Sitting down with a calendar, laptop, and guide book to plan a trip is never as easy as imagining how nice a weekend away would be. Flight prices, long layovers, and a bevy of accommodation options often take the romance out of satisfying your wanderlust. Avoid poorly planned or expensive with these simple tips!
Who To Go With
The person you travel with should have a similar budget, unless they’re willing to book separate accommodation. Decide beforehand how often you’ll eat out, what kind of hotel you’d be willing to stay in, and how much you’d be willing to pay for activities. Ask about what schedule they like, whether they want to experience local nightlife, and whether you’ll want to do the same activities. You don’t need to have the same answers if you’re okay spending some time alone and meeting at the start and end of the day.
Whoever you choose, make sure they’re reliable. Book at the same time and find out beforehand when school deadlines are so that you don’t cancel due to work. Plan close enough that emergencies are less likely to occur, but understand that personal emergencies do happen. Mitigate the risk by going with multiple people instead of just one.
Try to book flights two months in advance. Book on a Tuesday afternoon, after flight have published their prices and competition brings the prices down. Flight algorithms bump up prices based on how often the flight is searched, even from incognito mode. Try to search for flights the day you plan to book. If you’d like to look at prices for different places, try Kayak and Google for all flights from a certain airport. Try alternative airports (like Pisa to go to Florence), but check the prices of local transport to make sure your journey from the airport is still cheaper than a direct flight and close enough to be worth it.
When booking your own connection or contemplating trains or buses, remember that you won’t just be paying the cheaper cost of the ride. With a long layover, you’ll need food. If you use the layover to explore a city, remember that airports are usually at least an hour from the centre and you’ll need to either carry your bags around or pay to store them and pay for transportation into and out of the city. If your layover is overnight, you’ll need a hotel. If your connection is at two different airports in the same area, there may be no direct way to get from one airport to the other (like some in London). All these additions may make your journey just as expensive as a direct flight.
For hostels, check safety ratings. If a hostel has poor reviews, make sure it’s not because people feel unsafe. Check for lockers and save money by bringing your own padlock. Bring your own towels and flip flops for the shower instead of renting. You’ll might have someone snoring in your room, so invest in headphones or earplugs and bring a sleeping mask. Go to the common rooms and say hello to get tips about what to do and to join a group for a more fun and safe night out.
For AirBnB, only trust postings with several reviews and never book one that has a review saying the stay was canceled. It’s common for new posters to cancel days before you arrive, forcing you to spend extra on a last-minute hotel. AirBnB has the most value for groups and choosing one when you’re traveling alone is risky. Save by booking one outside of town but right near public transportation so you can ride in for the day.
What to Do
If you’d like a tour, go to a hostel to find out about free tours and events. Find a free tour company with good reviews and tip £5-10 at the end and you’ll still end up saving money. Start with the standard tourist sites, then look up alternative tours, like Ghost, Architecture, or Street Art tours to really get to know the city.
To save money on food, buy granola bars to last between meals. Eat street food or go to a restaurant for authentic local cuisine for one or two meals a day. Make each meal count and make a list of the local food you want to try before leaving. Write down common phrases, like “table for two” or “can I have…” so that you get better service. If you have allergies, write down your needs in the local language and make sure the server understands. Save money by carrying water or asking for tap water. Most countries charge for water, so invest in a Camel bag.
Start with TripAdvisor to get the touristy sites done and then branch out. Check concert listings, local blogs, and Atlas Obscura for some non-touristy recommendations. Try day-of student tickets for local music, theatre, and opera, and Groupon for experiences. Look for local listings of events in blogs like DoNYC or BlogTO and check local papers, like the Village Voice or the Baltimore City Paper. Ask friends and check The New York Times for “36 hours in” pieces.
Take local public transport to get to your activities and try to plan your trip by area so that you don’t spend all your money on transport. Put all the things you’d like to do and see on Google’s My Maps, which allows you to plan better and give your family or friends a map of where you’ll be going. Google won’t usually give you the cheapest way, so pick up maps of the public transport system.
Finally, here are some general tips. Use your student card everywhere you can. Make sure to pack comfortable shoes. Look for free or cheaper days for museums and sites and try to book directly as much as you can to avoid fees. Check opening hours and entrance fees before going. Buy a travel guide so you don’t have to worry about phone battery when you look up information about the sites. Plan on how to contact people once in that country and consider that WiFi may be hard to connect to. Budget for roaming charges. If you’re lost, go into any hotel and ask the concierge for help. Most importantly, write down important phrases in the local language about police, hospitals, and emergency services just in case.
As you travel more, you’ll come up with your own tricks for cheaper or smoother adventures. Successful travel is about preparation, compromise, and a desire to experience something incredible. Whether you’re going on safari or just an hour away to Stirling, use some of these tips to make it unforgettable.