Our biggest cost savings came from staying with friends or the contacts friends provided us of friends they knew in the areas we were scheduled to visit. This provided us with about 70 days of free acommodations and, more importantly, the experience of having generous people who love their country and area show us around their favorite places. We spent time emailing all these people and coordinating schedules and introducing ourselves through email. The response and generosity have been overwhelmingly.
Hiking and Walking and being independent. Hiking and walking became our number one mode of transportation to see a majority of places. Hiking and walking are free, a great way to see out of the way places, to meet local people, develop a greater appreciation of the area and stay in good phyiscal condition. In the cities or exploring an ancient site, we would read numerous local tour brouchres, get a local map and any available walking tour information and design our own walking or hiking route. Going on a local bus with a daypack full of food, water and camera equipment, we are able to see more of the sites, save money, maintain our flexibility and control of what we are doing. Remember tours try to schedule all the activities of an area in one day leaving you exhausted and tired of traveling in a car or tour bus. As with all groups, you are not in control of your own time and visiting all the sites in one day can be very expensive and not very satisfying. For example, in the Cappadocia area of central Turkey, tour companies were charging 540 US dollars for our family for a 1.5 day tour. This included a bus ride from Istanbul to Antalya and visiting 4 sites within the Cappadocia region for one day. Instead, we arranged everything independently and stayed 5 days in the Cappadocia area, went on 5 very good hikes, went to the UNESCO open air museum and really felt like we explored the area, and even saw the total eclipse of the sun for 404 US dollors, including the bus rides from Istanbul to Cappadocia to Antalya.
Staying longer in places and not trying to see all of the sites a country has to offer saves on transportation costs. For our trip, transportation costs were 25% of the budget. Staying longer in an area provided us more opportunity to visit a place in greater depth and develop local personal contacts and see an area beyond the normal tourist agendas. For example, the greek islands. We were going to go to 5 greek islands in 16 days. Instead, we decided to really explore two islands and save on transportation costs. This saved us about 350 US dollars in ferry transportation costs over the 16 days and we left Naxos with the feeling that we had explored the island. If we go on another trip like this we will be more selective on the places we stay and stay in these places longer and go to places that have multiple activities or destinations.
For us, we really did enjoy seeing the sites that were located in more rural settings or small towns. Yes, places like Rome, Istanbul and Bangkok are fantastic and not to be missed, but the more rural areas cost less, the pace of life is slower and we tended to stay longer and explore the area in greater depth. With the costs of big cities constantly breaking our budget, we tended to develop a walking tour of the city and leave as soon as possible.
Traveling during the shoulder and low tourist seasons of an area provides a great opportunity to negotiate acommodations and transportation. We visited northern India during the low season and received a 50% discount on our room.
Volunteer for a week on a project in the region. People help find lower cost housing and are better able to negotiate prices. Great way to introduce the concept of volunterism to children.
Buy local foods and produce for breakfast and lunch instead of going to a restaurent. Stay away from "American" menus, which are double or triple the costs of a local plate of the day.
Try and find out what the local prices are and the normal tourist price. The first person you ask a price from usually is not the going rate, especially if you are just arriving by bus or train into a new destination. Tourists are quoted very high prices. By getting a sampling of prices or costs allows you to know when a price is out of line and when move to another vendor, hotel, tour guide, etc.
Local transportation versus the "mini-van". Mini-vans are usually owned by tour agents in the area and geared for transporting tourists from one popular place to the next, either locally or long distance. This has been a very interesting development we did not foresee and a major cost cutting option. I remember mini-van options from my previous travels, but now, operators and tour agents are very organized. No matter where we have been, the mini-van is heavily promoted as the best method of travel. The claim the best service, the most comfort and in many instances the only travel option - WHICH IS NOT TRUE. Also, mini-van operates do whatever they can to prevent you from knowing where local transportation can be found and what the costs are. In some areas, there is outright lying about no local bus. Yes, in some places the mini-van is worth the extra money, but overall local transportation is the best deal. Also, in many cases, I have seen the local bus PASS the mini-van and get there before us. For example, going from Antigua, Guatemala to Chichicastenango was US$22 and by local bus was $US2 per person. For a family of four this is significant. Also, we feel that utilizing public transport is a much better way to interact with local people, help improve our language skills and get some great local advice on hotels, restaurants and activities.
Tours versus going independent. This is usually a personal preference on when to hire an English speaking guide or go through a tour operator. We believe there are many things we can do ourselves when we have the information. For example, in Taman Negara National Park, there is a 5 ringgett fee to go over the canopy walk, which is located 1km outside the park headquarters, but all the local tour operators were charging 30 ringgets to be guided to the canopy walk. Well, we are experienced hikers and we spent some time finding out all our options to uncover that we really did not need a guide.
Finding hotels/hostels with kitchens versus restaurants. With the costs of meals so cheap and so good in Southeast Asia this is not an issue, but in Central America we saved about $US8.00 per meal and in Europe we saved about $US30 per day.
Buying souvenirs in the next village outside major tourist areas
Bargain, Bargain, Bargain. Laundry, hotels, tours, etc.
Continually ask for reduced prices for children on trains, buses, entrance into national parks, extra beds in hotels. This has paid off well.
Staying in small towns outside well known tourist areas. Tourist areas tend to be much more expensive. By staying a the nearest local town and doing daytrips into the tourist area has saved good money on meals and hotels. We also like the more quite atmosphere.