Let’s just face it: ever since that first Euro trip in 2009, it’s been really hard to stay still for more than a few months at a time. Every now and then, I find myself fantasizing about a trip, innocently looking up flights online, asking my friends whether they’d be interested in going, and before I know it, the itinerary is created, flights and rooms are booked, and we’re on our way to the airport; it’s an addiction, really, and a seemingly expensive one at that. However, I’ve learned that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive if you don’t want it to be; you just need to know how to spend your money wisely.
I’m not a financial expert and I’m sure there are others who travel at a much lower cost than I did, but below is a list of what I’ve done to save some money while travelling. They are based on my personal experiences in planning my own trips through Europe, Asia, and the States. Hopefully they too can help you save some money in your upcoming travels.
1. If you are flying, find a cheap flight
Without a doubt, your flight will be the most expensive part of your travel. So, finding a cheap flight will substantially decrease your overall spending on your trip. Nomadic Matt wrote an excellent piece on it here. And while I tend to follow most of his advice, there are a couple of things I’d like to add:
– Fly from border cities
When going to the States, I’ve always flown from Buffalo. Flights from Canada to the States are ridiculously expensive while domestic flights within the States are cheap! So, I’ve found that it’s much, much cheaper (up to $300 difference!) if you cross the border and fly from Buffalo. A week-long parking on the airport is a mere $55 (or $50 with the online discount coupon), gas cost is rather negligible since Buffalo is only 2 hours away from Toronto, and, if you’re lucky, border crossing can be a breeze!
– Be OK with flying at odd hours and/or with longer layover wait times
Most of our Air Asia flights were so cheap because we chose the most grotesque departure times: 6AM from Kuala Lumpur, 7AM from Hanoi, 5:30AM from Bangkok. Nobody wants these times because of the inconvenience (not to mention the pain of waking up so darn early!), but, honestly, I couldn’t care less, it gets us into a new city early in the morning hence giving us more time to explore. With respect to longer layover wait times, just bring a deck of cards with you and problem is solved! If you are travelling solo, never underestimate the power of a great book to entertain you for hours at a time.
2. Consider an alternative transportation
When we went to New York this past summer, we thought of flying on Porter from the island airport – it’s fast, easy, and very convenient. However, at a whooping cost of almost $150 plus tax one-way, we decided against it and opted to take the overnight bus instead at $80 for a return journey. Yes, it took us approximately 9 hours longer, but it wasn’t a bad ride – I pretty much slept through the entire ride. You are, however, talking to the girl who slept soundly through a flooded train car (Lisbon-Madrid) and in a freezing airport (BKK), so I may be biased.
That said, you also need to know where in the world you are when weighing your options. Domestic flights within continental Europe are often much cheaper than a train journey and are usually on par with a bus journey. For example, my cousin booked a one-way flight (London-Dublin) on Aer Lingus for £35. The same journey via train and ferry would cost her £38 with a much longer travel time. I must admit, though, some train journeys in Europe offer stunning views you wouldn’t otherwise get when you fly.
3. Stay in hostels
Despite the horror stories I’ve heard on other people’s hostel experiences, mine have been nothing but very pleasant. You really can’t go wrong when the place provides you with free (and legit!) breakfast, free wi-fi, free walking tour, friendly and fun atmosphere, and did I mention free wi-fi? Tell me, have you had all of the aforementioned amenities at a hotel with no extra cost? Exactly. Although most hostels only offer dorm room accommodations, more and more of them are starting to offer private rooms for up to 4 people. These are marginally more expensive than their dorm room counterparts, but they’re still overall cheaper than a hotel room. I’ve never stayed in dorms mainly because I need some recuperating time of peace and quiet at the end of the day (I know, I’m such a grandma). However, if that’s your kind of scene, go for it! Good times guaranteed!
All of the above rooms were booked for less than $20/night/person; not bad, huh? I’m telling you your dollar goes FAR in Asia!
Also, don’t forget to consider the ratings and reviews given by other travelers when you are choosing your hostels. These are usually frank and not sugar-coated, so you will be able to get a feel for the place from them. Bear in mind, though, that nothing is perfect, so you’ll always read several negative reviews here and there, just be sure to take these with a grain of salt.
4. Eat in
Sites like Hostel Bookers and Hostel World also occasionally list apartments or, as the Europeans call them, aparthotels. We stayed mostly in these during our Euro trip last year. With a fully functioning kitchen in the room, we saved a ton of money by eating in for breakfast and dinner. When we were in Madrid last year, we stepped into the local grocery store to stock our fridge with the essentials, like milk, yogurt, juice, fresh fruits, cereal, frozen pizzas, and bread. We had cereal, yogurt, and fruits for breakfast, we’d bake pizza for dinner, and we occasionally made sandwiches for lunch. Plus, our apartment was located right behind Plaza Mayor, where all the actions were, so it was really easy for us to quickly go “home” for lunch or dinner and come out again after. That’s not to say we didn’t eat out at all – we did! After all, eating the local food is a huge part of the travel experience. However, in Western Europe eating out all the time gets very expensive, so we balanced that with eating in.
If you’re travelling for longer period of time, consider booking an apartment from sites like Airbnb or Roomorama. They put you in touch directly with the owners, making it easier to negotiate and do transactions.
If you are in South East Asia, though, disregard everything above; it’s easier, cheaper, and much more delicious to just eat out.
5. Step off the tourist trail
When you do eat out, get away from the tourist places. These restaurants often mark-up their prices and their meals are not very delicious to begin with. Multi-language menus, situated within an arm’s reach of a major landmark, and large groups of tourists are often good indications to identify these restaurants. Walk in any direction for a good 15 minutes and start looking at restaurants then. One of our best meals in Barcelona was from this tiny restaurant in the heart of Barri Gotic, away from La Rambla. For a mere 8 euro per person, we got an appetizer (fish with tomato sauce), a main course (a plate of delicious pasta), a dessert (a bowl of tiramisu), and house wine to accompany our meals. The best pesto I had was from Tan-taran-tan, a small restaurant beside our hotel in the suburbs of Barcelona, a 10-min. walk from Maria Christina metro station.
You want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Or you want to go into all of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona? Or maybe you want to go to the top of Elevador de Santa Justa in Lisbon? Or you want to cruise the canals of Venice all the while being serenaded by the Venetian gondolier? DO IT! Even though these experiences cost a lot, DO IT! This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you’ve been pinching pennies here and there, I’d say you deserve the splurge! You ARE in a new place! Spend your money on the things you really want lest you regret it afterwards.
See, traveling cheaply doesn’t mean eating McDonald’s every day and sleeping in shady hostels. If you know where to look and if you are patient, you will find delicious meals, affordable flights, and great accommodations. That, coupled with the myriad of available deals these days, it is very possible to travel without breaking the bank!
P.s. Girls, we should have gone on that Gondola ride in Venice!!