The best way to save money when traveling is by booking everything yourself.
If you want to budget your travels for the long term, you have to travel independently.
No prepackaged tours here, this is about figuring it out when you get there. If you follow these points, you just may be able to travel for months on the same budget that you would have spent going to an exclusive resort.
Tips to to budget for long term travel
Baby steps to Long Term Travel
It is easier to travel on a budget when you have the time. Instead of taking several short vacations each year, take one long trip. It will be a far more fulfilling experience and you will have the chance to really immerse yourself in the culture. Save up those vacation days and put your holidays and sick days together. Book during a long weekend or National holiday and you have instantly added more days to your trip.
Better yet, life is short, ask for a leave of absence or take a sabbatical and travel for several months.
For the sake of these blog posts, I am going to assume that you are traveling for months at a time, however these words of advice can be used for a shorter trip of two weeks. We went to Peru for 16 days and followed the same principals that we always do and had a fantastic time.
Now that you have more time, lets start with the flight.
How to book flights
Check internet sites for flights and call travel agents. Believe it or not, travel agents can still get you the best deal. I will take a quote with me from the best fare I found online, go into a place like Flight Centre and they will beat the price by a couple of hundred dollars. It is worth it to check everywhere. There are excellent online travel sites, but you are wise to compare, arm yourself with all the information that you need and then go to your travel agent to see if they can do better.
Booking from Canada, we are not offered the best deals on the planet. However, flights go frequently from Toronto or Buffalo to England or France. Remember, flexibility is the key, so if you are willing to fly on any day of the week, you may just find a gem of a deal. So, don’t book your flight directly to Nairobi or Mumbai, fly to London first and then travel from there.
Once you are in London, you will be able to find a flight to Asia, Africa or the rest of Europe for a bargain and possibly cut your flight expense in half, giving you more money to spend on other things.
For simplicity’s sake, I am going to talk about traveling to Asia. I know it well and can offer great advice, but you can apply these principals to anywhere. A great bare bones airline is Air Asia. It offers reasonable long haul flights to all of South East Asia.
I always like to arm myself with guide books for the destination I am going to. Rough Guides, Lets Go and Frommers, these are great. Also, if you know of someone who has traveled to your destination before you, pick their brain. My friend Lana almost entirely mapped out my first trip to Thailand right down to what number bus to take to Phuket.
I prefer The Lonely Planet myself. These guides give you step by step advice as to what to do once you arrive in a place. They tell you what parts of town are good to stay in and where you should avoid. They break it down in price range from cheap to luxury accomodation and they tell you what you can expect to spend on a meal, room or taxi. They really are handy for advice.
Remember however, that they are just that a travel guide. Nothing is set in stone and things change quickly so you have to be prepared to be flexible.
Plan for long term travel
Before you arrive at your destination, be sure to have a plan. Booking a hotel in advance will cost you a lot of money, you will never get a cheap deal in Canada. If you book a hotel in Canada, you have just spent $100 out of your budget that should only be costing you $30-$50 per day already cutting your trip down by 2 days. Just for overspending before you even get there. A lot of people want the comfort of having a place booked when they get there to save them the hassle, but you are just going to have to move the next day anyway and deal with it then. So why not get it over with and start enjoying your trip sooner.
Here is a way to make landing in the airport and catching a cab easier. Most airports even have train and busses that head downtown. I don’t recommend this unless you have been there before, taxis are very reasonable in most countries and they can take you directly to your destination.
Knowledge is very valuable when traveling
Once you land, you need to be armed with knowledge.
Know the area of town you want to go to, and have a choice of 2 or 3 hotels in that area to give your taxi driver.
A great piece of advice is to know a bit of the local language. Hello, thank you and goodbye can go a long way in breaking the ice and making you seem like a more informed traveler than other people.
Know the exchange rate before you go and have a calculator on hand at all times. I never settle on a price until I do the calculations into Canadian. Sometimes the price will sound great in their local currency and then you do the conversion and you have just over paid by a mile.
Don’t fall for the taxi drivers seeking out fares in the airport. Ignore them and go straight outside to the lineup of cabs on the street. The airport guys are usually a scam and will charge you far more that a registered taxi.
Every country has official taxis and every developing nation has the people who pose as taxi drivers. I can’t fault them for trying, they are just trying to make a living, but they are not usually the safest or cheapest way to get around. Look up in your guidebook or on the internet, what a real taxi looks like. They will have distinct markings that will distinguish them from the fakes. Not all official cabs have meters. Some cities have metered taxis some don’t so be prepared to barter.
Know the cost of things before you arrive
Before you get into the taxi from the airport, know how much it is supposed to cost to go to your location according to your guidebook. Ask them the price and do the calculation. If it is close to what you were expecting go for it. If they are way off and have doubled the amount, say No and barter. Prices change but double and triple the amount is unacceptable. Once you have bartered down to a reasonable price, which will most likely be a little more than what is suggested in the book, tell them what hotel you want to go to, what district it is in and what street it is on.
Conquering Common Travel Scams
In countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia alright, almost everywhere, cab drivers will receive a commission for bringing people to a pre-determined guesthouse. Don’t fall for this. Be firm and tell them where you want to go. Act like you have been there a hundred times before. Study the map of the area, so that you sound like you know exactly where it is. Dropping phrases like, it is near Kho San Road, or Siam Square makes you sound like an authority and they most likely won’t be so quick to scam you.
I know it sounds terrible to talk about all of the scamming going on out there, but it is a fact of life in developing countries. Everyone is trying to take advantage of the western tourist because they think we all have money so the more armed you are with defenses against it, the better time you will have.
When you arrive at your hotel, ask if they have a room, how much it is and if you can see it before you decide to check in. I have made the mistake of taking the room based on the price and then they stick me in the worst room in the place. Once they know that you are smart enough to ask to see the room, they will make sure to give you a clean, comfortable room that is worth the price of the night.
If it is not up to your expectations, or it is too much money, move on to the second choice on your list.
Budget Travel Means Lower Standards
Places like Thailand are definitely developing quickly and you will find all of the modern amenities that you need. But be prepared to have lower standard than at home. Unless you want to spend a lot of money at a luxury hotel, (which I only recommend to do every few weeks of a long trip) you may have a squat toilet in your room and no TV, maybe only cold water to shower in.
However, we have paid very little for rooms as low as $4 to have satelite TV, Hot water and comfy beds with breakfast included. The accommodations will vary greatly, just be prepared to be flexible.
Dave and I are not hostel travelers and you can travel on a budget by staying in hotels, bungalows on the beach and guest houses, you just have to be willing to give up a few of your creature comforts for an adventure. Besides you don’t want to spend all your money on accommodation when traveling for a long time. You are there to experience the culture, cuisine, sights and scenery, not to be stuck by the pool living the way you would at the Hilton here in Canada. You can stay home to do that.
Stay tuned for more long term travel and budgeting advice.