Visiting the Caribbean on the cheap: The top eight budget tips

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Originally published on www.hipmunk.com/tailwind, July 23, 2015.

Think of the Caribbean: palm trees, white sand, and crystal waters probably come to mind. While it’s often considered a dream destination, jetting off to an island paradise can quickly get pricey.

Yet the Caribbean is becoming much more accessible, even to those who are looking for an affordable getaway. Read on to see how you could enjoy the island life at a fraction of the price you might expect.

1. Get a travel credit card
Around 90% of credit cards hit you with foreign transaction fees, with many docking 3% of every dollar you spend abroad. So get one that doesn’t! It’s especially worth looking for new plastic to visit the Caribbean, as some ATMs charge a whopping $4.50 (on top of your own bank fees) for each withdrawal. Look for a competitive currency exchange rate to save yourself even more. That means checking card comparison websites, like Cardhub.com, Fatwallet.com or Nerdwallet.com, and looking at the small print. Dull, yes, but you can spend saved pennies on making the trip even more memorable. A beach spa day, anyone

2. Eat street food
Don’t be shy; street food is where the real Caribbean fare is found. On Barbados, check out the famous Oistins fish fry for their local specialty, fried flying fish. And when in the Dominican Republic, give grilled chicken and flavorful tropical vegetables like plantains a try instead

3. Be a savvy deal hunter
Hurricane season runs from June to November, but experts say this is no reason to stay away. The chance of storms making landfall are slim. Plus, there are plenty of fantastic off-peak rates available, the sunshine’s terrific, and the water is at its warmest. Jamaica in September is particularly lovely (and budget-friendly). For extra peace of mind, download the Hurricane app from the American Red Cross

4. Travel like a local
Public transport can be patchy on some islands during the afternoon, especially less developed countries like Dominica and St. Kitts. (Some buses mainly serve morning and evening commuters.) Instead, it’s the norm to hitch a lift. With fewer cars per capita in the Caribbean, it’s more like community car-pooling. You’ll interact more with others on the go while saving heaps on taxis, which can be expensive

5.Try a quieter island
Nature lovers should try an island less built up with huge resorts in favor of more access to unspoilt tropical rainforests and volcanic mountain trails. You’ll also get deals not yet inflated by hordes of cruise ship tourists. Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are stunning examples of amazing island destinations with lots of affordable lodging options.

6. Get to know people
Don’t just stay in the hotel! Talk to people unconnected to the tourism industry to get a sense of the country’s culture and everyday life. Many of the islands have very distinct sights, sounds, and traditions. A long history of several ethnicities and languages mixing has resulted in amazing diversity throughout the region; don’t be afraid to ask locals for tips on everything from great restaurants (without the tourist price tag) to hidden beaches.

7. Check the tipping culture
Most islands don’t have US-style tipping etiquette, but some, like Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands, do. It’s best to research beforehand to avoid an unexpected surprise on the bar tab.

8. Get insurance
This one’s obvious. If you do have an accident and aren’t covered, getting airlifted to a hospital on another island can turn a budget-friendly trip into a financial nightmare.

-Nima Sherpa Green

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