Travel junkies from around the world tell stories that make us want to go places, leaving immediately. Whether it’s to a tropical beach, a ski resort, a jungle in the middle of nowhere or a great picnic spot an hour from home, the list of viable options seems to lengthen as we discover even more wonderful stops along the journey. Spontaneous travel is exciting, fulfilling, challenging and, yes, often more expensive than we realise.
Is it possible to cut down costs of travel without compromising on the quality of the experience? We think so. In fact, from personal experience, it is not only possible to enjoy travel on the cheap, but also highly recommended – if making awesome memories for a lifetime is your thing.
Here are 5 proven ways to save money when you travel; whether abroad or in beautiful South Africa:
1. Plan The Big Stuff
The first important cost-saving tip is not to buy the big stuff on a whim. Carefully plan for flights, pre-booked tickets, events, hotels and tours well in advance through extensive research. Waiting until the last minute for the expensive items on the travel list can work out well if you are lucky and if the time you have is flexible (with days or even weeks to spare). More often than not last-minute bookings add unnecessary costs to an already tight travel budget, however.
The plan does not always involve immediate payment or securing a booking. Careful planning is effective when laying out all the options; by comparing different websites, for example. Then, when a fantastic deal comes along you will recognize it and be ready to click onto holiday-mode fast.
Part of travelling for less, is knowing when a deal is a really a deal.
2. Go Local
One of the finest travel hacks is to go local. Choose local vendors, restaurants, shops and tours over internationally-punted tourist packages. Not only will you gain an authentic experience of the cultural diversity on offer, but you will be supporting real people on the ground – the hard-working entrepreneurs struggling to compete against a competitive tourist market.
International restaurants, for example, boast international prices, too. Local restaurants (where the locals actually dine themselves) provide authentic local cuisine, authentic local prices and authentic local people who serve, cook and live in the community. Tourist-aimed activities often leave foreign visitors filled with fairytales and fantasy of what the place really had to offer; and it’s such a shame!
It is a valuable and memorable experience to interact with the true local culture, rather than supporting a superficial tourist industry.
3. Eyes Open, Wallets Closed
Wide-eyed tourists are renowned suckers for exploitation by savvy ‘entrepreneurs’ in tourism hotspots. Lost in wonder and amazement at the magical new world before them, they dive into the canned experiences hook, line and sinker, never questioning prices or shopping around for alternatives. As a rule, never buy anything on the first day. Not until you have had a look around, objectively assessed the situation and spoken to at least ten different vendors who do the same thing (and yes, there will often be more than ten competitors offering the exact same product or package).
Supporting someone who shows genuine initiative is far more rewarding than falling for the first smooth operator who approaches.
4. Prioritise Time
The most precious resource in this world is time. It cannot be replenished or extended. As travellers, this is evident in the way time really does fly when you’re having fun. To minimize costs and maximise the time to enjoy the travel experience, research a little deeper about where you’re going; before you go.
Arrive with a general idea of the sights and sounds you may want to experience, making a note of locations in relation to other places you hope to see. Choose one major activity for each day. You will save money, energy and most importantly, time; not wasting any of these precious resources on unnecessary transportation routes or avoidable detours.
Using one activity as the main focus, try to fill up the rest of the day with other activities in the same area, which do not require endless hours (or extra trips) on yet another mode of transport.
5. Minimise the Curios
Ever looked carefully at the nooks and crannies of your home while spring cleaning? Wondered how the junk accumulated in such a short space of time?
Meaningless curios are a sure way to stockpile worthless items from places you probably still don’t know enough about.
Curios are often mass-produced, by cheap production companies, sometimes even in other countries, for token sales to open-fisted tourists. Designed to emulate hand-made, authentic and vaguely cultural representations, these items often fall badly short of any of these desired characteristics. Genuine hand-crafted items can even seem crude next to the mass-produced copycats, repelling tourists towards the shiny, new-looking trinkets rather than the ones made with the real love, energy and workmanship of local artisans.
It is a good idea to see the items being made, processed or repurposed on site. Stay away from random curios which appear on every street, in every market and in every town. Of course, how will you know unless you keep an eye open for a matter of days while travelling around?
Rule number five is to not buy anything until the last few days in any place. Sometimes this means not buying anything at all. This way you are guaranteed to have a better idea of fair prices, authenticity of handicraft and whether or not it is a good representation of the culture you will be remembering in years to come. This is also a great cost-saving initiative and a financial “best practice,” as you carefully consider purchase choices on value for money rather than fanciful whims.
Put your money into a valuable experience or a beautiful and genuine art, craft or garment, which will support local talent and keep your travel memories fresh for a lifetime.