Most of us love to travel – almost as much as we hate the costs involved. Between flight tickets and accomodations, it’s not always we can afford that much needed break. But look on the upside: air travel is getting cheaper, and here are some ways to lower the costs:
1. Pick the right travel companions
Who you travel with affects your budget. Travel with friends who insist on always going to top restaurants, or getting the best rooms (without bothering to compare price), and you’re going to spend much more than usual.
On the flip side, travelling with thrifty companions can save you a lot of money. They can also help to discourage you from frivolous spending.
If you travel with family, consider giving financial control to the most responsible person.
2. Buy your travel insurance as early as possible
Never wait until you’re at the actual airport, before buying last minute travel insurance. You should buy the insurance almost as soon as you’ve booked the flight and hotel.
Travel insurance provides coverage for cancelled trips. This can happen due to events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or disease outbreaks. If you already have travel insurance when this happens, you can make a claim for the cancelled trip. If you haven’t already bought the insurance, then your non-refundable flight tickets or hotel rooms are just wasted money.
Nowadays, it’s easy to compare travel insurance plans and find one most suitable for your needs.
3. Avoid commission-driven, “low cost” package tours
You may, on occasion, encounter a package tour that’s unusually cheap. This is not always from a tour agent. For example, if you’re in Thailand, you may be offered a low cost (or even free) three-day tour to Chiang Mai.
The reason these tours are cheap is due to commissions – the tour guides will direct you to stores or restaurants that pay them a cut. The more tourists they can bring, the more money they’ll make.
You’ll rarely get a satisfying tour from these guides, as they don’t care about the actual quality of your tour. They often steer you into the worst tourist traps, where stores and restaurants will rip you off.
Check sites like TripAdvisor, or look for online reviews of the tours. And if they seem too good to be true, they probably are.
4. Ship heavy or bulky items, rather than pay for excess baggage. Same goes for high-value objects.
If you’re buying something bulky, such as antiques or carvings, don’t put them in your luggage. Not only are they more likely to get damaged, you’ll end up paying at least US$8 (about S$10.70) per kilo; prices can even reach above USD$85 (about S$114) per kilo, depending on the airline and destination.
It’s usually cheaper to get such items shipped home, via a courier service. So tell the store to ship it for you, rather than packing it in your bag.
You should also ship high-value items, such as jewellery or watches, via a courier service instead of leaving them in your luggage. This is because most travel insurance only covers losses of up to S$5,000 (S$2,500 maximum claim per item). However, courier services often have better insurance options.
5. Check prices up to three days before your arrival, and three days after your departure
Be flexible when using travel comparison sites. Check the hotel and airfare prices within three days of your intended arrival and departure dates. Sometimes, shifting the schedule by a single day can shave several hundred dollars off the price.
Sites like Kayak often show the prices for close, alternative dates.
6. Check the price of a SIM card at your intended destination
Sometimes, it’s cheaper to get your telco to extend your data roaming services, than to pay for a SIM card abroad. Most local telcos, such as M1, Singtel, and Starhub, have prepaid data roaming packages that range between S$15 to S$30.
Check out the price of a data SIM card where you’re going, and compare to see if they’re cheaper.
7. If you’re a frequent traveller, work out if annual travel insurance would save you money
If you leave the country often (e.g. six or more times a year, which may also include trips to nearby places like Johor), do consider annual travel insurance. This is much cheaper than paying for a policy every time you go abroad.
It’s also safer, since you won’t forget to purchase insurance before you leave. We often take safety for granted, especially when we’re going to Malaysia or Indonesia (e.g. Batam or Bintan).
8. Consider a hosted Airbnb unit, instead of a hotel
A hosted Airbnb unit tends to be cheaper than most hotel rooms. Prices vary based on the city, but do compare the two. Besides being cheaper per night, a hosted unit is a big advantage – especially for solo travellers.
First, it’s a lot safer, as the host knows to expect you. If you don’t return to a hotel for two or three days, no one is likely to notice (there are hundreds, if not thousands of guests). An Airbnb host, however, will know something is wrong if you don’t return.
Second, a host can give you invaluable advice, as they live in the area. They can steer you away from tourist traps, and toward interesting locales that aren’t in the travel guides.
While the hotel concierge can also dispense advice, bear in mind that some of them receive commissions or under-the-table kickbacks. They may be paid to steer tourists toward an overpriced shop or restaurant.
The third advantage is that, sometimes, your host will drive. Some may not mind dropping you off at a train station (or even at your location in town) if it’s along their way.
9. Don’t shy away from trains and busses
Some cities, such as Tokyo and New York, are well connected by train stations. There’s seldom a need to rent a car, or to cab everywhere. In fact, it may sometimes be faster and more convenient to use the train than the roads (due to extreme traffic congestion).
Don’t be too quick to spend money on hired cars. Spend some time trying to figure out train and bus routes, and you could save a fortune in transport.
10. If you repeatedly visit a particular group of countries, consider a multi-currency account
A multi-currency account lets you hold different kinds of currency. This means you won’t need to immediately convert money when you’re spending abroad, or when you receive money from overseas.
For example, if you already have US dollars in your multi-currency account, you can simply spend from this amount while in America. There’s no need to convert your Singapore dollars to US dollars, every time you make a purchase. This can save you up to seven or eight percent of the transaction costs, in Forex fees.
By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.