When public holidays roll around, Singaporeans are determined to get out of the country, no matter how much it costs them.
Those air tickets to Bali or Bangkok might cost 8 times more than they usually do, but when faced with the prospect of being the only loser at the office to have spent the long weekend at home, everyone panics and clicks the “buy” button.
Since you’re already paying inflated airline prices when you travel over public holidays and on long weekends, it’s tempting to promise yourself that you’ll be going on a budget trip to a country that’s way cheaper than Singapore so that the cost savings will make up for it.
If that’s the case, beware of these hidden costs that can easily derail your budget trip and turn that cheap weekend getaway into a money sink.
Not taking safety precautions when staying in shared rooms at hostels
You might be willing to stay in a flea-infested bunk just to cut costs, but be careful as your stay in shared accommodation might end up costing you more money than you first imagined if you don’t take all the necessary safety precautions to keep your stuff safe.
On a very basic level, that means buying a good lock for your backpack or duffle bag. You might also consider getting a bicycle chain to attach your backpack to your bed, if you’re particularly paranoid.
Of course, that’s not going to stop a determined thief from simply cutting the bag open. But out of all the other guests in the hostel room, the one who takes the most safety precautions is the least likely to be targeted. I’ve seen people staying at the same hostel as I was at who had lost their passport because they’d left it carelessly lying on the bunk.
Not talking to other travellers
If you’re on a package tour, you can continue travelling in your own little bubble, as all decisions will have been made for you in advance, from which sights to see to when you get to take toilet breaks.
But as a budget traveller, you can save quite a bit by interacting with the other backpackers around you.
For instance, when taking intercity buses in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, you often get deposited at bus stations which are not within walking distance of the city centre, where your accommodation presumably is. You’ll be met with a gaggle of tuk tuks and songthaews, who’ll be trying to overcharge you for the trip to town.
If you’re travelling alone or in a small group, the cheapest way to get to town is to share a tuk tuk with other tourists so you can split the cost of the ride. Whenever I travel alone, I’m always on the lookout for other tourists with whom I can share a vehicle.
For those who are travelling without pre-booking accommodation, other backpackers are a great source of information. They’re usually happy to share with you where they’re headed and how much they’re paying, which can save you from hours of wandering around under the hot sun or getting ripped off by checking into the first hostel or guesthouse you see.
Paying credit card transaction fees
So maybe you couldn’t make it to Mustafa to change your SGD into Thai baht or Malaysian ringgit, but you figure you’ll be fine, since the hotel and most restaurants accept credit cards.
Well, by swiping the plastic overseas, you’re actually incurring currency conversion and overseas transaction fees which will increase your overall spending by 2.5% to 3%. Here’s a breakdown of those fees elsewhere on MoneySmart.
This means that when you (okay not you, since you’re a budget traveller, right?) buy a $3,000 Prada handbag in Milan, you’re paying $75 to $90 more. If you change that money at a money changer, you’ll still lose a bit, but it will likely be significantly less.
Not pre-booking checked luggage when they need it
Most Singaporeans head to Bangkok to shop, and of course they take budget flights there. But the problem with these flights is they’re not going to let you onboard with that gigantic rainbow-coloured bag filled with Chatuchak Market buys. You’ll have to pay for luggage space to get that shipped back home.
If you check in your luggage at the time of booking on Tiger Airways, 15kg will cost you $20. BUT if you don’t book check-in luggage space in advance and then just show up at the airport, you’ll end up paying $50 for 15kg, and $25 for every excess kilogram. Ouch!
So what happens if you’re in Bangkok grabbing clothes off the rack at Platinum Mall and you realise you’re going to need to buy a new suitcase to fit all that stuff in? Or if you’ve stocked up on big bottles of SKII, which you won’t be able to take with you in your hand luggage because of the rules governing liquids?
Your best bet is to call the airline ahead of your departure and ask to be allowed to change your booking to include check-in luggage. Ask if you’ll be charged any fees for amending your booking first, so you can compare if it’d be cheaper than just showing up at the airport with your check-in luggage.
What other hidden costs have you ended up paying as a budget traveller? Tell us in the comments!