Disclaimer: As Covid-19 has brought all our travel plans to a standstill, there are a lot of elements in this piece below that will be updated shortly. As it stands, the possibility of air travel looks unlikely for the forseeable future.
Many of my friends have asked how or why I tend to travel so often and make various assumptions. Well, like everyone else in the world, I have had to work for everything I've wanted and about five years ago, I just chose to make travel one of my priorities in life. In order to make this happen, I have had to save and plan meticulously.
I learned the art of saving since my first solo adventure back in 2010 and can definitely say that it is an art and not everyone is willing to do it. I also tend to let other bits take a backseat in my life such as shopping, going to the cinema (which is awfully overpriced in London), buying the latest gadgets as these do not hold any priority nor my interests in comparison to my travels.
If you find yourself wondering how others are able to save for travel, you may be able to benefit from a few of these money saving tips.
The Solo Traveller:
Personally, my solo travel adventures have always been very fulfilling experiences, where I’ve learned a great deal about both the destination and myself. Nothing gives you the same chance at self-discovery as travel, and when you’re setting off by yourself, consider it as an opportunity to see how you function by yourself, outside your comfort zone. Solo travel does not mean that you’ll be lonely, it may mean that you will be facing every little hiccup and challenge by yourself, but relying on your own intuition which also means realising how strong you really are! Keep these tips in mind to help you discover your best self on the road.
Make a list of the countries or cities you would like to visit.
Next to each, write-
Start with a travel fund this year. This does not mean opening any actual account, just a piece of paper or an excel sheet to work this out will suffice. Calculate the bare minimum you need to live (rent, food, bills etc) giving yourself a small buffer for any emergency (around £100-200). From your savings, take about 40 to 50% and deposit this into your travel fund. The moment your salary comes in, deposit this amount, no matter how big or small into your travel account. DO NOT touch your travel account.
Is your destination accessible by road? If so, can you drive there? Calculate the fuel costs along with parking and toll charges and compare this with public transport to help you make a decision on getting there. For example, it is easier and cheaper for me to get the Eurostar train from London to Paris than fly with an airline to Charles de Gaulle airport.
If flying is your only option, do some research when choosing your airport as sometimes, with low cost airlines, getting to the airport may cost you the same amount as choosing an airline which flies from a more central airport in your city.
Resources and essentials:
Chargers, converters and adapters (take more than one charger, converter and adapter, you’ll thank me, honestly) are what can make or break your trip. It’s worth buying more than one as you do not want to be hunting for a suitable charger on your holiday. Also, a world adapter / converter found in most airports is a life-saver.
I also believe that travel insurance is essential. While many of us underestimate repatriation, don’t go to a destination without insurance and it is always better to be safe than sorry. An annual world travel insurance from companies like Insure and Go will do just fine. These cost around £44 per year.
You can find some reasonable sales on almost every airline's website which you can keep a tab on. You can also look into deals on booking.com for hotels, skyscanner.com for flights and consider the amount it will take to get to the airport from your home as well as to the hotel in your destination from the airport.
So now that you’ve identified where to go, how much it is going to cost you, let's focus on planning your trip.
Have a Plan:
While it’s not necessary to fully chart out every little detail of your vacation, it is good to do your homework and know your basic itinerary in advance.
Make sure you know important data like flight information, your hotel name, address and phone number, and any emergency contact information beforehand. Be certain that you have access to one or more copies of this data. Store the information in your phone. Print a copy and keep it with your important documents. Being prepared now helps avoid complications later.
Contact your hotel or Air BnB host on a regular basis prior to your trip and inform them of your plans or any changes. Save the numbers on your phone and verify with your phone network provider if your roaming is enabled.
Your hotel or host may even help with how you can get to their address from the airport. This was very useful to me when my hotel in Krakow offered a taxi to pick me up when I informed them that my flight was delayed and was going to land very late at night. If you find yourself in a similar situation, request the hotel to provide the taxi driver's name and the car that he / she will be using to pick you up just to be cautious.
For added support and security, give a copy of your itinerary and contact information to a loved one at home and check in regularly by phone, whatsapp or email.
Don’t Panic When the Plan Changes:
Chaos, language barriers and unforseen circumstances are all a natural part of travel. There are times when flights will be delayed, the hotel room will be disappointing, the weather will be unpredictable and your suitcase may break open. You may even get lost in the maze of unfamiliar streets. Test yourself to see if any of the landmarks or street names ring a bell at such times to find your way around.
Just remember that millions of travellers have experienced this and as long as you have your passport and some emergency money with you, it is going to be alright.
Take a deep breath, find somewhere to calm down, sit and think (preferably with WiFi access) and come up with a new plan. You’ll eventually get there when you have figured this 'plan B' out and it will still be enjoyable.
The difference between a travel nightmare and an exciting adventure to share later is all in your willingness to adapt in the moment.
When using public Wi-Fi, don’t log into your bank account, it can wait till you’re back at your hotel. Always let your bank know about your travel plans (especially overseas) well in advance.
Eating street food in developing countries can be a slight risk, especially with consuming anything with water. If you are drinking juice from a street food stall at a local market, ensure that there is no ice as you cannot be sure of the water that has been used for the ice.
Verify the place that you will be staying at with various websites. For example, if I am staying in a hotel, I check booking.com, tripadvisor and google reviews to trust it fully before completing my booking.
If it’s late at night and you’re wandering about and a street looks dark and dodgy, don’t go there. Take the longer, noisier, safer, main road route instead where there are people.
Always have your map ready before leaving a restaurant or a museum and heading back to your hotel so that you know exactly how to get back safe.
If you are using your debit / credit card everywhere, please ask for a receipt and keep these receipts handy. Check every time (it takes only a minute) if you have been overcharged for anything.
Ensure your phone battery is full when you start your day at your destination. As you will be taking photos with your phone throughout the day, it is worth investing in a phone power pack which acts as a back up if and when your phone battery runs out.
Remain Open to New Opportunities:
One of the biggest advantages of travelling alone is that you don’t have to stick to the itinerary and you’re free to change your plans if something better comes along.
This can be something as simple as deciding which activity to pursue in the moment, whether it is exploring the city centre or chilling by the beach, checking out of a hotel early, or even taking a day trip elsewhere near the destination chosen which has been highly recommended by the locals.
Just make sure to adjust your itinerary’s important information and to let anyone who might be expecting you know about your change of plans.
Always Carry Important Documents and Essentials with you:
Always carry your emergency documents hidden somewhere on you. Hidden travel wallets or bags with inner zipped pockets are perfect for this purpose. I also keep a photo of my passport bio page on my phone and in my email, just in case.
Include identification (your passport or a photocopy), emergency cash or a debit / credit card (make sure it will be compatible with local currency or ATMs), and contact information for the hotel where you are staying, as well for anyone who you might be checking in with regularly.
This will not only help you in case of a minor trouble (pointing at an address is much easier than trying to speak a foreign language if you end up lost) but can also be used to keep your loved ones informed in case of an emergency. You may also want to pack your toothbrush, an extra underwear, t shirt, any minimal jewellery and all your chargers in your carry on / cabin baggage.
Enjoy that one special moment:
Lastly, you are out there to enjoy and have a trip of a lifetime. While the photos you are taking now will remind you of these wonderful moments in the years ahead, for at least ten minutes, put that camera
or phone away, get off social media and sit down. I do this on every trip - take a deep breath, close my eyes and soak in the moment. I also remember to smile and be grateful to have come this far.
Remember, you chose this destination for a reason, you are present and witnessing everything you read about this place (the good and the bad) so give yourself a pat on the back for the very fact that you made the effort to plan, save and go there.
Rashmi Narayan is a London based freelance writer, currently working in Immigration and International Affairs with a strong passion for travel and food writing.