My friends, as soon as I tell them about some upcoming adventures, always shake their heads. Hearing about my travel plans, people for some reason assume I’m a millionaire or something. But seriously, you don’t need that much money to travel the world. I’ll share my own treasure hunting experience – flights, places to stay, and ways to save.
So let’s start from a scratch. You want to go somewhere. You know where you want to go, and you know the approximate dates when you can do it. So step one will be to estimate the sum of money you’re willing to save. That’s right, not spend, but save. What are you ready to do without – is it a luxury room or a bed at all, is it restaurants or eating out, is it comfy seats on the plane? Or all of the above?
Let’s start with booking a flight. Once booked, the tickets serve as a sort of a promise that you’re actually going somewhere, and get you moving and doing things. I usually start from kayak.com, sometimes comparing the prices with other aggregator websites – there are tons of them, like Momondo, Skyscanner, Anywayanyday etc. They not only show you the flights directly from air companies, but also have offers of the side websites. Those websites, like Budgetair, often have better deals than the air companies themselves. I don’t know why that is but I suspect that they buy a certain amount of tickets from the company and then sell them to the customers once the prices go up. I’ve never used any of them until I got that sweet deal on New York-bound roundtrip flight for $500. The deal is even sweeter now, when the exchange rate went up drastically and now $1 equals 38 rubles, whereas it used to be 31-32. You never know when things like that happen, so the earlier you book, the better. I’ve read a few researches that stated that it’s most beneficial to buy international flights no more than 3 months in advance, and domestic ones – no more than a month. I don’t know about that, but every time I thought waiting a bit might bring the price down turned out bad, and I just had to pay extra money. So my personal advice will be, don’t wait. Most likely the prices won’t drop and will keep going up. Just mind that there might be a wave of promotions in January and February, as well as throughout the year. It’s good to be signed for e-mail updates from air companies to know about the deals. Also, roundtrip flights can be cheaper than a single one-way flight, so always check on that. You’re not obliged to take a trip back!
Going back to the agent companies. Yes, they can have great offers, but if you want to keep your peace of mind, don’t read the reviews. You’ll find tons of negative reviews about each and every one of them. The thing is – people don’t usually bother posting positive reviews on the Internet, especially when it comes to flights. So if the deal’s really good, get it; but only if you’re ready to face complications in case you need to exchange the tickets or cancel the flight. When you book the tickets and later receive them on your email, go to the website of the air company operating the flight and check your ticket. I did it immediately with my Delta flight and everything got confirmed. But, myself I always prefer to overpay a bit (within the $20-30 range) and book the flight directly from the air company.
Let’s say I need to organize my parents a trip to Budapest, Hungary (real case). They want to go for a week, they want comfortable accommodations, location close to the historic center, and transfer from and to the airport. I start with the flights. Kayak shows me that the cheapest ones from Moscow to Budapest are operated by Wizzair. I know that it’s a low-cost company, and from Moscow it only flies to Budapest. The price is around $200 for roundtrip per person. I doubt I’ll find a better deal even if I search other aggregators – I check a few, and I don’t. So I proceed directly to Wizzair, explore the website, select the desirable dates and start the search. I always try to check the box with +-2/3 days option, if there is one, whether it’s an aggregator or a company’s website. The prices may vary a lot. So they do now: flying two days earlier can make a trip back twice cheaper. I end up purchasing tickets for even less than I intended, with just a little bit of attention.
As Wizzair is a low-cost, it means all services are for an extra fee, such as additional leg room, luggage, meals, and insurance. My folks don’t need any of that, because the flight is short. The only extra fee I pay is for one luggage piece for two of them. Then, as I get to the check-in, the company offers me a bus from the airport to the city center, for a very reasonable price. I start calculating: taxi is always expensive, public transport will be a headache for them once they arrive. They’ll be tired and they wouldn’t want to bother with that. So I book return bus tickets for 20 euros in total. Not bad at all.
So, the transportation segment is done. Let’s move to accommodations. There are websites like hotels.com, booking.com, TripAdvisor and others. I personally prefer Booking because they have lots of options to cancel the reservation free of charge. They’re also great if you plan to couchsurf or stay with a friend and just need a paper for a visa. Couchsurfing is great for people with little demands and great love for travel. All ages are good for that, but sometimes you just want some comfort and privacy. This is the case. So I go to booking.com and start the search. It shows me that the cheapest options would be hostels and apartments. Hostels can be great when they offer separate rooms – it’s still like a hotel, as they clean your room and sometimes serve you breakfast, and there are many useful services for travelers who don’t have much time to plan things on their own. Some hostels can be super nice. I immediately find one with great reviews and in the city center, but mom’s condition is that she doesn’t want to walk more than ten minutes from the bus stop – the one from the airport. I google all the locations. Yes ma’am – hostels won’t do then, they all are 15-20 minutes away. I look at the apartments, and there are a few that suit perfectly, with great reviews. I google every address and then offer mom to choose, but she can’t. So I just book three of them – my top choices – and give her time to decide. That’s, again, what I like about Booking – you don’t have to pay to cancel your reservation. And you mostly don’t have to pay for the place straight away. So if you can’t decide, booking a few spots may be a good idea, because popular locations usually sell out fast. By the end of the day, we decide upon one of the apartments, so I cancel the other two and write an e-mail to the owner with a few clarifying questions. The next day they’re all set. So, altogether – the flights, the transfer, and the accommodations – cost them $700. Out of curiosity, I checked a few tour agencies’ websites, and the prices for a week trip started from $1200. Sometimes there may actually be some good deals for more demanding travelers, but that wasn’t the case. To sum up, in a day of treasure hunting I saved my parents $500. Doing all the work yourself is for sure time-consuming, but very rewarding in the end.
If it was me going on this trip, it would’ve cost me $200 (instead of $350 per person for them). I wouldn’t take any luggage, I would use public transport, and I would couchsurf (here are my tips on getting the couch you want). And that’s why every case is very individual. Of course, you need money to take with you, but that’s another topic and I’ve got a few general in-travel saving rules over here. Investing your time in research saves you money. Always. So good luck with that!