Tips for Travelers
I think many people don’t travel internationally because they don’t really realize how incredibly cheap it can be. International travel can be as cheap or as expensive as you choose to make it. If scuba diving weren’t so expensive and I weren’t a diver, the ticket to my destination would be much more costly than all of my expenses for a 30 day trip at my destination. Here’s what I do…
The first thing I do is order a copy of Lonely Planet (destination) from Amazon. I read through the book making notes of the things I want to see and places I want to visit. I make a rough map of the places in order so I don’t have to ‘back-track’; this really cuts down on transportation costs.
When I’ve decided on my course of action, I begin checking out airline tickets. Many people assume it’s cheaper to go to places like Orbits, Travelocity, Kayak, etc.; this isn’t always the case. I always begin by checking and comparing these clearing houses and isolate the lowest price. Keep in mind that certain clearing houses have agreements with certain airlines; for example, Delta may not advertise at Orbitz but will at Expedia. After this, I begin checking the actual airlines. Some airlines occasionally have a very low fares available that required the flier to be flexible regarding seat and class assignment; I once flew from Belize to Little Rock for $250 with one of these tickets; I flew Economy for one leg, Business for another, and Economy again. After comparing individual airlines and their partners, I begin checking individual legs of travel through various airlines. For example, if I’m flying to Manila, I’ll check the price of all One World Partners prices for individual legs of the trip; American Airlines from the U.S. to London, British Air from London to Dubai, and Cathay Pacific from Dubai to Manila. I ended up doing this for my current trip and created travel for about $1800 less than any other price I found. My total for the trip to Thailand and Ethiopia is less than &1200. I never, ever check a bag; I’m always carry-on. Lost bags = lost time while you sit in the same city while waiting for your bags to catch up to you. Always check one-way fares as well…while not often, sometimes purchasing one-way trip can be cheaper than round-trip tickets. Use ‘fare alert’ at the airline clearance houses. You can go to airfarewatchdog.com or travelocity.com and register your departure airport and your desired destination and the maximum you’re willing to pay; once the ticket prices drop to what you’re willing to pay, you’ll be emailed a notification of the price drop. I once flew from Arizona to London for $489 using this!
I never, ever book tours online unless it’s for something very exotic, like hiking the Inca Trail where bookings are normally filled before my arrival. I normally only book accommodation for the night of my arrival so I can catch up on some sleep (I can’t sleep on aircraft). Once I’m ‘boots on the ground’, I begin chatting up other travelers. When you arrive at a destination, there will normally be two types of people at that same place: People who, like yourself, just arrived, and people who already traveled the country and are about to leave; it’s this second group I want to chat up. Hopefully I’ll find the cheapest accommodation that’s still a nice place to sleep. I’ll ask around about good tour deals, how much different things cost, such as taxis, so I know if I’m getting scammed, etc.
When I’m traveling to well-traveled second and third world countries, I often use the accommodation suggestions listed in Lonely Planet because they’ve already been vetted. The owners know they’re listed in the travel guide and will go out of their way to accommodate travelers because they want that free advertising. Since I’m spending all of my free time checking out the sites, all I need is a bed. Some places I stay at have shared bathrooms, shared rooms, only fans/no aircon, and they very rarely have a television. With the exception of a real shit-hole in Cambodia, all the places I’ve stayed at have been very clean. The beds not be too comfortable, but I figure I can ‘do without’ certain things as long as it allows me to be on the road! =)
Tours. This is where things can get a bit expensive. It definitely pays off to ask other tourists leaving a certain site if it’s worth paying the entrance fee or simply snapping some shots from the outside. Lots of places in the poorer countries aren’t very well maintained. Sometimes it’s better to take a close-up photo of a postcard! =) Find someone who’s savvy with photoshop, and you can even put yourself atop the Great Pyramid and tell lies about how you made that summit! =) Always, always, always sell yourself by being friendly to local travel agents & be sure and tell them how all of your friends travel and how you’ll refer ALL of them for future business. Sometimes alcohol works. Right after I arrived in Cairo, I stated at a backpackers place that had an on-site tour agent. I chatted them up upon arrival for several hours. Since they’re Muslim, they weren’t able to purchase booze so the next day after taking in sights, I returned to the place with several bottle of booze. Two hours later I had sorted the following deal (excluding part/site entrance fees): Guided tour of the Pyramids of Giza by horseback, private tour of perfume and papyrus processing, private transportation to the Bent, Black, and (?) Red Pyramids, Memphis, private train coach from Cairo to Abu Simble (very far south…close to the Sudanese border), Accommodation in Abu Simble and Luxor (one night each), two days up the Nile River on a Felluca (small Egyptian sailboat from ancient times, Airfare from Luxor to Sharm on the Sinai, and private transport to Dahab…the price: $507!!! Though I’m not always so lucky, a bit of bourbon did me right!
Travel within the country of destination. I don’t much care for buses; in many of the places the people have body odor issues, and my nose is quite sensitive! =) I’ll take a train in a heartbeat. As is the case everywhere, air travel is the most expensive. If traveling by train, I always try to book a night train so I can sleep and arrive at the next destination refreshed and ready to tour.
Food. Eating out can be expensive most anywhere in the world. When reading about Ethiopia, I discovered the cost of the bill, in most restaurants, will be jacked up 25% after the meal due to gratuity and tax. Ouch. A good idea is to find what the local diet staple is; whatever it is tends to be tasty and is always very cheap. In Egypt it was pasta with some sort of minced meat (probably rat=) with a tasty sauce on top. In most part of Asia, street vendors are the way to go. The food is cooked so all the parasites must be dead, right? =) When I was in Afghanistan in 2004, I learned from a Pakistani man to eat raw onion before every meal…kills the parasites, and I finally stopped getting sick! In many of the more interesting countries with the ancient history & poor economy, I can probably get by on less than $4/day for meals. Since we foreigners can’t stomach the local water, bottled water becomes very expensive. After I purchase a bottle of water, I never throw it out. I’ll purchase a very large bottle of water whenever I need more and simply refill the smaller bottle from the later one; these larger bottles can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of the smaller bottles. Whether I’m road-tripping across the states or backpacking Australia, I always buy a box of tea or coffee from a grocer; I never purchase the beverages at a café or restaurant and save $3 every time I do. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a place that refused to give me a ‘courtesy cup’ with hot water. If there are no cheap places to eat, you can always find a place that sells jars of peanut butter and bread whether you’re in Bangkok or Brisbane.
Laundry. I never ever have my laundry cleaned at the hotel. The mark-up at this places is incredible! If you look, there’s always a place ‘just around the corner’ who does cleaning for a fraction of the price. Keep in mind that many of these places have a two or three day turn-around so plan your timetable accordingly. This next trip I learned from my buddy Ken. If you’re really on the go and don’t have time to drop off the laundry, shower in your clothes. I’ll jump into the shower with my clothes on and saturate them with my bar of soap, remove the clothes and hand wash them; they’re normally dry before the next morning. One more thing to keep in mind about the high prices you’re paying for hotel laundry: When I was staying on Buswanga Island in the Palawan chain of the Philippines, I was staying at an extremely remote location…there were no other laundry services for miles so I had to use them. I turned in my laundry and started on a hike about an hour later. As I was hiking across a river, I saw a little old lady kneeling down at the river’s edge cleaning what looked like my boxer short! haha!! They were charging me such high prices to clean my things in the local water supply!
I hope this information is useful, and I most certainly hope that those of you who always thought international travel is so expensive take the information for what it’s worth and hit the road!