As a student, you had to watch in envy as your schoolmates with rich daddy’s sent them globetrotting across Europe for their “Grad-Trip”.
As a working adult today, cash still seems tight. Whatever salary comes in seems to go out just as fast. After-all, keeping up appearances, trying to look like you’ve got something going for you in life doesn’t come cheap. There’s always that car loan or a “lifestyle” you want to portray that’s draining your savings account.
Or maybe you just have a family, kids and elderly parents to pay for.
Regardless, you’d love to travel the world. The trouble is, you can’t afford to anything more than the occasional Bangkok getaway or a once a year vacation somewhere further away.
(Above) Enjoying a beer in Cartagena, Colombia
“The Girl” & I travel every 3 months to far flung destinations; Africa, Europe, even as far as South America. But what's baffling, is that we spend pretty much the same as most Singaporeans who make it their goal to travel to a far-flung destination at least once a year; just that in our case, we get to travel 4 times more, for the same amount.
As a ballpark I’d say we spend between S$10,000 – S$12,000 a year on vacations every year; not overly excessive. We have friends who spend that amount and more in just one trip. Considering we get 4 far-flung destinations out of that same amount; I’d say we’re doing pretty okay.
Today’s post is not about how to save money or get out of debt to travel. I already have a post on that.
“I saved S$100,000 In Just 1 Year To Travel The World. Here's How...”.
Rather, this post is for those of you who have already allocated funds to spend on your vacation in 2020. After reading this, it’s likely you’ll be able to score a few more vacations in a year just like what we’re doing. If you fall into this group, we have 25 great travel tips for you, from the planning stage till the end of your trip.
So, here goes.
[The Planning Stage]
1. The Hierarchy of Expenses
Your "choice of destination" is the largest factor that determines how much you save. Obviously I don't mean visit Asia instead of Europe. But if you are planning a vacation in Europe, I'm saying, instead of Switzerland, visit Georgia. And instead of Paris, visit Kiev. You get my drift. There are similar alternatives at 10 times less the cost.
"Air - Ticket's & your choice of accommodation" make up the next 2 biggest costs.
Choosing a flight with 1 stopover could be as much 70% cheaper than a direct flight. Not withstanding promotions, Singapore to LA costs an average of S$1,500 direct. Choose another airlines with one stopover and it costs as low as $750!
When we first started traveling, we cut costs by staying in Hostel dorms. Today, we too prefer to pay more for privacy. And I get it, who wouldn't want to have their own room? But considering you're going to be out sightseeing the whole day and likely won't be in bed till dark, how much is 8 hours of sleep really worth? Go for private rooms in hostels instead of hotels. They are at least 50% cheaper, and you still get your privacy. And yes, they are clean.
There's no need to cut corners on food or activities as long as you stick to this hierarchy. If you don't plan your trip with this hierarchy in mind, no amount of penny pinching in other areas will help you save anything significant on your next trip.
2. Mr & Mrs Right
(Above) Exploring the tobacco fields in the valley's of Vinales, Cuba
Right time, Right Place.
When choosing your next travel destination, consider if it is "Peak Period" or is it "off season". If you want to visit Kenya to witness the Wildebeest Migration, you obviously need to pay top dollar because you have to go during peak periods. But if your idea of a vacation is to take a selfie by the Eiffel Tower so you can post it on Instagram, you might want to go in the "off season" when prices are cheaper.
Regardless, there's always something to enjoy. Tell me, is Norway best visited in summer so you can should you can enjoy its magnificent Fjords or should you visit it in Winter so you can see the Northern Lights? The "Right Place" is what you make it out to be. Just plan it such that it falls within the off-season.
If January for instance was the only time you could go on a holiday. Instead of insisting on visiting say England, your dream destination where it would be dreary and cold; why not visit Portugal or Spain instead? Still off season, which means cheaper prices, but better weather and still a European vacation.
Oh, don't bother about the "right day" for booking flights. It's a myth that tickets are cheaper on a Tuesday or over the weekend. There's never been a substantial enough evidence to back up the "cheapest day" to book tickets.
3. Three Is Not A Crowd. Four Is The Best.
(Above) Guys road-trip across Kazakhstan.
As much as I advocate solo traveling, the truth is, traveling alone while a rewarding experience, almost always, results in more money spent. Traveling in a group allows you to share not just experiences, but also costs.
On a couple of my "all guys trips" to Africa and Central Asia, we were able to order a wide variety of food and share it among us without breaking the bank or wasting food.
I saved more hundreds of dollars on car rentals traveling together with friends instead of having to paying an obscene amount of money like I did when I had to rent a car in the Middle East on a solo trip.
The benefits of traveling in groups are not just limited to food and car rental. It applies to getting discounts on tours and even accommodation. I remember being able to cut the price of a tour to the DR Congo down from $900 to 700 because there were four of us, and if they didn’t give $200 discount per head, they’d be saying no to $2800. They budged.
When traveling, solo is good, but there is always “strength in numbers”.
4. Chose The “Correct” Travel Destination
(Above from left) Tunisia, Colombia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Lithuania, Poland, Morocco.
There is obviously no “Correct” travel destination. But just as there are countries that offer “more attractions” than others, there are countries that “cost less” than others for a vacation.
The “Correct” travel destination, is the one destination that offers something relatively similar, but at a lower cost.
For instance, if you wanted to experience “sleeping in camp surrounded by sand dunes and a night full of stars”. You could visit Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Mongolia, Jordan, and even Australia. Each of those countries could offer you a desert camping experience that wouldn’t be too far off from each other. The key difference? Cost.
Unless you’re a professional skier on a quest to conquer the toughest ski slopes of the world, what’s the difference between European skiing holiday in Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Georgia, Italy, Ukraine, and in France? The snow covered slopes of all these countries are just as beautiful and offer a variety of slopes. The key difference? Cost.
5. Have An Actual Plan
Backpackers will say, “nah, an itinerary is too restrictive, I prefer to make things up along the way”. And we totally agree with that, we like to be spontaneous and make things along the way as well, else “A Girl & A Bald Traveller” would be about boring package tours.
But regardless of how rewarding “spontaneous” travel is, you must have a skeleton itinerary to work with. You could leave one or 2 days empty to “hang around the region”, but unless you’re like on of those people who quit their jobs to go traveling full time, an itinerary ensures there is less chance of you screwing up, missing a bus, a train, or even a flight; resulting in more money being spent, or worse, time wasted backtracking.
The above picture shows a simple excel sheet we used for our trip to Colombia. It’s states clearly the number of days we have and the budget we should keep to each day but doesn’t dictate exactly what we need to eat or do.
Poor planning can be costly. Ever missed a train in Europe which resulted in an extra S$100 spent buying another ticket?
We advocate being strict (with a plan) while remaining spontaneous (in your day). If you don’t execute your plan the way you were supposed to, you leave more room for screw ups. It’s a waste of time making plans you aren’t intending to keep. You might as well just buy your air tickets and start making your decisions on the plane.
6. Less Is More
Don’t take my word for it. Walk to any travel fair in Suntec city or tour agency in China Town and have a look at their “Itineraries”. The trouble with them is not simply because they cram 5 to 6 countries over a two week period, but because too much money (and time) is spent on getting around, and travel plans that span across a continent is purely dumb planning that’s bound to increase costs.
Now, “The Girl” and I do our share of country hopping, as well, but we limit our “country hopping” based on a few criteria. Just a fraction of our criteria related to “this particular point” would be;
How close are they to each other?
How many “key attractions/experiences” does that country have to offer?
How much time and money will I waste on transport?
How “direct” is getting from on country to the other?
Should I combine one “big country” with a “small one”?
The “top left” picture shows a sample itinerary offered by a certain “tour agency” in Singapore. This tour stretches from Italy, across Switzerland, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, before finally ending in Paris, France. 7 Countries in a 2 weeks, that’s insane.
The “top right” is proper country hopping planning, across Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, all situated in an “oval”, with multi city flights available, no backtracking required, cheap, with direct overnight trains which save both time and money”.
The “bottom left” shows a straight line trip across the 3 Baltic countries, and “the bottom right” shows a round trip across South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland”, both which fit the above considerations.
That's how trip planing should be. Less is more.
7. The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Catch The Worm
There is this myth that those who book early are rewarded.Many people I know make the mistake of flights, hotels, months or even a year in advance. While there certainly are promotions for booking early, there are even BETTER promotions for booking late (as long as it isn’t peak period).
Think about it, a hotel with 20 empty rooms earns zero income. With each day that passes, it is less likely that the room will be filled (if it hasn’t been booked already). In Kazakhstan (and in many other countries around the world), we just walked into a hotel and bargained on the basis that the room would be empty anyway. If they gave us a 50% discount, they would earn something as opposed to nothing. We got the deal.
The same logic applies for flights, hotels, cruises, and even tour companies. The above picture shows a sample of last minute deal available on a Caribbean Cruise Line. Still think it’s best to book early? Think again.
[Pre - Trip]
8. Avoid Money Changers
(Above) The YouTrip Card we now swear by because of their fantastic rates.
I've seen Singaporeans queue anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for the "Best" rates. Now, in one of my earlier posts, I did a comparison on the best and worst money changers in Singapore. And in short, the difference between a good rate and a standard rate is usually insignificant.
By insignificant, I mean you (indicatively depending on the currency) save around S$10 for every S$1,000. I don't know about you, but unless you're changing S$5,000 and above, it's pretty silly to queue for 30 mins just to save that measly amount. If a few tens of dollars was all that painful, you wouldn't be paying of S$200 for 8 hours of sleep in an expensive hotel.
On my recent trip, I remember being so busy with work that I forgot to change my SGD to USD. On the day of my flight, I simply walked to the nearest money changer, dug out S$1,000, and requested for USD. The money changer quoted me a spread of at least 300 basis points from spot rate, that meant that instead of getting USD 740 for my S$1,000, I received USD 717.
Fortunately, there is the YouTrip card. A card that lets you swipe for dinners, accommodation, tours, and pretty much anything while giving you a rate very close to spot. This means, no more long queues at money changers to just to save a pittance! No more receiving ridiculous spreads!
We only just started using it this year, in Colombia, Mexico, and the USA. It works, it’s safe, and best of all, we can carry less cash on us because you have to transfer the funds from your bank account first before swiping. It makes travelling safer!
9. Cash, Card, Pre-Payment
(Above) Left over currency from our earlier trips.
Before I travel, I create an excel sheet (you’d have seen in it my other posts) to give me a indication of exactly what I’ve already paid for, what I should be swiping a card to pay for, and how much cash I should be changing.
This sounds a lot like common sense; but sometimes, common sense isn’t common practice. I know many people who just change a ballpark figure on the pretext that “you’ll probably need to use it again someday on a future trip”.
Wrong. The more money you carry, the more risk you take, the more you’re tempted to spend (because on holiday means just whack) on things you don’t need, and unknowingly (but surely) having more cash in your wallet makes you “feel” more “laissez faire” with the way you spend on your trip.
So yes, decide on your payment modes and allocate/change your funds accordingly BEFORE your trip.
10. Pre Trip Checklist
(Above) The checklist we use to ensure we set off for vacation with everything in order.
You won’t realize it, but poor preparation BEFORE your trip creates mistakes that will cost you DURING your trip. That results in spending unnecessary money to “right those wrongs”.
“The Girl” and I created a “Pre-Trip” checklist for ourselves to ensure the chance of us making mistakes is reduced. For instance;
Not printing your air-tickets and having a physical copy on you could result in you missing your flight becaus