Last November, I came home from one of the most amazing trips of my life! Usually, when I come home from a trip friends are always asking me "how do you afford to travel?" I always say because I found a deal and then researched the heck out of the trip! Then they gruff about how they don't have the money, but they do! It's all about what's important to you and your priorities.
Travelling is a great way to explore and experience everything out of your comfort zone. I believe it's an integral part of finding ones self, it opens your eyes to life outside your bubble. This is one area I disagree with most financial blogs and its ok to get into some debt to travel while you're still young and have relatively no responsibilities. I first got into debt trouble after coming back from spending the summer studying in Italy, living on a small inheritance my grandmother left me after she had passed. With all the hardship I endured years later paying back my credit card and a full OSAP loan, I have no regrets! In fact, if I could have a do over I wouldn't change it at all. Yeah, there are some small things I would of done differently, like pay off the credit sooner but hard lesson well learned! Let me show you how you can do it too!
Where to start:
All you need is $20! Twenty bucks! Stop buying Starbucks and a cookie twice a week and BAM there's your moolah. Start by saving $20 a week in a vacation fund. What works for me is picking a day of the week you have to put money into your fund. I like Sunday because it starts a fresh week and groceries for us is usually Monday. If you can't muster that much, start less maybe $5 or $10 and increase it when you can. Winton and I started with $20 each a week for a Bahamas fund for our anniversary, but when we didn't have enough after a few months we went to Collingwood and had a blast! The following year we had even more money since we didn't spend it all and could afford to go to Cayo Coco, Cuba. We never did end up going to the Bahamas but it helped a ton to have picked a place we were envisioning when we were saving. Fingers crossed that we'll eventually make it to the Bahamas one day!
This step is huge! It can really make or break your trip! You can spend as much or as little time you want here but the more you spend researching the more you'll be knowledgable about your trip. Research not only helps you save money but it can help you save face when it comes to other cultures.
Wifi is super important while travelling. You can look up directions, keep in touch with friends and family and even book tickets online. A great example of this, is when I went to Mexico I found a cheap $30 USD tour of Chichen Itza but my mother who had been there before suggested to go there and I'd find cheap tours all over. Unfortunately, I stayed in a hotel outside of Cancun where the competition was almost non-existent and all the tours were about $100 USD or more for the same thing. We had paid for a week of wifi and after searching around all the tour operators in our hotel lobby that I decided to just buy it online. We saved $70 USD per person per tour! That's an insane amount of savings! And sometimes, research doesn't just save you money but saves you time. Best example of this are the museums of Europe. Do you really want to wait two hours in line to see the Vatican museum? Isn't time well spent having a gelato and roaming the streets of Rome until it's your entrance time?
Here Are My Top Sites for Travel Info:
www.airbnb.com - After I found this site I stopped booking hotels for my trip if I could help it. Here you can find single rooms, apartments, and even houses for rent to fit all sorts of budgets. You also get the knowledge and help from a local person, which is practically priceless to me. I have pretty high standards in this regard and must book with someone who has multiple reviews, photos and a rating of at least 98%.
www.yyzdeals.com - Keep up to date on travel deals going out of YYZ. There is also great travelling advice here. They also have a Facebook page where you can post and read questions/advice from fellow travellers.
www.lonelyplanet.com - Lots of great useful information for popular tourist places, from currency, customs, safety and what to see.
www.frommers.com - pretty much same as lonely planet
www.tripadvisor.ca - Reviews and photos for practically anything you want to visit, eat or do. Also, has a great forum for questions and advice.
As some of you may know, I was one of the lucky ones who took advantage of the Priceline mistake fare that happened last May. For those that don't, I was able to pay $200 inclusive of all taxes, fuel charges etc. for a flight from New York City to Milan, with another flight from Prague, with a 21 hour layover in Amsterdam and ending in Bangkok. It was a deal of a lifetime that I could not pass on! I quickly texted my girlfriend and she and her boyfriend were in! The four of us booked the same trip right away before they had shut down the deal.
Here's How We Took A Trip Around The World And Make It Affordable:
We tried our best to save money at every turn but we do have some standards. I'm happy to say being older now, I can afford to not choose to live in the cheapest accommodations out there! There was a lot of travel time in many countries and we were determined to get the most bang for our buck and even did the entire trip with only carry-on luggage. Plus, with the four of us the cost go down significantly for shared items such as cabs and accommodations etc. For the sake of this article, I'll list everything in Canadian dollars unless otherwise stated.
Tips From The Trip:
NEW YORK CITY
We needed to travel to New York City to catch our first flight. So, we decided to take the overnight Megabus as it was our cheapest option for four people. For just under $42 each and 12 gruelling hours of your life this was the best option for us. We wanted to avoid paying $200 each just to fly in and possibly an overnight hotel stay. I'd have to say I've done this trip a couple times before in my youth and it wasn't so bad, but this past trip was the worst. There were loud announcements and lights on every couple of hours and made sleep almost impossible. The bright side was we did get to enjoy a few hours in the city and hit up my favourite stores like Century 21, Uniqlo and Muji and to check out the new Freedom Tower and The Ground Zero memorial. We then took a flat fare special of $52 USD from Manhattan to JFK airport.
For our AirBnB, we stayed in someone's attic for just one night and it was lovely. The thing I love about AirBnB is meeting local people and getting the inside scoop of what to see and do. It's a more personal touch I enjoy and I love being in a home instead of a hotel room. These are usually cheaper, with wifi included and theres usually a kitchen! The best part about most church's are they're usually free! We wandered the Duomo and found the cheapest tickets to see the Last Supper for just under $12 each. We were surprised that the majority of sites online lead you to tours, where they are at least 30 euros. With a 15 minute limit to see the painting, that just was not worth it.
I LOVE Rome! It was my home for a summer while I studied abroad at York University. We took the bullet train to arrive here in just over three hours. Another great thing about AirBnB was that we paid extra to have our host pick us up, dropped us off at the Vatican, and take our luggage back to our apartment. Time was tight as we had all our baggage and trying to make it to our appointment was almost impossible. We went back to stay in my old neighbourhood of Trastevere and my how times have changed. What once was a small homely neighbourhood, quickly became a huge touristy area. Our apartment was very central with a few issues with the bathroom, but we were later told they were in the middle of repairs. The next day we headed to the coliseum and I can't stress enough how important it is to buy tickets in advance when you are doing trips in Europe. The lines are always insane and I love bypassing everyone to go pick up my tickets and walk right in. I'd been to the Coliseum before and it was sort of disappointing and boring, but this trip I was going because no one else had been. If you go on your own without a tour you get to walk around in a giant circle on a couple different levels but there isn't much but visit a few gift shops. I happen to stumble upon a tour that wasn't costing an arm and a leg. We found one hosted by the Coliseum that was about $14 (on top of the entrance fee), it took us to the lower level and to see the behind the scenes of the famous ruin. It's run by the coliseum and there are no bookings online, you have to actually call them and book over the phone. It was pretty cool to see what's left of the elevator type pulley system they had and where the gladiators would walk through to get to the arena from the various gladiator schools. They also took us to the highest level, which is a great spot for better pics of the surrounding area. Rome is a great city where you can take in all the famous sites and not spend your pretty pennies doing so. All the famous fountains, churches, and piazzas are all free!
I don't know why but I alway thought this was an expensive city. It certainly was not at all! We asked our AirBnB to arrange a private transport to pick up and drop us off at the airport. It was a great affordable service that was well worth the money! The AirBnB apartment was THE BEST apartment I've ever rented! It was new, clean and spacious! It was so nice that we all agreed we could live there! The design was very open with lots of bright light and two big bedrooms. We were here for about 3 days and was able to get comfy and cook our breakfasts! Location being three tram stops from the main shopping strip and subway. The metro was very affordable, I believe it was something like $2 for a 60 minute limited ticket. The zoo was $10 and it was great! We even bought these Prague cookies wafers that were $.75! I couldn't believe it! Never at the Toronto zoo would a snack be 75 cents! By time of our trip, I was started to have a lot of back pain from my travels. I'm not sure why but usually on a big trip like this either my back goes or my stomach will after eating lots of strange foods.
Luckily and strangely, Thai massages are huge here! For $15 you can treat yourself to one of the many Thai massage parlours in the tourist area. Some are very shady, where you walk through a narrow shop and behind a hidden door and go up one or two flights of stairs. Food wise, dinner our first night was pretty pricey and I thought I was expecting to spend at least $20 for each meal, after all it is Europe! One night, we happen to go back and forth at all the restaurants looking for somewhere to eat in the main tourist area with the Astrological clock (I forget what it's called). After finding a place with food we were interested in and didn't have a price tag of about $30 a plate, we opted to sit indoors instead of freezing and inhaling second hand smoke with the rest of the crowd. By sheer dumb luck, they had a completely different menu inside with specials of the day! Who knew! I got a roasted chicken and potatoes for $4 and the portions were filling! It was so cheap that I balled out and got an alcoholic drink and dessert too! Don't get me wrong there are tons of street stands and small shops you can pick up some great local food. This street food below cost us about $1.50 and was more than enough to snack on.
By far the most expensive AirBnB of the whole trip! We spent one night here and just under $60 per person for a small apartment. The location was great, it was right in the shopping area and surprisingly the cheapest that would accommodate four people. We had about 21 hours in this city from landing to take off and we had a good time. Just sucks I couldn't take as many photos as I would of liked, as there are no photos allowed in the Red Light District and inside Anne Frank's house. It was $14 to visit The Anne Frank museum and I booked it about 3 months in advance. Apparently, that's the farthest out you can book and since spots book months in advance, if you're not on top of it you can lose a chance to go. I booked right at the opening for 9am the next day and arriving about 10-15 minutes early, there was already a line up of about 20 people. Thank goodness I asked the workers before joining the long line up, I was the first to arrive and start another line up for people with pre-bought tickets. We still ended up waiting a bit as they prepared to open for the day but it was nice and pretty empty when I went in. The space is tight in the museum and there are tons of steep stairs but never did I see more than 10 people at once.
This is my favourite city of our whole trip! We had the best AirBnB host, whom was from Canada and super helpful when we were planning our trip. She would respond so fast and her father who we met in the city took very good care of us. He even bought us lunch after our 12 hour flight and checked up on us often. He even showed us a spot where there was $3.50 hour long massages that the locals would get. The norm everywhere else was about $7-10 an hour. As you can imagine we got one everyday and some days even two hours long! It was amazing and really helped with the constant walking and back pain. Bangkok was very inexpensive, you can buy and barter for pretty much everything. The local markets sell everything from cheap street food like insect delicacies to knock off merchandise. You can grab a small bag of fresh cut fruits for just under $1, or even fresh coconuts for just over a $1. Cabs are incredibly cheap, one night Winton and I were starving and took a very long cab ride that was at least 20 mins to the only restaurant open and it cost less than $2! If you want a more authentic way to get around you can easily hail a tuk tuk, but expect to pay much more. Everything is negotiated and you'll get the tourist "discount" of about $5 per ride for short distances. Even cabbies will try to rip you off and ask for a flat rate that is incredibly higher than if you were to ask them to use the meter. Stick your grounds as there are plenty of cabs and tuk tuks around, eventually someone will cave to make some dough and you can get a fair price. Also, don't expect to get any change so carrying amount small bills is a must.
Sometimes the quickest way to get around is by taking the boat bus (I have no clue what its called). For $1.50, you can get down to the tourist areas within minutes of hopping on one of these. The entrance fees for temples were pretty reasonable except for the Grand Palace, that was about $18 per person. That was by far the most expensive entrance I've ever paid for a temple, but for Wat Pho and Wat Arun we paid about $3 each person. Some temples do not provide change so be sure to carry the right amount, on top of this there is a strict wardrobe on visitors. The Grand Palace allows you to "rent" pants for a small fee, the other two temples we visited were not as strict but still had lots of displays around showing what is acceptable and what is not. Eating out was pretty cheap, we stuck to more touristy restaurants so we could avoid getting sick. We even brushed our teeth with bottled water back in the apartment. We ate like kings every time we could, which was hard since snacking on cheap street foods are tempting you every which way.
The two big shopping areas we visited are MBK, which is a large mall and Asiatique River Market a semi inside and outside mall by the harbour front. What I liked about MBK was the metal detectors as you come in for safety, as well as a tourist taxi stand so you can avoid getting ripped off. Everything in this mall was decently priced, the best thing was that each floor had a specialty. For example, one floor was all cell phone accessories and another was a huge international food court, kind of like how we have Marche/Rich Tree here. There are many cheap clothing stalls in Bangkok, so there is really no need to pack very much. Considering how hot it is here everyday, you'll want to change your clothes frequently from all the sweating you'll be doing. We saved a ton of money by bringing our own small bottle of liquid laundry detergent. Only one place of all our AirBnb's was equipped with a laundry machine, the rest we had to hand wash. Except in Thailand, where we balled out $7 to wash every piece of clothing we had minus what we wore for the day. If you want some traditional Thai shirts and pants you can pick those up for about $2-3 each, with plenty of sizes and colours to choose from. Just remember Asian sizes are much smaller, so a large in Canada is most definitely not a large in Thailand. You'd be surprised that people with storefronts are still willing to barter with you for a good price if you're willing to buy multiple items. The Asiatique is surprising modern, clean and something you'd expect to see in Canada. The prices are a touch higher but it's still relatively cheap to eat and shop here. I was in need of some sandals and was able to pick up a fake pair of Birkenstocks here for $15. They call them "copies" and are pretty upfront to tell you that. If you really want to buy something, just keep walking around as you'll find lots of vendors selling the same stuff and the prices can vary quite a bit depending on where you are.
HO CHI MINH CITY
To be honest, I had a horrible AirBnb host and place this trip. My first ever bad experience in all my trips, so that really dampened my time in this city. Expect to be lied to, cheated out of your money, and meet really aggressive sellers. They are hardcore hustlers in this city. By aggressive, I mean the sellers will physically grab your arm and try to pull you to their stall. The city is very much filled with the haves and the have nots, with tons of the latter and homeless people everywhere and even with small children. You will even see children hustlers forced by parents to hock their souvenirs and packs of tissue. I had a very interesting discussion with a local cyclo driver that people in Vietnam are so poor that most children don't go to school, which was so incredibly sad to hear.
After our arrival and after much research, we hopped on a cab to our apartment on one of two designated cabs that are metered to not rip you off. Apparently, there is a toll you have to pay on the way to the city which is not mentioned and we were taken for $2, we found out later it should have been 50 cents. Meh, no biggie! But, at ever turn to fight and get a fair price was exhausting. Yes, I understand it's their livelihood and it's all about survival for them but still it did not paint a very good picture of the people there for me. Even being able to speak Vietnamese, I could hear the insults of walking down the market and hearing stall owners complain how we didn't buy enough. The people are very materialistic and all about the money, more so than any other Asian country I've ever visited. Good thing is everything is pretty cheap, food, t-shirts, fake purses, even booze with scorpions and snakes in it are all affordable if you're fine with a bit of wheeling and dealing. Beware though, many restaurants don't give you napkins with your meal. Many actually give you an individual wet nap and if you use them they will charge you about 25 cents. It's strange to eat and not have any dry napkins, but if you're a season traveller in Asia you'll know you always carry your own tissue papers incase you need to make trips to the public restrooms. Massages here are very cheap as well at around $7-10 an hour for a foot massage. Be wary though, that some places ask you to fill out a form at the end asking if they did a good job and what your name is. The catch is that you see "other peoples" reviews and there is a section to say how much they tipped. One place that did an okay job, hinted for us to tip them 100%. We tipped them what we felt they deserved, left and remembered to not return to that place.
Tours are also very cheap here if you are interested in checking out the local sites and there are tons of places you can go and get quotes in the backpackers district. We did the Cu Chi Tunnel tour for $6 and paid an extra $4 entrance fee. You basically get a tour guide, water bottle and transport to and from the tunnels which is about an hour away. I think it was a great deal since you are not allowed to visit this site without an escort. There are apparently many undetonated bombs in the area and makes it very dangerous to wander off on your own. Transport wise it's cheap to hop on a cab, take a cyclo or even ask anyone with a moped hanging around to give you a lift for a couple of bucks. Alternatively, you can rent a moped with no licensed required for $7 per day. You do need to hand over your passport, which I could never do or give the $200 USD cash to hang on to in case you don't return. Museums here are very cheap, we saw the Ho Chi Minh City Museum and the War Remberants museum and both were about 75 cents each for admission. The latter is a must see! I thought it was full of actual items from the war but it mainly consisted of photographs. Very powerful photograph! I have to admit sadly that I didn't know very much about the war prior to this trip. Essentially, all I knew was that the war forced my parents to flee their home and head for any country that would take them. Most of my education on the war was pathetically what I saw in major Hollywood films. Boy, that so very wrong! I also learned a very good lesson on perspective, although the museums are educational they do very much skewed towards the victimization of the Vietnamese and how brutal the Americans are. It was interesting to see how both sides portrayed themselves in history.
The total trip cost me about $2500 broken down to $1500 for all the flights, trains, apartments, entrance and visa fees etc. I would say it was all the fixed cost of sightseeing, living and transport. It also didn't help that the flight home ate up half that cost. Big ouch, but it was the best price I could get at the time with the shortest travel time home. There was another $1000 for cabs, bus fare, food, shopping and massages etc. Basically, all fun money we spent while there. I surprisingly even brought home money. I know $2500 may sound like a lot of money but its actually super affordable for a trip around the world that we took. Most fares to Europe and back are about $1000, with hotels easily costing almost $200 a night for a hotel. Not to mention the food and sights you need to pay for. Some of the best ways to see multiple places are to wait for fares that include a stopover. A few years back, Winton and I were planning to go to Paris and I happen to find a sale that included a stop over to other cities in Europe. Essentially, for $50 each person we were able to also fly to Berlin and back.
Travel is affordable and yes there are deals posted online all the time. Even if you can't afford to fly somewhere far, there are trains and busses that can take you to cities closer to home. You have to distinguish what is a real deal and what is advertised to look like a deal. Saving $100 off isn't much if you have to spend $2000 each person. As of today, a similar flight to what we paid $200 all in for is listed as $2535. That's a savings of $2,335 per person! I'm not advising people to go out and just spend their hard earn money on a trip and get into too much debt. If it's debt you can handle and pay off in a reasonable amount of time then do it! If not, it might be best to sit that deal out and wait patiently for the next one and give your vacation fund some time to grow.
Eros and Pookie