Get the most out of your travel budget
Cause getting stuck sans-cash OS is so not cool
You’ve no doubt heard stories of totally budget-shy renegades, traipsing the planet with little more than their charm and negotiation abilities to get them by. And of course there’s nothing wrong with sleeping head to toe with a fellow traveller (or two) in a backpacker van chock full of unwashed, three-week old attire. But if you like a few creature comforts and want to allay the stress that comes with travelling with minimal moula, then it’s worth doing a wee bit of planning.
If you’ve got a rough idea of where you’d like to go, what you’d like to do and for how long, now’s the time to embrace your inner bean counter and start planning your trip in minute, monetary detail. Start with consolidating your must-action expenses first (airfares, visas, immunisations and the like), separate your savings by category (accommodation, meals, transport, sightseeing and incidentals) and then try and formulate a per-day budget. And be realistic about what you can afford – money worries can be such a party kill.
Consider travelling a little slower – constantly flitting about from place to place will rapidly deplete cash, whereas planting yourself in the one spot for a bit will enable you to get a feel for the place. Where are the best cheap eats in town? Will your friendly hostel manager swing you a discount if you stay on an extra night or two? And budget for the unexpected – flights get delayed, credit cards magically disappear and your two planned days in the City of Love may just extend to a week-long adventure if you meet an interesting local.
Many websites and apps, such as Budget Your Trip, Saving For Travel and Trail Wallet can help you plan financially. Lonely Planet’s The Big Trip gives you sample prices of stuff like rooms and meals and TripIt, Trip Advisor, Expedia and Kayak are great all-round integrated trip management tools, that offer budget-saving tips on a host of stuff (like restaurants, hotels and entertainment) and offer reviews from like-minded travellers.
And when you’re ready to get packing, get your smarts on with apps like PackPoint and Packing Pro, that provide a customised checklist of must-haves (and tips on how to pack them efficiently), based on where you’re travelling to and for how long.
You’ve survived the flight, breezed your way through Customs and you’re ready to shoulder hitch that backpack and get amongst it. But before you blow a wad of cash on an airport shuttle bus or an insanely expensive taxi, calm the farm. Public transport can be a much more economical (and culturally eye-opening) option.
Most big cities have fantastic multi-transport networks and offer discounted travel passes for longer term commuting. And when prancing through Europe in particular, Eurail passes offer one of the cheapest and fastest ways to get around.
Scour produce markets for bulk-food buys and on-the-go refuelling and take advantage of any kitchen amenities in your accommodation that will allow you to cook up your own meals. And don’t buy water – pack your own BPA-free bottle and fill up at reputable sources.
Street vendors often sell superb provincial cuisine, but if you’re keen for a dine-in meal, keep an eye out for where the locals are eating – a packed restaurant often means great food (consider eating vegetarian meals too as they’re often the cheaper menu option). Consult apps like Foodspotting for takeaway favourites and cut back on excessive grog festing – it’s a cash burner. If you’re keen for a local beer or two, stick close to hostels and backpacker pubs.
Forget the palatial room-with-a-view, budget-conscious peeps should aim for homestays, locally run guest houses or hostels to rest their travel-weary bones. Consider a dorm-style room outside the city limits or round up a few fellow travellers and split the cost of a holiday house (and don’t forget your student card as it could score you a discount).
Apps like Hostelworld offer a comprehensive list of availabilities along with in depth reviews or for more unique overnight experiences check out Airbnb (castle accommodation anyone?) or the CouchSurfing website where you can connect with fellow bed seekers. And don’t be shy about asking for freebies – the aunty of your friend’s friend who lives in downtown New York might just have a spare fold-out you can pilfer for the night.
Check out local markets and out-of-the-way retail pockets for anything from oops-I-forgot-to-pack-it phone chargers to just-in-case spare undies and watch the souvenir stockpiling – apart from accumulating additional luggage for the return trip, that one of a kind wood carving from Bali will probably just end up collecting dust when you get home anyway.
And try your hand at haggling. Many countries embrace the art as part of the purchasing deal and it can be a lot of fun. So feel free to haggle your way to a bargain, but just don’t be too stingy about it.
Nut out a priority list of must-see/must-do stuff before you set out exploring. Many cities offer free activities and photo opportunities, ranging from complimentary museum tours to superb, million dollar views of national parks and iconic sites.
And nothing’s better than exploring a city on your own two feet. Consult Time Out for an in-depth summary of stuff to do in your destination of choice (then zone in on the freebies), Maplets offers you fantastic orientation towards quintessential landmarks and Google Maps can inspire with 360-degree street views. Or try renting a bike for a day – Citymapper’s a great resource for getting around on two wheels.
Be mindful of ATM fees (many banks charge not only their fees but OS withdrawal fees as well) by wadding up and carrying a bit of cash on you (but be mindful of pesky pick pocketers!) and diversify by keeping an ATM and a credit card in alternative hidey-holes. Prepare for currency conversion too – forget airports (mega-expensive) and keep up to date with exchange rates via apps like XE Currency.
Minimise mobile charges by keeping in touch with the folks back home via Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime and check wi-fi fees in your accommodation of choice before you go ballistic on Facebook to save on pesky charges.
And lastly, track your budget and do it daily if possible. Downloading your bank’s app to your mobile device is also a quick and easy way to monitor your savings and determine whether you’re going to have to place an emergency please-help-me-out Mum call while you’re away. Although with these tips on hand, you’ll be a budgetary maestro in no time. Also, check out some more of the best travel apps here.