Yes, travel is ridiculously expensive, and it keeps getting more so. Pretty soon, they might be charging for the air you breathe, unless you go to an oxygen bar, in which case, they already are.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally score a few freebies on our trips, right?
Here’s a list of free things I know you can get when you travel.
• Free information packet. Going somewhere new? There’s a good chance the local tourism agency wants to send you a free packet of information that could include maps, brochures, deal flyers and more. When I went to Alaska, the tourism board sent me a huge envelope full of all sorts of cool stuff, including maps that would have cost me if I’d been forced to buy them when I got there. Do an online search for your destination plus “tourism board” or “visitor bureau” to see what’s out there.
• Free phone charger. If you forget your phone charger, ask at the rental car counter or hotel front desk. There’s a good chance they have a big ol’ drawer full of them to borrow that previous guests have left and never claimed.
• Free maps. If you belong to AAA, stop by and pick up free maps to anywhere in the U.S. Note that they also have specialty maps: inside national parks for example. These are great for planning your trip and also on the journey, because your smartphone is probably not going to give you a signal inside a national park, meaning you can’t use your GPS to get around. I just got a free map for Baja California, though usually you will pay for foreign maps. The Auto Club also will assist you, for free, in planning your road trip and they offer free travel books.
• Free water. You may have to dump out your water before you go through airport security, but you can bring an empty bottle through and refill it, rather than paying $3 at a store. Some airports now have “filling stations” where you can refill your bottle. Also, a bartender might be nice and fill your bottle for you at the airport bar. If you have a widemouth bottle, you may be able to fill with water and ice at a fast-food restaurant or food court, if you’re nice about it.
• Free toothbrush. Lots of hotels will give you a free toothbrush if you forget yours. Other toiletries may be available too – it can’t hurt to call the desk and ask. The more upscale the hotel, the more likely they are to provide them. If you forgot your blow dryer, definitely ask. The upscale Kimpton hotel chain even has a program called “Forgot It? We’ve Got It” where they’ll give you numerous items including female products, a heating pad, steamer and lots more. And most hotels can provide you an iron and ironing board. I once got an upset stomach at night in a Hyatt hotel, and the nice front-desk people even unlocked the restaurant to find me some Tums.
• Free pet. OK, you can’t actually get a free pet, but Motel 6 will let you bring your pet into the room for free. That’s nice considering that some pet fees are actually more than it would have cost a human to stay there.
• Free DVD. Disney will send you a free DVD with an overview of all its cruises, ships, destinations, dining, entertainment, deck plans and more. Go to DisneyCruise.com and search the “planning center” in the upper-right corner. Note that if you don’t want to get future correspondence from Disney, make sure to unclick the little box on the order form.
• Free tours. One new and welcome wrinkle in the travel world is the proliferation of “free walking tours” being offered in lots of cities. This has become popular because people don’t have to set up a formal business to run them. They just have a website offering a free tour, and tell you where to show up. At the end of the tour, you can tip them if you like – which is how they make money. Do an online search to see if you can take advantage of this on your upcoming trip.
• Free breakfast. It’s definitely worth it to stay at a hotel that provides a hot breakfast, even if it’s only waffles you heat up yourself in a toaster. For a family of four, that can save you $40 right off the bat. Embassy Suites is pricey but you have a wet bar in your two-room suite, free happy hour and a free cooked breakfast in the morning.
• Free Wi-Fi. If you’re staying at a chain hotel that charges for Wi-Fi, hurry up and join its loyalty club before you go. Most chains will then give you Wi-Fi free as a member.
• Free shuttles. Hotels near an airport will generally have shuttles that will pick you up and drop you off. And some also offer free shuttles to popular nearby locations, such as beaches or shopping malls. Also check out any free shuttles offered to local casinos or outlet malls, especially in Las Vegas.