How many of you always get a nasty surprise after a trip? It doesn't matter if you told yourself you were backpacking, you still somehow managed to spend more than your initial budget.
That...has never actually happened to me. Maybe my Chinese immigrant parents taught me how to be thrifty or my subconscious never let's me go over. I'm not sure. But I've never had the horrible situation of running out of money while travelling. However I constantly hear my friends facing that situation or coming back home with a larger than expected credit card bill waiting for them.
I realised it's a very common occurrence after talking to many people, and then I realised I can share some money saving tips to make your money go further while travelling.
Saving on exchange rates
There's two main ways to save on this. A great credit card or having a great bank. Credit cards in Hong Kong suck compared to other countries, but if you're Australian then you're in luck.
The 28 degree mastercard has got to be the best travel credit card I have ever come across. The bad news is it's only for Australians, so if you're Australian and you don't have this card yet. Go apply for one. I'm sure there are other credit cards out there that are just as good or have similar perks but I'm only aware of this one.
You could also use AMEX points to purchase foreign currency. AMEX cards have high annual fees, but you can easily offset it if you use the card enough. You just need to go to an American Express currency exchange to redeem your points for cash.
The second method is knowing where to exchange your money. I always use my bank in Hong Kong to exchange currency I need before flying out. I do a direct exchange instead of a currency order to avoid any unexpected currency fluctuations between the order date and the date I purchase. Different banks will have slightly different rates and fees, it doesn't seem like much but it adds up. So shop around and find a bank that's worth doing business with.
UPDATE: Aug 2018
Your bank may not have the currency you want, especially if the currency you want it from a smaller country. Take USD and make sure it's the newest printed notes. (Some places will refuse your USD if it's dated from certain years) USD is the easiest currency to exchange worldwide and so if you can't get your hands on the currency before flying out then USD will the easiest way to get your hands on it after landing.
Also, sometimes, exchanging at your destination can prove to be better. Just go on Tripadvisor and look through the travel forums to find the answer to this easily.
Europeans are in luck! There's a card available for Europeans that will give you cheap exchange rates at whole sale rates. The service is by Revolut, they said they were coming to Hong Kong in the 1st quarter of 2018...we're already heading into the 4th quarter. I'm still waiting Revolut. Don't let me down.
If you're a permanent resident in EU or in Europe, then you need to check it out. (I'm also low key jealous of you guys)
Don't use roaming
Don't use roaming. Hong Kong mobile charges are some of the lowest I have come across, but I still don't signup for roaming because it never ends up being worth it. Instead I always buy a local sim card at my destination. What you want to look for is a sim card with data. Once you have data, you can contact whoever, wherever and at local rates.
If you can't find a good data sim, you can also rent portable wifi, but don't get one before you fly. Renting one at the destination is almost always cheaper.
UPDATE: Aug 2018
Depending on how much data you normally use and how much you need when you travel, a flat rate global data plan might actually be worth it. They're becoming rather popular in Hong Kong in recent times and I do know USA seem to have something similar such as Google's project fi plan. I checked it out for my sister who lives in New York, but I haven't had experience with it myself. I might try it out when I go there and give you guys an update (sometime before 2019 starts)
Using coupon deals
Every place you go will have fun activities you want to try out, and these activities might have online offers or coupons for you to enjoy. You just need to search for it. It's really simple and very fast, but surprisingly not many people do this when they travel.
A lot of people have ideas of what they want to do before they go, but not many take the time to look for discount offers. Almost everywhere has a Groupon or an equivalent, get online and you can find some amazing deals for nice restaurants and popular attractions. You'll be travelling in style without breaking the bank.
Be smart with transport
A lot of cities have travel passes or tourist transport deals. These work great most of the time, but not always and they can end up being more expensive. I don't think I have used one of these deals for a few years now, because I always found getting a normal local transport card was cheaper.
Most of these passes include entry to all the big museums and attractions, but realistically you'll only be interested in going to a few and not all. Which is why most of these passes end up not being worth it. You'll have to ride public transport extensively everyday and go to many museums to get your money's worth.
Instead just pay the local rate and find out if there are special rates during non-rush hour times. Most museums have cheap days and you can time your visit accordingly.
Going local where ever you are will always save you more than a buck or two. Price differences can be shockingly big if you compare tourist areas or city centre places with more local areas. If you need to buy something, try going to more local areas.
Japan is the best example of this. The price difference between the same item from a tourist location and a local place can be more than 30% at times!
Enjoy the freebies
A lot of places have free tours you can join and free admission days to certain attractions. It's a great way to see the place and not spend a single penny. The free tours are mostly walking tours, which is a great way to get your bearings of a place. You can explore as much as you like without getting too lost for the rest of your trip.
You can book free walking tours and other activities that are completely free straight from Tripadvisor. You don't even have to Google it anymore.
The above doesn't seem like much and it's not radical or extraordinarily savvy, but surprisingly not enough people do them. They're very effective and I'm hoping you can use these tips to avoid a nasty surprise on your next trip.
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Other resources you might want to check out:
- Get cheaper flight tickets than everyone else you know.
- Get the best hotel deals with these tips.
- Learn how I pay for my travels without having a job.
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