I thought I would rock this article on vacations. I’m the king of cheap vacations. But then they discovered my idea of budget flights involves duct taping myself to an airplane, and that I consider 24 hour McDonald’s outlets to be viable hotel rooms. Apparently, my cost savings methods are uncomfortable and, 90% of the time, life threatening. So I’ve toned things down for mortal (i.e. not me) people: The following article gives tips on travelling cheap, while staying safe and comfy.
1. Avoid Peak Periods
Hotels vary their prices across the year. In Singapore, for example, hotel prices shift between expensive, over-priced, and just-mug-me.
In many parts of Asia, peak season is between late November to early January. For other places, check travel guides or sites like Offseason. Apart from halving your accommodation costs, going off-peak provides other advantages:
- Scenic sites won’t be crowded with other tourists.
- Hotels won’t be choked with other guests, which might mean better service.
- In some countries, crime sprees parallel tourist seasons. It’s not coincidental.
- Transport is easier when there aren’t a million other tourists.
Transport costs (e.g. rail travel) sometimes decrease during off-peak periods as well.
2. Use Room Sharing
Save on accommodation by squeezing as many people into a room as the hotel (and physics) will allow. Bring sleeping bags and have four people in a two person room. The more people there are, the more ways you can split the tab. And the more likely that gang of meth-head bikers won’t murder you, if it’s a cheap motel room.
Always e-mail ahead and ensure the hotels allows room sharing. Never assume this is the case: I’ve had accommodation costs suddenly triple, because of hotels (and 24 hour McDonald’s outlets) that are strict on policy. Keep the e-mail, because the receptionist might try to change the story when you get there.
3. Bargain With the “Already Booked” Trick
When a hotel asks to confirm your booking, tell them you’re already booked somewhere else. Say that:
“I’m just looking around for a better deal. If you can get me a lower price, or an upgrade or anything, I’d consider switching.”
Try to call or e-mail a range of different hotels. In my experience, they’re always eager to price war each other. Just be wary if the discount sounds too good: You don’t want the kind of roach motel where you’ll find a dead junkie stuffed in the wardrobe.
There’d be no space for your clothes.
4. Packing Heavy
Some people will tell you to pack light. I suspect these people of being rich, because they must be buying anything they end up needing.
When you pack too light, you usually spend more. Extra socks when you lose a pair, painkillers for the inevitable headache , a pair of gloves because the temperature dropped…it all adds up. With extensive preparation (i.e. packing heavy, with redundancies) you can avoid all that.
Locally, you know where to get the cheapest prices. You know where to get the cheapest suntan, the cheapest Panadol, etc. Once your abroad, you’re at the mercy of whatever store is in the vicinity. So get your supplies together before you fly.
Also, if your suitcase already sends the bellboy to the trauma ward, you’ll be disinclined to shop.
5. Avoid Group Tours
Group tours aren’t really cheaper; they just feel more secure. If you don’t know the joy of seeing a map with names you can’t pronounce, let alone identify, then skip this tip. Likewise, go with groups if you think language will be a problem.
But if you can be independent, you’ll save a bundle. Many tour agencies tout hotel discounts; but with research and bargaining, these are discounts you can get yourself. Likewise, many tour agents get kickbacks or commissions from tourist traps. They won’t take you to the best restaurant, for example, but the one that gives them the biggest cut.
Think of the overpriced stores and restaurants we have locally. If you wouldn’t walk into them here, why would you visit their counterparts overseas? Well a tour group is going to take you straight to those overpriced holes.
6. Check Your Phone Plan
Make sure you know your data plan. Or you can be the next guy who gets a $270,000+ phone bill. If you’re not sure, just shut off your data roaming altogether. Do you really have to download Angry Birds while touring Egypt? And considering you’re on vacation, the e-mails can wait.
When it comes to phone calls, check your outgoing call costs. If it’s too high, download apps like Hoiio or use Skype. There are plenty of alternatives to your standard phone plan, and almost all are better deals. As a very last resort, see if buying a prepaid phone card over there is cheaper.
7. Don’t Drive to the Airport
Do your best not to leave your car at the airport. Take a look at the parking fees, and listen hard. Hear that whining noise? That’s your wallet. Because it’s about $20 a day. Even if you live in Jurong, any vacation beyond three days more than justifies the cab fares.
Besides, can you imagine forgetting where you parked? That place is freaking huge. There’re probably whole tribes of lost nomads in there, still looking for their cars.
Got any money saving tips for vacations? Comment and let us know!
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