Travel is one of life’s great pleasures, but it can be a very expensive pastime.
For those looking to cut expenses on their next trip, without curtailing any of the enjoyment, here are a few simple ideas to make your cash go further.
Take the road less travelled
Instagram is filled with images of jaw-droppingly gorgeous places that we all want to see. However, many of these locations are very expensive to get to, or cost a fortune once there. So, instead of heading to see bucket-list destinations, look for places a little more off the beaten path.
Budget airlines are excellent for this, as most connect to smaller, less busy airports and cities, making it easier to find new places to explore. Likewise, train journeys can offer access to places not served by airlines.
Stay for more than two nights
With limited time to see as much as possible, a large proportion of visitors will stay in one place for only one night. A better option is to use the same hotel as a base to explore the wider area, because staying for three or more nights will often bring down the room rate.
Many hotels and guesthouses reward those looking for an extended stay with a cheaper rate. In the UAE, for example, many hotels offer discounts for bookings of several nights. Check the property’s website for special deals.
Book your breakfast
This is such an easy way to cut down on your daily food spend. Eat a hearty breakfast before heading out to explore, cutting out the need for expensive snacks en route and setting you up for a busy day of exploring ahead.
Use local transport or walk
The best, and cheapest, way to get to know a new city or area is on foot, so put on your most comfy shoes and fire up Google Maps. If walking doesn’t appeal to you (or the weather isn’t conducive), try the local bus or metro system.
The same applies when travelling from the airport to your hotel and vice versa. Or, look for properties that offer an airport pick-up with the room rate.
Invest in a cultural pass
Many major cities offer a pass granting access to several museums and attractions, so for those looking to hit numerous cultural sites during their stay, this is an excellent way to save money.
You can often find one catering to your specific interests, too. For example, in Spain, the Barcelona Card offers free entry to more than 25 museums and attractions, discounts at more than 70 sites (from cultural stops to tours and restaurants) and the opportunity to skip the line in some areas, as well as free use of public transport. The city’s Articket Barcelona Museum Pass, on the other hand, covers entry to six of its top art museums, with fast-track entry and admission for both temporary and permanent exhibitions.
You also might be able to visit cultural sites for free, depending on where you are. In Florence, it is free entry to most of the major museums on the first Sunday of each month, while in Seoul, anyone dressed in the traditional hanbok gets free entry to museums and palaces.
Eat street food
Eating street food (and choosing it carefully) is an amazing way to connect to the local culture, wherever you are. Look for places that are busy with locals — not tourists — as this means the food is good, while the high turnover of customers ensures everything is freshly prepared. But use your common sense. Raw foods such as sushi, for example, should never be gambled on. Remember, it’s usually the rice or ice that gets you.
Don’t eat out in a tourist area
While the idea of eating lunch overlooking the Colosseum in Rome is the stuff of dreams, be warned you will pay handsomely for the privilege. The cafes facing the Duomo in Florence, for example, will charge several times the going rate for a cappuccino than those in other areas of the city.
Take the time to dig out little coffee bars, cafes and restaurants on the backstreets of major cities. Just as with street food, look for places where the locals are eating. It will be better fare and at least half the price.
Use local supermarkets
Don’t rely on room service for your nibbles and refreshments — just ask for directions to the local supermarket instead and buy whatever you need there. Not only is this putting money straight into the local economy, but it will be a fraction of the price. Likewise, never, ever eat the snacks in the hotel minibar, as the mark-up tends to be astronomical.
Carry a refillable water bottle
Buying bottled water not only perpetuates pollution, but the mark-up is often eye-watering. Add up the cost of water on a two-week trip and it will easily cover the cost of a meal. Where possible, stay properly hydrated by bringing your own bottle and refilling using tap water (only if it’s safe to drink in the country) or public fountains that you’ll find in many cities across the world.
Airline prices are undoubtedly higher since the pandemic, as the travel industry tries to claw back the billions it has lost, yet there are still cheaper options available. Taking a flight at an antisocial hour will always give a lower price, for example. Likewise, for train and bus journeys, look for overnight sleeper tickets. The novelty of waking up as the world whizzes past the window makes for an interesting adventure.
Stay for free with locals
In some countries, this is a well-established way to travel. In Nepal, for example, those hiking many of the mountain trails can stay in local homes, paying only for the food consumed. If this is how you travel, be careful not to abuse it, however. Give your host a fair price for the food and leave a good tip. If your host looks embarrassed at this gesture, offer it as a gift for the children instead.
Haggle at markets
For those born in non-haggling nations, having to argue the price of everything can be mystifying and even a little exhausting. Yet, haggling is part and parcel of the culture in many countries.
As a guest in someone else’s country, first accept that you will never get the same price as locals, so accept this with grace. Any visitor to Marrakesh in Morocco, Stone Town in Zanzibar or Istanbul in Turkey, for example, will ensure you understand that bettering the street vendors is impossible, so slash the astronomical starting price by a third, keep smiling and do your best. You will inevitably end up paying more than you should for the item, but you will get tea and a great chat for free.
Portofino in Italy is exquisite in the summertime, but the streets will be humming with tourists and struggling through the crowds will take the shine off the experience. Instead, go outside of peak season if you can as it can result in substantial savings across the board.
Flights will be cheaper, as will hotels and even shops, as all try to entice the smaller pool of visitors. Bethlehem, for example, is packed during the festive season, while Rome is akin to a human zoo during August. Be brave and flip these around. Bethlehem is cool during the summer, while Rome is beautiful in February.
Don’t only follow guidebooks
Unless you have a burning need to stand in a queue for an hour to take exactly the same photograph as everyone else, avoid doggedly following the itinerary laid out in a guidebook. While useful for gathering information, they should be seen as a starting place, rather than a definitive how-to.
There are exceptions to this, of course, such as londonxlondon.com, which offers up a list of 56 quirky things to see across the city, some of which are so wildly offbeat even most Londoners will never have heard of them.
Ask the locals for advice
Need a taxi? Ask hotel staff for guidance on what a decent tourist price should be. Better yet, ask them to book the taxi for you, tell you the price in advance and save on arguments later.
Most regions that rely on tourism have a short window of opportunity to make enough money to last a year, so there will always be those willing to exploit the clueless, be it in Beirut or Bangkok. Arm yourself with information ahead of time on what reasonable prices should be, remembering that, as a tourist, you are always likely to pay more.
Likewise, if you want to find somewhere interesting to eat, ask around for the best food in the neighbourhood. Too often it is assumed tourists want to eat familiar food, surrounded by other tourists, so asking a local where he or she would eat can open up a whole new conversation and take you to places that you might never have found otherwise.
Updated: January 02, 2023, 10:15 AM