Travelling does not require heaps of money, but a strong need to discover, an ardent desire, often referred to as WANDERLUST. Ironically the most common reason that prevents people from travelling is the cost involved, but, as with everything else in life, this can be converted to a myth with proper planning, preferably well in advance. If I ask you to estimate how much it would cost to travel through Europe for say a fortnight or a month … what would you come up with? What is the cheapest offer you can find online?
Before I break the suspense, let me share a few travel tips that I have picked up over time that can reduce your estimates to half of your original numbers at least, if not more:
1) Give your Tour Operator a Break – Take the onus of managing your own trips; it saves a lot of money which you will otherwise pay to the agency at each level of the planning hierarchy, that too for what is usually a below par effort and a run-of-the-mill travel experience. The tourism industry in India takes full advantage of the usual Indian tourist’s penchant for playing it safe and his love for luxury. It hardly matters if you are proficient with these tips or not, you’re still going to save a pretty penny if you just start doing things on your own. None of the tips listed below will help if you don’t throw the travel agent out on his ears.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – At least 15 % of what the Travel Agency will offer you, for the novice planner.
2) Finding the Cheapest Flight – The cost of air travel is the largest single contributor to a trip’s total expenditure and therefore well begun is half done. Flexible destinations and dates make it very easy to obtain brilliant bargains on flight costs but there are several other factors like flying with low-cost carriers, considering alternate routes and secondary airports, what day of the week, time of the year you wish to fly and which search engines you use. A bit of research into finding the best combination of the above factors can save you a fair bit of money. (Also read my post on How to Find a Cheap Flight).
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – INR 5 -10 K ($74 – $130) per return flight vs. the cost of booking without research or through a travel agent.
3) Finding the Cheapest Accommodation – The second biggest saving comes from finding affordable accommodation because it is the next biggest contributor to the overall budget. There are several kinds of accommodation facilities available: hospitality clubs, vacation homes, hostels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) and hotels, the choice of which depends on nature of trip you wish to take and the extent of your budget. A brief introduction to these categories available is set out below:
- Hospitality Clubs – A few online communities provide you with the opportunity to stay with locals in their homes as a guest for FREE. The members of these communities are people who wish to open their homes to travellers for an unparalleled and an amazing opportunity for a cross-cultural exchange. Although this kind of a stay is absolutely free, it is more of an opportunity to share lives and experience a place through the eyes of a local rather than just saving money. Couchsurfing and BeWelcome are the two most used online platforms. Read my detailed post on Couchsurfing for a deeper insight. This is how I travel most of the times and is absolutely my personal favourite way.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 100 % vs. the cost of a regular hotel on a tour package.
- Hostels – This is the second cheapest accommodation type. You stay in clean and hygienic dormitories (usually 6 or 8 bunk beds) with shared bathrooms and a common kitchen at a very nominal cost. The facility to cook your own food makes it super easy on your pocket.
I compare options off five websites before booking a hostel – Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Trivago and Agoda (for travel in Asia). Most of these platforms give additional discounts if you use their mobile app for booking. Apart from that hostel.com gives you a free night for every 10 nights booked and booking.com gives you additional discounts once you reach a minimum number of bookings. So the best way to use them is to download their mobile app, create an account and benefit from their loyalty programs.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 75 % vs. the cost of a regular hotel on a tour package.
- Vacation Homes – These are similar to the hospitality clubs described above, the major difference being that the locals who open their home to guests charge a certain amount of money. You have options to choose from, which could include a shared room, a private room or a private apartment with breakfast usually included. Costs increase with the privacy required.
Costs here are lower than hotels but higher than hostels, the added advantage vs. hostels being the guidance of your local host who is usually the key to a memorable and authentic travel experience. Airbnb is the most common online platform used to book such a vacation home.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 40 % vs. the cost of a regular hotel as part of a tour package.
- Guest Houses and B&B’s – These alternative accommodations are available at approximately the same cost as vacation homes but you receive complete privacy for your stay at a commercial hotel-like property. These are usually owned by locals and located away from the main commercial areas. The five websites listed above may also be used for locating such accommodation.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 40 % vs. the cost of a regular hotel as part of a tour package.
- Hotels – are the most expensive of all the categories and my least preferred form of accommodation. Luxury is never on my priority list when I travel, so hotels are never on my focus. I’d rather spend on staying a few more nights instead! If you wish to enjoy the luxury book a resort closer to home, no need to travel far just to enjoy the luxury of a hotel.
4) Cutting down your Food Expenses – What eats up most of your travel budget after airfare and accommodation is your food bill, but saving across this area are not rocket science. There are several ways to reduce spending on food –
- Cook Yourself– The biggest benefit of Couchsurfing and staying at hostels is that you may buy groceries from the supermarket and cook your own food which saves a decent amount of money. A day’s expenditure on eating out would cover at least 3 days’ of groceries. Also, it makes it very easy to plan your travel if you can cook at your own convenience, so try and cook yourself as much as you can.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 8,000 ($103) per week vs. eating out.
- Eat Street Food – Prefer eating street food at times when you cannot cook or carry your own food. It is a lot cheaper that eating at restaurants and also gives you a chance to experience the authentic flavour of local cuisine. I would suggest never compromising on hygiene, though, and the best way to do that is to spot where the locals are eating. I mostly eat the 2 Euro Kebabs when travelling across Europe.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 4,000 ($51) per week vs. eating out.
- Eat Fast Food – Although eating at fast food places costs more or less the same as the cost of street food, it is unhealthier. Prefer eating fast food only if you do not have any other choices. The Asian Noodle Bars are a preferred option, cheaper than and not as unhealthy as a burger.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 4,000 ($51) per week vs. the cost of eating out.
Skipping a few expensive meals at restaurants will surely not spoil your travel experience.
5) Saving on Inter City Travel Cost – There are several means to move from one city to another and your choices of it depend on what country you are travelling through and the time you can spare vs. the cost of the trip.
- Hitchhike – This is a very common practice in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Cuba. It is also easy to hitchhike in Japan, Philippines, Turkey, Nepal, Iran, Georgia and Korea. If you are travelling slow and unplanned and don’t have deadlines to meet hitchhiking is fun and almost always free. Check out the local highway rules before deciding to hitchhike and carry your common sense along to remain safe. The best way is to have a hitchhiking buddy.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 100% vs. the average cost of other means of transport.
- Ride Shares – BlaBlaCar is the most widely used ridesharing platform across the world and generally considered safe. Drivers and riders both have rating enabled profiles which allow you to choose whom you wish to ride with. Personally, I always look out for these rides when I’m not travelling on a fixed itinerary as it costs half of what a train or a bus would cost.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 50% vs. the cost of other means of transport.
- Bus and Train Rides – The cost of bus or a train ride is something that needs a bit of research and varies from country to country e.g. in the Czech Republic the prices are the same whether booked on the spot or in advance whereas in Spain, on the other hand, the rides get super expensive (sometimes twice the original price) if you’re booking on the spot. Trains in Spain are mostly high speed and therefore way more costly than buses. There are always a number of bus operators to choose from, and in some rare cases, there are a number of train operators to choose from as well especially in Europe. Booking online is cheaper in some countries but more expensive in some.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – 25% vs. buying without research.
- Air Travel – Extensive competition in this sector has led to very attractive air fares. Sometimes flying costs the same as ridesharing or taking a bus, sometimes even less. Always keep an eye on Local Budget Carriers and promotional fares and you might just clinch an awesome deal.
Not much effort is needed to find the optimal ride. One online platform which I use is Rome2Rio.com where you just search by entering the source and destination. The result displays the prices of all available options including rideshare. Once you get the general idea from this website, proceed with more specific searches to save money.
6) Put all your Expenses on a Credit Card – Choosing, owning and spending on a good credit card can earn you a lot of rewards. Put as much of your expenses as you can on your card. As an example, I put all my personal, business and travel expenses on my card and on reaching a spend of Rs 180,000 ($2300) in a year I get Indigo vouchers worth Rs 8,000 ($103) . If I spend Rs. 400,000 ($5200) my card company gifts me A Taj voucher worth Rs 10,000 ($130) and additional Indigo vouchers worth Rs 11,000/- ($142).
Rs 19,000 ($250) worth of Indigo vouchers in a year is an excellent payback.
AVERAGE VALUE OF REWARDS EARNED BACK – 7-10% of the total expenditure in the case of a good credit card company.
7) Travel with only a Hand Bag – Carrying all your stuff in a small backpack weighing not more than 7 Kg. It empowers you to save on baggage costs on Low Budget Carriers like Air Asia, saves you some money by fitting -in, in small lockers, makes it very easy to hitchhike or take a rideshare, allows you to walk small distances which would otherwise add to the cost of public transport and saves a lot of time at the airport check-in and baggage collection and somebody aptly said – “Time is Money”. Read my post on HOW TO CHOOSE THE CORRECT BACKPACK.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 2,500 ($30) per trip.
8) Avoid the Airport Express – Most of the bigger airports are now connected to the city via Airport Express Bus and Train Services. These are fast speed special services especially for airport transits but are usually very expensive as compared with normal bus services or subway e.g. a ride from Melbourne Airport to the city costs 19AUD on the airport express and 7AUD on Bus 901, an Airport Express ride from Kuala Lumpur Airport to the centre costs 55 Ringgits and the regular bus service costs 12 Ringgits. That’s approximately Rs. 600 ($8) per transfer saved in both cases, so if a few extra minutes of travel time doesn’t really hurt your plans, avoid taking the Airport Express, visit the helpdesk at the airport and ask for the cheapest mode of transport to the city.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 1,500 ($20) per trip.
9) Avoid Guided Tours and Expensive Museums, Monuments, Parks and Towers – Most of the famous sights and guided tours drain money from your pocket before you realise it. Skip these unless the sight or the tour is really unique and worth spending on e.g. Famous towers like the Burj Khalifa, Dubai or Sky Tower, Auckland or Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai all provide similar views / experiences from the sky deck.
Instead take a free walking tour, paid bicycle tour, free wine tasting tours, get a pass to a hop-on, hop-off bus or visit the numerous free museums and parks which are more fun and value for money.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 4,000 ($51) per trip.
10) Use Public Transport Passes, City Passes or even better Rent a Bicycle – Don’t just use the public transport facilities to save on the cost but also use the offers on the public transport channels to further minimise the expense. 24 hr/ 3 days / 5-day unlimited travel passes valid across all modes (subway, buses and trams) are the most common type. Some cities also have the facility of a City Card which adds to the Public Transport Pass, the facility of free or discounted entries to a few famous city sights. The permanent offers are generally available on the ticket vending automat but always visit the tourist information centre to make the most of promotional or temporary offers as well.
Another great way to save money is renting a bicycle and moving around the town as per your convenience. There are automats or manual rental facilities and parking spaces are available all over the city.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED on Passes – 15-20% at least vs. buying individual tickets. The more you travel on unlimited passes, higher the savings.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED on Renting Bicycles – 80% of the Public Transport Tickets
11) Never spend on Water and Drink where the Locals do – Packaged drinking is water is an expensive affair in most countries and you’ll be surprised by the fact that you can very easily spend Rs 1000/- for drinking water over a weeklong trip. Visiting touristic bars also eats up the budget quickly and the best way to avoid this is to go out drinking at bars frequented by the locals. Talk to a few locals and these shouldn’t be too difficult to find.
AVERAGE MONEY SAVED – Rs 3,000 ($39) over a weeklong trip.
” Making the most from using these tips, a two week trip across Europe cost me Rs. 75,000/- ($975) and a month long trip cost me Rs 90,000/- ($1170) including every possible bit of expenditure door-to-door. A week in Goa would cost me Rs. 17,000/- ($220) and a 10 day trip to Malaysia not more than Rs. 35,000/- ($450) all expenses included, even my beers!”