Travel Hacks For The Budgetnista in You

Travel has become part and parcel of a millennial’s life. We prioritize traveling a lot more than we did over a decade or so ago. Why?

Because travel life is the best life that’s why. Visiting new places, experiencing new cultures, new cuisines and making lifetime memories while you’re at it?

What could be better than that?

That being said, the jet set life isn’t something people willingly get into because of the cost. SLA has a few tips and tricks on low budget travel that can possibly help change your mind…

1. Save Smart

It goes without saying that if you want to travel, you need to save for it.

Travelling requires sacrifice and compromise and good financial management. So if it means ditching your daily coffee run and carrying your own lunch to work for three months then so be it – every little bit counts.

We spend so much on little luxuries that we can actually do without if we think about how much we can save in the long run. If you have a financial goal to meet by a certain time – you will need to cut out some unnecessary spending habits. Save and save diligently.

2. Visas

Check whether the country you are traveling to requires a visa on arrival or one to be acquired before travel or none at all.

In regards to visas on arrival, be sure to check with the country’s consulate directly and not just Google.

For example – I was travelling to Mexico last year and being a Kenyan, I immediately knew I needed to get a visa and when I checked the requirements on the consulate’s website, the list mentioned that if you have a current US visa, you can still get entry into Mexico – no need to apply for a visa.

I called the consulate to confirm this and they did confirm it. Saved myself the process and the coins and had I not checked, I’d have paid for a visa I didn’t really need.

Please do your research when it comes to visas. The UK visa, for example, gives you access to England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The US, Canada, and UK visa do also offer visa-free access to plenty of other countries with an entry of up to 15 to 180 days, depending on the country.

You do have to check whether your passport is eligible for such access though.  All this helps you void visa fees and the entire process altogether if necessary.

Some consulates require confirmed flight and accommodation bookings when applying for a visa. A trick to get around this – book your accommodation through booking.com, this site lets you book a hotel room without any payment required and you can cancel the booking within a particular timeframe.

This helps you get through the visa process without losing any money in case you aren’t successful in the visa interview. You can also reserve tickets without paying immediately with some airlines or travel agencies.

3. Best Time to Travel

It is always cheaper to travel during off-peak periods.

Traveling during the holiday season such as Easter and Christmas will cost more than any other time of the year.

The Summer season is also an expensive travel period especially to countries in the west. Here in Africa, peak times depending on the country. For example in Kenya, excluding the holiday season in December, other peak seasons include April (Easter holidays) and August (when the cold season here ends). Any other time of the year is off-peak season so perfect for traveling here.

In Europe, off-peak times include January – March or September – Early November. For countries in South-East Asia like Indonesia and Malaysia, the best time to travel would be during their monsoon season, which starts around November until March.

The weather is still hot and humid, just mixed with showers of rain from time to time.

The best days to travel in terms of affordability are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Majority travel is done from Friday to Monday so those days will have more costly travel fares.

For holiday travel, it would be wise to book a flight scheduled for a week before the actual holiday, i.e. a week or two before Christmas week or if you can’t leave that early, traveling on Christmas day is another option. It’s not ideal but it will be the cheapest ticket you get.

Flying on Christmas day or Thanksgiving day will give you the best rates on the low.

4. Flight Hacks

Searching for cheap flights is really an extreme sport sometimes but if you’re keen on various airline trends, you can find a loophole.

First tip – when looking for flights, browse using an incognito/private window.

Websites track your searches and you will always see the same rate on several different sites because they have picked up that you are looking. Either use a private browsing window or clear your cache every time you search so the sites have nothing to pick up on.

The best time to search for flights is a good three months in advance, the rates go up the closer you get to your departure date.

Flights with one or two stops tend to be cheaper than direct flights. As convenient as direct flights are, they tend to cost so much just because of said convenience.

Picking a flight with connecting flights saves quite a bit of money and for some airlines like Emirates, if your layover is 10hrs or longer, they automatically give you a transit visa which allows you to get out of the airport and put you up in a hotel for that duration before your next flight.

Join ALL the miles programs. Most programs are partnered with more than one airline, for instance, Delta SkyMiles program is partnered with KLM, Air France, Kenya Airways, Korean Airlines, Alitalia, China Airlines, etc…

So you can get miles from any of these airlines and use them on any of them too. The more miles you rack up the better your chances on using them to get upgraded/free flights.

Travel light when you can. Especially during domestic travel, you can avoid all those baggage fees by just having a backpack or a carryon suitcase.

5. Accommodation Hacks

Airbnb and Booking.com are some of the best sites to find affordable accommodation.

When traveling in a group, it’s better on your wallets if you rent out an apartment or villa, which come by super cheap in places like Bali and Vietnam instead of spending so much on resorts and hotels.

If you choose to stay at a resort or hotel, pick the bed and breakfast option. This saves on the money you’d have to spend on food throughout the day, the breakfast is usually buffet style, you could eat as late as 10 am and be full throughout the day thus avoid spending money on finding breakfast and lunch elsewhere.

Couch-surfing is another cost-effective way to travel. There’s plenty of people who are willing to offer their couches for solo travellers and backpackers, it’s free, you get to have your belongings in a safe place and you get to connect with locals all at once, it’s a win-win!

6. Live like a Local

Get to know your surroundings, don’t just stick to doing the cliché tourist activities that are popular in the city you are visiting. Walk the path less traveled, talk to the locals and find out what else is good to experience and explore.

The locals will shed light on what to do and what not to do, this keeps you from spending so much on overpriced city tours.

Check out event sites for that particular city, some cheap or even free events are always advertised on these sites and on Facebook. You can tour an entire city for as little as a simple subway/bus ride thanks to lots of free events.

Use public transport often – a lot more affordable than cabs. If the city has Uber/lyft/Grab, you should take advantage of those as well and avoid local cab services as they mark up the price if they know you are a foreigner.

Walk a lot. You’ll find that most times you don’t even need to take a cab or a bus. European and Asian countries especially are very walking friendly, there are also walking tours that you can take to acquaint yourself with certain areas of the city.

Walk often and get to know the area, the people and get your 10k steps in all at once.

7. Be Flexible

To travel on a low budget you have to be prepared to be flexible. Anticipate flight delays or cancellations, you may not get to travel on the days you have planned so being flexible with travel dates is also important.

Allow some flexibility in your itinerary; being in a new country not everything will work the way you are used to. Do not be tied to your plans, travel requires breathing room.

8. Use Your Network, Grow Your Network

If you’re planning to go to India and you happen to have had a college roommate from Mumbai or you may want to visit Southern Africa and you worked with someone from Namibia… hit them up!

Keep your contacts well especially if you have any international contacts, they really come in handy. They could help you with accommodation, give you some insider knowledge of their city/country, all of which can help save you money.

Having friends or family who work in
hospitality i.e. big hotels can help you save money by letting you use their
employee discount, it cuts the price by a good percentage – you could end up
staying somewhere like the Marriot for much cheaper than what is advertised
thanks to the plug from your friend.

Talk to other travelers, join various travel groups on social media, learn from other solo travelers and travel groups. 

Get to know your Airbnb hosts, they could be very useful (read free) tour guides because they know the area they live in better. Using your already existing network and growing it will benefit your travel life immensely.

I have evolved as a traveler: Senzelwe Mthembu shares her ultimate travel guide

27 years old Senzelwe Mthembu is an explorer at heart, a South African traveler, researcher, content creator, and photography enthusiast. When she’s not curating travel experiences, Senzelwe works as a social researcher at the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA). She focuses on youth transitions into adulthood, youth (un)employment, and on other topics related to young people. She has a background in politics, philosophy, and economics and obtained her Master’s Degree in Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2015. In this article, she highlights how she’s evolving as a traveler and her experiences traveling on the continent.

What made you fall in love with travel?

My passion for travel started at a young age when, as a family, we would drive down to rural Kwa-Zulu Natal during the festive season. I remember being fascinated by the change in terrain and context. The first memorable trip for me was to the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga. So my passion for travel and the African continent started right here, in South Africa. I later realized the need to showcase my love for travel and to highlight Africa’s beauty to other Africans and to the world.

What kind of traveler are you?

I think I have evolved as a traveler and will probably continue to evolve as my interests change. I was once primarily interested in going to the main tourist attractions and wanting to do things because so many other people had done them. Travel felt like quite a selfish endeavor. I now take a greater interest in the people from the place that I am traveling to and I want to fully immerse myself in the culture and learn as much as I can.

What interesting social customs have you encountered while traveling the continent?

There are two things which I found interesting. The first was just how friendly and helpful people in Kenya are. I have not experienced hospitality in the way I experienced it in Kenya. It felt like there was a real concern for other human beings, especially those visiting their country. The second, which we generally don’t practice here in South Africa, was taking your shoes off when you enter someone’s home. Not only was this the case in the traditional Swahili settlement of Lamu where most of the population is Muslim, but this practice was also found in Nairobi, Kenya where on one evening we invited friends we had made over to our Airbnb home and they did the same. I found it interesting that young people in Kenya were also taking their shoes off when entering someone’s home.

Paradise on a plate… Your favorite meal on any of your travels?

My favorite meal on my travels was at a very unpretentious, buffet-style traditional Swahili restaurant. It was the first meal I had in Lamu, Kenya and consisted of pilau (a rice, meat and vegetable dish that is very popular in Kenya), lentils, fish in a spicy tomato stew and other vegetables. I was so impressed by the flavors.

What do you know now about traveling on a limited budget that you wish you’d known earlier?

I wish I took the plunge earlier! Travel is possible for many people and a range of budgets can be accommodated. But I do wish I learned the art of saving ahead of time and drawing up a budget. There are so many ways of making travel more affordable, whether it’s taking local public transport, staying in someone’s home or eating where locals eat. Traveling on a limited budget does not necessarily make your experience any less enjoyable.

Got any travel & safety hacks for passport newbies & solo travelers?

Here are 3 tips for keeping safe and for saving money, especially as a solo traveler.

1. Do your research ahead of time.

The first important things to check for international travel in Africa is whether or not you need any vaccinations such as for Yellow Fever or Malaria. Also, check luggage dimensions and free baggage policies for the airline or be prepared to pay extra, risk missing your flight or be forced to leave things behind!

2. Choose your accommodation wisely.

Solo travel often means paying more for accommodation since you won’t be sharing the costs with anyone. But that is not always the case! It’s important to ask yourself what you can afford but also, what you can’t compromise on when it comes to accommodation. If your budget is low, you can still find good accommodation but manage your expectations. Use Airbnb to book your accommodation as it allows you to book a private room in someone’s house at your stated budget. This makes it safer for you as most of the time you are living with a local who can provide invaluable information and tips about the neighborhood. Also consider staying in a hostel or backpackers, which will work out to be much cheaper and makes it easier for you to meet like-minded solo travelers.  For both these options, remember to read reviews!

Be as prepared as possible.

Prepare for possible long layovers at airports by having a pillow or blanket, WATER (I cannot stress this one enough) and snacks from the plane or from home. Carry a moon bag or small backpack for your valuables. It’s so much easier to remember the important things when you can access valuables easily. Write out important contact details and information in multiple places, including on your phone and have extra copies of important documentation in case you lose anything. And make sure you can access your money from more than one bank card.What is your next travel destination, and why? I will be traveling to Rwanda and Tanzania soon, but this time it’ll be as part of a beautifully curated group trip where West Africans and Southern Africans, amongst others, will meet in East Africa for an experience of a lifetime. My sister and I have a shared passion for travel in Africa and so we launched our destination travel company, Lived Experience Travel, this year. Our first international trip is in partnership with Ghana-based, The Travel Clan (@thetravelclan on Instagram) and we are heading to East Africa. This will be a two-country, 11-day trip to Rwanda and Tanzania that fuses culture, art, traditional food and that celebrates what Africa has overcome and what some of our achievements are.  

Your final travel advice for motherland moguls?

I think we need to take advantage of what technology and social media have enabled us to do and that is – connect. The best way to experience a new place is by meeting the locals, having real conversations with people and exploring together. Another piece of advice is not to wait for others to come along and that local travel is valid! If you notice a pattern of passing travel opportunities up, save some of the money you would have spent on eating out and shopping until you can comfortably do a solo trip or an organized group trip. Be open-minded, humble yourself to the ways of others, be yourself and learning from my past mistakes – draw up a budget (even if it’s rough).
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