Cheap travel can be bad travel, but it is possible to travel more cheaply and stay in the same quality of accommodation and even the same establishment! The two biggest costs for travellers are accommodation and transport – namely airfares. If you are willing to undertake the research, then one can make considerable savings.
The general rule is this – the earlier you book, the cheaper your airfare. The cheapest fares always have the strictest conditions, which can include a no-cancellation clause. If you want more flexibility then best to purchase a more expensive fare.
Whether you book your airfare direct from the airline or through a third party website does vary, so it is worth checking both options before committing to a purchase. I tend to use airline website mainly for the ability to choose my own seat and to accumulate points. If flying frequently, there is no harm in joining an airline loyalty program – they are usually free and you may be fortunate to accumulate enough points for a free airfare or an upgrade.
There are some cheap ways to craft your airfare, especially longer haul. Sometimes it is better to purchase two return airfares (one to take you half way, and the other for the second part) then purchasing one ticket for the whole journey. For example, flights in and out of Australia can be expensive – especially to place such as Africa and Middle East. In this case, it may be best to purchase one return airfare to a place such as Bangkok and then a second airfare to take you to Africa or the Middle East. Airlines with an extensive route within a region (such as Singapore Airlines in Asia) it is always best to purchase just one ticket especially if flying wholly within the region.
Generally speaking, transferring through a hub to a third destination is cheaper than stopping at the destination. For example, travelling from Bangkok to Dubai with Emirates (Dubai based airline) may be more expensive than going via Doha (Qatar Airways), whereas heading from Bangkok to Doha can be cheaper with Emirates (via Dubai) than with Qatar Airways.
If a carrier is using a code-share service, check the prices from both code-share partners. Usually the lesser known partner will have cheaper seats for the same flight – and this difference can be significant.
Remember to consider airlines that don’t offer full service as they can offer tremendous value for money. Both flydubai and AirAsia have an excellent network and service.
There are a myriad of places to stay whilst travelling. The rule is to check the prices of a place early, often and through different sources. It mahy be cheaper to book directly with the hotel or it may be cheaper to book through a third party website (such as Booking.com or Agoda). Prices of hotels on third party sites can change daily, so one needs to be vigilant.
In some countries discounts are provided on hotels if you book early (such as Asia) whereas in others, better discounts are gained if booking late (such as Europe). Accommodation providers may offer discounts for longer stays (four nights or more) and also offer discounts on weekends or during the week, but that depends on when their less popular nights are.
For middle to high end travel, consider becoming a member of a loyalty program. You accumulate points which can then be used for discounted or free nights later on. I’m a member of the IHG Rewards Club because their points never expire and they have a very solid range of quality accommodation across the world.
If you want to travel very cheaply, hostels are difficult to beat. However, it does mean sharing your room with other people. This is something I have never liked doing, and I’ve only stayed in dorms in a handful of nights after years of travel. Be aware that private rooms in hostels are almost always more expensive than budget hotels and so if you prefer privacy for a decent price, you are likely to find better value away from hostels.
There are other accommodation options. AirBnB and Housetrip are just two providers that allow people to deal directly with owners of houses or apartments. Mostly this involves staying in a room in someone’s house or apartment. The value of such providers does vary greatly when compared to other accommodation. For me, AirBnb provided great value in Harare, Zimbabwe, but it is generally overpriced in Dubai, UAE. Check the prices against apartments and hotel rooms offered by more standard means.
The two cheapest options are Couchsurfing (where you stay in someone’s house or apartment for a few nights for free) or house sitting through such sites as Housecarers and Trusted Housesitters where you can look after someone’s home (mainly to care for pets) when the owners are away. House sitting is definitely better suited to longer term stays and it is an option that I intend to explore in the near future. Solo female travellers should be warned that in some countries a certain portion of male Couchsurfing hosts only accept female guests as they use it for a pseudo-dating service. Check the credentials and previous reviews of the person you are staying with before making a decision.
This provides an overview of how to save money during your travel, but one must also save money prior to any travel, and how to do so is detailed at Saving Money for Travel.