Monday, March 12, 2012

My version of budget travel (aka I'm a cheapskate traveller!)

Inspired by a piece on BootsnAll about travelling cheaply (or as cheap as possible) in five expensive countries, I have been thinking about what I'd like to call "cheapskate travel" - my version of budget travel. First up, you should know that I was raised by a bank manager father and a real estate agent mother, so a focus on watching our pennies was always there, and I am indebted to them for setting me up with a few financial skills and ethics that mean I've never got myself stupidly in debt or lived beyond my means (thanks, Mum and Dad!). And you should know that my instinct is to never spend money (except sometimes on chocolate), and I've in fact had to learn that there are times when it's okay to spend and enjoy it.

Anyway, back to the BootsnAll article: Japan was the first of the expensive countries they mentioned, and rightly so, because a lot of tourist basics there are very pricey. In my experience, though, the priciest way to visit Japan is to continue to live the same lifestyle you live at home. Blend in for a bit more of a Japanese experience and the price drops immediately. I never found food expensive in Japan - unless I tried to eat western-style breakfasts of toast and cereal. I think it only took me a week of living there to switch to rice for breakfast and I never looked back.

A Japanese train I saw while on a budget trip to Kyushu
Travelling around Japan can also take a fair chunk of cash but by either buying a JR rail pass (I couldn't when I lived there - they're only valid for "real" tourists - but definitely will when we make a trip back there) or using special passes like the Seishun 18 (this article reminded me of it - I used them several times) it's possible to reduce costs dramatically. And with accommodation, picking small traditional ryokans (Japanese inns) over western-style chain hotels also leaves you with more yen for spending on sushi and sake.

Switzerland also rated a (well-deserved) mention as an expensive country to travel to. My sister-in-law lives there with her husband and three children, and I'm often shocked by some of the exorbitant prices they explain. They're fortunate to live very close to the German border and they literally go over the border once a week to do their big supermarket shop in Germany, thereby saving a small fortune. My best advice for living the budget life in Switzerland? - make sure you marry someone whose sister lives there, so you've always got somewhere to stay! I've been lucky enough to be able to visit Switzerland numerous times and never had to pay for a hotel room!

View over Basel - my favourite Swiss city
The remaining three pricey places on the list were Singapore, Iceland and Norway. Definitely not cheap places to hang around (although Iceland has got a lot cheaper - thanks to a small case of near financial ruin, poor Icelanders!) but I didn't really find Singapore extreme on costs. Norway is a place I haven't visited since my childhood but I do hear from friends that it's pretty expensive.

But anyway, whenever you travel to Western countries it's unlikely to be cheap, so what this post all boils down to is this - Amanda's cheapskate travel rules:
  • Do what the locals do. This is one of the simplest ways to reduce your expenditure and it pretty much doesn't matter where you are - an expensive or a cheap country or somewhere in between. Eat where they eat (the food's probably better, too), stay where they'd stay, take the transport they'd take. I would definitely argue that this strategy doesn't just save money but will give you a more authentic and fun travel experience.
  • In case you've already got married or can't find a partner with a sibling in Switzerland, then my more general rule of thumb here is to consider travelling to places where you know people. I don't mean this in a "sponge off them" sense, but the idea of having locals who can show you around and tell you the tricks of the trade, so to speak, is a great way to keep your budget down. Along these lines, my trips in Russia where I stayed with homestay hosts were similar - I didn't know them ahead of time, but once I was there they gave me great tips on places to eat, how to get around, and so on, the kind of money and time-saving information you mightn't get in a posh hotel.
  • There are also times when looking at stuff like coupons for cheap travel and discount codes for hotel bookings will do the trick - in other words, sometimes a little bit of research can go a long way. This applies both to the usual idea of comparing flight prices and accommodation costs, but also to things like checking if museums you want to visit have a day each week or month when they're free to enter (quite a few do), finding "happy hours" for great pubs and special deal nights at restaurants. If you really are on a tight budget, it is worth putting some research time in to be able to make the most of your trip.
Of course, there are dozens of other ways to save money while you're travelling but these are definitely my favourite - what are your favourite ways to be a budget traveller?

6 comments:

  1. I've often considered homestay but never got around to it.

    If you join a scheme, do you offer homestay to people too? If so have you done it, and how do you find it?

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    1. Jenny, the main way I've homestayed is just booking through an agency - mostly in Russia - so it wasn't a reciprocal thing, just something they did for some extra cash. And it was fantastic (and much cheaper than a hotel, plus a whole lot more interesting). The more reciprocal deals like couchsurfing is something I haven't done yet - when I was travelling and homestaying I didn't even have a couch anywhere to offer! - but perhaps when my son is older we might look into it.

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  2. I'd love to read the BootsnAll article but the link isn't working. I did have a look at the site (and will go back - great site!) but couldn't find that post. Could you check the link?

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    1. Oops, thanks Ann, it had an extra "v" at the end of the URL where I must have "ctrl-V" pasted it! It is working now. The link is http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/11-08/five-of-the-worlds-most-expensive-countries-and-how-to-visit-them-on-the-cheap.html

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  3. I am all about visiting friends. This fall I am headed to Europe for a month and will only have to pay for about 5 days worth of lodging in 4 countries. That along with cashing in some FF Miles is what will make this trip possible. I'm hoping to head down to Guatemala to visit a friend next winter as well. With 2 kids under 3 years old in tow, I look for discounts and cheap ways to see the world every chance I get.

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    1. Totally agree, visiting friends is an excellent way to travel! Not just for the free accommodation of course, but that is definitely a good bonus!!

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