What Not to Do If You Want to Be Successful at Budget Travel
6 August, 2018: I’ve already written a number of articles on best practices for budget travel when you’re short on money and want to figure out how to benefit from cheap travel rates. But now, to dispel any misconceptions about what you can realistically expect from budget travel and how to succeed at snagging those cheap travel rates, I will share some best practices for travelling on a budget. This will including advice on how to secure cheap travel rates, guidance on budget travel destinations, and some wisdom on budget travel do’s and don’ts. Let’s get started on what NOT to do if you want to be successful at budget travel.
1. Do NOT travel to expensive countries.
The number one most important thing to consider when planning budget travel is WHERE to go. Obviously, some countries have a high cost of living and/or foreign currency conversion rate, and you should therefore take this into consideration when putting together your travel budget.
For example, it’s probably a good idea to avoid expensive cities like London, Paris, Tokyo, and Sydney when you’re travelling on a budget. You’ll want to focus on cheaper cities such as Chiang Mai, Bangalore, San Salvador, or Ankara. The longer you want to spend in a particular destination, the more important this point becomes. For example, while you may be able to swing one day in London while travelling on a budget, one week in London is an entirely different ball game.
Remember that your money will stretch much further where the cost of living and exchange rate is in your favour, therefore focus on travel to countries that align with your budget!
2. Do NOT book your transportation and lodging at the last minute.
When it comes to budget travel, you always want to book your transportation and lodging well in advance. Compare rates between airlines and hotels (clear your browser’s cache or use an incognito browsing window) and set up price alerts for specific fares ahead of time. There is a big advantage to booking ahead of time during budget travel, including benefiting from early bird discounts and actually finding a free spot on the flight/bus/train/hotel you’re trying to book. Generally speaking, last-minute bookings are very risky and you may or may not luck out in terms of last-minute deals and discounts. However, if you aren’t a planner and thrive on stress, sure go ahead and try your luck with a last-minute booking.
Your best bet for last-minute flight deals is the website Get the Flight Out, which has an app version (available for iOS/Apple devices only; released by Hopper, one of several great travel apps you should be using).
Your best bet for last-minute hotel deals is Hotel Tonight, which you can use only in app form on an Android or iOS device, and where you can find even high-end hotel rooms going for as much as 70% off at the last minute.
To succeed at budget travel, keep in mind that costs most often increase and places fill up closer to your intended travel date. And believe me, higher costs and no vacancies can really put a damper on your fun budget travel adventures.
3. Do NOT focus on comfort and convenience.
If you’re looking to succeed at budget travel, then comfort and convenient should not even figure into your calculations. This does not mean that you are not entitled to or should not enjoy some minimal comfort and convenient in purchases you make. But it does mean that the least comfortable or least convenient options tend to be the cheapest ones.
Expect to fly at unpopular times or catch red eyes, to take a bus or train instead of a plane, to stay far at locations far away from the city centre and figure out the bus routes to get to the centre, to visit city attractions at unpopular times or on unpopular days, and to share accommodation whether this involves a dormitory bed or teaming up with a friend to share a room.
Oh, and if you’re taking a flight and the airline ever offers a cash reward to relinquish your seat on an overbooked flight—always volunteer to take the cash reward and catch the next flight! You’ve got nothing to lose but time, which you should have plenty of anyway if you want to be successful at budget travel.
4. Do NOT try to save time during your journey.
On that note, make sure you’re not in a rush if you want to do budget travel right. My philosophy is that in life, there is always a trade-off between time and money. The more time you have, the less money you will have to spend; and the less time you are willing to spend, the more money you will have to pay.
For example, trains and buses will typically take longer to get you to your destination, however they are generally cheaper than flying. And therefore if you want to save some money on travel, you will have to spend more time getting to your destination. Even among trains, the financial hierarchy is evident as high-speed trains will are the fastest option for travel but are also the most expensive option, relative to regular economy-fare trains. Moral of the story: invest time into your budget travel and you will benefit from cheap travel rates.
5. Do NOT be choosey.
To do budget travel right, you just can’t be choosey. You might have heard the expression: beggars can’t be choosers. Well, this applies very well to budget travel. When you are travelling on a budget, you will most likely be choosing between less than ideal options…the less comfortable places to stay (eg, two-star rather than five-star accommodation), the less convenient flight times (including off-season and mid-week travel, which tend to be cheaper), and the less central hotel locations (on the periphery rather than downtown). So when searching for budget travel deals, do not be picky and restrict your flight times, hotel locations, and country destinations. Instead, cast a wide net in your search and resolve to make the best of the least ideal travel options available, knowing that you will still get to travel, just maybe not in the same style a celebrity would.
For example, if it’s always been your dream to visit Sydney, Australia, and take a selfie at the Sydney Opera House, you might decide to: book a red-eye flight to Bangkok, Thailand, that has a 2-day layover in Sydney; spend one night in a 20-bed dormitory at the local Hostelling International branch in Sydney; wander around Sydney for 2 days, walking everywhere or taking the bus and eating at local grocery stores; and sleep your second night at the airport, right before catching your connecting flight to Bangkok where you can reward yourself with a 2-week vacation for the same amount of money it cost you to wander around Sydney for 2 days. Make sense?
Successful budget travel is all about savviness (ie, doing your homework on your destination by researching it ahead of time), smarts (ie, wisely choosing between less-than-ideal options), and strategy (ie, knowing how to make your plan work—with the necessary compromises).
These are some of the top DO NOT’s for successful budget travel. I hope these pointers will recalibrate your expectations with regards to budget travel, and steer you in the right direction when you are planning your future budget travel. Remember: cheap travel is not really comfort travel—you simply cannot afford the same luxuries of time, comfort, and convenience in your choice of transportation, lodging, and destination as you might if you had thousands of dollars to spare. To be successful at travelling on a budget, you must be savvy, smart, and strategic in your trip planning. That is your winning formula for success in budget travel!