Did a blizzard leave you stranded in an airport for 3 days? Has the official airline of a third world country ever sent you to your destination and your luggage on a 72-hour trip away from your destination? Travelers often pride themselves on the great airfare or cheap hotel snag, but what happens when some major unexpected expenses come up during the vacation of a lifetime?

Frugal travel is more than just saving money on bookings and places to eat. It’s also learning to provide for the little (or massive) expenses that come up during a trip. In addition to accommodations and new clothing, stranded travelers often have to figure out how to stay within their food and miscellaneous expense budget.

Here are some real life glitches and downright nightmares that can be handled without breaking your bank:

  1. ASK. Always ask the airline customer service counter what they can do for you if you are stranded in a blizzard or during a lengthy mechanical delay. This could be restaurant vouchers, lodging vouchers, refund for a portion of the trip, or a free flight to another destination later.
  2. DEMAND. In the case of lost luggage, don’t be like my friend Jaime who had to wear her father-in-law’s underwear for 3 days in the Bahamas. When this happens, contact your airline’s customer service center immediately for a voucher or cash to be used for toiletries. International carriers offer this perk as well. For example, Air India gave me 50 British Pounds when it happened to me. Smart travelers always pack toiletries and underwear in a carry-on, but that cash can also be used to purchase a modest outfit to be worn in the event of a meeting or party to attend. Also, check with your travel insurance company to see if they have lost luggage expense reimbursement as well. It is criminal to spend one nickel for any possession that an airline lost.
  3. GET YOUR REWARDS. Always be a member of hotel reward programs for the hotels that you frequent. The scene in Up In the Air where George Clooney is showing off his reward’s cards is very real for any frequent traveler. Hilton Honors and Holiday Inn Priority Rewards were my aces in the hole when I had to stay in town two extra nights after a death in the family. I had a free room at the Holiday Inn.
  4. SURVIVE THE AIRPORT STRANDING & SUBSEQUENT MASS HYSTERIA. Pack a couple of light meals like tuna kits and granola bars for light stranding incidences. These items cost very little if purchased in bulk or at a discount store but can cost almost 3 times as much when purchased at an airport kiosk. Some restaurants, like St. Louis Bread Company, offer a free treat upon signing up, so that can be useful in times of airport stranding if that restaurant is available. TGI Friday’s also has a reward program called “Give Me More Stripes.” These programs and others offered by national chains may offer an appetizer or drink in times of airline woe. If worse comes to worse and you think it will get ugly, have some change on you and go directly to a vending machine and grab a couple of items to avoid fist fights over a bag of Doritos. I’ve seen them.
  5. LAST MINUTE SAVINGS. I’ve also found myself in need of lodging without having free rooms. No worries. I got on Expedia.com and looked at the last minute deals and scored a hotel in Orlando for $39. Other websites like hotels.com may also be able to offer last minute deals. Check that out without pulling into the first hotel you see or accepting your current hotel’s rate. It also doesn’t hurt to barter with your current hotel by showing them right there on your smart phone the massive deal you just landed at their competitor.
  6. GROUPON IT. Groupon now has a “Go Now” feature that can offer meals and activities for discounted prices in the city where you are stranded.
  7. COVER YOUR DING. Don’t get dinged with a rental car fee because of a door ding that was there the entire time you had it. Take a photo of every part of the car during the initial rental inspection and keep the photos on your smart phone or digital camera. My mistake was to see the ding during the initial inspection and not think that it would be a big deal. Do an inspection yourself and note every door ding, every scratch, and every noticeable trace of bird poo.
  8. FACEBOOK IS YOUR FRIEND. Press “like” on a company’s page and you could get restaurant deals, coupons, or other perks.

Some of these tips may require some research in the airport or hotel lobby, but what else are you going to do? You’re stranded with no clean underwear!

This has been a guest post by Victoria from St. Charles, MO
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