Gone are the days when travel was perceived to be something for the wealthy. With cheap flights and innovative accommodation options, you don’t have to burn a hole in your pocket to go on a trip. Read our expert tips for traveling on a budget.
Traveling is fun, and it’s good for you: Studies have shown that taking trips supports our physical health by relieving stress and promoting physical activity. It likewise improves our emotional and mental well-being by introducing us to new perspectives, enhancing creativity, and building self-confidence.
But it can also be heavy on the pocket. When you travel, you shell out for food, transportation, and accommodations, among other things, which can easily set you back thousands—unless you know where to look.
Most of the time, you don’t regret spending for travel, what with all its benefits. Still, you must wonder: Is there any way to minimize expenses? What are my options?
Seasoned travelers and experts share their tips for spending wisely and getting the best value for your money.
Unless you’re a nomad—or a millionaire— who can drop everything and travel to a new destination at a moment’s notice, or you have no qualms about paying for things on the fly, the best way to make a trip truly cost-effective is to take time to plan it.
Experts and experienced travelers say you should ideally give yourself a few months to a year to plan a trip, identifying where, when, and with whom you want to go. It is by doing so that you can get the most bang for your buck.
Planning can help you take advantage of lower rates, travel expositions, and seat sales. Each year, various airlines, travel agencies, and even banks come together at local travel fairs, like the Philippine Travel Agencies Association’s annual Travel Tour Expo, held every February, to offer low prices and deals for their products and services. These massive events typically don’t happen just once, but several times a year.
Alternately, airlines also hold seat sales, or their own travel expos, across different months and occasions each year. “The best time to book flights is during a seat sale, of course,” says Gretchen Filart Dublin, freelance travel writer and blogger (filipinaexplorer.com). “Seat sales usually happen when there’s a major holiday, like Independence Day or Chinese New Year, so keep an eye out for that.”
Just how big do these sales go? Other than Cebu Pacific’s famous Piso Fare promo, Qatar Airways, for one, once offered a “kids fly free” promo. And remember when Philippine Airlines offered up to 75% off on flights for its 75th anniversary in 2016?
Without a doubt, such events are a must-visit for anyone looking to travel for less. But cheap flights tend to sell out fast, so you need to be ready to book them. For Terri Swager, a retired airline and hotel executive, and true citizen of the world (she went on 11 trips, both local and international, just in the past year), having a plan better enables you to get the best out of these short windows of opportunity. “Don’t go to these travel fairs saying, ‘Ah maganda yata diyan, I think I want to go there,’” she says. “Those will never happen. You have to write them down and say, ‘I want to go to these places, on these dates.’”
Terri and her husband, Hadrian, like to make a list of the top places they want to visit at the beginning of each year, so they know what to watch for. “The best time to plan is after New Year,” she says. “So every year, in January, we decide, ‘These are the six places we want to go to.’ It doesn’t mean we will, but they’re on our list, and then we watch na for the fares that will go down for these particular destinations.”
As soon as you get a concrete idea of where you want to go, make like Terri and Hadrian and put it into writing. “After you’ve determined that, you’re poised, so ’pag nakakita kayo ng airfare discounts or deals, or you know they’re coming, you need to be quick. And you will not be quick if you’re just deciding, ‘Where will I go?’” says Swager.
Maritess Garcia Reyes, travel blogger (www.matetreyes.com), general manager of online travel agency Trip Republic (facebook.com/thetriprepublic), and mom of one, also believes in the benefit of planning ahead. “Planning in advance can save you money and energy in the end,” she says. “That said, I always plan our trips usually a year ahead as this is also the time when promo fares are at their lowest.”
She continues, “Buy tickets way, way ahead. If Holy Week is in March of the following year, buy tickets in January of the current year. Plus, sometimes airlines have promos during New Year, like a Piso Fare corresponding to January 1; or Valentine’s Day, where airfare can be as low as P14 corresponding to February 14.”
If you can’t catch a seat sale or travel fair, keep an eye out for other travel deals, which are usually advertised throughout the year. “Now, more and more, airlines partner with credit card companies and they offer two-for-one deals,” says Swager. “I think the newspaper is a good source for these.” You can also download airline apps and sign up for email alerts so you’re the first to know about seat sale announcements.
When you plan ahead, you get to budget the big-ticket items. Planning gives you time to create an itinerary, which can help you strategize your expenses for the trip. Read up and find out what sights you and your companions want to see, and what unique activities you want to experience at your destination, then allot a
budget for each. Outside these major activities, keep expenses to a minimum. Doing this will allow you to better prepare for your trip financially, and to avoid spending more than what you can.
Take Anton Diaz, founder of travel and food blog Our Awesome Planet (ourawesomeplanet.com), who travels at least twice a year with his wife and four sons. “Let’s say going to museums, eating at this restaurant, or experiencing this location—we make sure na naka-budget ’yun, and we don’t go outside that,” he shares. “We don’t typically spend on the go lang. Or, let’s say kakain kami, for example in Japan, we’d eat sa 7-Eleven lang, yung mga street food, ganu’n. So we balance it. We have a list lang of where to go na main experiences, para alam na namin kung ano yung mga main budget items. And then, more or less, we don’t go out of sight of our budget.”
Registered financial planner and chartered wealth manager Rowena Suarez recommends a similar tactic: “I always have a schedule: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, this is what we’re going to do. You have to follow the schedule because if you don’t, sometimes you just lose out. The day’s finished, and you didn’t see or do anything.”
TIME YOUR VISIT
It’s old advice, but one worth repeating: Avoid traveling to your chosen destinations during peak season—that is, during the summer months and festival seasons— because everyone else will most likely be heading there, too.
Bear in mind that, like any commodity, airfare is affected by the law of supply and demand. “If you plan to have a vacation during Holy Week or Christmas, put in mind that other people think of doing the same thing, so the demand for airfare will be higher toward the date, hence the price will definitely balloon,” explains Trip Republic’s Reyes.
To dodge the steep fares, avid traveler Swager suggests traveling during the shoulder seasons, or the two weeks before and after peak season. “Be practical in your choice,” she says. “Unless you really want to go to the festivals, in which case, you should be prepared to pay more money.”
If you want to cut down your costs even further, travel writer Dublin recommends booking a mid-week versus a weekend flight. She says, “Avoid flights that commence on a weekend; I find they are usually more expensive.”
GO FOR PACKAGES
Cruises recently became the talk of the town and here’s why: all-in tour fees. Star Cruises’ (starcruises.com) flagship liner, Superstar Virgo, which docked in Manila early this year, offered five-night cruise packages for USD655 (around P33,000), which travelers can sometimes get at a discounted price of USD600 (P30,000) for two persons at travel fairs. The fee covers cabin accommodations, meals, and use of the ship’s facilities, not to mention the opportunity to travel to Kaohsiung in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“Cruises are very family-oriented, because in a cabin, you can put up to four people,” says Swager. “When you’re traveling with family, you have to consider safety. And I think cruises are very safe. You can eat as much as you want; you don’t have to worry about the kids coming home, ’cause they’re just there; there’s a doctor on the ship; all that. And budget-wise, you know your gastos, walang ponderable.”
Unfortunately, the Superstar Virgo’s last cruise for 2017 departs on May 23, and no announcements have been made regarding its return to Philippine shores. In the meantime, you can find other travel packages to various destinations at travel fairs, agencies, or online. These packages make great deals since they include all components of a trip—transportation, accommodation, meals, and tours—for a price cheaper than what it would cost to pay for each component separately.
“Packaged tours can be a good deal because you don’t have to think, ‘Do I have extra money for my meals?’ No, everything is included in the fee,” explains Swager.
TRY ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS
When it comes to accommodations, Airbnb is currently all the rage. “Kasi ang mura talaga niya, significantly, versus all the other options,” explains food and travel blogger Diaz, who says he and his family prefer to book Airbnbs whenever possible on their travels abroad.
A quick search on the official Airbnb website (airbnb.com) reveals prices as low as P1,200 to P2,500 to rent an entire home or apartment in Singapore for a night. That same price range can get you a single room at a hostel for a night. A decent hotel room will cost you a little more.
“Airbnbs are available everywhere na,” says Diaz. “May mga nuances lang. For example, in Japan, some of the residential communities don’t like maiingay na kids. Eh, usually, Filipino kids are rowdy, so hindi advisable ang Airbnb in a sense.”
Echoing this sentiment, Swager says she is a fan of Airbnbs, though it might not be the ideal choice for every traveler. “The Airbnb concept is good because you get to live like a local, versus a hotel.” she says. “Now, a hotel, I would suggest, is good for those who have never been to the destination, because they have a front desk or a bellman who can tell them where to go, etcetera. But in an Airbnb, they only give you the keys, some tips, and you’re on your own. So I like Airbnb when I have a very well-seasoned group of travelers with me. Or especially, I take Airbnbs when we have been to the destination before.”
For travelers who prefer the convenience of hotels, websites like Agoda (agoda.com), Trivago (trivago.com), and Booking.com, among others, are a great way to find competitive rates for hotel rooms based on your budget. The websites have features that allow you to search for options based on the star rating and price range you prefer.
When it comes to transportation, consider taking a ferry instead of a plane to local destinations, if the option is available. It’ll take you longer to get there, but you’ll be paying a fraction of what it could cost you to fly to your destination. For instance, a one-way plane ticket to Coron,
Palawan, is priced at nearly P4,000, while a single ticket for a 15-hour ferry ride with 2Go Travel (travel.2go.com.ph) amounts to P2,000 or less. “I think this is a wise alternative if travel time is not an issue,” says travel blogger Reyes.
GO FOR MULTIFACETED DESTINATIONS
You know what they say—you can’t please everybody. Sometimes, what one family member likes isn’t something another would be interested in. In this case, pick a destination that has a little bit of everything for everyone, instead of planning a budget-busting crosscontinental tour. Crowd favorite Japan, for example, has temples and museums for culture buffs, delectable cuisine for foodies, and exciting theme parks for kids. Financial advisor and mom of two Suarez says Tokyo not only offers decent meals for as low as JPY500 (P220), but also has Tokyo Disneysea and Disneyland for the kids. Swager, on the other hand, counts Osaka as a favorite. The gourmet capital of Japan also has Universal Studios and plenty of shopping options, and is only a short train ride away from Kyoto, which shows the more traditional side of Japan.
CONSIDER GOING LOCAL
But, of course, you can never go wrong with local destinations. You’ve heard it countless times: The Philippines is home to some of the best beaches in the world. But apart from seaside attractions, the country also boasts majestic mountains and landscapes that have become true must-sees for tourists all over the world. Consider yourself lucky to be living so near these sights—you don’t have to pay much or go out of your way to see them.
Travel blogger Reyes says her favorite local destinations for family trips are Siquijor, Palawan, and Baler. “There’s a lot to do for every age and interest.”
Meanwhile, fellow travel writer Dublin’s favorite destinations include Albay, Benguet, Batangas, and Ilocos Norte, where there also never seems to be a shortage of things to see and do.
Both Reyes and Dublin estimate that a budget of P1,000 to P1,500 per day, per person, is reasonable for a local trip. For an overnight stay, Dublin says P2,500 is enough to cover accommodations, transportation, and food. However, some destinations like Coron and El Nido, for example, will require a bigger budget.
Traveling locally is a reasonable option. Besides being inexpensive, it could also be a more practical course to take if you wish to travel with younger children. “I don’t really advise bringing toddlers to long trips and far destinations. They might not even remember it, and there are a lot of things to bring on your trips, too, when your kids are younger,” says Suarez. “The whole experience would be different, I think, when the child is about seven. So give them first experiences like the beach, and save your money for other trips when they’re older.”
Our Awesome Planet’s Diaz takes his sons to beaches around the country at least once a year. Aside from the fact that the kids enjoy swimming, he considers it another way of educating them. “What we want to do is teach the kids also, ‘These are the best beaches in the world.’ Para when they go outside, there’s that inherent pride.”
Planning can save you a lot of time and money.