Dudes, airports are expensive. And, if you like to travel as much as we do, not budgeting properly for airport expenses can take a toll on your monthly spending allowances. Heck, even when you do plan for it, saving money at the airport can still be difficult. Yup, yup. Even experienced frugal travelers like us can still make some budget-busting mistakes.

Just a few weeks ago, Holly and I got out of Dodge and made our way to the airport. But, this wasn’t any regular trip for us. We made a special road trip all the way to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to drop our children off at my parents’ house. The kids got to spend a special few days with their grandparents, and we took the opportunity to turn it into a fun vacation for just the two of us. However, that meant that we were going to be flying out of an airport that we were fairly unfamiliar with – Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Knowing that we were going to be leaving at the butt crack of dawn, we decided to park our car using the long-term airport parking. Since economy parking in Indy is just $9/day, we weren’t too worried about the fee…until we pulled up to the gate.

“$24 a day…for parking my car! What the balls?!?”

Personally,  I think somebody should have carried my bags and escorted me to the gate at that price, but I was already tangled up in their web. They had me. It was too late for me to back out now, so I swallowed hard, bent over, and proceeded to pay more than double what I expected for parking in their concrete maze.

Saving Money at the Airport

Honestly, I should’ve known better. I made the rookie traveler’s mistake of assuming, which ended up costing me about an extra $100 in parking fees alone. I mean, it would have been way more fun to lose that money at the craps table instead of having to use it to pay for parking. But alas, I was stuck with the consequences of my poor planning.

As I shuffled my way way through the airport with my head hung low, I began to realize all of the ways that a trip through the airport can destroy your traveling budget. Here are a few tips to help you avoid feeling the airport pain that I so richly deserved.

Check for Parking

As I’ve already mentioned, make sure you check around to find the best rates for parking. A difference of just a dollar or two may not mean much, but $5-10 could save you a pretty hefty chunk of change over the course of several days or weeks. Remember, airports aren’t the only places that will happily accept money for parking your car. Check for off-site parking lots located near your airport of choice. Almost all of these places are going to cost you less – and sometimes considerably less – than parking at the airport. Plus, they should have a shuttle that brings you to and from the site. Had I simply looked around, I could have parked for less than half of what I paid to park at the airport – saving me almost $100. Ugh!

Eat Before You Go

Everybody knows that airport food is expensive, right? Well, if you don’t, trust me – it is. If you really want to start saving money at the airport, this is a great place to start. You’ll know what I mean the next time you try to buy a $3 candy bar or a $4 bottle of water there. Of course, you can’t bring liquids past security (isn’t that convenient…), so the vendors on the other side of the TSA checkpoints have you exactly where they want you. Next time, try eating before you come to the airport. You’ll definitely save a few bucks by not paying those jacked up airport prices. If you absolutely can’t stand to go without your coffee (or soda), try waiting until you get on the plane. You should be able to score at least one drink compliments of your airline during the flight. Need a little water? Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at one of the airport’s 2 water fountains. (I’m kidding! You should be able to find at least 3 of them…) You can usually find them right next to one of the overcrowded bathrooms before or after your flight.

Pack Lightly

You have to tip your hats to the airlines – they definitely know how to make a buck. Obviously, you can’t travel without clothes (at least I can’t), but you may need to bring more than just your carry-on allows. Of course, you can no longer most of your personal items onto the plane – things like razors, larger bottles of shaving cream, most perfume or cologne bottles, etc. All of that stuff has to be placed into checked luggage, which most airlines make you pay for. So, try not to check a bag if you don’t have to. If you do, look for an airline that offers free checked bags – like my personal favorite, Southwest. Not only do I not have to pay for my first checked bag, I can actually bring my entire wardrobe with me if I choose because the second bag is free as well! Plus, their fares are almost always the cheapest…so SCORE!

Don’t Use Your Data

Sitting in the airport is boooooorrrriiiinnnggg, which is why saving money at the airport can be so difficult. Next time you are waiting for your plane to board, just take a look around at all the peeps sitting around staring at their screens. It is pretty hilarious to see everybody trying to avoid any interaction with another human being. Seriously, what did we do to pass the time before smartphones and tablets? I’ll tell you what we did…we read books. Yup, those things that are made with paper and have words all over them. Of course, there are tons of places to spend money at the airport. Bookstores are no exception. You can even buy the more visually appealing OK magazine there too. However, if you plan ahead, you can actually find books for FREE at your local library. If, however, you must absolutely connect to the internet, at least save you data. Most airports still offer complimentary WiFi, at least for an hour or so. Just “watch” their boring video advertisement, and save yourself a few bucks by connecting to their WiFi for free.

Airports present all sorts of budget busting traps for the frugally conscious traveler. However, if you prepare for your travels ahead of time, you can avoid some of the most of the expensive money grabs and save yourself a few bucks. For reals peeps: Do as I say, not as I just do…’ed. Seriously, I really could’ve used that extra Benjamin in Vegas.

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