India’s travel market is the fastest growing one in the Asia-Pacific region and is expected to touch $24 billion mark by 2012-end. Indian travellers have also evolved to become more innovative and experimental in choosing according to their needs, be it couples, family travellers or backpackers (individual / groups). Given Indians’ desire to travel and explore, the rising fuel price and additional taxes may play a spoilsport. And this has helped ‘budget travel’ find a huge following.
This concept has come a long way, from struggle between small budgets and dearth of options, to finding a good experience without draining your savings. Money is not really the constraint with many now, but it’s the imagination of what you can do with it and how you can customise your travel. Here’s some help on planning a budget trip -
Robust research needed: Specially for international trips, check for options online, reviews and / or ask people who have already travelled to that place. Keep an eye for promotions / discounts being run by travel portals or tourism boards for the destination, as they are a ready source of information on the country along with a great deal and freebies.
Online travel agencies come in handy as they can share some practical tips, authenticated hotel reviews and even visa services. If you are booking 2 months ahead, you can easily bag up to 70 per cent discount on hotel. And save about 40 per cent aggregate, if you book your travel and stay together. Additionally, there are a lot of cities that offer discounts of up to 40 per cent when booking for over 3 activities at a time like sight seeing, hiking, trekking and so on.
It is a good idea to have a mix of air and land transport, depending on the time available. For instance, to reach Europe you could take a flight and then travel by train. Using the public transport or walking is usually the closest way to experience the culture of a place and save on costly taxi fares. Downloading subway, bus and train maps and schedules in advance makes sightseeing easy. Some cities, like London also have ‘Hop-On-Hop-Off’ (HOHO) buses that take you around most of the spots. To explore a new city, opt for a budget hotel.
If in a group, rent vacation homes as they work out to be much cheaper.
Currency woes: Once you have booked your international trip, monitor exchange rates and get currency at the best rate possible before travel. Also, check for the maximum amount of foreign currency you can carry. In case you exhaust the currency, you must exercise caution as money changing tricks are the easiest way to burn your fingers abroad. Always make sure you have received the notes of the right denomination as they may be carefully folded to deceive you, like a $1 bill made to appear like a $100 one. Also ensure you receive the actual amount you paid, if a deal goes void.
Go local: The best way to experience the true flavour of a destination is to go local! Use locals to guide you, ask them for their favourite places to eat, good places to shop and if a some place is worth a visit. If you really can’t stay away from retail therapy, try to find the flea market and have a $5 budget or a low budget. At times, you can unearth some extraordinary treasures in these places.
While researching, ask experienced people on how to bargain a deal, than just buying at the mentioned price. Find out what is made locally and what the deals are, like pearls in Shanghai, silver in Thailand and carpets in Pakistan. Use costs of these items at home to gauge. If you can get something cheaper back home, no point carrying it from abroad as you will also have to pay duties and portage, further increasing the cost. Check for add-ons like free wi-fi connectivity during your cafe visits.
Last minute trips: There are chances of getting good deals even if you book closer to the date of travel. It is usually difficult to get attractive last minute deals if you are travelling during peak holidays seasons like summer or Christmas. But there are some portals that offer discounts and deals even in these seasons. Use these tips to get good deals -
- Booking flight and hotel together translates into higher savings as opposed to buying separately
- Business hotels are cheaper on weekends and leisure hotels are cheaper on weekdays
- Read up hotel reviews for good services and offerings, preferably from trusted sources
- Try and stay close to city centre to save on your travel cost and time
- Buy a ‘tourist pass’ to save on cost of public transportation, attraction tickets and city tours
- If travelling with family or group, you can get a discounts (or free tickets) on transport / attraction tickets booked together
- Pack bags that you can carry or use backpacks as portage is expensive overseas
A good travel experience can be obtained even on shoestring budget, if planned in the right manner and time. Travelling on a budget can limit travel options, but it doesn’t have to limit your experience.
The writer is country head, Expedia India