How to Travel on Budget
How much to budget per day on a week-long holiday or epic round-the-world trip is the million dollar question. The answer is intensely personal, of course, and depends on various circumstances. These top tips, however, apply to just about every type of traveller.
If you’re light on your feet, you won’t be light in the wallet. Packing light not only makes a ton of sense but will save you loads of trouble at the airport. If you can avoid checking luggage altogether, more power to you. There’s nothing like stepping off a plane and heading straight for customs and the exit, right past all the suckers at the baggage carousel.
Watch the currency exchanges
You may not save a fortune by nitpicking over currency exchanges but a little resourcefulness goes a long way. Pinch a penny here, pinch a penny there and next thing you know, you’ve got enough for an extra pint or two.
Avoid high seasons
Ah, the herd mentality. Nothing dooms a trip more than the presence of a zillion other tourists looking to fulfill the exact same holiday fantasy. It’s not always possible to visit Venice in January, New York City in March or Bali in November but those that make the effort probably benefit from lower prices and, unquestionably, less people on the ground.
One simple question: “How much?”
It’s amazing how often we forget to ask how much something costs, whether it’s a restaurant meal, a souvenir, a bus ticket, a pint or a cup of coffee. Don’t take anything for granted while abroad, especially if you’re visiting a mega-popular destination or a prominent member of the “most expensive city” list, like a Zurich, Oslo, London or Tokyo.
Dine with locals
Locals aren’t keen on getting gouged at mealtime and tend to know where to get the best bang for their buck. You’d think hotels would be a wellspring of helpful information on this score but contrary to popular opinion, a lot of concierges (especially those in big cities who work at big hotels) get greased and receive payola or favours on the regular. As such, they aren’t always the most trustworthy when it comes to recommendations. I prefer to do my research on the web – local, independent blogs are best – and with ordinary folks like cabbies, store clerks and the like. If you can hook up some connections with a chef, sommelier or restaurant manager, by all means, don’t hesitate. Cooks hate to eat badly and know where to go after hours.
I’m not a fan of cynical bargaining in order to prove a point and screw over a poor local artisan in the process. But there comes a time when haggling makes absolute sense and, moreover, is totally expected by the other party.
Think small and limit your movements
A few years ago I spent several weeks in Galicia, Spain. I was lambasted by a lot of friends and family for not jetting over to Asturias, Barcelona, Basque Country, the Costa Brava et al (even though I’d been to those places in the past) but, to be honest, I preferred keeping it tight and compact. Not only did I get to know Galicia, an absolutely dynamite region of Spain, intimately, I also saved a lot of cash by not voyaging out too far. I simply hopped from town to town, village to village, until it was time to circle back and fly home. The trip was surprisingly cheap – even more so because I did it off-season in March and April.
It’s super handy to have a low interest credit card but keeping a stash of bills on you (discreetly now) is crucial.
Take public transport
An obvious tip but one a lot of snobby tourists ignore. Why isn’t the local bus or train good enough? Hired cars cost a lot and blow holes in the budget like you wouldn’t believe. Plus, you take way better stories home with you when you ride with residents.
To tip or not to tip
It isn’t always necessary to leave a tip and, indeed, may come across as an insult. Save money, and face, by researching local tipping customs beforehand.
Book hotels wisely
You’ll save a bundle on accommodations if you show a little initiative. How? Book a room with HotelClub and get up to 7% back. More beer money for the old travel budget? Sounds brilliant to me.