Travel Time: How to make your money last
It’s vacation time! Whether it’s because you’ve just finished another term of school, got a promotion or it’s simply time for a break, everyone feels the need to get out there and rub their toes in someone else’s lawn — preferably one in a foreign country.
But, before you take off your shoes, pre-trip investigation and planning can save you some serious guesswork, and hopefully a suitcase-load of cash.
No, there’s no take-home final, but there are cheat sheets. They’re called guidebooks, and multiple publishers offer them for those on a budget. Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Rough Guides, and Moon are four of the better-known guidebook publishers. Look online or at a bookstore for a dog-eared copy and save yourself a few bucks. Stay within two years of the current date to be sure the info is as up-to-date as possible. These guides include prices for lodging, travel and food, as well as plane tickets, popular sights’ entrance fees and other useful information you will need to make an informed decision on where to go.
Additionally, go surfing. Traveling communities abound in cyberspace, with websites like hostelworld.com, couchsurfing.org and worldbackpackers.net posting ads, tips, reviews and other housing information about whatever country you feel like visiting. Staying in dorm-style hostels saves cash (approximately $10 for a dorm bed, versus $30 and up for a private room). Since port-of-entry transport is usually overpriced, many hostels offer transport from airports and the like right to the hostel.
Lastly, ask around. Talking to friends, co-workers, teachers and students — basically anyone willing to talk to you — will likely yield good starting points, if not downright experience, on choosing an inexpensive and yet interesting locale to visit.
Once you’ve made it to your destination, you’ll need to exchange money (if traveling internationally). Wait to exchange currency until you get a recommendation from someone at your lodging place. Port-of-entry exchange offices, much like casinos, are often set so the house wins. Also avoid shopping at the port of entry, where prices are inflated. Armed with local currency, insatiable curiosity and a small bag for collecting, you are ready to take it to the streets.
Put on your game face, and be prepared to haggle in open markets, squares and at stalls selling handicrafts. Many vendors expect to dicker with the customer and may adjust their prices accordingly. Speaking the local language is a definite plus in these situations, but if you can’t, be sure to travel with someone who does, or enlist the help of a local. Unaware tourists paying 50 – 100 percent more than locals for handicrafts is common, and this is one of the easiest and quickest ways to burn through your bills. Also try negotiating for a package of several items, and you might see the prices fall to more comfortable levels.
Whether it’s the Great Pyramid, Buckingham Palace or the Great Wall of China, it’s almost unthinkable to visit a country without seeing its Big Ticket tourist attraction. Incidentally, that’s probably the price to visit the national landmarks: big. It’s an unpleasant reality that, as a foreigner, you’ll be expected to pay as much as five times more than a citizen to visit anything from a theme park to a 70-meter-tall Mayan temple. Budget your cash flow for both shopping and sightseeing; you wouldn’t want to be turned away from the doors of the Louvre in Paris, right?