Tips for a budget traveler [XPRESS (United Arab Emirates)]
(XPRESS (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dubai: Judging by the huge outflow of passengers from Dubai during the hotter months, many residents will again pack their suitcases soon and head off somewhere cooler.
In the summer of last year, thousands of people flew miles from home, causing passenger traffic at Dubai International Airport to surge to more than 4.8 million in August alone, up 20 per cent from 4 million a year ago. That was a "record summer rush" likely to be broken again this year.
"There will always be a summer rush. We expect more people travelling out of Dubai this summer, given that you find a lot of expats settling down here for work and with the Arab Spring, we've got a lot of Arabs coming to Dubai also," notes Premjit Bangara, general manager of Sharaf Travel Services.
Although the Middle East region is home to high rollers who could afford to fly on business class and stay in luxury hotels, many residents are always on the lookout for budget-saving deals.
Nerry Toledo, a frequent solo traveller who has spent holiday breaks in Turkey, United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy, among others, scores great deals by trolling booking websites like Cheapoair and Checkfelix.com, as well as travel newsletters and promotional emails.
"Tickets can get too expensive, so you just have to find your way. I do a lot of research and comparison shopping," says the expatriate who works as a consultant for a public relations company in Dubai.
There are a lot more tricks a budget-savvy traveller can do. All it takes is a little bit of research and a dose of good old common sense.
Book tickets early
Travellers spend less on airfares, almost six per cent cheaper than the average fare, if they book six weeks before their flight, according to research released last year by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC).
The study reached the conclusion after reviewing close to $80 billion (Dh294 billion) worth of ticket sales across more than 100 million transactions from January to December 2011 for various flights in the US. However, passengers are advised not to treat the study findings as absolute, as ticket prices tend to fluctuate.
"We're not advising people to purchase tickets at this time during the cycle as there is no guarantee they will receive the lowest price of the year; it is just what the data indicates and we have seen this pattern over the last four years," says Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics at ARC.
Bangara says buying tickets early, ideally two or three months in advance, is always the best way to get better deals. "If you want to travel this summer, you should start scouting around March. Savings could be about Dh1,000 per person if tickets are booked in advance," he says.
Volunteer your services
Bernadette (name changed) was looking for something more rewarding and enriching last year. She wanted to explore another side of the world, immerse in a different culture and make a difference in other people's lives in the process.
She thought about signing up to a volunteer vacation, a growing trend that allows travellers to donate their time and services to a non-profit group or community. Volunteers usually pay for their tickets, visa, food and accommodation, but the overall costs are a lot less than a package consisting of a five-star accommodation and a guided tour. However, the package costs were still a tad expensive for her budget.
Coincidentally, a close friend told her that an orphanage in Malawi, Africa, was in need of volunteers. All that was required of her was pay for the tickets, visa and $500 pocket money. The food and accommodation were provided for free. The total budget Only Dh5,000. A trip to Kenya would have cost her Dh8,000.
Bernadette hopped on the opportunity and flew to Malawi where she spent two weeks mostly spending time with the children in the orphanage. It's not that she missed out on the touring part. Her generous host took her to explore Malawi on certain days, occasionally with the children in tow.
"We did quite a lot of stuff. We went on a boat trip and checked out the wildlife. We went swimming, snorkelling, hiking and a lot more."
At the end of the trip, Bernadette still had $100 left in her pocket, which she decided to donate to the orphanage. Bear in mind, though, that if you choose to volunteer, you genuinely want to reach out and help, and the touring part is just an added bonus.
Network with fellow ?travellers
There are global organisations that help you connect with people around the world. You just need to know where to sign up and interact with the members.
Toledo is a member of Couchsurfing, an organisation that boasts of more than 5 million members in 97,000 cities. The group facilitates culture sharing and hospitality exchange, enabling travellers to hook up with locals who are willing to provide free accommodation or hang out with them during their trip.
Toledo learned about the group while chatting randomly with a tourist in Italy. "I was told it's a good platform for cultural exchange and networking with travellers, so I gave it a try."
Since she signed up, Toledo has been hosting residents from other countries visiting Dubai and made some friends along the way. When it's her turn to travel, she easily gets useful tips from fellow members.
"If you know people from the places you're travelling to, you can get advice from them. With their help, you would know the best-kept secret in a particular destination, and not miss important sites. You would know exactly where to go and how to get there. Effectively, you save time and money," she says.
When Aaron Alvares and his wife decided to go on a three-day holiday in Sri Lanka in June 2011, he sought the assistance of a local travel agent and booked with a national carrier. By choosing a local agent and airline, the couple saved around Dh1,600.
"The best way to secure a good deal on air tickets is to book with the local carrier of the destination you are travelling to. This may not be true always, but works mostly," says Alvares, a group client servicing director for a company in Dubai.
Prior to finalising the bookings, Alvares had compiled a sight-seeing itinerary and made specific instructions that the package did not include four or five-star accommodation, lunch or dinner, and a travel guide.
"If you need to book with a travel agent, book with a local agent from the country you are travelling to. This will easily save a few hundreds, if not thousands of dirhams depending on the duration and destination of travel," he says.
He, however, asked for an English-speaking driver with a car to himself, for more flexibility. Hiring a dedicated local driver didn't prove to be costly either, considering that it made them maximise their brief stay in Sri Lanka.
"Generally, most drivers are looking to make a few extra bucks, so if you are good to them and explain to them what you have in mind, you can really maximise the time spent on the road by visiting maximum sites and attractions. I managed to check out Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya and visit nearly 15 different places in two days in Sri Lanka," says Alvares.
Do a price
Veathika Jain has spent quite a number of holidays in popular destinations such as Spain, United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany, China, Czech Republic and South Africa, among others.
Learning from experience, she always does a lot of research before booking hotels and tickets. Talking to friends who have been to the destination proves helpful when deciding where to stay for less. Comparing prices from travel agents in the UAE and those based in the country she intends to visit is another way to score a good deal.
"We always check the Internet and also ask some of the travel agents in India and Dubai when booking hotels. As for tickets, we try Expedia, and sometimes we book tickets from Indian ticketing websites which have better deals on tickets compared to UAE," she says.
Make sure you browse online travel forums as well. Forums collate first-hand reviews from travellers about accommodations, places of interest and other tips that may just help you sniff out a good deal.
Keep an eye out ?for tricky terms
Whether you're booking a hotel, ticket or day tour, don't skip the fine print, otherwise all those additional charges here and there can add up and drain your wallet dry.
If you're offered a hotel stay half the normal price, for example, check what the price covers. Many "budget deals" have turned out to be expensive because the breakfast and taxes are not included, or that you need to pay for an extra bed.
Many resorts also offer cheaper prices for rooms that don't have great views or those that have very limited space. "In most cases, they don't give you breakfast for free," observes Bangara.
"Do a little bit of investigation before you make the purchase. When booking a hotel, find out the room size. Some collect hefty cancellation charges, for example, so should know this beforehand," he adds.
Take public transport
The cost of transportation can cut a huge chunk out of the travel money, especially if you're going to move around a lot. Ditch the taxi or rental car and take the train or bus instead.
"We usually travel by public transport or even walk as you don't get to do that in the UAE. We also hired scooters and bikes when we were in Greece and other countries," says Jain.
Try a hop-on hop-off bus, as well, especially if you don't have a guide and don't know your way around.
Better yet, share a ride with fellow tourists so you can split the bill.
While on a family holiday in Mauritius, Jain opted for three half-day tours of the island in a minivan with five other people. That helped them enjoy the sights of the island at a much lesser cost.
More travel tips to keep your wallet happy:
•Bring out the adventurous in you by sampling local food. Dine at the food court, roadside cafes and eateries. They're generally cheaper than a five-star or hotel restaurant.
•If you're a bit on the picky side, bring pre-packed, instant or canned goods. "Always have some cereal bars low on sugar but can keep your hunger at bay for longer, which in turn means you will need to buy less snacks," says Nerry Toledo, a frequent traveler.
•Carry a mix of US dollars, euros, a little bit of local currency and credit/debit cards, suggests Premjit Bangara of Sharaf. That gives you flexibility and convenience when making purchases and there's no exchange outlet in sight.
•Plan well in advance, to get a good deal not just on tickets, but on hotels as well.
•Stay close to places of interest. Accommodations in the town centre are an ideal choice. They may be more expensive, but they will save you money on transport, considering that they're often accessible to major sites.
•If you have to take the train most of the time, get a one-week pass. A weekly pass is usually priced cheaper than several individual tickets combined.
•Walk. There are places where it's more convenient to go around on foot.
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