April 18, 2014

9 Steps on How to do a Budget Travel Research

Grand Central Terminal, New York

                Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated with the world. I love looking at maps, reading about the culture and the most popular attractions around the world, watching food and travel channels and spending my free time playing geography games in Encarta.

                A few years ago, after I became a Licensed Architect, I started to rearrange my priorities. Instead of eating out 5 times a week, I saved that allotted money for travels abroad. I believed that I have to travel to as many places as I can while I’m young and single. And in order to do that, I need to learn how to really stretch my hard-earned Peso. And my goodness, I never thought it would involve a loooot of researching.

                From here, I’d like to share how I do my budget travel research.

1.       AIRFARE
        After deciding on which country to visit, I look out for the cheapest airfare available—and it involves a lot of waiting. But first, you have to have a list of the airlines which can travel to your destination. Then check the rates of the dates of your intended travel. The dates I always check are at least 4 months ahead so that I have a bigger chance of catching a promo.

        For additional tips, airfares are cheaper on weekdays, especially if you’re departing on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and arriving on Sunday night or on a Monday. Also note the days on when a certain Airline post their Airfare sales online. For example, Cebu Pacific almost always posts theirs on a Thursday night and on the eve of a holiday while Pal Express and PAL on Mondays. It’s always better to check on Thursday night to Friday night to ensure that there are still seats available.

Yosemite National Park, California

        Research on the attractions where you want to go. This part is the easiest and the most fun part of the research. Maybe because it builds up your excitement to see the places you’ve always wanted to go. Mine always has a day intended to see the countryside or a national park and I also want to see the architectural wonders that country has to offer.

        When you have a list of your attractions, you need to note their details. This is a must-do. Visit their official websites and note the followings:

a.       Date and Time of Operations. Check the operating hours and also take note of the time the last tickets are sold. Also, if you’re visiting a museum, check the days/dates they’re closed. Some museums are not open on Mondays or Wednesdays.
b.      Admission Fee.
Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, Brunei

c.       Dress codes. When visiting temples, mosques and palaces, sleeveless, shorts and mini-skirts are not allowed. Dress accordingly.

d.      Address. Always note the address of the places you’re going to. If you get lost on the way, this is a life-saver. Also if you’re going to a non-English speaking country, write the address in the local handwriting so you won’t have any problem addressing it to the locals or to the taxi driver. My friends and I had one experience in Bangkok wherein the taxi driver almost kicked us out of the taxi because he doesn’t speak English.

Taipei City, Sample of Mapping out.
4.       GOOGLE MAP it.
        Mapping out and saving your attractions in your Google Map is very helpful—especially if wayfinding isn’t one of your strengths. One of the best things in your phone when travelling is your phone’s GPS. You can use it even without Wi-Fi and even without Roaming. If you get lost, just turn on your phone’s GPS, open your google map, and wait for at least 15 seconds, and it will point where you are.

        Another advantage is that you can group them according to their district/area or according to which attractions are closest to each other.

Sign Post in Kuala Lumpur
        Mapping out can save you time, energy and transportation expenses, especially if the attractions are just walking distance away from each other.

5.       FIND A HOSTEL.
        Yes, a hostel. Hostels are very cheap compared to hotels and it’s a good way to meet new people and learn some tips on the country you’re visiting. If you’re a solo traveller, you can also save money by teaming up with other travellers in the hostel. However, there are drawbacks. You’ll have limited privacy and security, especially in dorm rooms and you’ll have to share the bathroom. Anyway, some hostels do offer private rooms but it’s not as grand and as comfortable as a hotel.

        In choosing a district, I look for the area where most of my attractions are located. Then to narrow down the list of hostels, I check which has the most stable bed and the cleanest bathroom. Most hostels have bunk beds. I’m not fond of metal bunk beds because they tend to wobble easily. And it’s very uncomfortable especially if the one I’m sharing the bunk bed moves often in the night. For me, wooden bunk beds are better.

        I use at least 3 websites to book my hostels. These are Hostelworld, Booking.com and Agoda, and sometimes, the official website of the hostel. I compare the prices of the 3 to find out which is cheaper.

Sign board in Nami Island

6.       ITINERARY
        After the hostel, I’m ready to do the itinerary. I group the attractions that are either linked with a single line of transportation or grouping which are closest together into the days I’m staying in the country. Then estimating the time of travel and the time I’m going to stay in one particular attraction. Arranging them in a sequence wherein I wouldn’t have to go back and forth in one area saves a lot of time and energy.

Snow capped mountain range, Washington State
a.       Download the subway/train map and the bus line map. Most first world countries also have a transport app (e.g. Jihachul Subway for Seoul City, Exit Strategy for NYC) which makes public transportation so much easier.
b.      Research on the cheapest way to travel from the airport to your hostel. Airports always have at least 2 options. The most apparent options you’ll have are private car/shuttle from your hotel/hostel or airport taxi. But some countries have a local bus or train options. The last 2 are always the cheapest way to go.
Fare Table in New York City (2009)
c.       Look for options where you can save on transportation cost. This includes researching for local transport cards (e.g. TAP, Metro Card, EZ Link, T-Money). A transport card can save you time because you won’t have to pay every time for every ride. Also, most often, a single ride is more expensive.
You can also check if your destination has a tourist transport card—which means unlimited rides on multiple-day basis. But before buying this type of card, check first if you can save more with this or if it’s more practical to just have the local transport card.
d.      After deciding on which transport card to have, I check the fare tables.

Jollibee Los Angeles, Drive thru menu.
8.       FOOD
        Before researching for the restaurants I want to try, I first check the prices of the fastfood chains like KFC and McDonald’s. This way, I’ll have an estimate of how much I’ll be spending on food.

        I also add a “Food Miscellaneous” expense which includes water and other beverages and for snacks in between meals.

        I organize my research in Excel. My friends’ say that my research is very detailed and sometimes I also feel like I’m being particularly meticulous with it but having a detailed research is better than spending unnecessary time and money. (Scroll down for a sample itinerary)

                So these are my steps on how to plan a budget travel. It sounds complicated and a little confusing BUT the payoff is worth it. If I compare it with promos from travel agencies and from group buying sites, my itinerary is cheaper by 30 to 50% plus I get to visit a lot more attractions.

                Here are some comparisons of my itineraries to promos online:

                Big savings, right? And you know what, it also gives you a certain kind of freedom and a boost in self-esteem if your itinerary worked out!

                Anyway, my last out of the country trip was last month in Seoul, South Korea. Here's my itinerary. For a larger view, download it here.

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  1. GREAT POST! You shouldn't have shared this. Hahaha joke lang! So where's our next destination? :)

    1. Japan? Or travel around South Korea!! Haha!;)

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  3. hey there. just want to say thanks for the tips and sharing your detailed itinerary. currently doing mine now :)