Cheap thrills: the best ways to save money on travel

The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, Hurghada, Egypt.
The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, Hurghada, Egypt. Photo: Getty Images

Gone are the days when the powerful Aussie dollar let us feel like kings and queens when travelling overseas. But the resourceful traveller can still make our shrinking currency go a little further by following these handy tips, writes Michael Gebicki.

The salad days of the high Aussie dollar are over. At the beginning of January 2013, one of our dollars was worth $US1.05. Today that dollar is worth just US88¢ (at the time of writing). A year ago a dollar was buying €79¢. Today it's down to €64¢. Against the British pound it's the same story.

The crystal-ball gazers of the financial world predict our dollar is likely to fall further against major world currencies. Faced with this prospect, you can either travel less, carry on as before and pay more for your holidays, or adopt strategies that will restore some muscle to the Aussie dollar. Here are 35 suggestions.

Galata Tower, Istanbul.
Galata Tower, Istanbul. Photo: Getty Images

Book your holidays now A falling Aussie dollar means airfares, hotel rooms, car hire and anything else that has a foreign currency component will cost more when you go. If you book now, you'll lock in at the present value of the dollar, and in many cases you won't incur any charges against your credit card until you show up at the hotel or car-hire desk.

Eat out Unless you have the morning appetite of a moose, chances are you won't get your money's worth from your hotel's buffet breakfast. If breakfast is not included in the room rate, step outside and head for the nearest cafe. It's cheaper and more fun.

Maps are essential If you have a smartphone, City Maps 2Go has access to thousands of city and regional maps to download for use in offline mode. It pinpoints your present position, lets you search for addresses, finds hotels, ATMs, restaurants, points of interest and allows you to add notes. It's $2.99 for Apple devices, free for Android.

Children at Wakaya Village, Fiji.
Children at Wakaya Village, Fiji. Photo: Getty Images

Avoid temptation It's easy to get excited by the world of duty-free shopping when you're stuck in an airport terminal between flights, but airport shops are expensive real estate and their wares are not necessarily a bargain. Make sure you know the price of the same item back home before you lay down your credit card.

To market Instead of lunch in a cafe or restaurant, head for the local market, buy what's in season, find a park and picnic on the grass.

Buy in bulk If you plan to spend several days in a big city, check what attraction passes are available. Chances are you'll save a bundle over the cost of paying the full ticket price for each individual attraction.

Egyptian spice market.
Egyptian spice market. Photo: Getty Images

Travel off peak Flights and hotel prices are cheaper if you travel in the shoulder season, with the added bonus that you'll avoid the worst of the crowds. Use a flight search engine such as Momondo that gives you day-by-day prices.

Book a package holiday The travel operators that put together holiday packages buy in bulk at lower prices than a lone consumer can ever achieve, and they can pass some of those savings to the consumer.

Stay longer Hotels will often offer lower rates to travellers who book in for several nights, particularly during times when business slows.

Camelot Cafe, Krakow.
Camelot Cafe, Krakow. Photo: Getty Images

Scale up An apartment is a great money-saver, especially if you're travelling with a family. You can save on meal costs, and a two-bedroom apartment will usually be cheaper than two hotel rooms.

Book online City tours are often cheaper if you book online or through the local tourist office rather than from your hotel, which might add its own surcharge.

Don't surf Unless you have a local sim card, do not use your phone for data roaming; the offshore charges are horrendous. If your hotel offers free Wi-Fi, use that instead.

Off-peak options: Swap dinner for lunch at resorts.
Off-peak options: Swap dinner for lunch at resorts. Photo: Getty Images

Train it An overnight train will save you the cost of hotel accommodation. Even if you book a sleeper, chances are you'll come out on top.

Drive smart A GPS is a must when you drive overseas, but hirers typically charge about $10 a day for this convenience. If you're hiring for a week or more, download the relevant maps for your own in-car device, buy a GPS at your destination, or buy a GPS system for your smartphone or tablet from Sygic (sygic.com).

Shop smart If a tour guide shepherds you into a particular shopping outlet, there's a good chance they will receive a commission on anything you buy, and the price is inflated accordingly. Shop alone, be prepared to bargain where appropriate and you'll usually pay less.

Water safety Mineral water always comes with a price tag but tap water is free -provided you're somewhere it's safe.

Eat with the locals Restaurant signs that read "English spoken" should be avoided. Designed to lure tourists inside, they typically serve second-rate food at a higher price. Eat away from the tourist hot spots and look for where the locals are dining.

Coffee saver In Europe, drink your coffee standing up. You'll pay more if a waiter serves you at a table rather than ordering at the bar - but be prepared to bend. Caffe Florian in Venice's Piazza San Marco or Cafe de Flore in Paris deserve a leisurely sit-down coffee; the experience is priceless.

Cruisy trips Big-ship cruising is one of the best money-savers around. All your accommodation costs, meals and entertainment are prepaid, and at a bargain price. Drinks are cheap and, if you steer clear of the casino and the shops, you can live like royalty at a pauper's price.

Less is more If you travel overseas twice or more each year, buy an annual travel insurance policy rather than buying for each individual trip.

Be money-wise Prepaid money cards offer security and convenience but some come with high fees, especially if you withdraw funds in a non-major currency such as Thai baht or Indian rupees. Rather than putting funds into a prepaid travel money card, a fee-free debit card will usually be a better option. Citibank Plus Visa debit card has no account-keeping fees, no international transaction or currency conversion fees and no ATM fees. The Bankwest Zero Platinum MasterCard has no annual fees or international transaction fees.

Timing is everything Airports have different landing fees and taxes, and this can affect airline ticket prices. For example, an Emirates flight from Sydney to London on April 1, returning two weeks later, costs almost $200 more than flights on the same days to Paris. This is due to the higher costs associated with landing an aircraft at London's Heathrow.

Swap and save Want to swap the place you call home for a villa on the French Riviera, or a condo in Buenos Aires, without a single cent changing hands? House Swap Holidays (houseswapholidays. com.au) is Australia's largest house exchange holiday club, with houses around the globe, and membership is cheap.

Leave it to the last minute Cruise vessels often have late-breaking special deals as they try to fill empty cabins. Head for the online cruise websites, hit the hot deals button and you can usually find something to like, often from just over $100 a person a day.

Pre-pay baggage If you're flying with a budget airline, pay for any extra baggage allowance you might need when you make your booking. If you wait until you get to the airport, you'll often pay more.

Avoid cabs Rather than pay an extortionate fee for a taxi or for leaving your car at the airport, it might be cheaper to hire a car, drive from home and drop it at the airport.

Bundle up Package holidays to places such as Bali or Phuket are sometimes cheaper than the cheapest airfare. If you just want the flight, there's nothing to stop you from taking just that part of the deal and making your own hotel booking.

Learn to haggle If a hotel happens to have rooms that are vacant at the last minute, they will frequently offer them at a big discount. Lastminute (lastminute.com.au) is one such site, while Priceline (priceline.com) allows you to haggle.

Airport sleepovers save The Guide to Sleeping in Airports (sleepinginairports.net) is gold for travellers who want to sack out in airport terminals and save. Consistent winner of the site's annual survey of world's best airport for catching 40 winks is Singapore's Changi.

Drive a hard bargain If you book the cheapest car from your rental agency, you'll frequently get an upgrade. Cheaper cars are the first to sell out. When that happens, the agency has no choice but to put you behind the wheel of something better. But if they offer an upgrade at a discount, call their bluff and refuse.

Higher hire A vehicle hired from an airport is often more expensive than the same car hired from operator's closest alternative outlet. Car hire operators pay a hefty premium for airport space, and they recoup that through higher charges for rentals. Even if you hire from an outlet away from the airport terminal, there is no penalty for returning it at the airport.

Stay and ride Hotel prices at the heart of glamorous European cities cost a fortune, but there are usually cheaper options within easy commuting distance. Hotels in Venice, for example, are expensive, yet you can get a decent room in Padova for under $150 a night and it's just a 30-minute train ride away. A room in the Latin Quarter of Paris or the Marais will put you where the action is, but a hotel in Neuilly-sur-Seine is cheaper, and just four Metro stops away from the Arc de Triomphe.

Be loyal If your hotel or cruise ship offers a loyalty program, join up. It's free, and members often receive valuable benefits that apply immediately.

Do lunch Tropical island resorts can put your love life on steroids, but there is no possibility of dining out - and food and drinks prices are typically high. Swap lunch and dinner. Restaurants usually charge more for dinner. Eat your main meal at lunchtime, have a snack for dinner and save.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Traveller's resident Tripologist and proven thriftologist, Michael Gebicki, washes his own laundry and has been known to engage in unseemly tugs-of-war with hotel porters to avoid tipping.

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