These days most people put travelling as their hobby and the most frequent response I hear from folks when we talk about travelling is how they are not able to afford it. To me, this statement is partially true and false because travelling to me is not all that expensive. This is true for folks who have bigger priorities in their life like buying a house, starting a family or travelling means bringing the entire family along. False for those similar to me who can save up on daily food luxuries and shopping and plan for that break instead.
To keep my wanderlust in check, I try to fit in a trip every other month usually short or weekend trips and I will plan a 2 or 3 weeks vacation at least once a year. I have been to almost all continents of the world with the exception of Africa and Antarctica. I have been to almost most major cities in Europe since my first Europe trip in 2008 and I am still trying hard every year to conquer more cities.
Most people cannot understand how I could do so with my job and commitments at home. As shared before, I am an average marketer with moderate earnings and staying with my parents. In this post, I will share 5 tips on how to save on invisible costs and travel in comfort without living like a backpacker for that next Europe trip you might be planning.
You can also see how I saved for my first class experience via this post Travel across the globe with Miles.
1. Sign up to be on the newsletter of every airline possible
I understand that some people like to travel without a plan and YOLO you might say or last-minute booking savings but contrary to beliefs booking early is one great way to travel on a budget. At least 50% of my email mailbox is filled with newsletters and promotional shout-outs from airlines and accommodation agencies. I have booked many flights as early as 1 year in advance just to make use of promotional fares. These days, competition in the airline industry is stiff; therefore, many airlines come out with early bird promotions to determine the demands for their flight routes as early as months ahead of the travel time. The cheapest flight I managed to score to a major city in Europe was SGD 800. Sometimes I even start planning my trip based on the airfare so this is definitely the first thing in my planning phase
- Sign up for promotional newsletters from all major airlines
- Search for your flights on Skyscanner or TripAdvisor and sign up for price alerts
2. Plan, Plan and Plan
There is never enough planning for a trip so I cannot understand why some people don’t plan for their trips at all. This step saves so much money. The first step of planning after buying the air ticket is the route to cover. In the past, I used to go to the library and borrow travel guides on the countries to visit but these days, it is all digitalised or google tells you everything. With google and google maps, work out the most cost-efficient route with your arrival and departure city in your plan. This will save you so much on unnecessary transport costs making trips going through and fro just to get to one site. Trust me, I have tried visiting a few countries without planning and just waking up and visiting the places I felt like that day kind of feel liberated but looking back at those trips, I ended up spending more because I travelled to the same areas in different days which could be done in one day.
- Plan the route you wish to visit with your flight’s incoming and outgoing city in mind
- Plan the exact sights or locations you wish to see to save on transport by gathering places to see in the same area on the same day
3. Book your accommodation early
With a rough plan in mind for the days you will spend in each city and town, you can start to make reservations for your accommodations. As with airlines, make sure you are a member of every reputable accommodations booking platform like booking.com or Agoda and even Trip Advisor. As a member, sometimes, you get special insider deals or even special promotional prices if you lock in your booking early. The first tip is to book a free cancellation room with a good price and when your plans are more or less confirmed, book a non-cancellation offer promotion price for the same hotel if it is available. You can save up to 20 – 40 bucks per night for non-cancellation rates. 2nd tip is to book your hotel without breakfast as you can get a cheaper breakfast outside. This will again save you another 10-20 bucks per night. ( With the exception of accommodations in special locations where getting breakfast elsewhere is almost impossible; ice igloos or snow huts or those on top of the mountain etc, you get the drift)
- Sign up for insider news for all major booking sites
- Book the room you love at the most affordable price with free cancellation option. Once plans are firm, you can do another booking for a non-cancellation rate
- Book rooms without breakfast
- You can easily find great rooms below Euro 100 if you search enough ( reviews are very important)
4. Food Glorious food
As a foodie, I will never tell you not to eat on your trips. In fact, I will willingly spend a good amount of my travel funds on Michelin-starred restaurants if I happen to be in that country. Between splurging and saving, it is always about getting the balance.
There are a few things I always pack during my Europe trips and they are an electric kettle, thermal flask, 3 to 4 bowls of instant noodles or porridge, instant cereal drinks or chocolate drinks, 2 to 3 canned tuna mayonnaise or salmon mayonnaise. Sounds like a camping trip? Not really; because when I am in a new city or town, I will make sure to have at least 1 local meal to try the local food, after which I might have my meal in the room with the food that I have brought over and this would usually be dinner since the afternoon is mainly for on the go.
For lunch, you can try the local cuisines in proper restaurants since most of them will have a special lunch menu which can be cheaper than dinner if not, you can easily get food from stands as it is generally cheaper than a sit-down lunch. For example, a slice of pizza can cost from €1.50 to €4 depending on which part of Europe you are visiting. Even getting a packed kebab with rice is only €6 to €9 compared to over €15 for a sit-down meal.
For coffee and drinks, I will either buy takeaway coffee instead of sitting down in a café as the price is hugely different. To save further, you can even make your own coffee in your flask. For the rest of the day, I will fill my flask with drinking water from water fountains instead of buying a disposable one which costs at least €2.
For breakfast, I will buy bread from the bakery or supermarket and make sandwiches with the spread I brought or even ham or cheese I buy from supermarkets. For a more luxurious breakfast, you can also buy juices or milk which can be drunk over a few days. ( Purchase the size of the beverage according to the number of days you are staying in the same accommodation, if not you can carry them along in a bag if it is winter and they will not spoil easily)
- Bring some local food which you can eat with just having an electric kettle and this can save you up to SGD 200 on meals
- Buy takeaway coffee instead of sit-down coffee and drinking from water fountains with a flask can save you up to SGD 200
- Making your own breakfast either from items you brought or items bought in the local supermarket instead of hotel breakfasts can save you up to SGD 200
- Try local cuisines during lunch as most lunch sets are cheaper than dinner
- Balance your meals between restaurants and take-out stalls or even supermarket hot food sections can save you up to SGD 250
5. Travel cards and Tourist cards
Never take a cab in Europe and always use public transport. In most parts of Europe, their subway or metro systems are very well developed and will travel to most places where the tourist sights are located. In London, they have the Oyster Travel card and in Rome the travel card. These cards usually offer tourists a very good fare when travelling in between sights using public transport. For example: In London, the fare is capped for the day once you reach £8.20 if you travel within the same zone. This helps to save a lot of transport costs. You can research the available cards way before your trip.
Take advantage of Tourist cards like London Pass or Roma Pass as they offer free entry and fast passes into many of the main sights you would like to see within that city. You can see my experience with the London Pass here. 48 hours in London with your London Pass – Day 1
- Research and purchase travel cards for public transport. Student sometimes gets concessions
- Make use of tourist passes if they cover places of interest in your plan
- Book your museum or areas of interest entry ahead of time online as they offer online promotions as well
Here are my 5 top tips to save while travelling in Europe and making sure your budget is below SGD 5,000 without living like a backpacker. I will attempt to write a post on my Europe itineraries to show how this is done.