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How to Save Money While Travelling

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You might have noticed I do a wee bit of travel. Funnily enough, it doesn’t always cost as much as others think it does. Yes, I do get the luxury of discounted flights, but I did many trips before this was a reality. People always asked me – how do you manage to travel so often? What is your secret? This is no magical formula for saving money, but I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that might help you make your travel dollar go further. So here it is – my advice on how to save money while travelling!

Check out whether it’s cheaper to go for an AirBnB or a Hotel

In some countries, it can actually be more expensive to rent an AirBnB, or frankly, more difficult. For example, when we visited Barcelona earlier this year, the AirBnB’s left were in mediocre locations, and we managed to snag a cheap hotel right in the city centre. We also could leave our bags with the concierge early in the day, something we couldn’t do in an AirBnB. You can compare the cost of a hotel versus an AirBnB online for many major cities.

Comfort, cleanliness, cost, location (or public transport accessibility) – it’s not only about the money!

When I visited Gatwick recently, I managed to snag a great deal at the Gatwick Ibis Hotel, which was surprisingly well appointed. However, it was 20 minutes bus ride from Gatwick Airport, the bus only went every 40 minutes, and it cost 3 pounds for each ride. I had to drop off my bag, get back to the airport to catch the train to see friends, then get back to the hotel that night, and back to the airport the next morning! It would have been easier, and not much dearer – taking into account all the bus rides – to book the airport hotel located right at the terminal.

Regardless of criticism, I’ve always found TripAdvisor to be the best source of information on the cleanliness and comfort of hotels, and how easy it is to get around. If a hotel is not near a city centre, that isn’t the end of the world – but make sure you can access public transport easily and quickly. You should also make sure there are eating and drinking outlets nearby, or ensure you take food with you back to the hotel.

Remember – there are not that many locations in the world where you go for the experience of staying in a hotel. You go on holiday to see a city, and to sleep – NOT to spend time at your accommodation! The exceptions are, of course, when you go on a vacation to a resort or island – such as the Maldives – where it is impractical to leave the resort everyday. However, too many people get hung up at staying in a fancy hotel, when really, you are going to see the sights – not the hotel spa.

How to Save Money While Travelling

Check what you credit card can do

We bank with EmiratesNBD in Dubai, and this gets us complimentary access to LoungeKey lounges worldwide. I’ve visited about 30 of these lounges in the past year and a half, and it’s a great way to save on food. If you’re flying on a budget airline, stock up on lounge snacks before you leave! You may also be covered for travel insurance on your credit card, but you should always check the fine print – as with any insurance.

Never eat at the hotel if you can avoid it

Unless they’re offering a pretty hefty discount for guests, or you are located in the middle of nowhere with nothing around (which shouldn’t be the case, if you read my advice on location!), don’t eat at the hotel. Particularly avoid the breakfast buffet, as most people will never get enough food out of it to justify the price. The only time I can think where it is worthwhile to have the buffet is if you manage to find an amazing one with lots of offerings, and they run it until lunchtime. Go at about 11 and have brunch!

Over-budget

This is a bit controversial, and might not work for everyone (including my husband). But I over-budget when working out my holiday expenditure. Why? Because it generally means I underspend, and I don’t have to stress about falling short. Alternatively, it means you have more money towards your next trip. The downside is that a larger budget might make it harder to decide to travel in the first place, but it has always worked for me. Add around 15-20% to the costs that are likely to be variable (food, transport, attractions) and see how you find it.

How to Save Money While Travelling

Book airport transfers, or Uber/MyTaxi

If there is efficient public transport to get to and from the hotel to an airport or train station, use it as a matter of course. If things are a bit more tricky, use an online taxi app to compare the cost of an airport transfer and a taxi fare. If they work out about the same, go for the transfer – it will nearly always be quicker, and they’ll have your address information in advance. There is no reason for them to take a longer route, as the price will be fixed. To get back to the airport, or get around the city, try Uber ahead of a local cab. They’re usually infinitely more reliable, and less likely to take you on a wild goose chase. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but generally, it’s the savings you make in not being ripped off in an Uber that makes it worthwhile.

Ease up on the drinks

Don’t worry – I’m not advising that you don’t drink anything (although I’ve enjoyed plenty of non-drinking holidays). However, if you set yourself a limit of, say, two drinks, you will notice a big difference in spending. If you are staying in a nice hotel, bring along a nice bottle of duty free. You might have to drink it out of a plastic cup, but hey, the price is right!

Take your own food

There is nothing wrong with taking a few snacks along with you on a trip. When visiting Iceland and the Azores, we made our own packed lunches to take out with us, saving both time and money. I don’t do this for many trips, but there are times when it makes sense. It’s also useful if you have a very strict diet, or you struggle to find specific foods overseas. Besides, keeping a few snack bars in your purse can help ward off unnecessary sugary purchases. If you have a jug and tea/coffee at your hotel, and are staying somewhere cold, you can even take a thermos so you can wander with a warm drink.

How to Save Money While Travelling

Get out those walking shoes

I know this seems obvious, but many international cities are made for walking. I can walk up to 25kms a day around a major city, and I love it. You see so much more this way than on a subway, and you save money. If you don’t want to walk too far, maybe catch a subway or bus to the furtherest point you will go, and walk back. Dress appropriately – not necessarily fashionably, and wear decent shoes – and you’ll be amazed how far you can get.

Never pay for any extras on budget airlines

With the exception of baggage charges – which are impossible to avoid – don’t pay for anything extra on a budget airline. Lounge access, priority boarding, extra legroom, seat assignment – it’s all a waste of money. If you had wanted to go in style, you never would have booked a budget carrier. My advice is – never book a budget airline for a flight of four hours or more. For four hours, you can take your own food and water, tolerate the limited legroom, and sit wherever they place you. And always remember to take into account the cost of getting to and from the second-tier airports that are commonly used by low-cost carriers. This can sometimes double your costs, and make it cheaper to go full-fare to a major airport well connected by public transport.

Don’t go shopping – or limit gifts and souvenirs

Unless you are going on a shopping holiday, don’t go crazy. Holiday purchases – particularly clothing – have a way of looking less lovely when you get them home. I limit my purchases to a fridge magnet at each destination, and occasionally, some other item of interest. It’s lovely to buy gifts for others while overseas. Just remember that the gift might not mean the same to someone who hasn’t been there! Don’t spend hours, and lots of money, buying gifts for everyone under the sun. If you must, focus on a few small, special gifts. Look for things that are unique and handmade. If the item you are looking at is available at every second souvenir stall, it’s pretty obvious it is mass produced. My favorite are the sand jars you can get anywhere in the Middle East – the wording just changes to whichever city you are in!

How to Save Money While Travelling

Do some research – you can’t do everything in every place – pick what you really want to do

This is a big one. One of the things I’ve learnt while travelling is that there is no point trying to do everything. You’ll not only tire yourself out, you probably won’t enjoy it all. Plus, it will cost you a bomb. In Lisbon recently, we spent days wandering around, but didn’t pay to enter any of the buildings. We didn’t want to, and we’re quite happy with the arrangement. We had a great time anyway. Instead, we spent our money on a sailing boat trip around the river harbour instead. Think about the things you really want to see and do. Prioritise your time and your spending.

Don’t scrimp on absolutely everything

Why have I offered this advice on saving money while travelling? Because sometimes, you need to splurge. Making cutbacks in other areas means you can spend a bit more on what you care about. If you are absolutely freezing and its going to ruin your one day in a particular city, you can afford to pick up a sweater, or buy that umbrella when it rains. If you really want to try a traditional lunch that is a bit pricy, you can. The point is that, with a bit of moderation and care, you will actually be able to get more out of your travel, just by following some very simple rules. And you know what? If you end up in the middle of nowhere and have to order that Uber, you won’t have to freak out too much about the bill, because you over-budgeted for transport.



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The 58th Floor is the travel and lifestyle blog of Belinda Birchall, based in Dubai. It provides advice and information on travel throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as useful information for living in Dubai - and anything else of interest!

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