Last year I created a little travel bucket list for myself, with 10 places that I want to visit before I’m 30. In 2017 I managed to tick off 2 of those places off my list- Bali and Prague. I don’t know how many of them I’ll get to visit this year, but I’ve just booked tickets to tick off my third place- Santorini! Last week I took the plunge and bought my tickets to Greece- Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, I’m coming for ya!
On this note, whenever I book a ticket and excitedly share the news, I often get asked the same question – “How the hell can you afford to travel so much?”. Let me start by telling you that no, I don’t have a trust fund(I’m sad about that too ;)) and I don’t have a credit card- all of my travel is done in cash. I do admit that my parents help me out with tickets to Russia to see them, so trips home always come for free(which is lovely and I appreciate it very much). But since I started working in 2016, I’ve bought pretty much all of my airplane tickets(with the exception of Cyprus which was a gift), paid for my own accommodation(sharing with someone does always help), and saved up my own spending money for every trip. I will admit- saving doesn’t come easy and I’ve had to give up a few luxuries(goodbye designer shoes) and some necessities(no one needs electricity, right?;)) but all in all I’ve just become a really savvy travel. Here are my couple of tips to help you pinch a couple of pennies- it might seem like small things, but I promise you they all add up!
Tip- Shop around for flights and always book them yourself
Tickets can often be the most expensive part of the trip(especially when you’re flying all the way from South Africa) but there is often a way to make them a little cheaper. I usually buy all of my flights through Cheap Flights- it really calculates all possible options across all airlines, so you can see which route would be best for you. The most I’ve ever paid for a ticket was R9000 and that was to Bali. I’ve scored some great flights on there to Europe before- I flew to Barcelona for R7500 return, and Mauritius cost me just over R6000. I honestly recommend to book flights yourself because they always work out cheaper than booking through an agent(unless of course, there is a special).
Tip- Collect and redeem air miles as much as you can.
I fly a lot of different airlines but that doesn’t stop me from joining all of their reward programs. I have a silver membership on Etihad and slowly getting there on SAA Voyager, and the nice thing about programs, is that a lot of airlines are often linked to one! Sky Alliance members are SAA, Singapore Air, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa to name a few, Emirates has a great program on their own, and even Kulula has a partnership with Avios! Mile by mile it all adds up to a free ticket here and there, so maximize it as much as you can and always swipe your loyalty card.
Tip- Use airline partners where possible
My ticket to Athens cost me R6800 last week, not too bad right? On Cheap Flights and Emirates the ticket was going for just over R8000, so how did I manage to get that discount? As a Vitality member on Discovery, you can get up to 35% off local and international flights, and I maximize that offer every year. Internationally, Vitality partners with Emirates and British Airways, and you have to book 6 weeks before to get the discount (I’m a bronze member, so I got 20% off the flight). Locally, you get a Kulula discount, which I use every single year for trips to Cape Town and Durban. I know that Momentum also offers a discount on Mango flights, so I suggest always shopping around and seeing which different reward partner’s airlines have!
Tip- Become a frequent traveller on Booking.com
This is a personal preference, but if you’re going to book hotels online there are only a few ways to go- Booking.Com, Trip Advisor and Hotels.Com(unless you book directly with the hotel). I suggest sticking to one once you start, so you can reap the rewards from it! For example, I always get a 10% discount of Booking.com, because I usually book through them. 10% might not seem like a lot, but our Mykonos villa cost R15000 between 4 people, so saving R1500 means that we can all put that money into something else! I believe that Hotels.com offer you every 10th night free, so make sure to hook yourself to a reward program with one of these providers.
Tip- Skip the hotel and rent an AirBnb
If you’re wanting to skip the hotel and save even more cash, then AirBnB is the way to go. You can find some amazing deals on there and its even better if you’re renting out the whole place with your friends. I haven’t personally used this platform, but friends of mine have, and they did say that it was great.
Tip- Lookout for specials(when you can book a certain number of nights and get a few nights free) and subscribe to newsletters
Daily I get a ton of emails because I am subscribed to ALLLLLL the travel providers. Travel Start, Contiki, Flight Centre, STA Travel and Safari Deals, are just some of the ones that I receive emails from. That’s how I found out about Africa Stay and their Zanzibar specials, which I did last year. You often get cool deals like pay for 5 nights and stay for 7, discounted flights and tours, so make sure to always be on the look out for that!
Tip- Keep the souvenir shopping to a minimum.
Look, while your mom might appreciate that snow globe from New York and your friends will like the key ring from Amsterdam, souvenir shopping can start eating up your budget when you travel often. If you travel often, than rather get your friends and family something nice once a year, from a special place, than a silly little gift every time you go. Personally, I always just get myself a mug when I travel because that’s what I collect- it’s standard for every country and always available, and I like drinking tea out of them and remembering my trips. Then for friends and family, I usually gift 1-2 gifts per year, given that I do about 5 international trips. Only when I see something that I know they will like, do I get it for them. It saves cash, and room in the house!
Tip-Do some research before hand and set aside a budget per day
Every city and every country has a different currency to you, and different living standards. While a MacDonald’s meal might cost you R50 here, in Italy I paid R150 for the same meal. Do a little research before picking a country and see what the expected cost of food and entertainment there is per day. Once you know what to expect, set a budget, and DON’T go over it. If you felt like treating yourself to lunch and have overspend, then go into a local grocer and get dinner there, instead of eating out again. If you spend 50 euros for entrance to museums the one day, then spend a day exploring the city by foot and not spending the next day. Costs can get out of hand overseas very quickly, so budget accordingly and stick to your set budget.
Tip- NEVER eat in a tourist hot spot.
While lunch overlooking the Eiffel Tower might sound romantic, and paella on Las Ramblas in Barcelona is tempting, it will costs you an unnecessary amount of money and honestly, its not worth it! What I do is that I always walk a few streets up from the tourist hot spot, and find something there to eat. Sometimes restaurants will even charge you an “entertaining” fee and you won’t even know- like in the St Marks square in Venice. Skip the touristy places when it comes to food and find something close by and just as delicious.
Tip- See when certain museums and places offer discounted or free entry.
Did you know that the Zeitz Mocca museum in Cape Town has half priced entry every first Friday of the month? Or that the Lovere in Paris is free every first Saturday of the month? A hell of a lot of museums are free in London such as the National History Museum, the National Gallery and the British Museum. In New York, the Museum Of Modern Art is free every Friday from 4pm-8pm, so what I’m saying is do a little research beforehand and save a lot of cash on visiting museums and historical sights!
Tip- Skip the taxis, and get public transport where you can
One of the biggest mistakes that we made in Barcelona was using too many taxis, instead if using the subway system or taking the bus. Research beforehand if the country that you’re going to has a good public transport system and how you can get around. I know, the metro in Paris is overwhelming, and nothing is written in English in Prague, but brave it, and save some cash. Otherwise, a lot of countries do have Uber now, so make use of that as well.
General Travel Saving
Tip- Check if your medical aid is covered overseas so you don’t have to get extra insurance
With the Discovery Classic Saver plan, I am covered overseas for a certain amount. All you have to do is call Discovery a bit before your vacation and let them know where you are travelling to. They will then send you a medical certificate for overseas, that you can print and carry with you.
Worried about general insurance? You should be! I normally never take it out(YOLO and all), but last year when we were planning a trip to Bali, rumors of a volcano eruption just started swirling, so I got travel insurance with the tour provider(which at the time was Contiki, and they book through Sanlam). If you book with Travelstart your insurance is R500, and some banks like Standard Bank insure you for R800 or so(depends on what’s covered where).
Tip- DON’T exchange money at the airport.
I’ve fallen into this trap a few times- I was rushing before my trips, didn’t have time to stop at a bank so I exchanged my currency at the airport. The exchange rate at the airport is never a favorable one(at least what I experienced) and why would it be? So what’s a better way to exchange then? I prefer to do it straight with my bank! Before my trip to Barcelona I called FNB and exchanged money straight from my account into Euros. You can arrange to pick it up at a branch or they deliver it to you(think that was about R100 extra or so). Still forgot to exchange and now you’re in your next country? Draw! Again depending which bank you bank with, but with FNB the foreign withdrawal currency charges are very favourbale- in fact, I actually almost never notice the charges.
Tip- Don’t fly in peak seasons
Europe gets ridiculous during June, July and August, so honestly, I avoid it at that time. Flights go up, hotels are full and expensive, and there are fellow tourists anywhere you step. You will barely ever find me travelling during that season, or even during the December time! I know it’s hard if you have kids because you can only travel when they’re on holiday, but then rather go end of November(like we did with Bali) or the 2nd of week of January(like we did with Zanzibar!). You see prices drop significantly, so try and play around with dates.
Want to visit Europe while its still warm? May and September are perfect months. Heading for the tropics? Thailand and Bali are great in November and March. Don’t want to get too hot? Eastern Europe will keep you snuggling from January to April. I’ve heard that the ideal time to visit New York is both May or September, Japan and Singapore are delights in March, and Australia is good all year around!
Keen for local travel? I love going to Cape Town or Durban over the winter! Escaping from the dry Jozi nights, warm nights of Durban and rainy(lets hope!) days of Cape Town are my fav during that time.
Tip- Go where you don’t need a visa first
Might seem tricky, but visa costs add quite a bit onto your budget, so why not start with places where you can roam without the admin? I’ve only gone to a place where I’ve needed a visa once(which was Dubai), but other than that, all 17 countries that I’ve been to, I haven’t needed a visa! As a South African you can explore 90 places before you even need a visa! Why not put Barbados, Chile, Bahamas, Argentina, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Peru, Thailand or Bali on your list?
Tip- If you want to travel, you have to make it a priority.
When I decided that I wanted to travel the world in 2015, I made it a priority for myself in a big way. So far, in less than 3 years I’ve managed to explore 12 countries and over 20 cities, and I don’t plan on slowing down. Making travel a priory meant that I cut down on a lot of “unnecessary” expenses. I barely ever drink out- the cost of alcohol and cocktails is a bit ridiculous sometimes, so if I feel like drinking I invite friends over for a bottle of wine. I’m very picky with my fashion buys- I now only invest in timeless pieces at a high price, rather than splurging on every trend item like I used to. And then I hustle my way through ticket costs, hotels and spending, which I hope you can now too, given a few of these helpful tips! 🙂