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Travel without burning a hole in your pocket

Cut costs by booking tickets and hotel rooms in advance, opting for group packages, eating and shopping where the locals do

Priya Nair  |  Mumbai 

You have just received the email from the HR department approving your annual leave. There is a sense of elation because that long-pending foreign holiday seems to be finally happening. But there are worries as well. How will you manage it within a budget when you know little about the country?

A little bit of advance planning is all it requires. And with some good research, things will fall in place. (COST OF CARRYING FUNDS FOR TRAVEL ABROAD)


Advance booking
The easiest way to get tickets cheap is to book well in advance. If booking in bulk, you can negotiate with airlines and get tickets at cheaper rates, says Kishore Jaleel, executive director of Travelogics. Airlines block seats for cheaper rates and if you book in advance, you can negotiate. The booking system for these tickets might start as early as 9-10 months before the travel. So, if your plans are in place, it's better to book immediately.

Rashi Vidyasagar, a post-graduate student, who had been on a 20-day European tour in May last year, had booked her tickets five months before the trip to get good rates. "I had planned my trip well in advance. Though I got my visa just two days before my travel, my tickets were booked much ahead," she says. Another way to save on fares is to book an indirect flight rather than a direct one, says Karan Anand, head (relationships), Cox and Kings. For instance, a Delhi-Dubai-London return flight would work out cheaper by at least 15 per cent, compared to a direct Delhi-London-Delhi flight.

Group travel
One of the easiest ways to cut costs is to travel in groups. You can either book a package with a travel agency or organise your own group. The former will be slightly more expensive, but hassle-free. Organising your own group to travel (it could be people you know at work or your housing society or local sports club) will be more economical, provided someone is willing to take the responsibility.

If you are more adventurous, backpacking is a good way to travel within a small budget. It is best suited if travelling alone. But be prepared to share a room with several other travellers in hostels and forgo the comforts of hotels.

Local travel
After reaching your destination, travelling within the country can also be expensive. It is possible to book these tickets in advance, too, says Monica Bhatija, a freelance journalist. For her European trip, she booked train tickets about three months in advance, and got them at about £12. Against this, booking tickets on the spot would have cost about £60. "Since cancellation is allowed up to three days prior to travel, you can cancel if you need to," she says. If you have time, you can also travel by the local trains, which are cheaper but could take more time than Eurorail.

Vishal Suri, deputy chief operating officer (tour operating), Kuoni India, agrees that wisely choosing ground transportation could also help cut costs. "While travelling within the country, travellers can opt for rental cars, local taxis, bikes, shuttle or subway services, depending on the location," says Suri. For public transport, it is cheaper to buy a weekly pass, rather than the daily tickets, says Bhatija. For this, make sure to carry extra passport-sized photographs.

Accommodation
When it comes to stay, you can go through a wholesaler, who can help get rates at a discount because you will get these in bulk. Or, go through a tour operator. "You can get rates at 25-40 per cent cheaper if you book in bulk. But for this, you should be sure about the number of people travelling," says Jaleel. Most package group tours offer accommodation in three-star or four-star hotels.

Another advantage of booking through a travel firm is that you may get add-ons such as complimentary meals and transfers, free travel for children and so on, says Madhav Pai, director, leisure travel (outbound), Thomas Cook (India).

Anand of Cox & Kings says one option is to stay in a no-frills hotel in the suburbs, which would work out to be very reasonable, rather than staying in the central areas, which could be expensive.

While looking for cheap airfares and hotel accommodation, you need to watch out for 100 per cent cancellation charges, says Anand of Cox and Kings. Sometimes, while offering discounts airlines and hotels might say that in case of cancellation, the entire amount may be forfeited. But if you book at the full fare, it is possible you may get full refund if you cancel 24-48 hours before check-in or departure.

For those willing to give up the comforts of a hotel, hostels are a good option. These are much cheaper than hotel rooms and offer you the basic facilities in a clean environment. Those travelling alone can stay in dormitories or share a double room. You can even get private rooms in hostels if you travelling as a family.

When Raja Menon, wife Anuradha and son Yannick went on a six-month trip to South America, they stayed in private rooms in hostels. These can work out about 50 per cent cheaper than hotel rooms. The rates range between $20 and $70 per bed per night, depending on the country. "The private rooms were comfortable and had attached bathrooms. Since we were out the whole day, it did not matter that the facilities were basic," says Menon.

Menon and his family also used 'couch-surfing' a lot. Here, you can stay in people's homes for no charge. But you may return the favour by getting them a token gift or cooking them a meal. Vidyasagar says she 'couch-surfed' only if there were other girls. For the rest of her trip, she stayed in hostels. There are websites where you can register for couch-surfing. It is a trend is slowly catching on in India.

Food
Most of the hostels offer facilities to cook your own food, which is another way to save cost, says Menon. Eating at places where the locals eat can also help cut cost. One can also go to the local supermarkets and pick out readymade meals, which will include a sandwich, a drink and a packet of chips. This works out cheaper than eating meals at restaurants. Travellers can also opt for economical meals at fine restaurants during happy hours, says Suri.

Sight-seeing
It is better not to skip sight-seeing or visiting museums and monuments, since that is the whole purpose of a trip. In many places, entry for children up to 13 years is free. There are also some days in the week when tourists are allowed free or given discounts. You can keep track of these days through guidebooks or internet.

Bhatija says, "The regular entry fee at many museums is $20-25. But once a week, entry is either free or you can pay what you like. If you keep track of these days, you can save a lot of money." However, Menon and family avoided these days as a rule, due to the crowds. "Such days are packed; so, we used to avoid visiting the museums and monuments on those days."

It is possible to book the entry to these places online, too. Students get discounts here as well, adds Vidyasagar. Another expense that you might have to incur is for the guide, if you want one. Some tour packages include charges for a guide in their rates, while some might not. Check this before booking your package.

Money and forex
You need to convert a decent amount of money from your home country. You can do it while travelling as well, but that might not get you good rates, says Kotwani. "While you can take some amount in travellers' cheques, it is better to have some cash to pay for bus fares and water while travelling," she says. It is better to monitor the foreign exchange rates for a week prior to travel, says Anand. The best way is to purchase a part of the exchange in currency notes and the balance by way of foreign currency prepaid cards.

Most banks offer these prepaid cards, which you can load with a pre-fixed amount and then swipe while travelling abroad. These are safer than using your own credit or debit cards.

Suri says travellers often prefer to carry cash as it is simple and easy. However, carrying cash entails risk and, hence, it is better to opt for prepaid cards. These cards also hedge against fall in the exchange rate. This is because in case of prepaid cards, the value of the rupee would be as on the date funds are loaded to the card which, typically, would be before the journey date.

Shopping
It is better to avoid shopping in Europe, since it is expensive. But in case of the US, if you happen to be there during sales, it is a good time to shop, says Bhatija. "For souvenirs, I used to visit flea markets, since they are cheaper than the stores," she says.

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First Published: Sun, March 24 2013. 22:30 IST
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