Whenever we are planning our trips, we do our homework and check the average prices in our destination country. That helps us to calculate approximate costs and affects our decisions on how and what exactly we are going to do on our trip. Sometimes we skip some attractions, or choose not to eat in restaurants, or even stay with locals instead of hotels. We are budget travelers and calculations are our key to successful and long trips.
But even if we do research and get some advice from locals or other travelers, it's not always 100% reliable. You may ask WHY? That's because every person bases their opinions on the prices and expenses on their personal background and experience. And as we know, experiences are so different.
Singapore is a great example of that. Almost everyone said it is an expensive country. So we planned a short trip, so we could save some money, but still see this country. But even on our first night there we were pleasantly surprised at the prices we saw. We could get decent sizes meals for 3,5 Eur or even less, our hostel for 4 nights 72 Eur (for 2 people) so it didn't seem that crazy for us. But of course, living expenses in this country are high. But as long as there is budget-friendly options, we are fine. Comparing to Iceland where the cheapest accommodation is 40 Eur per night, Singapore isn't that crazy.
Also our expenses vary depending on our accesable budget, purpose of our trip and many other hings.
Choosing Destination. When it comes to budget, not always choose the cheapest destinations. Yes, we like to save our money and cut expenses whenever it's possible, but traveling is also about experiences and particular places we just really want to visit, even if they might be more expensive than we would like. When it comes to the budget we always check the transportation expenses first. If the flight tickets are way more than we want to pay there are two options. First - try to catch the best deal and adjust the other parameters to lower the price and go anyway. Second - choose another destination.
How to get the best deal on cheap flights? Let's be honest - flight tickets are not as cheap as we would like them to be. In many cases, it is the biggest expense of the whole trip. But there are some tricks to avoid spending a fortune on that.
1. Choose the destination based on the price. If you don't mind to go anywhere and adapt to that, just choose the destinations based on the flight ticket price. You might be surprised where this may take you.
2. Choose the dates when the tickets are the cheapest. This may sound obvious, but it's not that simple. We are travelers, so we can adjust most of our plans to the cheapest dates. That means even if we wanted to go on particular dates, we can go sooner or later if that changes the ticket price. Also, we can stay longer if that's necessary. But it's not that simple for the people who work normal jobs and have their free time limited to the indicated vacation time. When I and my husband worked full time, we had this issue all the time. It was hard to adjust our vacation time to the dates when there were the cheapest tickets. So, for the most part, we had to pay more than we would like and save money on other things.
3. When to fly. So ticket prices fluctuate a lot. It happens all the time and you can't really rely on them. It's not a pair of boots you can buy for the same price a week after you saw them or hope for the price to only go down. Flight tickets are different. We barely ever buy tickets on the first attempt. Only on rare occasions when they are at a super good price. Mostly we Hunt. It sounds pretty silly, but it's effective. There are many theories when and how to catch the best ticket deal, but here I will share my experience. There is a theory that it is the cheapest to buy tickets on Tuesdays. In my experience, it's really the best time to do it in the beginning of the week, preferably Tuesday or Wednesday. Most people check tickets in their free time which is on weekends, so the prices tend to go up. We plan our trips at least 6 months before, sometimes even year before. I have noticed that buying tickets 6 months before is pretty safe, 3 months before is when the roller coaster starts. Mostly they go up, but it can change every day. A couple of years ago 3 months before was the best time to book tickets, but as the travelers got more advanced, so did the airlines. They now use this against us. Two to one month before they reach their peak and depending on the destination and demand it can stay that way for a while. Couple weeks before ticket prices are really unpredictable, because they may go up, if the flight is in high demand, or down if it's pretty empty and they need to fill up the aircraft (this is when you can catch good last-minute deals). Also, I have noticed that the cheapest days to fly are Monday and Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday). They are not the most convenient when it comes to particular vacation time, but with good planning, you can work this out. Also, flight times which are not the most comfortable like early in the morning will most definitely be cheaper than the ones in the midday.
4. Where to find cheap flights I use the most popular site like https://www.skyscanner.net/ which is the most convenient for me. If you have a very particular date you want to fly out you can also put the price alert which will let you know when the price changes (up or down). I also check airlines individual homepages and use apps for tracking down the best deal. You can try Hopper and Skiplagged.
Accommodation on a budget. When it comes to accommodation there are multiple options. First - Hotels, and for that, we use Booking.com and nothing else. I know there are other sites like Agoda etc, but I have never got a better and reliable deal than on Booking. But this is just my experience. Prices here will depend on the season mostly, so choose wisely the time on your travels.
The second option is an apartment or room rental from AirBnB.com. This is a better option when you stay longer and want your own individual space and be able to cook for yourself. Couchsurfing is one of my favorite options when it comes to a real authentic travel experience. This is a community and it gives you the opportunity to stay with locals for free. But it's not just that. It's experience exchange and learning more about other cultures from locals. That means that this option is not good when you are in a rush or don't really want to socialize and spend time with your host. Another option is our car. We traveled to New Zealand and mostly lived in our minivan. This was a great experience and we absolutely loved to be able to be on the move, control our own time and still be able to crawl in a comfortable bed at the end of every day. It's like traveling with your house. So Camper rental is also a good option when you travel and want to be more spontaneous and flexible. Just remember that every country has its own laws when it comes to freedom camping, which means you might not be able to park and sleep wherever you want.
Calculating your expenses.
So before we do any bookings we calculate expenses we know. Flight tickets + Accommodations + Transportation (whether it's a car rental or approximate public transportation and taxi, uber, grab, etc. prices) = Base expenses. We always round the prices up (for example if the flight ticket is 575eur we will count this as 600eur), because we feel that it's better to calculate more and save some money at the end than calculate less and then feel disappointed when it turns out to be more than anticipated.If we know that we are going to visit any paid attractions we calculate those in. Food expenses are hard to predict, but we check prices online for some of the mid-range restaurants, just to get an idea. If we have breakfast in the hotel then we add to the budget two more meals. It's very important that your actual travel budget is at least 30% bigger than the approximate expenses. There can be unexpected occasions and situations and some extra money will make you feel safe.
For some of our trips, when our budget is more limited we calculate the daily budget. This is not for everybody as it can be a bit restricting, but it helps us a lot. So we take the approximate budget (minus the flight tickets) and divide it by amount of days we are planning to stay. For example, our travel budget for 8 days in Georgia was 300 Eur for both. That means 300/8=37,50 Eur per day. It sounds really small amount, but we did our research and turned out Georgia is a very friendly country for budget travelers. I use an app called TravelSpend and that really helps us to track our expenses. So some days we spent more, because of the accommodations, some days we spend much much less. Turned out we spent 264 Eur in total (that includes: accommodations, meals, transportation, entry fees, grocery shopping, souvenirs, basically everything). We would probably spend much less, but we couldn't resist the local food.
More ways we save money. Everyone is different, so the things that we save money on might be totally unacceptable for others. This is just our experience. The first thing we save money on is transportation. That means booking accommodation close to the center is essential. We don't like to spend money on public transportation or taxi, so we walk as much as possible. It is totally normal for us to walk around 20 km in a day when traveling. We use transportation only to get from the airport to the city, if something is located outside the city or if the city is very big and we are limited in time. That also means that renting a car is only an option if we are planning to go outside of town because we absolutely hate to pay for parking in the city.
The second thing that we try to save on is food. We are budget travelers, so we will save on food as much as we can. But we keep in mind that food is a part of the culture and we want to explore that as well. So we most definitely will try the local dishes, when possible. We mostly avoid restaurants and always check if the hotel provides breakfast. If the breakfast is fulfilling, most likely we will eat only one more meal that day and snack in between. As we spend almost all of our time exploring, we don't feel the need to spend much time in places like restaurants and cafes. We mostly choose street food or something from the grocery store, instead of a restaurant. If we have a kitchen in our accommodation, we use it to prepare our meals. I always have healthy snacks with me when we travel, so we wouldn't feel hungry. Obviously, if we travel with our minivan, we have our gas stove and everything that we need to prepare food outdoors.
The third thing is accommodation. Years ago Couchsurfing was our first choice when it came to a place to stay. That was the best way to meet people, learn about the culture and save large amounts of money. It is still a good option, but lately, we tend to choose other options. As a married couple hostels are not really our cup of tea, unless there's a private room available. We try to calculate as much as we can and sometimes it is better to pay a little extra for a better location and included breakfast than find the cheapest place there is and then spend money on transportation and breakfast somewhere else. But still, we don't have high expectations when it comes to accomodation. As long as we have our private room, and we are close to everything, that's all that matters. We don't mind shared bathrooms, separate beds, and other things. The reason we use Couchsurfing much less is because we really want to use it only if we have enough time to spend it with our Host.
Attractions. We are not really into the MUST SEE/DO things. Of course, we will see as many of the most famous things as possible and not going to skip Eifel Tower when in Paris, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we will pay money for it. First of all, we only visit places that are important and interesting for us, second of all not always we will spend money to do or see something. I don't feel pressured to pay a ridiculous amount of money just to go inside Coliseum or Eifel Tower if I can see it from the outside. For some people, it can be very important, and that's totally fine, but we mostly appreciate things that are free. That doesn't mean we will never spend money on some attractions. It that's something we really enjoy and want to experience we will spend money. But we never feel regret if we don't. Just remember - don't feel pressured to see or do something just because it is a must. Base your spendings on your personal interests and also check the deals and special offers (we visited Luvre before we turned 25 and that was for free).
Better wait and save. For those who don't want to save on comfort or other things, it's better to wait and save money for the trip of your dreams. Especially if you have only one or two vacations in a year and you truly want to experience everything that it has to offer without any cutbacks.