You may have realized the suggestions on 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 we should splurge at every turn, but there is a middle ground where we can find good 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.
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, 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 stressful and 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.
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 such a situation, if you bought the flights separately, your only way out will be buying a last-minute flight at the airport, which will be ridiculously expensive. If you bought them together, however, the airline has to put on another flight without extra costs.
"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.
"Good idea": Skipping meals and going to the nearest boring 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 can at home? Didn't think so.
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": Saving money on accommodation by staying too far out of the city center. "But 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, 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 (learn how to get the best deals here) or Airbnb with a map view. Failing that, hotel chains like Ibis are another option. It won't be charming or special, but you shouldn't have unpleasant surprises either.
Do you know of other pitfalls to avoid? Let's discuss in the comments 🙂
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