How to Travel Internationally on a Budget
Recommendations for an economical, hassle-free vacation
Planning a vacation can be overwhelming, especially if you’re on a strict budget. But even if you’re not on a disciplined budget, you have limited time and want to make the most of your travel experience. I have learned my lessons by living them, and I am writing this Hub of advice in hopes of saving you from stress and a few gray hairs.
Very soon after arriving in South Korea to teach English, I acknowledged that I was 1) surrounded by other beautiful countries, and 2) that I had to visit them. But with the lack of foreign language and navigation experience, I wondered how much time I would spend sight-seeing versus being lost and frantic in huge, unknown metropolises.
As a rule of thumb, it’s much wiser to order your airline tickets and lodging reservations far ahead of time. The prices are much better that way. For less hassle, you can book all of your flight/hotel/car rental service all in one setting, but I found that it was much more economical to book each individually. And by booking my flights, lodging, and tour passes online, I save a lot more money than walking into a travel agency and purchasing a large travel package.
Online travel sites such as Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Kayak.com and (esp. if you’re a student or under the age 26) Statravel.com offer very competitive prices. I personally prefer Expedia because they are very upfront with their prices, and aside from the required airline taxes, don’t have hidden fees that differentiate between your ‘subtotal’ and ‘total’ charges. Through Expedia last September, for example, I booked a one way flight from Seattle to Boston for approx. $200 and a one way flight from Washington D.C. back to Seattle for $150.Granted, each flight included a layover (because a direct flight either way would have almost tripled the price)
For traveling throughout Asia: The online travel site airasia.com provides extremely economical flights, probably the best-priced site my Korean friends have recommended to me. Just be aware that the cheap prices are commensurate with service: the airline carrier has been known to have several hour flight delays.
Every budget travel blog or advice column advises you to stay at a hostel to save money on your travels. I think that’s a great idea, but for myself, I prefer scouring for hotels because they are much more likely to have vacancies; and well, I just like having my own comfortable bed, bath, and TV, especially if I am staying in a foreign country. Hotels.com and Expedia.com have both been great sites to book fancy hotels, budget hotels, bed and breakfasts, and regular motel rooms. I personally prefer to find a budget hotel that is centrally-located, because I want to spend my time visiting sites rather than spending hours finding the train, subway, or bus route. If you want to save even more money, hostels.com can be a great resource. Or just do a simple google search; for example type “hostels in Shangai” and a bunch of leads (with reviews!) will show up.
The very first thing you want to do when you arrive at your destination is get subway/train/bus route maps, and also a map or brochure featuring all the hot spots the city has to offer; and if you’re in a foreign country, a pocket survival dictionary. Most airports nowadays have these available in English. Find out ahead of time if your hotel offers shuttle service to and from the airport. Even if it’s not free shuttle service, it will likely still be less expensive than taking a cab, and far less of a hassle than taking a bus or subway to your hotel.
Depending on the city you visit, cabs are either very cheap or expensive. In Tokyo, they’re extremely expensive. All throughout South Korea, they’re very cheap (like $4-$5 for a 20 minute drive). Hong Kong, in my experience, also offers very cheap rates. Keep in mind that while some taxi drivers can speak basic English, many of them do not. That’s why carrying a travel dictionary (easily found at the airport) will provide a lot of relief.
When you are in a completely unknown country (particularly one in which the average citizen doesn’t speak much English), are on foot, and want to visit several famous sites in one day, it is highly recommended that you book a tour through an online tour company. I did just that for trips to Tokyo and Hong Kong. I booked my tours through Viator.com, and I can't recommend them enough.Through Viator, you can find tours for almost every country in the world, and view tour photos and reviews from other customers. The site is very easily navigable as well. Soon after searching for tours in Tokyo, I booked a day trip. For about $100, I went on a full day tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous, historic places, including the Asakusa Temple, Meiji Shrine, the Palace Gardens, and the most fabulous Tokyo Bay Cruise! Lunch in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Sumida River was also included. Another example of a wonderful tour was a four hour day tour of Hong Kong with hotel pick up and lunch cost under $30. Organized tour trips are so awesome because the tour guide will take you around the city, and you also have the opportunity to meet interesting tourists from all over the world. I cannot recommend them enough. Even if you don’t go through a private tour company, look online and see what the city is offering. Tokyo, for example, offers very affordable tours through their city if you register in advance.* For my first day in Tokyo, I went on a tour provided by the city, and two very sweet, English- speaking Japanese ladies took me on a tour to the Sumo Wrestling and the Edo-Tokyo museums, and also around the city. The cost to me was under $15 including admission.
Flight, lodging, touring, and transportation are the Four Basics. If you have any other recommendations, I would love to hear them. Below is a list of some very useful pocket dictionary and travel books that are very helpful for travel (and of course much cheaper online than at the airport). Have a fun, safe trip!
Perfect for taking a trip to a Spanish-speaking country!
I am a huge fan of Lonely Planet travel dictionaries! I have one in Korean and one in Spanish that both fit in my purse.
Very useful for traveling around Europe!
Frommer's Guide is very helpful. I used an older edition on a trip to New York a few years ago.