I have yet to meet a Singaporean who hates travelling—mainly because for us, going to a foreign country can mean making a mere 30 minute drive across the Causeway.
But travel means different things for each of us. For that guy driving the Ferrari, travel could mean living in a six star hotel on a private island. For aunties and uncles, it could be a Chan Brothers package tour. For broke uni students, it could mean trying not to get attacked by bedbugs while backpacking. Whatever your style, here are some tips for bringing down the cost of your next trip.
Despite the fact that most Singaporeans will proudly declare that the best food in the world is found right here, eating overseas is one of our favourite past-times.
If you’re headed to Bangkok, Bali, Penang, Malacca or even London, Tokyo or New York, ask your Singaporean friends where to eat and you’ll be greeted with a list longer than an ah beng’s pinkie fingernail.
But chasing all those Michelin-starred restaurants can be expensive. Some advance planning, on the other hand, can save you a bit of cash.
- Check the Groupon site of the country you’re visiting. Dining offers can be much better than what we have in Singapore. For instance, on Groupon’s Italian site, authentic local restaurants (as opposed to the tourist traps surrounding the Trevi Fountain) often serve multiple course meals at up to 70% off. Tried, and can confirm many are good.
- Many restaurants offer lunch set menus that are cheaper than ordering à la carte or showing up during dinnertime. Check the restaurants’ websites beforehand or phone to ask.
- Don’t turn up your nose at street food, it’s often better than the real thing. A bowl of pho on the streets of Hanoi is usually way more flavourful than its equivalent at Pho 24, a chain in the same city. It also costs ¼ of the price.
- If you’re in a touristy area and all the restaurants look like overpriced, ersatz versions of the real thing, ask a local where to eat and you’ll usually find yourself in a much better, cheaper local place. I’ve used this trick in many places and so far it’s not failed me.
To most Singaporeans, our neighbouring Southeast Asian countries offer the chance to experience luxury on a budget, since the price of five star properties here is enough to make anyone actually see stars.
But luxury travel, while cheaper in some countries, isn’t exactly all that cheap. That villa with a private pool in Bali may not cost thousands, but $200 a day is still not a small sum of money. Lowering the price of luxury travel isn’t about bargaining, but it about meticulous planning.
- Never book directly with the hotel or resort—unless you want to pay the highest possible price. Many big resorts in Southeast Asia put themselves on booking sites like Agoda and Booking, so trawl through the listings. When you find a property you like, check the prices on multiple sites. If you are very lucky, you can even get up to 90% off the sticker price of a five star property, although the typical discount hovers at around 40% to 70%.
- Never blindly pay with the first credit card that comes to mind or, worse, use a debit card when making hotel bookings. First check if any of your credit cards give you discounts on any of the major booking sites. For instance, POSB and DBS cardholders get 5% to 7% off hotel bookings on Agoda. Next, check if any of your credit cards give you cashback for online or travel-related bookings—for instance, OCBC ‘s Frank credit card gives you 6% cashback for online bookings.
- Travel in a larger group to save more per person. A group of three is often ideal for room bookings, as an extra bed can usually be brought in for the third person. If you are travelling in a larger group of 4 to 6, you can even book a suite or a big bungalow to share.
See that person trying to check in the giant bag bulging with shopping at the airport? He’s probably Singaporean.
Not content with shopping on Orchard Road, Singaporeans also know all the best places to shop overseas. Whether they’re piling their arms high with Godiva chocolate boxes in Belgium, snapping up expensive watches in Switzerland, pulling tshirts and sundresses off the rack in Bangkok, stuffing their suitcases with face masks in Korea or trying to save the European economy at Chanel or Prada, Singaporean shoppers are proud of their ability to spend money anywhere.
- If you’re an inveterate shopper, never go on holiday without first researching the prices and converting currencies in your destination. This stops you from spending a fortune on clothes overseas, only to discover the same brands are even cheaper in Singapore, or that you somehow omitted a zero in all your currency conversions. Check out this article elsewhere on MoneySmart about where you should go to buy what.
- Do extensive research for big ticket purchases unless you want to get cheated or overcharged. For instance, if you want to buy a digital camera in Japan, do some sleuthing beforehand by asking friends who currently live there or posting questions on forums to find out how much your model should cost, and where a good place to buy it would be. Remember that we’re not the only ones with Jover Chew-type characters.
- Time your trip for sales if you’re really serious about shopping. For instance, the Hong Kong seasonal sales in winter and summer have taken on legendary status in Singapore.
- Using the right credit card for overseas spending can help you to gain additional benefits, especially if you don’t intend to change that much cash. Getting a good cashback card like the ANZ Optimum World MasterCard Credit Card, which gives 5% cashback on shopping even on overseas spend can help to defray some of the transactional costs from overseas shopping. Alternatively, air miles cards like the ANZ Travel Visa Card give a higher miles accrual rate ($1 = 2.8 miles) for spend in Australia and New Zealand so you gain miles faster.
Which of the above categories do you fall under? Tell us in the comments!