The suggestions by Travel After 5 never rest on cost alone. In fact, when doing my own researches, the terms budget or cheap have the effect of putting me off, because these usually come at the expense of convenience. That's not to say I think you should or that I splurge at every turn, but there is a middle ground where we can find great cost/benefit deals.
Here I will discuss some money-saving "good ideas" that are actually absolute traps. Avoid them or at least have a mitigating measure in place if it's unavoidable.
Choosing when to go
- "Good idea": Such savings on everything! From flights to accommodations, traveling in the low season is just so much cheaper.
- Why it's actually bad: There's a reason why it's so much cheaper. Shorter days, freezing cold or scorching heat, hurricane/tornado/flood/rain season, etc.
- Solution: Aim for the shoulder season. Unless you have kids and are limited by school vacations, there's no good reason to be traveling in the peak season either. You will still be getting good weather but it will be cheaper and far less crowded.
Paris in the Spring
Arriving: Connecting flights
The ideal international connection time is somewhat between two and three hours. For peace of mind, in super busy hubs — Paris Charles de Gaulle, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, or Lisbon Portella come to mind — and especially if you are crossing into or out of the Schengen Area, one or two extra hours won't hurt. If you are transiting within Schengen, however, one hour should be enough.
So pay attention to the pitfalls before booking your flights:
- "Good idea": Saving money on a promotional ticket with only 8 "short" hours connection time.
- Why it's actually bad: This is extremely tiresome. If you have such a long connection when you are going, you will arrive tired and will waste time at your destination to rest. If you do this on your return flight, you will curse the day you were born when you need to get back to real life on empty batteries.
- Solution: Fit a stopover into your itinerary. In 24h you can visit an extra city, sleep properly, and then resume your journey. This is infinitely better than 8 hours without comfort in an airport. Alternatively, depending on the time of the day, around Europe, it might be feasible to go to the city center and do a short tour or having a nice meal before returning for your connecting flight. This is risky, however, so not recommended if you are not familiar with the airport/city or if you are not used to finding your way quickly around unforeseen troubles.
But the complete opposite can happen as well if you don't allow enough time to reach your following flight:
- "Good idea": Buying a ticket with the shortest connection time to take advantage of every minute in your destination.
- Why it's actually bad: Short delays happen all the time. Long delays too. Now imagine having to run across the airport. Different gates or even terminals; sometimes with buses or rail involved, as well as x-rays and passport control. It is a recipe for disaster not allowing yourself enough time.
- Solution: Always (really, always!) buy the complete itinerary until your destination on the same ticket. In case of delays, if you bought the flights separately, your only way onwards will be to buy a last-minute flight at the airport, which will be ridiculously expensive. If you bought them together, however, the airline has an obligation to put you on another flight without extra costs and overnight delays will have them covering hotel and transfer costs too.
- "Good idea": Doing all the sightseeing on foot. What better way to see the city and save money at the same time?
- Why it's actually bad: Unless you are staying directly in the center of a small city, this is just unfeasible. I know people who tried this with London and after a couple of days, they were crushed. This kind of savings will seriously undermine your ability to enjoy the city you are visiting.
- Solution: Go for time-based tickets. They are usually available from 1 to 7 days and cover all means of transport, like subways, urban trains, trams, buses. These tend to be very good deals in comparison to single tickets and you don't need to worry about the cost of every journey. I always go into details on these tickets on Travel After 5's 101 series.
- "Good idea": Skipping meals and going to the nearest well-known fast-food chains you find at home for fuel.
- Why it's actually bad: Apart from the general health issues, did you travel all this way to eat the same old things you do at home? C'mon.
- Solution: Go for local street food or hit nice restaurants at lunchtime. Lots of places will have a special lunch or business menu with highly reduced prices.
- "Good idea": Blindly saving money on accommodation. "Who cares that it's far out of the city center? It has good public transport connections!", you say.
- Why it's actually bad: Even if you don't count the wasted time between hotel and center at least once or twice a day, you'll likely spend more money on transportation too. Most capitals operate a ring-based system, with prices going up the further from the center you'll be traveling to/from. Now multiply this for the number of times you'll travel between your accommodation and the center. It adds up really quickly.
- Solution: Research hotels based on location first, then price. Explore portals like booking.com or Airbnb with a map view. Failing that, hotel chains like Ibis are another safe, even if boring, option. It won't be charming or special, but you shouldn't have unpleasant surprises either.
Here's hoping you liked those tips and travel better so you can travel more!
Do you know of other pitfalls to avoid? I'd love to find out your tips and tricks too. Let's discuss this in the comments!