Cash converters: the economic crisis is now being reflected in TV documentary-making
By David Clack
Looking to cut the cost of flights, book cheap hotels and generally get around the globe for less? We hear you. Make your next jaunt your best value yet with these crucial money-saving travel tips.
Check that the airport is where the airline says it is
Low-cost airlines are notorious for bending the rules of geography when it comes to locating airports. For example, Oslo-Torp airport, used by RyanAir and WizzAir, is 75 miles and nearly two hours’ drive away from the Norwegian capital. And unless you’re planning on walking, you’re looking at a hefty cab or train fare, so consider booking a slightly more expensive flight with a different airline.
Travel, but don’t roam
While many phones will sense when you’re abroad and turn off your data usage, some will continue to send and receive emails, tweets and other information in the background, at a cost of around £3 per megabyte. Have a dig around in your phone’s settings and make sure roaming is switched off to avoid racking up a huge bill, or call your service provider and make sure international data usage is blocked.
Shop local for souvenirs
While most gift shops in Colombia will happily sell you a pretty-looking box of local coffee beans, the stuff sold loose in the supermarket across the road will be much, much cheaper – and probably taste better, too.
Make the most of your hand luggage
Unlike with hold baggage, there are no airline-imposed restrictions of the weight of your carry-on bag. If you’re at risk of incurring an excess baggage fee, then, it makes sense to cram as much as possible into your hand luggage – try lining your bag with shoes and other scale-tipping items to avoid a sting at the check-in desk.
Never, ever buy currency at the airport
Okay, so you’ve had 200 other things to think about, but still – there is absolutely no excuse for waiting until you get to the departure lounge to change your money up, since the terrible exchange rate will never be worth the convenience. For the best deal, think ahead and order online from your bank or Post Office and pick up your notes before you fly.
Get the right credit card
Most standard credit and debit cards will charge you a fee of around 2-3% every time you make a purchase or withdraw cash overseas. Cards aimed at travellers, like Halifax’s Clarity card, don’t, meaning the price on the sticker is always what you pay. Better still, should you find yourself stuck for cash you’ll always get a true exchange rate when using a cash machine (though some ATMs will still charge a fee to foreign cards).
Invest in sturdy luggage
It should go without saying that cheap bags are a false economy – when it comes to luggage, you really do get what you pay for. A hard shell case (with clasps, not zips as these can split) is the best way to go for hold baggage, and keep the warranty card somewhere safe, as it’ll make things easier should you need to replace a dodgy wheel or a sticking handle.
Never pay for wifi on a city break
Where there are cafes, bars and restaurants, there’s free wifi – you’ve just got to know where to look. Download an app called Wi-Fi Finder (free on iPhone, iPad and Android) and it’ll point you in the direction of the nearest gratis hotspot, with the offline mode (which you’ll need to activate before you travel) meaning you won’t be stung with data roaming charges when using the app.
Ask for discounted rooms
Even the most sophisticated hotels will have a room that’s not quite as great as the rest, be that because it’s next to a slightly noisy boiler room, the TV’s broken or it simply has a bad view. You may have to sign a disclaimer when taking one of these rooms, but for the minor inconvenience you’ll save a decent wad of your minibar budget.
Follow the eight week rule
Japanese economists have calculated that the best time to book your flight is exactly eight weeks in advance. Any later and prices will creep up, any earlier and there’s the risk of unforeseen circumstances changing travel plans and you being left with a useless ticket. Set a reminder on your calendar to make sure you get the best fare.
Book in the afternoon
While most travellers are aware that flight prices change throughout the week, they’ll sometimes also fluctuate throughout the day. Studies have shown that, on the whole, prices are higher in the morning, since this is when business travellers are more likely to book.
Always insure annually
If you regularly leave the country more than once a year, it’ll generally work out cheaper to buy annual – rather than single trip – travel insurance. It’s also worth checking whether or not your home insurance covers your personal possessions – as precious as your iPad is, there’s no point in paying for it to be covered twice.
Always get a multi-day travel pass
If you’re visiting a new city for more than a couple of days, it almost always makes financial sense to pick up a multi-day, city-wide public transport pass at the airport. Study your options well, though, since some passes will also include entry to museums and other attractions. They’ll be a touch more expensive, of course, but if you were planning on visiting them anyway…
Haggle, haggle, haggle
We’ve all had a go at talking our way to a deal on a straw donkey, but few bother when it comes to hotel rooms. Particularly if you’re willing to wait until a few days before you travel to book, you’ll find that many hotels are willing to negotiate rates. After all, hotels are under constant pressure to keep their occupancy rates up and a room sold at 30% discount is better than an empty room. Call around a few places, speak to supervisors about their ‘best prices’ – you’ll be surprised by the savings.
Avoid no frills airlines if you’re a skier or golfer
Given the weight of ski equipment and golf clubs, those heading off for a week of piste or fairway-based action should fly with an airline that doesn’t charge for hold baggage. To illustrate, research by Skyscanner.net has shown that, while a ticket to Geneva is around £50 cheaper with easyJet than with British Airways, the £50 levy for skis and £18 for 20kg of hold luggage makes BA the cheaper option.
Become a house-sitter
If you’re willing to leave hotels behind, it’s possible to travel around the entire world without spending a penny on your accommodation. Websites like TrustedHousesitters.com can put you in touch with thousands of people willing to let you stay in their home in exchange for a little domestic care, with properties ranging from urban bolt-holes to sprawling rural mansions. While some ‘assignments’ may involve looking after a pet or two, others are a simple case of watering the plants and keeping an eye on the premises while the owners are away – the least you could do in exchange for the free lodgings.
Book a hostel
Offering a cut-price, boutiquey alternative to the stark homogeneity of budget roadside hotels, luxury hostels (or ‘poshtels’, if you must) could be the biggest thing to happen to hospitality since the B&B. Hostelworld.com lists thousands, many of which offer private rooms of the sort of standard you might expect from a three or four-star stay.
Another budget alternative to a hotel stay is to brave the elements and camp. For those not willing (or able) to pitch their own tent, there’s luxury camping (or ‘glamping’, if you must) - a new-ish concept that involves spending the night in a tepee, yurt or other form of pre-arranged, semi-permanent shelter. Often a fraction of the price of a standard hotel room, accommodation usually comes with some sort of rudimentary cooking facilities, allowing you to appreciate the romance of nature without having to hunch over a useless travel-size gas stove. Check out GoGlamping.net to see what’s on offer.
Fill up at lunch-time
If you’ve got an appetite for fine food, consider eating out for lunch instead of dinner. Not only will you have less trouble finding a table, you’ll also benefit from great value mid-day menus, often offering the same stuff the restaurant serves up in the evening at a much lower price. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in central London, for example, offers a three-course set lunch for £32, while a dinner-time sitting can easily top £100 per head.
Become a travel writer
It’s easier said than done, of course, but if you’ve any journalistic experience at all, exploit it to get free trips. Hotels (especially independent ones) will often put writers up for free in return for coverage on a decent-sized blog, while those with a bigger reputation and stronger portfolio of published work may even be able to wangle free flights from an airline’s PR agency. The only downside is that travel writers tend to be poorly paid and many (including some of Time Out’s) write for free. Still, if the prospect of free travel is remuneration enough, get stuck in.