1. What is quality budget travel? And how to go about it?
Budget travel doesn’t mean you have to stay in a dirty, unkempt, unhygienic hotel or you need to sacrifice your personal comfort. It’s not a cheap or free travel. If you plan adequately well in advance, right season, suitable destination, low cost means of transport, be it flight, train, bus or cruise, clean and comfortable places of stay, reasonably researched itinerary, avoiding extravagant shopping and many more, you can happily travel reducing the costs by 40% to 50%, ensuring quality, comfort, fun as well as cherishable happy memories.
2. Can you elaborate on each of the points mentioned?
Yes, for better understanding I will explain in detail.
A. Planning for the trip.
You need to be clear about the ideal destination for you, as highlighted in the earlier FAQs. To make sure about such destination, you can refer to reliable information online and offline. There are many user-friendly travel guides such as Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Globetrotter etc that will be provide lots of details about a destination, available as hardcopy books and also online. Similarly, the online sites such as Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Triposo are excellently designed not only in helping with initial planning but also for preparing detailed itinerary. There are traveler forums in these sites, where experienced travelers provide you with good advice and guidance. These online travel sites are also available as free apps that one can download on the smart phone for time to time update and interaction. I also advise that one should meet or talk to those friends or relative who travelled recently to the intended destinations that will definitely provide good inputs.
B. Timing and season.
Most of the destinations have high, low and shoulder seasons and my experience is that if you choose either low or shoulder season the rates of hotels, sightseeing expenses will be less by 30% or so. Even some of the airlines offer cheaper tickets to the destinations that are of low or shoulder season. Only hitch is that in low season at some destinations, some of the sights are closed for maintenance or upkeeping. So, it’s better to check online about such destination so that you will not miss much.
C. Travel to and from the destination and also internal travel.
Once, where and when to visit a destination is finalised, one should book in advance tickets, be it by air, by train, by bus or by cruise/ferry. Many airlines now a days, are providing limited period offer tickets well in advance at quite cheap prices. Also, if you book tickets directly from the airlines such as Air Asia, Spicejet, Jet airways, the rates are quite less comparable to what you book from a Travel Agency. These airlines also provide information of lowest prices offered during a month to help to choose better. There is an excellent user-friendly website skyscanner.com that provide rates from large number of airlines on any day that suits your travel with details of price range. However, one should be clear that these concessional or discounted tickets are non-refundable and also will have certain restrictions on weight of cabin baggage and check-in baggage. You should read terms and conditions clearly before booking the tickets online. It is always safe to travel on same airlines if you have to change the flights to reach your destination and also buy a round the trip ticket that will be not only economical but also you will not miss your flights it there is any delay first flight.
For internal travel, I found local bus or ferry where available, will be best, safe and cheapest option. I travelled extensively to many countries in Europe and also in South East Asia, mostly by bus and enjoyed such journeys thoroughly. One can book these bus or ferry journeys online if you could browse through leisurely. Train journeys are generally a bit expensive in many countries and sometimes more expensive than airfares. In some countries, one can travel by air on local low-cost airlines that will be safe and cheaper also.
There are many good and reliable websites such as Booking.com, Lonelyplanet.com, Expedia, Agoda, Priceline.com, Trip Advisor.com, Airbnb, Makemytrip or clearmytrip, Hostels.com etc that offer excellent services in facilitating to choose, select and zero in the type, location, distance from airport or central area of accommodation, facilities (whether breakfast included, free Wi-Fi, pickup from airport etc) and other details for accommodation. In many sites including Trip Advisor you can see the rooms, location online and also read the reviews from traveler’s community. My suggestion is to avoid branded star hotels as they tend to charge for services which you don’t use at all. It’s better to select a property that is near to center or in CBD (Central Business Dist) area of the city or town where you want to stay that will avoid costs of moving around.
There are many good and reliable un-starred, un-branded hotels, backpacker lodges, hostels, inns, B&B (bread and breakfast) guesthouses, pension accommodation, self-catering apartments/villas, camping sites that will cater to your needs without compromising on quality, safety and security. If you are keen on star hotels (five, four or whatever), there are websites such as luxuryexcapes.com etc and also if you book directly from such branded star properties well in advance or if it is low/shoulder season, the prices will be cheaper than booking from a Travel Agency.
E. Itinerary for sightseeing and activities.
For this one must read relevant and reliable information from official tourism websites of those countries, credible websites like Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor that will help in selecting places and activities of your choice and interest. You can post your question on these websites in travel forums and many a times you get quite useful and practical information. You can also consult like-minded friends who travelled to these destinations recently. If the time at your disposal is short in that particular place, it’s better to book your tour online after ascertaining details of such tour, whether costs include admission tickets to museums, archeological sites or any places of interest, whether lunch included, pick up and dropping at your hotel, accompanying guide who could speak English etc.
If there is sufficient time, it is best to seek help from the reception or concierge of the hotel where you are staying immediately on the day of your arrival, as many of them are very knowledgeable and also do your tour bookings, reservations for theatres, restaurants, special cultural shows, or they can also guide you to local reliable operators who provide you custom- made sightseeing program, that too at quite a competitive/reasonable price. What I generally do is that on first day, I travel on hop on hop off bus/coach as early as possible that will familiarize with the city or town and also provide general topographical idea about important places, timings, directions. Places like Paris, New York, Vienna and many more cities offer a 24/48/72-hour travel pass/card that will be not only economical but also help you to avoid long queues and waiting period. In many cities there are happy hours on certain holidays or during the last few hours before closing time for visiting important museums, sights, places of interest that can be utilized effectively to reduce your costs.
One must take a travel insurance that covers cancelled flights, delay in receiving check in baggage in addition to health-related matters. If you are on any adventure trip like hiking and trekking, mountaineering, diving, sailing, surfing, river rafting, wind sporting, or any such activities, make sure that your insurance covers these aspects specifically. In addition, when you miss a flight or delay in arrival of luggage, or hospitalization, make sure to obtain a certificate from authorized official so that you can claim your entitled funds.
Secondly always carry a medical kit including the medicines that you take regularly along with prescription from your Doctor. Wherever you are, inform your relatives or friends about your location, on day to day basis, either through mail or WhatsApp or Viber or FB, as many hotels/restaurants offer free Wi-Fi service. Thirdly, don’t carry too much cash and it’s better to take a pre-loaded foreign exchange card from your Bank that will not charge extra commission as is done in case of usage of Credit/ Debit card. Fourthly, if you are travelling for longer period of three to five weeks or so, better take a local sim card to be in touch with your near and dear, that will be quite cheap. Fifthly, acquaint yourself about information on any important festivals or cultural events, special occasions in those countries where you are travelling that will enrich your experience. Sixthly learn at least important sentences in local language like greeting, small talk asking time, directions that will help you interact with local people and I can assure you, that will break ice on many occasions and help you to enjoy our travel better.
Last but not the least, use your commonsense and experience to face any annoyances or dangers by taking adequate precautions and also seeking advice from the hotel staff before venturing into late night adventures.
So folks… happy, exciting and enjoyable travelling to you all.
—-Madan Gopal, IAS (Retd)