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Besides food and shopping, the one other thing many Singaporeans live for is travel. For many, their main motivation for all those evenings at the office is the satisfaction of being able to relax at a fancy resort in Bali, shop in one of the world’s fashion capitals, feed their manga obsession in Japan or behave lawlessly in Bangkok.
That’s all well and good, but what happens when you want to travel frequently without letting it jeopardise your ability to retire before turning 80 or letting your family starve?
Sure, you could bring a suitcase full of instant noodles with you and sleep in train stations, but then you’d be dying for the end of your holiday to arrive. Here are four ways to cut costs on your travels that can bring a little something to your trip at the same time.
1. Spend time in less touristy cities in the country of your choice
When Singaporeans visit France, 9 times out of 10 it means they’re heading to Paris. When they head to Japan, they most often visit Tokyo.
Sometimes, picking a lesser known city in the country you’d like to visit can save you quite a bit of money, especially if you intend to spend more than a few days there.
For instance, if you’re a frequent visitor to Japan, instead of always going to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, hit up lesser-visited destinations like Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Nagasaki on Kyushu Island. Air tickets are usually only about $100 more, but everything else is cheaper, from accommodation to food.
To cite another example, you’ll end up spending a lot more on accommodation, food and transportation in Paris than you would in a city like Nantes, which while smaller is extremely vibrant and gives you more of a local feel. The average Airbnb apartment in Nantes is 51 euro a night, while in Paris the price rises to 82 euro.
2. Pick the right people to travel with
Not only is it a pain to travel with people who are high maintenance, control freaks or just have a very different idea of what makes a good holiday, it can also be more expensive, so choose your travel companions with care.
If your way of discovering a new country is to hang out with locals at dive bars but your friend is hell-bent compiling a list of Michelin-starred restaurants to visit, be prepared for a lot of compromise and to see your budget rise.
Accommodation is also a tricky issue as you’ll be staying with your travel companions, and if one of you is on a backpacker’s budget while another is used to five star hotels, be prepared for disagreements.
If you can find like-minded people to travel with, however, you can actually end up saving money, as shared accommodation is almost always cheaper with two or three people.
3. Stay with locals
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the comforts of hotel-living every once in a while, and stealing their toiletries while you’re at it.
But staying with locals can make a trip way more memorable, and be cheaper to boot.
If you’re really on a budget, you can consider Couchsurfing, which basically enables you to sleep on people’s couches for free. The Couchsurfing network has evolved into quite the community, and is a great way to meet locals, especially if you’re on a longer trip.
Otherwise, there’s always good old Airbnb, which enables you to rent the homes of locals at a fee that’s often lower than the price of a hotel. As an added bonus, you are also usually allowed the use of cooking and laundry facilities, which translates to greater cost-savings for you.
Each Couchsurfing or Airbnb experience is different, but these stays tend to be more memorable than hotel stays. I have fond memories of house parties in the Hawaiian countryside with my Couchsurfing hosts, which sure beats staring at the ceiling in a nondescript hotel.
4. Eat what the locals are eating
As you sit down to that meal at the “Eiffel Tower Restaurant” or the “Colosseum Ristorante”, don’t be surprised if you look around you only to see hordes of Chinese and American tourists staring back. And try not to balk when you receive the bill and end up paying more than what any self-respecting local would pay for such substandard food.
Italy might be renowned for its cuisine, but most Italian people don’t eat at restaurants every day—it’s simply too expensive. When they’re not whipping up meals at home, they’re grabbing a 3 euro slice of square-cut takeaway pizza (delicious and nothing like the flaccid imitation pizzas our local bakeries sell) or a piping hot arancini.
Similarly, in Bangkok, only the well-heeled can afford to eat in restaurants at Siam Paragon every day. For everyone else, a meal outdoors means chowing down on street food or gathering around a mookata.
If you have no idea where to go, ask a random local where they normally eat—and not what they would recommend to a tourist.
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