How to travel on a budget
For most of my life I’ve suffered from a serious ailment – a chronic case of the travel bug. After a few weeks at home, I feel like I need to travel. But I prefer not to spend too much on my holidays because that makes me feel guilty...and indulgent. Having a tight budget does not mean that you can’t travel. It just means that you will have to travel more efficiently. I often get asked for tips on how to travel on a budget.
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” Susan Heller
Here are some ways to travel on a budget
1. Save money - General
- Travel during off-peak seasons if you can. The prices are much lower than during peak season. And it will be less busy, meaning that you can enjoy yourself much more. If you have school-going children like me though, this will be more difficult. Don't forget to take into account the peak seasons of the place you're travelling to as well.
- Look out for discounts and special offers on websites like Daddy's Deals , Flook and other discount deal websites.
- Always compare prices. I cannot overstate the value of comparing which is so easy to do these days by harnessing the power of the internet.
- Do internet searches for specific money-saving tips regarding your intended activity or destination, for example, ”Free walking tours in Paris”
- If you are a student, no matter how old you are, your student card can be a valuable tool to get student discounts at tourist attractions.
2. Save money on flights
I always look for the cheapest flights on Google Flights, Skyscanner and Travelstart. You’d be surprised at how huge the price differentials between airlines can be. Once you’ve identified the cheapest airline, check the prices on their website too.
3. Save money on accommodation
- For international hotels, I look for highly-rated hotels within my budget on Tripadvisor and usually book on Booking.com or Hotels.com. You can find some amazing value deals there. Be careful to read the fine print regarding tax exclusions, breakfast inclusions and cancellation policies. Also, check prices directly with the hotel you’re interested in for their direct booking prices.
- When visiting new destinations, you don’t have to stay in a mega-expensive 5-star hotel especially since you’ll be too busy exploring a new place to spend much time in your hotel room. The people working at The Trajet know that there are always some hidden gems you can book at a fraction of the cost. Staying in a cheaper hotel will allow you to save on accommodation and put that money to better use elsewhere. I prefer not to go lower than 4-star though. If you want to indulge, save the best hotel for the last and not the other way around. On a typical visit to another country, we may travel to at least three different cities.
I’ve had (unplanned) instances where I move from a great hotel to a sorry excuse for a hotel, when moving from one city to another and it was truly depressing – for a few hours at least. Of course, if the main purpose of your holiday is to relax at a nice hotel, then that’s a different story.
- If you still want to experience a five-star hotel – or a seven-star, if you’re in Dubai, go there for a drink or high tea as a special treat. You still get to enjoy the views, the ambience and the “Been there, Done that” rights..
- Airbnb is gaining popularity as a cheaper way to obtain holiday accommodation – by renting peoples’ home or space in their homes instead of book hotel rooms. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t say much on it.
4. Travel Hacking and Loyalty Points
The word “hacking” normally has negative connotations but travel hacking is a (legal) method of collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points – at an expedited rate - and using loopholes in the system to travel for free or for much less. As South Africans, we don’t have many opportunities to travel hack but there are some, like loyalty points.
I'm a big fan of loyalty points. If it's free, sign up for it by all means. If it comes with a price tag- well then, weigh the cost vs the benefit. Most airlines and large hotel groups have loyalty schemes. If you are going to use them anyway, why not accumulate some points while you’re at it.
5. Save on extra baggage costs
- Carry a luggage scale with you and check the weight of your baggage before going to the airport to see that your baggage is within the airline’s acceptable limit. You may need to leave those hotel soaps and shampoos behind.
- Carry a collapsible cloth bag in your luggage to accommodate the extra shopping you did. I had to buy an extra bag on holiday once or twice but now I always carry a collapsible cloth bag with me. Cape Union Mart has great collapsible knapsacks that fold into a size smaller than a knapsack.
6. Save on laundry
Do not use the hotel’s laundry service unless it’s really urgent or it’s free. Find a cheap self-service laundromat where you can do your laundry while on holiday. If you can’t find one, then wash your clothes yourself. I always carry some washing powder/detergent on long trips to wash essentials. If there is a bath tub I wash the clothes in there and if there isn’t I use the wash basin. Washing clothes also enables you to carry less luggage by wearing the ones you have with you more often.
7. Save money on food
- Stay in self-catering units if you can. There will usually be a supermarket nearby where you can stock up on groceries and other essentials to make your own food. This is particularly useful when travelling with children – who get hungry every hour - or if you have specific dietary requirements which you will best be able to cater for. It will be much cheaper than eating at restaurants.
- If you’re not an early riser, having a late breakfast and then an early evening meal allows you to save on one meal a day. Even if you are an early riser, have some coffee and rusk when you wake up then indulge in your hotel’s breakfast buffet as late as they will allow you to.
- Eat where the locals eat. Avoid the tourist trap restaurants in the busy tourist areas and see where the locals eat. The décor may not be the best but the food will be more authentic and the prices much more attractive. If you’re happy with the hygiene, experience the street food too.
8. Save money on transport
If the country you’re travelling to has a good public transport system, use it, by all means. We use the buses and the metro wherever we can. The schedules and routes are not difficult to figure out. Avoid taxis if you can. They are expensive and/or are likely to defraud you. If you have to use a taxi, make sure it’s metered (and the meter is on) and the taxi driver has agreed to charge the meter price.
Typical taxi woes include taxi drivers changing the price once you’ve reached your destination, telling you that they quoted you in US dollars which are much stronger than the local currency you thought you were being charged in and charging you extra for luggage which you were not told beforehand. I, and people I know, have been victims of these scams. So now, I avoid taxis as far as I can.
9. Save on communication
- Do not put your phone on roaming unless you are fully aware of the charges and are willing to accept them. My husband learnt this the hard way when he tried to use internet banking on roaming while in the Middle East. He incurred R4500 worth of data charges. I've heard of other people getting data charges of R50000 too.
- If you are on MTN or Vodacom you can put your phone on SMS roaming. Sending an SMS will cost you around R2,75 and receiving an SMS is free.
- Communicate with your loved ones using email and Skype. Most hotels have free wi-fi these days. If you have to phone someone on a phone, buy a local SIM card with airtime.
10. Save on travel agent fees - DIY
If you know what you’re doing, you can plan your trip yourself. Unless they’re selling a pre-packaged special deal for specific dates, travel agents usually add a high mark-up. They do remove the hassle factor though - usually - so you’d have to weigh the pros and cons. My Malaysia trip cost me R21 000 for a family of four for accommodation in four cities over three weeks and transfers from city to city. Travel agents were quoting me R35 000 for the same arrangements using similar hotels.
If you decide that you would prefer to go with a travel agent, then consider doing it this way - book your flights yourself, then find a reputable budget travel agent in the country you're visiting (via a reliable travel forum) and ask them for a quote. Chances are that they will be cheaper than a local travel agent.
Do you have any tips on how to travel on a budget? Please do share them in the comments below.
Subscribe to the "In Africa and Beyond" newsletter for more money-saving tips.
For tips on travelling with children, click here.
For the best accommodation deals , click here.