Thursday, 30 May 2013

How to make the best of your vacation- on a budget!

My partner and I have traveled extensively in the past 3 years and every single one of our trips was unique and enjoyable thanks to a strategic planning beforehand. Do not get me wrong- I am not talking about meticulously crafted day-by-day itinerary- it’s daunting and diminishes the fun factor. Instead, we draft a general plan of action and leave plenty of room for modifications. There are 8 steps/tips that we consider when planning a custom (not all-inclusive) vacation together (we travel as a duo most of the time). If you are travelling with kids or a group of friends you will most likely have to omit and/or add more steps to fit your particular situation.
  • Have an approximate budget because there are two types of expenses involved “static” (airfare, accommodations, care rental) and “floating or variable” (attractions, food, souvenirs, shopping, the list goes on). Be realistic about what you can and cannot afford. I believe in “splurge here, save there” rule- you decide what matters the most to you (for some it is a luxurious accommodation for others- skydiving or a helicopter ride) and dedicate a more generous portion of a budget to that. Unless you have unlimited budget this is a way to go!
  • Choose the type of vacation you embarking on- consider yours and your partner’s interests- it’s a shared experience that have to be enjoyable to both parties. So whether it is a surf vacation in Costa Rica, yoga retreat in Bali, culinary adventure in Italy, tramping in New Zealand or sun-bathing in Florida, discuss and agree on what fits you both ( some compromising may be required:).
  • If you are planning to stay somewhere for longer than a week ( and I do recommend longer trips as it is the only way to immerse yourself in a local culture and makes you feel more rested upon arrival home) do yourself a favor and rent an apartment/studio with a kitchen or at least kitchenette. Eating out 2-3 times a day can break the bank very easily (unless you are in Thailand of course where eating out is cheaper than cooking at home!). Regardless of whether you choose to master your cooking skills with local ingredients or just use a fridge to store your water/beverages- having a kitchen is a definite bonus and gives you options.
  • Eat local cuisine. It is especially true for some Asian and South/Central American countries. Eating western food will almost always cost you more- so skip the familiar and explore the flavors your destination has to offer! You will end up with a healthy, freshly cooked meal for a very attractive price tag. Avoid local tourist traps- ask your host/concierge for a suggestion- where they would go for a meal?
  • Do your research before booking accommodations- location is important ( on the beach, closer to shopping, remote, closer to a particular attraction/activity you want to explore) as well as reviews ( I like Trip Advisor but note that people’s opinions on the same hotel  can vary greatly!). Look beyond traditional options like hotels- there are B&B’s, rental apartments (I recommend browsing AirB&B website), hostels and lodges. We stayed in 10 different hostels (you can always request a private room with en-suite  while travelling in New Zealand and I wouldn't want to have it any other way! Some hostels are pretty posh and as a bonus you meet a lot of fellow travelers from around the world and learn new recipes while watching others cook in a shared kitchen. On our latest trip to Costa Rica we stayed in a small family owned hotel ( 7 rooms only)- we negotiated attractive 3 week rate and considering our host spoke Spanish she was able to negotiate amazing prices on zip lining and ATV tours for us! If you prefer hotels you may be able to get good package deals with breakfast during off-season- just call and ask- often hotels don’t list all promotions online.
  • Consider renting a car. It might be a viable option depending on your trip. We drove in a rented car around New Zealand’s South Island but opted to take taxis in Costa Rica and rent a car for one weekend only. In Thailand it just made sense to rent a scouter to get around town and in Australia we rode public transit. Check prices for rentals (and don’t forget mandatory insurance in some countries!) and see what option suits you best.
  • Avoid over-packing! On so many occasions I would wear only half of what I packed. Consider a climate and a type of vacation- you will end up with a lighter, better organized suitcase!
  • Learn basic phrases in local language- locals will appreciate it and you may be rewarded with a better service/discounts or just a big smile:)

Safe travels!
South Island, NZ

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