $1 or 1 Euro coin is readily used. So don’t be afraid to grab all your foreign change and tell them to pick out what they need for the change from your open hand. If they take a few for themselves, don’t worry – you would have lost the money coming back anyway and maybe they really needed it.
First rule, don’t get your flu shot or any other vaccine RIGHT BEFORE A TRIP! You don’t want to take the chance of feeling under the weather on your trip, nor do you want to feel lousy and have to seek medical care in a country you don’t speak the language.
Hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and even navigating a healthcare system that is so vastly different than your own – can be really scary and can cost you thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills. Not exactly the kind of souvenir you want to go home with. So like I keep telling people, get travel insurance, I love World Nomads, not just because I’m an affiliate with them – but because I literally sat down and GRILLED them about their medical care. You can tailor make you travel insurance, and they will even cover more risky behaviors and activities – like Scuba Diving.
Don’t forget critical medications right before a trip. This is imperative for those with heart conditions, blood pressure, kidney issues, or those on medication for mental or emotional conditions. You may not be able to get access to medical care, you may be given something different than what you need and will have to get all those lousy tests done again, and pay for them. It may put you in the hospital.
Trekker Travel Tip: I always keep my medication with me in my carry-on. I keep the full amount of the medication with me I will need on my trip, because I don’t want to risk ruining my trip. That way you avoid the hassle, headache and worry that comes when it is lost, along with your luggage. If you have serious medical conditions, I would take a copy of your medical record with you (with images, and the latest notes from your doctor).
Hidden Fees Revealed
Now that I have warned you on the many of the hidden fees that can surprise new travelers; I hope it will help you prepare a little more for your perfect vacation. So bookmark this page prior to booking your next vacation, use each heading to help you on each leg of your trip – from booking, to accommodation, to keeping yourself safe and healthy.
Also check out my article on how to save money on your cruise, and cut those hidden fees as well.
Have you experienced any hidden fees I didn’t cover here? Put your recommendations in the comments below.