Penny wise, dollar foolish

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June 16, 2012 by farbolino

  I’m writing this article more as a reminder for me than anyone else.  I’m so extreme in my methods of saving a few bucks when traveling that I sometimes overlook the big picture.
   These are the things to look out for that might be more expensive, but will save you money, time, or both overall:
Organized tours:  I hate organized tours, BUT it sometimes makes sense.  Take an organized tour if it fits into one of these 3 categories.
1.)  You’re on a shorter trip, and every day counts. Often organized tours with transportation included can fit more things into a day then you can independently when taking local transport.  Maybe the tour will cost you $40 instead of the $20 it would have cost to do it on your own, but the way you can easily justify it to yourself is if it would have taken two days to see everything you can see in one day, then you just saved yourself a night in a hostel, and three meals which would have costed you the $20 you just spent, plus now you have the added bonus of saving a day to see other things.

2.)  If you’re traveling alone, renting a car can be cost prohibitive and an organized tour can end up cheaper then renting a car, even if you’re a group of two.  My suggestion would be to try to get two or three other people to join in to split a car rental, but if that doesn’t work it will be cheaper to rent the car.
3.)  If the organized tour includes a knowledgable guide who will give you true insight into whatever site your seeing, again it may be worth it.  Some places have complicated histories that are best explained in person.   If possible, talk to the guide before booking the tour to make sure he speaks clear English. There’s nothing worse then not being able to understand your guide.
Plane flights:  Ryan air, Whiz air and Spirit air may seem cheap at first, but look at the whole picture before you book a flight.  If the flight costs €50 with a budget airline for a round trip ticket and €120 for a regular airline, at first that sounds like an amazing deal.  After some further reading through the fine print, maybe not so much.   Take on the airport fees, €20 each way for a checked back, €5 credit card fee and now we’re over €100.  This still isn’t including that if you don’t print your boarding pass before hand you’ll be charged a shocking €60 for that too. How many of you pack a printer with you when you travel?  No one?!  Well then I guess you’ll have to spend an hour finding an Internet cafe to print the boarding pass.
   If this isn’t enough reason already to skip saving €10, check which airport they fly out of, and which they fly into. More often then not, they fly into a smaller airport further from the city. Sometimes MUCH further.  For example, Ryan air uses Girona airport as their Barcelona airport. Girona is in fact an entirely different city some 105km from Barcelona!  Needless to say, that isn’t going to be a cheap taxi ride.
One last suggestion is to read ALL the fine print for these websites including baggage Weight limits and size restrictions. These airlines do NOT make exceptions.
Hostels:  Everyone knows hostels are cheaper then hotels right?  Well, not always.  It depends on what country you’re in, if you want a private room or not,  and what you’re looking to get out of your travel experience.
In the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis like Greece, Spain and Portugal hotels are nearly always cheaper then a private room in a hostel, and even surprisingly sometimes cheaper then a dorm room.  Hotels almost always include a filling breakfast to boot, where hostels sometimes do.
  For example: When traveling in Portugal this winter most hostels in the city of Porto were priced around €15 euro a night for a dorm, and €22-25 per person for a private.  A little online research revealed I could book a private room for €15 per person, and since at the time I wasn’t traveling alone this made sense.  Shockingly though, we arrived to the city and asked for directions at a 4 star boutique hotel only to find it was only €20 a night, and included a lavish breakfast!  Unfortunately, we had already booked the other room, but sometimes the best option is arriving to a city without a reservation, especially in low season and checking things out in person.
Night trains:  This last and final one isn’t a great revelation; but certainly provides a better nights sleep for a few dollars more.  In countries where overnight train travel is possible, there is often 3 classes; 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  In certain countries there is even a 4th class which doesn’t provide a bed and crams 9 people into a space the same size that accommodates 4 people in 2nd class.
   For comparisons sake, we’ll exclude 1st class since this is a budget tip; but often times the prices for 2nd and 3rd class tickets are quite similar.  For example I recently took a train from Simferopol to Kiev 2nd class. The cost of the ticket for 2nd class was 131 UAH, and 115 UAH for third class.  This converts to  €13 and €11.5 respectively.
  So what’s the difference between the classes? 1st class has 2 beds per cabin, 2nd class has 4 beds, and 3rd class has 6 beds in an open car with no doors; meaning that 3rd class has no privacy, shorter beds and is often times much louder due to the fact that you can’t close a cabin door.  So for an extra €1.5 euro, you’ll have more privacy, a larger bed, and people won’t brush your feet as they walk past you to the bathrooms due to the open compartment.  On a 17 hour, 815km train ride I highly recommend 2nd class for a better nights sleep.  This will leave you more refreshed to explore whatever city your about to arrive in, instead of sleeping half the day and missing out on amazing experiences.  On the other hand, if you want to get drunk on Vodka singing Ukrainian songs all night with new friends, I recommend 3rd class; after all that’s an experience in its self.
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