Tips for travelling on a budget

By Dax Villanueva

Travel is bad for the budget. There is no denying that. But the value of travel is not measured by the price tag, but by the experiences had, which are priceless.

Saint Augustine of Hippo said that “The World Is a Book and Those Who Do Not Travel Read Only One Page”. I have to agree. Normally I recommend that people be careful about spending money on themselves instead of doing the responsible thing like paying off their debts. But travel has my blessing for its return on investment, even though it can’t be measured. Interestingly, it has been scientifically proven that spending money on experiences is more pleasurable than spending money on buying things.

The problem for us South Africans is that the Rand does not go far overseas these days. So I thought I would share some tips for travelling on the Rand. I’m obviously talking about international travel. Travel within South Africa is a great way to have a cheaper holiday, plus South Africa is a beautiful country. But international travel broadens your horizons and introduces you to new cultures.

Before leaving, think about your style of budgeting.

Option 1 is to use credit cards for purchases and ATMs to withdraw cash while overseas. If you plan to do this, make sure you have called your bank to authorise transactions overseas for the duration of your trip. Also try to get a few Pounds or Dollars (or whichever currency is used in the country you are visiting) from your bank for emergencies. Anything can happen, e.g. your credit card doesn’t work overseas or your wallet gets stolen.

Remember that your bank will get you a new credit card wherever you are within a couple of days. Make sure you’ve made a note of the emergency number to call.

The advantage of option 1 is that when you get home you have a very neat list of all your transactions on your credit card statement. This info feeds nicely into the 22seven app and allows you to see exactly what your trip cost you. Another advantage is that you don’t have to pay fees to exchange money. You just pay the bank’s exchange rate (which is more expensive than the current forex rate).

The negative of option 1 is that if the Rand weakens your rate gets worse and worse which can play havoc with your budget.

Which leads us onto the 2nd option, which is to decide what you can afford and change all your currency before you go.

The advantage is that you will have to stick within your budget, but be careful of the temptation to spend all of your budget just because you can. The other advantage is that you will be protected from exchange rate fluctuations which, as we have seen recently, can be substantial.

You can take your forex as cash or as a money card. The latter is more secure and can be replaced if stolen.

People often tell me they don’t like to plan too much as they want to be spontaneous. I love spontaneity but it can be expensive. Didn’t book a hotel? You’ll suddenly find yourself having to book into an expensive hotel because the 5 cheap ones you tried were full and the taxi fare is becoming expensive too!

But that is an obvious one. Think about the small things like how will you get from the airport into the city. Many budget airlines land at smaller airports which are further away and not well serviced by public transport. The cost of getting to the city from the airport can cost as much as your flight in this case!

Daily expenses
Watch out for the small expenses. You may be used to buying yourself a cup of coffee every day back home. But in London, they’ll cost you R60 or more, and that will put a dent in your daily budget!

Work out a budget
Divide the number of days you are away into your total budget. This will give you a rough mental note of what you can or can’t afford.

Not every meal has to be an amazing gourmet experience. I like saving my budget for one nice meal a day and the rest of the time just grabbing some street food or something from the supermarket. Often sitting on the river bank sharing a baguette with cheese is more memorable than a fancy meal in a restaurant that costs a fortune.

For the record, we eat very well in SA. I found that in many countries, unless I spent a lot of money, the food experience was underwhelming compared to what we enjoy back home.

Use blogs, TripAdvisor and other travel sites to learn about your destination. Have a list of places you would like to see and restaurants you would like to visit. It can save you time and money.

Be conservative
My final tip is to be conservative in your time estimates. One of the biggest expenses you can incur on a trip is having to buy another air ticket because you missed your flight. Public transport is not 100% reliable and using a taxi as a backup can be very expensive too. Imagine a worst case scenario, e.g. if the underground stops working, how long would it take you to get to the airport using an alternative like a bus? Then leave for the airport with that amount of time to spare.

Enjoy your trip
Lastly, budgets are important but don’t sabotage your own trip. If you need to spend a bit more than planned to have the full experience, it’s cheaper than going back to do it another time!

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Originally published at on January 12, 2016.

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