Travel tips: Better ways to save money when travelling

Everyone likes a money-saving bargain, especially when it comes to travel. But some commonly given advice on how to save cash on the road is completely counterproductive. The cheapskate way can often end up costing more and leading to a pretty ropy experience. These are six of the worst false economy traps travellers can fall into:

Take the night/ train bus

It's an extremely sound idea in principle. After all, getting the tedious travelling out of the way overnight is a way of saving both time and money, surely? It'll buy an extra day in the destination AND cut out the need to splash the cash on accommodation for the night.

But it really depends on what you want to spend that next day doing. If you've just spent the night on a train, it's pretty much guaranteed to be a case of forlornly trudging from café to café, mainlining coffee until your room is ready and you can finally have a much-needed nap. Any attempt at sightseeing will generally consist of miserable, uninterested trudging.

Trains, quite simply, aren't suited to sleeping on. There's too much noise and being sloshed from side to side. And, if the train's final destination is not your final destination, an overwhelming sense of paranoia about missing the stop shoots through your body every time the train comes to a halt.

Of course, everything bad about night trains is magnified multiple times on a night bus, which is practically calculated to leave you wandering around the next day like an extra from 28 Days Later.

Get a connecting flight rather than going direct

Again, there's a sound logic behind going the indirect route. Tickets are usually cheaper and a few extra hours getting to the destination isn't that big a deal.

Well, in theory, anyway. On a long haul connecting flight, the layover tends to happen just as you're at your most tired. And the longer the layover, the more grim continually prodding yourself awake becomes. Eighteen hours in Guangzhou airport suddenly seems like a purgatorial torture rather than a crafty travel hack.

The money saved also tends to be gnawed away at. Vastly overpriced food and drink get bought to stave off hunger and thirst, credit cards come out in shops and paying to go online for an hour or two seems like a good idea.

The other alternative is to check into a hotel and sleep it off – almost certainly costing more than the direct flight would have done.

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Connecting flights, of course, are also far worse for lost luggage than direct ones. And saving $150 won't seem all that great a deal after spending two days chasing bags that the airline promises will be delivered to the hotel.

Go hostel private room rather than budget hotel

Hostels are more sociable than hotels, which is usually an excellent point in their favour. But for those who can't bear the thought of dorms any more, they're not necessarily the best money-saving option – and it's partly because they are so sociable. Dozens of rent-a-friends sitting around the lounge with a beer, discussing plans for the evening, has a nasty tendency to culminate in an expensive bar crawl.

That's obviously great if having a good time is a priority; less so if saving cash to spend elsewhere is. And, frankly, private rooms in budget hotels are often cheaper than those in hostels.

Save frequent-flyer points for a long-haul trip

Save 'em up, then use them to go to somewhere exotic and far away. This is both a common, and terribly poor value, use of frequent flyer points – in economy at least. Taxes and often spurious charges lumped on to the redemption tickets often mean that the saving on the cash fare for economy tickets isn't that much.

And if you've been diverting your spending to potentially more expensive supermarkets, credit cards and petrol stations to get those points, then you really want to be getting as good a value from them as possible.

Generally, the most bang for buck comes in upgrading to the posher cabins – taxes and charges are a much smaller proportion of the cash fare. Alternatively, use them for short-haul flights to destinations that would otherwise be disproportionately expensive, or for flights with partner airlines that have lower charges in countries with lower taxes. Using Qantas points for American Airlines flights within the Americas is a particularly good example of this.

Pack light

Sure, if you're only going away for a couple of days, limiting yourself to one carry-on bag will probably save a few bucks on checked bag fees – and let you get out of the airport quicker. But if you're going away for a couple of weeks, this approach means you either have to do some laundry or start stinking.

The laundry cost will usually be roughly the same as the checked bag fee saving, and the time saved at the airport will simply be transferred to time spent waiting for everything to dry in the tumbler.

Ditch the guide book

Why shell out $40 for a guide book when all the information's out of date and online? Well, that's something you find out the first time you try travelling without one.

The information may well be online, but there's way too much of it, finding reliable sources can be tediously time-consuming and it's spread all over the web. Which is fine if you're happy spending time in your hotel room researching, or not bothered about the hideous data roaming bills incurred doing it on the hoof.

Guide books do have flaws. But the information is usefully collated in one place, editorially filtered to get rid of the rubbish, and everything's put on a map so it's darned easy to work out what's near and worth going to.

Investing in a guide book will almost always make for a better experience – and it's far preferable to coming home to an enormous phone bill.

See also: Eleven mistakes first-time travellers make
See also: The questions every air traveller wants answered

What ways have you tried to save money when travelling? Was it worth it? What have your learned? Post your comments below.

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