How to travel cheap: 50 ways to beat the falling Australian dollar

It doesn't make for pleasant viewing. Check out a graph of the Australian dollar's value against the US dollar and you'll see that it looks like a perfectly groomed ski slope, a gradual but steady decline towards a recent 10-year low.

And the bad news gets worse: the Aussie dollar is also down on the euro. It's down on the Japanese yen, too. It's even trending down on the Chinese yuan. Ouch. For travellers, that makes everything just that bit more expensive. It doesn't, however, mean it's time to stop travelling. The falling exchange rate just means it's time to start travelling smarter. It means travellers now have to think carefully about how they spend their money on their holidays, from the planning to the booking and the execution, and where. It means taking a few steps to save where possible, to lessen the pain caused by that shocking exchange rate.

There are plenty of areas in which that can be done. Your flight, accommodation, food and drink, and the attractions you choose to visit – all of these expenses can be lowered with a few shortcuts, a few tricks. Even the act of spending money overseas can be an area for savings.

Undoubtedly the exchange rate is a pain but here are 50 ways to ensure the fun doesn't have to stop.

THE FLIGHT

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Before booking any flight: research, research, research. Get online and use a site such as rome2rio to see the different options for reaching your destination. Check aggregator sites such as skyscanner to see who has the cheapest fares. Compare those fares with the airlines' websites. Go to a travel agent and see if they can beat the best fare you find.

FLY UNPOPULAR ROUTES

Not everyone wants to spend 27 hours hanging around Guangzhou, or fly to Europe via Bangkok and Dubai, which is why routes such as those will often be far cheaper than the popular and more direct journeys. If you want to save money, this is the way to go.

BE FLEXIBLE

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You'll have far more chance of snagging a cheap fare if your dates of travel are flexible, if you can give yourself, say, a month to work with and pick the ideal flights out of that. A website such as kayak, or even google, will allow you to plug in large blocks of time and select the cheapest fares.

FLY MIDWEEK

Never fly on a weekend if you don't have to. And don't leave on a Friday. Though it differs from sector to sector, and from international to domestic, the cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sundays are the most expensive.

PACK FOOD

Even if you're flying on a full-service airline, you can save a good chunk of change by packing some of your own food from home. That way you cut out the overpriced airport meal and save on any food you have to purchase on board.

USE YOUR POINTS

Use them! People tend to hoard frequent flyer points like they're Easter eggs, waiting for the perfect time to consume. But that perfect time is probably now. Points are of little use if they just sit in an account forever.

TRAVEL LIGHT

This is such a simple way of saving on your flight cost: take only carry-on luggage and you'll skip all the associated costs of checking bags in.

SIGN UP FOR NEWSLETTERS

The best way to keep informed of any flash sales or discount offers is to sign up to newsletters from your favourite airlines. Plenty of the aggregator sites also do mail-outs to keep users informed. These are especially handy if you're flexible with your destination.

GO BUDGET

Sacrifice the niceties of a full-service airline and go budget to save. Ensure, however, that you factor in all of the costs before you buy: hidden charges such as baggage and booking fees, plus considering the airports these airlines fly into and whether there are extra costs to get to your final destination.

THE HOTEL

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Photo: iStock

JOIN A REWARDS PROGRAM

This is like joining a frequent flyer program. Pick a large hotel chain, one that has outlets in places you like to visit, and sign up to its rewards program. Make the most of discounts, free upgrades, free nights and other perks by remaining loyal.

CALL THE HOTEL DIRECT

Sometimes a hotel's best price isn't listed online. There is a chance that if you call a property and chat to someone there, you can negotiate a better rate, particularly if you're planning to stay for a long time.

STAY FEWER PLACES FOR LONGER

Rather than hitting 10 cities in two weeks, visit two cities in two weeks. Not only will you save money on all of that transport you're not taking, but you'll save on accommodation because you will get a far better rate for a weekly stay than for one or two nights.

STAY IN APARTMENTS

This is particularly true for families who might not fit in one hotel room and would normally have to book two, or even three, rooms. Instead, check out sites such as airbnb – a two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartment will probably be cheaper than hotel rooms.

STAY IN HOSTELS

Modern-day hostels aren't just for backpackers. They're populated by travellers of a variety of ages, and they're perfect for those on a budget. You can enjoy the comfort of a private room, with or without en suite, and still save.

SLEEP ON THE MOVE

Need to get from A to B? Then combine two expenses, scheduling your travel through the night to avoid an accommodation cost while getting to your next destination. Overnight trains are ideal for this.

COUCH SURF OR WWOOF

Free accommodation is the cheapest accommodation, and there are ways to make that happen. You could sleep on kindly strangers' couches through the website couchsurfing. Or you could volunteer on an organic farm and stay for free with wwoofinternational.org.

HOUSE-SWAP OR HOUSE-SIT

This is another free accommodation option for those who don't fancy sleeping near strangers or working on farms. Choose to house-swap or house-sit and you'll have a home away from home, with just the plants and probably a few cats or dogs to look after.

THE DESTINATION

TRAVEL OFF-PEAK

This goes for all facets of your trip: travel off-peak. Go in winter or in shoulder seasons. Whenever prices are lowest – flights, hotels, attractions and more – this is the time to visit. If it is chilly just be sure you have the appropriate clothes to cope with weather conditions.

GET OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Generally, the more popular a destination is, the more expensive it will be. So, get away from the crowds and save. You don't have to go far. Say you like the sound of Croatia – try Montenegro or even Albania instead. Say you want to visit New York City – give Boston or Chicago a go.

BE FLEXIBLE

Where are you going? If the answer is, "Who cares?", then you stand to save money. If you're happy to decide on your dates and then just look for the destination with the cheapest fares and the cheapest hotels, you're on your way to savings town.

CHOOSE SOMEWHERE CHEAP

If you want a cheap holiday then it stands to reason that you should go somewhere cheap. Not just good value – we're talking seriously inexpensive. So put that trip to Norway on the backburner and head to Vietnam or India instead.

GO LOCAL

Here's an idea: instead of spending up on international airfares, why not just take your holiday a little closer to home? Fly interstate, if you want to, or pack up the car and head a few hours up or down the highway.

THE TRANSPORT

WALK

Walking: free

Walking: free Photo: iStock

It's the cheapest form of transport, because it's free. It's also good for your health, good for the planet's health and a great way to explore a destination properly. Walk wherever you can, whenever you can.

RENT A BIKE

Second best to walking is cycling, particularly in cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and even Paris that are geared up for bike riders, and which offer affordable and easily accessible public bicycle-hire systems. Look into your options as soon as you arrive.

TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT

How do the locals get around? Do they catch taxis or tuk-tuks or rickshaws? Sometimes they do. In most places, however, they'll use public transport – buses, metro systems, trams, ferries – because that's the cheapest way to get around. It's the way you should get around, too.

BUY A LOCAL TRANSPORT CARD

Public transport is usually even cheaper when you buy a local travel card such as a Pasmo in Tokyo or an Oyster in London – with discounts on each fare.

BOOK IN ADVANCE

We tend to think of train and bus fares as static things, when in plenty of countries they're not. They work the same as airfares. So book your long-distance journeys in advance, and if you need to use an agency – say, for the Trans-Siberian in Russia – use a local one to avoid unnecessary fees.

RIDE SHARE

Ride-sharing services such as Uber, Grab, Lyft and Gett tend to be far cheaper than local taxi services. You can also use apps such as BlaBlaCar for long-distance car pooling, allowing you to split transportation costs with strangers going in the same direction.

SIGN UP FOR CRUISE NEWSLETTERS

Avid cruisers should sign up for the newsletters mailed out by their favourite cruise lines. This is how you'll hear about the release of any sales or discounts.

THE ATTRACTIONS

BOOK ONLINE

Almost every attraction that operates online bookings will offer a discount to those who use that service. That goes for museums, galleries, castles, palaces, monuments – everything. Book online, save money.

LOOK FOR FREE-ENTRY DAYS

Some of the world's most famous attractions offer special free-entry days or hours. The Louvre, for example, is free to enter on the first Saturday evening of every month. It's free every Friday evening for those aged 26 and under. In New York, meanwhile, MoMA offers free entry every Friday night.

LOOK FOR FREE EXPERIENCES

Are the best things in life free? They are in London, where entry into just about every museum and gallery costs nothing. In plenty of other cities you'll find free walking tours, and free attractions.

VIEW FROM THE OUTSIDE

Do you really need to pay to go in? Some attractions are far better viewed from the outside, and a little disappointing once you're in. Do some research and you could save plenty on admission fees.

USE AGE-RELATED DISCOUNTS

Is there a seniors' discount? Are kids free? Students? Are people under 26 free? Is anyone over the age of 50 given a discount? Look into all of this before buying tickets.

THE FOOD AND DRINK

FILL UP ON BREAKFAST

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Photo: Alamy

If your hotel offers a buffet breakfast, eat everything you can fit in. Hit the omelette station, the muesli stand, the pastries and the hot food. The more you can stuff in during breakfast, the less you'll have to spend on food when you're out.

EAT LUNCHES OUT, DINNERS IN

In some cities, particularly when we're talking high-end dining, it's cheaper to eat at restaurants at lunchtime rather than in the evening. Tokyo is a perfect example, with eateries offering huge discounts for midday diners. Stick to cheap eats at night.

SHOP AT MARKETS

Local markets are a great way of tapping into what's seasonal and delicious, while supporting local farmers and producers as well as saving yourself a bundle compared with restaurant fare. Enjoy your market goodies somewhere scenic.

HIT THE BACKSTREETS

Don't eat in touristy hotspots. Don't go to a restaurant overlooking the Trevi Fountain in Rome, or Times Square in New York. Take yourself just a few blocks in any direction and you'll find the prices go down and the quality goes up.

EAT STREET FOOD

If there's a street food culture in your destination, then make the most of it. In the likes of Singapore and Bangkok, Mumbai and Istanbul, and even Portland and New Orleans, you'll find some of the best and most affordable eats being dished up kerbside.

BUY ALCOHOL AT SUPERMARKETS

This tip is particularly good for Europe, where beer and wine is extremely cheap in supermarkets – we're talking only €6 for a decent bottle of wine, and 30 to 40 euro cents for a local beer.

DRINK AT HAPPY HOUR

Get in early and make the most of those daily discounts at local bars. Then head home for a supermarket beer.

THE EXTRAS

GET A CREDIT CARD WITH REWARDS

Bump up your frequent flyer balance with a credit card that contributes points with every purchase made. Some will offer a large whack of points just for joining up (though these accounts tend to have high annual fees, so get out before you're hit with them).

USE AN ATM CARD WITH NO FEES

Stop paying fees for accessing foreign ATMs and for making purchases in foreign currencies with cards such as ING, 28Degrees and Citibank.

NEVER PAY IN YOUR OWN CURRENCY

Any time you're paying by EFTPOS in a foreign country and you're offered to "pay in your own currency", don't do it. This is essentially a scam that will cost you an average of 8 per cent more than paying in the local currency.

CONSIDER A TRAVEL MONEY CARD

Travel money cards are those that allow you to load up with foreign currency, for example, euros, US dollars or yen. This may not be the most attractive option given the current exchange rate, but it's still worth looking into.

BUY A LOCAL SIM

If you're tired of getting stiffed for a small fortune for roaming charges on your phone, buy a local SIM card. In most countries they're incredibly cheap, and usually very easy to use.

USE FREE WI-FI

Take advantage of free Wi-Fi wherever it's offered – in the airport, in your hotel, in bars and cafes and even public libraries. Just be aware that open signals – i.e. those that don't require a password to join – are far less secure than those that do.

PHONE HOME ONLINE

No need to rack up a huge phone bill calling friends and family back home. Make use of online platforms that allow voice calls – Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, etc – and chat for free.

SHOP AROUND FOR INSURANCE

Be aware that any insurance policy a travel agent sells you will include a commission. You can save money by finding your own policy, and shopping around to ensure you get the best price.

HAGGLE

If you're in a country where the locals typically haggle for their goods in markets and in shops, then you better start doing the same. Treat it as a challenge, a game. You'll save money and have a cultural experience at the same time.

FIVE OF THE BEST-VALUE DESTINATIONS

IBERIAN PENINSULA

Though western European countries tend to be pricey, the Iberian Peninsula is a literal and figurative outlier. Spain and Portugal both offer great value for those chasing the classic Euro experience on a budget, with food and drink in particular being extremely well priced.

VIETNAM

The bad news is that the Australian dollar has lost value to the Vietnamese dong recently. The good news is that $1 still buys you 15,000 dong, which equates to a small bowl of delicious pho, or one sensational iced coffee. Hotels are very affordable as well.

BALKAN PENINSULA

This is another European outlier, taking in Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and more. It's also an area that offers excellent value for money and a surprising diversity of destinations, with everything from ski slopes to Mediterranean coast.

ARGENTINA

Argentina is the best of so many worlds: it's a slice of European grandeur mixed with the liveliness of Latin America, a country with an excellent culinary scene, world-class wine, stunning scenery, bustling cities and endless open space. And it's extremely affordable.

SOUTH AFRICA

The Australian dollar is holding its value against the South African rand, which is great news for those who love wildlife, scenic beauty, character-soaked cities, good wine, excellent food and a warm welcome. South Africa awaits.

FIVE EXPENSIVE DESTINATIONS (AND HOW TO MAKE THEM CHEAPER)

SINGAPORE

Singapore: expensive

Singapore: expensive Photo: iStock

This city-state frequently makes its way onto lists of the world's most expensive travel destinations, and it's true, you can spend serious money here. However, if you stay in hostels, take public transport and eat at hawker centres, it's easy to do Singapore on the cheap.

SWITZERLAND

It's a trade-off: in Switzerland you get what is probably the world's most spectacular scenery coupled with spotless cities and fairy-tale towns. But you have to pay for it. The only way around it is to look for specials, book ahead, and don't go out to eat or drink too much.

NORWAY

Like Switzerland, Norway is incredibly attractive while also being a painful drain on the finances. Here's the trick: travel by bus, or buy train tickets well in advance. Stay in hostels. Walk whenever and wherever you can. And don't drink too much.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The UAE is surprisingly pricey, particularly if you want to eat in the high-end restaurants and shop at the sprawling malls. If you don't, however, it's actually quite cheap. Stay in Dubai's bustling Deira area, eat at local restaurants, travel by metro, hold back on the shopping and you're all set.

DENMARK

A coffee in Copenhagen will cost you about $10. That hurts. Clearly, this is a country in which you're going to have to take special measures to save. That should include utilising free experiences such as strolling the Nyhavn district, visiting the Botanical Gardens and joining free walking tours.

FIVE COMMON RIP-OFFS TO AVOID

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Photo: iStock

AIRLINE EXTRAS

Airlines make so much money from penalty charges. We're talking baggage: excess checked luggage, but also hand luggage that's overweight. We're talking charges for not checking in online; charges for not printing your boarding pass. Read the fine print and avoid.

HIRE CAR EXTRAS

Car-hire companies are also notorious for unwanted extras. You'll always be offered an upgrade on pick-up. You'll be offered extra insurance, even though you might already be covered. You'll be offered a GPS, which is unnecessary. You'll be offered to return the car empty and have the hire company set the fuel price. Don't do any of these things.

BANK CHARGES

There are so many avoidable charges here: charges for using your card in foreign ATMs, for making purchases in foreign currency, or for choosing to "pay in your own currency" at foreign EFTPOS machines. See the main story for ways to make sure you don't pay these.

PHONE CHARGES

Data roaming charges are a huge rip-off, though somewhat avoidable. Several phone companies in Australia now offer travel packages, which cut the risk of bill shock on your return, and local SIM cards in Europe will work throughout the EU with no extra charges.

MANDATORY TIPPING

This one isn't so avoidable, but still annoying. Plenty of companies, particularly in the tour and cruise world, like to include mandatory tipping charges, meaning you'll have to spend a certain amount at the end of your trip on tipping the staff. Why this isn't just worked into the up-front cost is anyone's guess – and here's mine: it makes the trip look cheaper.

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