Money makes the world go around. And, it also makes you go around the world! There is no avoiding it. It is also a myth that travel is expensive. It can be but doesn’t need to be. Sure, you might want to splash out on special events and activities. But there are certainly ways to save a rupee or two on the day-to-day stuff so you and your hard earned money needn’t part as often.
So here is the Sling Adventures Top 5 Money Saving Tips for Travel.
1. Minimise the hands in your pockets
No, this is not pickpockets, but yes they too will quickly drain you of cash if you are not careful! This tip refers instead to the transaction fees you incur every time your money changes both physical and virtual hands. Money is a very sticky substance, it seems to stick to the hands of anyone who touches it!
At an ATM you typically get your bank fee, currency conversion fee and the local ATM fee. For a credit card, you usually get the bank fee, conversion fee and often a surcharge at the point of sale. Travel cash cards are marketed as simple and cost-effective, yet often the exchange rate you load value on the card is not competitive and it is difficult (see impossible) to extract unused value in one currency and move it to another currency or convert it back when you return home.
So what to do? Seemingly you get burnt each and every way! Main advice here is to understand the variable fees and fixed or flat fees. The flat fees are the ones to avoid as these get charged no matter what value the transaction. Percentage fees will work out the same no matter how many transactions you make. But the flat fees will kill you if you are doing many micro-transactions.
Still, you should limit the number of electronic transactions you make as much as possible. Without looking at the specific rates or fees (although you should!). The general rule of thumb is to do one large cash withdrawal to cover incidentals and medium purchases, if possible for the entire length of stay in that country. Then ultimately offset this by using a credit card for large one-off purchases so it doesn’t drain your local cash reserves and you avoid another ATM cash withdrawal.
Lastly, aim to have a small amount of local currency before you arrive. Enough to get you away from the airport or train/bus station. That way you are not looking for an ATM hastily in an unfamiliar location. Going to an ATM in such places can put a big sign on your back that you are all cashed up as well.
2. Defer the pain
Depending on your pre-planning habits a number of costs will be paid for before you even leave home. Flights are generally purchased when there is a sale on months in advance. Accommodation may be pre-purchased in a number of occasions. If booking online, look for sites that will allow you to book in your local currency thereby avoiding the currency conversion fees. It also helps with cash-flow spreading travel costs over some months rather than incur them all within the period of travel.
3. Travel light
Travelling with minimal luggage is advisable for more reasons than just money, however travelling light allows you to be more flexible. That flexibility can save you some cash. Check in luggage often incurs additional costs on budget airlines. If you carry lite you can carry on, just watch the fluids and pocket knives with security! Also if you have a short distance to travel overland, a 5 km walk with a small backpack seems more doable than with a 20kg burden of a backpack. Saving a taxi fare or needing to manipulate yourself into a crowded bus or train.
“I recall travelling again through Central America for 4 months with a backpack the locals often referred to a ‘el Cuerpo’ meaning ‘the body‘ as it was such a heavy dead weight. It certainly was a struggle to haul on and off chicken buses time and time again!”
4. Travel overnight
For obvious reasons. If you can couple your travel with the time you’d normally need accommodation for you will kill two birds with one stone, in money terms. Be wary of safety issues travelling overnight on buses in some areas where accidents are much more common. Also theft can occur while you are sleeping. So keep valuables close. Of course, you comfort levels may not be as high as a proper bed so you may not be as sprightly the next morning. And, ensure the arrival time is reasonable, arriving at 4am may leave you with a few spare hours before anything happens or opens in your destination!
5. Tipping points
Tipping is an expected custom in many countries. No matter your views on tipping (trust me I’m Australian, we are notorious for not tipping) it is rude and not right to avoid tipping where it is the person’s main source of income and part of the culture. However many services and interactions do not expect or demand tipping. Table service will almost always involve a tip. But counter service does not. Similarly hotels will charge a service fee, porters will try and take your bag for a tip and maids expect a few dollars left behind. Of course staying in a hostel doesn’t require any of this.
BONUS Tip: Insurance
The saying “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is usually issued by parents. Mostly as they know they will be up for the bill should something go wrong and you need to pay an exorbitant medical bill. Lost possessions and cancelled flights is one thing, but being seriously injured in a country where proper medical care is expensive or non-existent could end in a debt both you and your parents will be paying off for many years. Not only that but in some places, you won’t even be seen by a doctor without proof of payment or insurance. A small outlay for potentially a life-changing situation. Also, check your extreme sports are covered in the policy! As for possessions, yes you can claim these if they walk off into the night, just get a police report from a local authority. For any sentimental, non-replaceable stuff, just leave these at home!
Check out our article about being covered for riding a motorcycle whilst overseas (particularly Bali).