Jean Chatzky knows how to save you money. A frequent guest on Oprah's show, a columnist for AARP, and 'Today' financial expert at NBC for 25 years, she's helped millions make the most of their budget. And that applies to traveling, as well. Jean offers us tips and then gets personal about some of her favorite travels, from childhood to now.
We start the episode with how Lea and Jean met, years ago. Then travel budgeting, Jean's early travel memories, and travel tips for saving money.
We talk of the slow-travel movement, airlines and airports, and free (or almost free) travel ideas.
The final part of the podcast focuses on economical travel destinations, trips that Jean and Lea remember to Greece and Israel, and Jean's special travel memory that resonates until today.
Jean Chatzky is the founder and CEO of HerMoney.com and FinanceFixx. She is the host of the podcast HerMoney With Jean Chatzky. The financial editor of NBC Today for 25 years and the Financial Ambassador for AARP, she appears frequently on CNN, MSNBC and was a recurring guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author. Her latest book is Women with Money: The Judgment-Free Guide to Creating the Joyful, Less Stressed, Purposeful (and Yes, Rich) Life You Deserve. An in-demand motivational speaker and fierce advocate for financial literacy, in 2015, she partnered with the PwC Charitable Foundation and Time for Kids to launch Your $, an in-school magazine that reaches 2 million school children each month. More at JeanChatzky.com and @JeanChatzky.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com. Please follow, rate and review this weekly travel podcast!
*Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 00:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. On this episode we'll be talking about ways to save money when you travel with one of America's best known financial experts, Jean Chatzky. Jean is the founder and CEO of her money.com and Finance Fix. She's the host of the podcast her money with Jean Chatzky. She was the financial editor of NBC Today for 25 years, and the financial ambassador for AARP. A New York Times a Wall Street Journal best-selling author, her latest book is women with money, the judgment free guide to creating the joyful, less stressed, purposeful and yes, rich life you deserve. Wow, we're so delighted to have you share your expertise and experiences with us. Welcome, Jean.
Jean Chatzky 01:05
Oh, thanks, Leah. Thanks for having me.
Lea Lane 01:07
I don't know if you remember, we first met about 20 years ago in Westchester County, New York. We were both on a panel about women making a difference. And you certainly have. I remember that. One of the other panelists was Eileen Fisher. And I was so excited because I was wearing one of her designs. Yeah, remember?
Jean Chatzky 01:27
Yeah, no, I remember that. I remember that as well. And I didn't, I wasn't sure if we met there originally. Or if we met through your son Randall, who has been a friend of mine since we both started as fact checkers at Forbes magazine 30 years ago, within a week of each other.
Lea Lane 01:47
Yeah, I didn't know you then as well. So I've been very lucky in that. Now in the second part of our conversation, we'll be talking about some of your personal travels. But in this first part, let's talk about ways that travelers can save money. I read, as of January 2021, the average person will spend between $1800 and 2500 on a one week vacation that's estimated 210 to 310 a day for hotel and food, and just under 400 for airfare. It doesn't include car expenses, or attraction tickets and tours. What do you think of that amount?
Jean Chatzky 02:20
Oh, boy, you know, depending on where you want to go, it sounds reasonable. But it also sounds like depending on how you like to travel, it might not go all that far, right. I mean, I just booked a rental car. I'm getting on a plane for the first time in a long time to go to Florida to celebrate a friend's birthday. And the plane tickets were incredibly reasonable. And even when I changed them, they were still reasonable because the airlines are waiving the change fees. But the rental car in and of itself cost twice as much as airline tickets for me and my husband together.
Lea Lane 03:06
Oh, yeah, I guess it depends on timing. A lot of this depends on what's going on at the moment. Now there's something called a 50/20/30 rule, which I have followed. It's a money management technique. It divides your budget into three categories. 50% for essentials, 20% for savings, and 30% for everything else, including travel. Do you think that's a good idea? I've been doing it kind of informally, most of my life. It varies, but what do you think about that?
Jean Chatzky 03:35
I think it depends what you prioritize in your life, right? That 30% for everything else, is a very, very big bucket. And I do think this method of budgeting works. But whether your 30% goes all in on things like travel, or whether you've spent a lot of the pandemic, redoing your house, maybe improving certain rooms, or maybe you're an exercise buff, and that 30% is going toward classes or a piece of exercise equipment. I mean, my take on budgeting is that once you've actually ticked off those first two buckets, once you have made sure that your bills are paid that those essentials are covered. And once you've saved, I don't really care what you do with the rest, quite frankly, but you should care. And you should be really intentional about how you spend that money. And so if travel is the priority, will then be smart about that travel, make sure that you've planned it out. Make sure that you have booked your trips in advance as far as you can so that you can snag the best prices. Make sure that you've done your research and your homework and understand that if travel is where you want to spend your money. then it means that you're going to compromise on other things.
Lea Lane 05:03
Absolutely. Some people want to go shopping no matter what. And they prioritize it. And you know, they'll eat it less expensive restaurant or whatever to make sure they can do that. So I've always said, prioritize when you go. And if you have certain amount of money, you'll decide yourself where you want to spend it. But don't not go because you don't think you have enough just work it out.
Jean Chatzky 05:26
Exactly. I mean, I remember growing up and my father was a college professor, my mother was with us at home much of the time, she was a substitute teacher, we certainly had enough money but but didn't live a lavish lifestyle. But my father, being a college professor afforded us the opportunity to take long trips during the summer. And so I remember going across the country with my parents and my brothers, sitting in the back of our Ford station wagon, as we drove from our home in Indiana at the time, you know, all the way out to California and around and really spent months traveling, which was amazing, it gave us a chance to visit all the national parks and see parts of the country that many children never got to experience. I also remember, lunches were not out, they were not at, you know, even a fast food place. We would stop at a grocery store, my mom would buy a loaf of bread and a pack of Bologna, and we would have sandwiches and that was fine. Right? They made choices about how to spend their limited resources.
Lea Lane 06:38
Well, the idea of national parks, for example, is one of the best because that is one of the best bargains of travel. Without question, the idea of eating responsibly, I would say is a great one. I think many people when they go to a hotel, and they go to the breakfast buffet, they'll eat all of it more than they normally would in skip lunch. Some people even try to get a few rolls out, make that lunch. I've been with people who have taken a whole bunch of stuff, they bring a big person in stuff that is that right. But we venture off of it.
Jean Chatzky 07:12
Yeah. And sometimes I think you know, if you if you are in a hotel, that does have a floor with a hospitality suite, it often doesn't cost that much more to book a room with access to that hospitality suite. You can eat breakfast there, you can grab snacks there, it's often as much of a money saver as it is an extra cost. And I've found that's a really good way to save.
Lea Lane 07:38
Excellent point. I've done that many times where I've been tired, and I've made the snacks my dinner. Yeah, it's an excellent and it's easy. And you can just walk right over to your room and go to sleep. So much, much more cost efficient than room service. In the long run. If you do do it that way. How about some other general tips?
Jean Chatzky 07:56
So right now, I think it's a very good time to talk about using our miles, right? If you've been home, during the pandemic shopping on Amazon, like so many people have or other places, maybe you have accumulated a lot of frequent flyer points or frequent flyer miles, you're going to want to look into using them then they're expected to not be worth as much in years that follow as they are now they're they're a currency that that is likely going to devalue. So I'd say that when you start traveling again, you get the typically best bang for the buck. When it comes to these points. If you use them for flights, don't use them for inexpensive plates, use them for the pricier flights, look at using them for hotel rooms as well, you can sometimes get pretty good deals by transferring points to hotel partners. That would be one of the things I would suggest. A second thing right now is I wouldn't be skimping by buying the least the tickets with the least bells and whistles. I've been as I've started to travel again, I've been pretty conscious of trying to make sure that I buy tickets that have some flexibility for cancellations for changes, they are a little bit more expensive. But if you have to cancel if you have to change, you're going to put yourself in a in a much, much better position. And then when it comes to both hotels and plane tickets, make sure that you understand what all the ancillary fees are. My husband and I moved recently to Philadelphia, and we've been coming in and out of New York every once in a while and just grabbing a hotel but you can easily add $40 - $50 a night to the cost of a hotel just in resort fees even for a place that has absolutely nothing like about it?
Lea Lane 10:01
And if you don't need the resort amenities don't go to those hotels you're paying for that when you go to them.
Jean Chatzky 10:07
Yeah, no, you're 100%, right? And think about things like how many bags? Are you actually going to pack? How many bags are you actually going to take? Do you care about where you sit on the plane, all of these things will start to add up as you start to layer them on.
Lea Lane 10:21
are we just said try to pack so that you don't have extra luggage costs today, there are so many extra costs, as you said, so I try to keep my, my weight on my on my luggage balanced between two or three bags, which I never thought of much before. But now they're much more careful about that. So you save money there. And I do think now is the time to book for 2022 because there will be a tremendous pent up desire by millions of people to travel. And if you're a little ahead of the game, and you're willing to book now you will probably saved money over the long run. I also would think of travel insurance, you were mentioning the difficulties in you know, maybe a flight would be changed or something I think if you even if you don't normally take travel insurance, this is probably a good time to think about that. To save yourself a big fee later, right?
Jean Chatzky 11:11
Yeah, I agree. And my theory on travel insurances, I've always taken it for the big trips, right? I mean, and my rule on insurance is that if something is going to be difficult for you to replace, right, then you insure it. And that is true of a car, it's true of a house and it's true of a trip, if it's easy for you to just spend another couple 100 bucks or whatever to replace a plane ticket, then maybe you you skip the travel insurance in that case, but I do think right now is a good time, you just have to make sure that if you're going to buy it now is one of the times that you want to buy Cancel for any reason coverage, you don't want to you don't want to hem yourself in with a lot of red print.
Lea Lane 12:00
True. And I've been on trips with people who did not get travel insurance where their spouse or partner had to be helicoptered out. I think it costs like $500,000. And I don't know what they did it was it was a horrendous thing. So if you are maybe a little bit older, or you feel it might be something that would be a problem, I definitely would consider it just go on the safe side for this one. Because if it's if it's not a good idea, you know, if something happens to you, it's just not worth it. So I think in the long run, you save money there, you save yourself from bankruptcy sometimes,
Jean Chatzky 12:36
yeah. And the other thing to look at is what you already have, from your credit card companies, if you pay a lot of money for a top tier travel credit card, a Amex platinum, a chase, reserve, the real the cards that cost you hundreds of dollars a year just to keep them in your wallet, they often come with the sort of things that will benefit you in these situations too. So look at what those benefit packages are so that you're not paying twice.
Lea Lane 13:03
Yeah. And sometimes we forget about that. We have them in our wallets. And we don't think about them all the time. And we find out later, we could have saved money. If we had checked. What else anything else, I think traveling slower, you know, the slow travel movement is a big thing. Now just by doing that you save money because you don't have to travel all over the place, you can stay in one place. And one of the biggest costs of travel is the transportation. So instead of going to five cities, maybe consider just staying in one or two and just settling in, you will not only save money, you'll get to know the place better. And that's something I like all the time. I love the slow travel movement, the slow eating movement.
Jean Chatzky 13:40
I've never I've actually never heard of the slow travel movement. But I think I am a slow traveler. I think of the trips that I've taken to Europe, the most recent ones. And we always try to hit, you know, one or two, maybe three at the most cities, but never never more than that.
Lea Lane 13:58
That's a very good idea. You're a natural traveler. If you think that way. Many people try very hard. I don't know if they feel they'll never be back or they just want to add countries, whatever it is they'll move around so much that they hardly really understand what they're seeing. And then they also spend more money by doing so with most of us will go back if we if we prioritize it, so we shouldn't feel so desperate to move around so much. And the slow travel movement started in the 80s I think in Italy. Wow. Of course it did, of course. And who would mind stay in a village in Italy for a long time and eating delicious food and so forth. What else? Let's see some other ideas. How about phone chargers? What are your comments on that? Because that can really really set you back
Jean Chatzky 14:47
up phone chargers? Yeah. Call you want to call your your cell carrier before you leave. Usually they will tell you that they have some sort of a plan that at reasonable rate you can elect to temporarily put on your own phone, in order to, in order to make calls and texts do whatever you need to do from abroad, you may need an additional SIM card in order to do it. So make sure you get all of the details. But that's what we've done at one we have travelled and it's worked out just fine.
Lea Lane 15:20
I remember I was on a trip once with a with a woman who was having a fight with her daughter. And she forgot about her phone charges. And I think she had a $700 fight. It was just awful. She had no arguing I think she got it down to half. But you really have to watch the phone. It's something that I've found over the years can trip you up.
Jean Chatzky 15:42
Yeah. And and the the, the voice over internet protocol to VoIP apps can be very, very helpful. In this case, if you don't want to deal with a phone service, you can just go on Wi Fi, you can use an app like WhatsApp and use use that to make your make your calls.
Lea Lane 15:57
Absolutely. I've been doing that with my granddaughter. It's amazing. It's just you know, a marvel. And we're in Bosnia in Miami, and just whenever we want to talk, it's free. It's just great. Let's see, how about public transport versus Uber? And well, Uber, kind of public transit. What do you think about that? And
Jean Chatzky 16:15
I am, I'm a big proponent of trying to live as locally as possible when you are in a foreign location. I think you should explore public transportation, I think you should explain No, of course you I always sort of rely on the people at my hotel and do some reading in advance to make sure I'm not venturing into unsafe territory. No, I think this is how I think this is how you get to learn about a place by by by taking the tube or taking the metro or you know, whatever the local form of transportation. Tactile. Buses are often wonderful. They whatever they happen to be,
Lea Lane 16:59
I think, yeah, meeting locals, I met most of them on public transportation, you talk you stand there, you know that you're speaking whatever English my case and other people want to speak with you. And it's lovely. It's a great way to feel you're in a place, not just in a tour bus, or you know, in a cab. I mean, if you can take a cab sometimes at night, and so forth, if you're especially if you're alone. It's a good idea. But I think generally, feet walking is from for me the favorite. I just love
Jean Chatzky 17:29
it. Me too. Me too. I do tend to splurge and take an Uber or a taxi from the airport while I'm dealing with a luggage and be jetlag. Right. And so that's something that we often will tend to do
Lea Lane 17:45
mix it up. I think that again, you prioritize your time versus your, you know, cost. So always a priority there one or the other. And often comfort is the priority about airline tickets. I mean, I think it's important that timing is thought about I mean, you can fly midweek it's usually less Is that correct? offseason? Certainly. I think it
Jean Chatzky 18:05
can be Yeah, offseason certainly is less, you should explore airports other than the main airport, right? If you're flying into New York, don't just type that you want to go to LaGuardia type that you want to go to New York City into the browser, let it explore for you all the different airport choices because sometimes going to Stewart airport or newer or another one will will result in a less expensive sort of fare.
Lea Lane 18:35
Absolutely. That's a good tip. I think very often. For example, He Heathrow and Gatwick you know I just had a situation where I did choose between them. And again, Gatwick is a little bit outside of London more, but it's a lot less. And he throws notoriously difficult to get through anyway.
Jean Chatzky 18:54
Wait. Yeah, and I also think and this is just my personal opinion at this point, although I have I think I've seen in certain places, if you can get yourself up and get on the first flight of the morning, now is the time when you should be doing that. Because it with the rerouting of planes and getting planes into place and how things can get messed up during the day you're just better off knowing that your your plane is going to be there and that it's going to go
Lea Lane 19:22
I agree with you and besides that you get more time wherever you're going which is always the precious thing. Time is the most precious of all so that gives you a whole day perhaps if you get there in the morning whereas if you get there in the afternoon you're tired and so forth great idea. How about people who really want to get on a budget they want to go for almost free you know some there's some ways to go nearly free, even in 2021 Do you know of some
Jean Chatzky 19:47
well first of all, you should explore using your miles and your points right if you've just been racking them up now is a great time to start to use them and think about you can you can really pay for almost a whole trip that way But then I think you, you get creative I, my son who is a new dog owner was telling me about a new service that he's using, or is thinking of using in Los Angeles, where instead of hiring somebody to pet sit for you, you let somebody use your apartment, and they take care of your dog. So it's kind of like a combo of Airbnb, and a dog walking service or a pet sitting service. But the person who's coming in not only gets the company of a wonderful pet, they also get to stay for free. I mean that that sort of sounds like a win win. It's a little like, you know how swopping used to be except your petsitting. One of my other favorites. So I have a very good friend who is a, a wonderful artist. She's not a professional artist, but she is definitely serviceable. And she's got an incredible bubbly personality, she's off on a cruise. And she goes, she cruises for free, because she teaches art classes on the cruise ships. And she gets to take an assistant with her who's the Assistant does not have to be a trained artist, she takes a friend who has just, you know, learned what it means to assist in an art class and clean out the brushes and set up the easels. And so I think there are lots of hacks, right? You just have to take your skills and try to figure it out.
Lea Lane 21:24
Exactly. There's a work exchange platform called Workaway. There are others as well, you can look at those and get ideas, you could always be a house sitter, as we sort of discussed or pet sitter, you know, nowadays, you can sit for plants or whatever, you can do many things you can, you can also swap your skills for room and board, some people, you know, freelance, and they they offer their skills and in exchange for lodging, and independently owned hotels, I don't have a marketing budget. I know some people who do that. So it takes a little time and a little research, but you can probably find a way to really cut your costs. If you if you really think about it. I know that sometimes I have volunteered when there's a chance to get bumped. What do you think about that?
Jean Chatzky 22:05
If you've got the time, right? I mean, that's what we're doing, right? We're
Lea Lane 22:08
always sort of trading time for money. And if you've got the time to do that, I think why not? Be sure to carry on only that's one of the things if you think you might do this, you're gonna have to carry on otherwise, you're not gonna see your luggage, probably it's gonna get messed up so that if you if you have this in mind, and some people do, they travel over holidays like Christmas, and they know they'll get a chance to get bumped. So they prepare by by taking carry on, and then they bumped and they get a voucher, and they get a free flight and a later flight. So it works for them. It's another way to save money. Absolutely. Now there's some destinations in the world that are less expensive than others. I've traveled to over 100 countries and I've noticed that many in Southeast Asia and Central America, South America, Africa are fabulous destinations, but they're also quite reasonable. And I have read that you can go for as little as $30 a day if you really want to go basic in some of these places. If you stay in a hostel, eat locally. If you have a little bit more money you can up it, but some of the countries that I've listed that I have noticed this is Vietnam, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Nepal, Morocco, Nicaragua and in the United States as we mentioned central excuse me national parks that Central Park are very great bargains for families just as you were talking about how about in Europe have you noticed any countries there that you feel your dollar goes a little further
Jean Chatzky 23:38
oh boy at you know it's I haven't been to Europe like many people in a couple of years so I haven't been paying complete and total attention to where my dollars going further there at this point. Well, it's
Lea Lane 23:49
not gonna be Paris I will tell you well no it's not it's never Paris no never but it's worth it anyway I think but anyway, there's their their countries that are not as well known. The ones that you think you know, of course the you know, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic it well, Italy, some parts. The southern part of Italy is less expensive way south and Croatia turkey. These are still countries where you can get a good deal in Greece, which you would think would be expensive. I had a wonderful vacation using ferry boats. I didn't take a cruise. I used ferries the way the locals do, because there are ferries to all the out islands. It was one of the best trips I ever took, you know, could eat two burners on the harbour. It was extremely inexpensive. You could go to little places and check them out on the harbor. They let you see them first, and do recommend Greece if you're willing to take ferry boats can be a great deal. Have you done that? Have you been?
Jean Chatzky 24:41
I have been to Greece I haven't been for gosh, it's been 15 years, but we did a combo of taking ferries to get to some islands. And actually I think we took ferries all around I don't think we flew within Greece. I'm not a lover of small planes.
Lea Lane 24:57
No, I'm not either. In fact, besides you get to meet People there's your public transportation. Exactly. Not only a cruise, you get to meet everyone. It's a wonderful way to get around certain parts of the world and Greece is one of them. So what about some of your other trips that you remember the great fun is
Jean Chatzky 25:12
oh boy at we had a wonderful trip to Israel, my husband and I, about four years ago, where we spent some time in Tel Aviv. We spent some time in Jerusalem. We spent some time on a kibbutz so that was that was
Lea Lane 25:27
such an energy there. Did you feel the energy was fantastic. Oh, it was fantastic. You really? Yeah. And the food. The food used to be terrible. I remember I was there in the 1970s It was horrible. And now I think it's the best breakfast talk about about my guy you can eat your whole day. Yeah, yeah, Israeli breakfast. If
Jean Chatzky 25:46
you're a salad lover, then that's this like, dirty little secret of Israeli preference. Breakfast, it's so much salad. It's it's good for you. It is it's great for you. And it's also salad was salad, but there's no lack of bread either and no lack of anything. So so that was an amazing trip. We had a wonderful time in Japan about two years ago, right before the pandemic, we went to Japan and and spent some time in Tokyo some time in Kyoto. Kyoto was was just beautiful. Bamboo Forest did yeah, yeah, we went to that went to the bamboo forest. I mean, some of my my favorite trips have really been in the United States driving, driving the coast in California from from LA to San Francisco, stopping in Big Sur.
Lea Lane 26:35
We just did a whole episode on that wonderful, wonderful drive. It's one of the best in the world. Amazing. Amazing. We always ask our guests to end the podcast with a special travel memory. So Jean, what is yours? Oh, boy,
Jean Chatzky 26:48
I There are so many special take more than one. Now. You know, the one I was thinking about was a meal at a restaurant in San Francisco called the Zuni Cafe, which is famous for its roast chicken, which they serve on top of a salad that has it's kind of a Panzanella it's it's a green salad, but it has big croutons in it that that's made from sort of a sourdough loaf. And some raisins are current in the salad, go to the New York Times and you search for the Zuni Cafe chicken they have actually published the recipe. And so now you can make it at home. And it's it's where my husband and I celebrated buying a house we celebrated other things there. And it's it's just a special place for us.
Lea Lane 27:37
It's interesting how memories can be a site or a memory of a family or a delicious meal. That's what's so wonderful about travel, whatever it may be, you will remember it and you will love it the rest of your life. It's a great investment travel is an investment in memory. So I thank you for that. That's a very interesting thing. I can think of many meals myself, some of them deliciously decadent and some of them just simple picnics on the side of a road. So you're bringing memories to me as well. Well thank you so very much Jean Chatzky for sharing your expertise on budgeting and your special travel memories with us. You can find out more at her website Jean chatzky.com and on Twitter at Jean Chatzky. So here's two more travels whatever our budget. Thank you so much, Leah, thank you.
Lea Lane 28:30
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and at bookstores, in print and Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.