8 September 2013

On travelling – some thoughts and tips

I think it is very important to travel outside of the world one knows, and to explore distant cities and cultures. Travelling helps greatly with gaining a greater understanding of the world, and it also assists greatly with reducing any prejudices one may have picked up along the way.

I always believed that travelling is reserved for the rich and famous, because it is generally thought of to be too expensive for the common man – especially if you live in a country with a weaker currency. When we finally started looking at the costs of travel a couple of years ago, we realised that it was well within our reach – especially if you plan the trip carefully and well in advance.

The biggest expense is typically the actual travel component – plane tickets, train tickets and so on – but there are ways to reduce this cost too.

Flying from South Africa to Europe can cost you anything from about R6000 to R15000 per person, depending on your destination, and the airline you choose. Most airways have regular special offers, so you just need to keep an eye on the specials, and use services like SkyScanner to get the best deal. Also do not accept that you have to fly at full cost to your final destination.

As an example, if your holiday is to start in, say, Austria, you may find it cheaper to fly to Frankfurt, and then get a cheaper connecting flight from Frankfurt to Vienna using a low cost airline like Ryanair.

Many airlines also offer rewards programs with points for travel, which doesn't help you with the first couple of trips but starts paying off when you travel regularly.

It is also possible to traverse most European countries without needing to rent a car. The public transport systems are outstanding, and most cities/countries offer multipasses or similar. I am particularly fond of using Eurail for train tickets, as they offer great multiday travel passes with options to cover multiple countries. Using such a pass is also a great alternative to flying between cities, and allows you to see a bit more of the country you're travelling through than simply flying over.

In South Africa, hotel rooms are charged per person, while, in my experience, hotels in Europe and elsewhere are typically charged per room, so you often pay about half for a hotel room in Europe of what you would pay in SA. Again, many hotel booking sites, like Hotels.com, offer rewards programs with deals such as free nights for frequent use. Many South African hotels are also affiliated with these sites, so you can also book locally to rake up those rewards.

The last big expense is feeding yourself daily. While food can be relatively inexpensive, it is the exchange rate that kills us. What I do when I start planning a trip is to work out how many Euros (or Pounds or whatever) we will need for the trip and include that in the budget. I also overestimate the exchange rate (as it can fluctuate quite dramatically) and then put that rand value into the budget. While we're travelling, we will then draw cash in Euros, and we know we have x amount of Euros to spend. If you are happy to live on quick meals and take-out while you're travelling, you need to budget in the region of €50 per day for two people. You can typically pick up a nice filled roll and a cold drink for around €5, and a burger with chips from Burger King also goes for about €5, while a pizza slice will cost you in the region of €2.

Dining out at a restaurant can cost a little more, especially if your tastes are more delicate. At a reasonable family restaurant you can look at around €10 for a main meal, while more up market restaurants could charge up to €30 for a main meal. Also look if your hotel has a restaurant, as it may, in some cases, provide better value for money. But not always…

On our first trip to Europe, we visited a couple of cities in Germany first, and then ended off our holiday in Amsterdam. While in Germany, we made use of the in hotel restaurants a couple of times and found the food to be great while relatively inexpensive (€20 for two people, including a couple of beers). So, on our first night in Amsterdam we also visited the hotel restaurant and ordered without really paying attention to the prices, assuming they would be along the lines of what we experienced in Germany – big mistake. The portions were considerably smaller, for double the price, and that meal consisting of main course and desert for two people, as well as a beer for the husband and a coke for myself set us back €65.

And, of course, you want to make sure that you have enough money to spend on gifts and trinkets. This depends on what your budget can spare. Some things can be much cheaper in Europe than you would expect, and buying things isn't something you can really plan that much for, unless you go for a specific purpose, such as buying electronics. Each country has their own speciality, and you will want to bring home things that remind you of your trip – so be sure to leave yourself at least €200 to €400 for such items. And don't forget to leave space in your suit case for such things – we generally put an empty shoebox into each suitcase just for this purpose.

And lastly, be sure to schedule all your account payments, etc for while you are on holiday, because the last thing you want to do is worry if the bills at home were paid while you are ticking items off your bucket list.


Mandy Southgate said...

Cool post! I think your shoebox-in-the-suitcase idea is brilliant.

Vanessa Bruwer said...

Thanks luv :)

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