Traveling is a great luxury, and travelling well takes hard work!
Over the years, we’ve done hostel tours, B&B’s, resort stays, apartment rentals and cruises. We’ve flown economy with unheard-of budget airlines and award-winning Business Class.
We’ve scored genius bargains and been scammed like rubes, and before we start digging into what we’ve loved all over the world and where, we wanted to share the lessons we’ve learned from every holiday that’s been perfect and each day that could’ve been done better.
And when you get to the end of all this, we’d love to hear your tips too. How have you got the most from every glorious moment in a city, a life, and a world different from your own?
KNOW WHY YOU’RE TRAVELLING
A problem we often find is trying to choose between the “exciting, sight-seeing holiday” and the “much needed, recuperation holiday”.
Just because you want to go somewhere, doesn’t mean it’s the right place to go this time.
London and New York are for the food, the theatre, the museums and the buzz. Rome is for the history. Paris is for wonder. And so on. The list of bright-light destinations that travel lovers need to see at least once is long, but only the obscenely wealthy or the gormless go to any of them for the spa treatments!
If you’re looking to chill-out, make sure you pick the place that will give you the best bang for your buck.
Your budget will stretch a lot further in a private bungalow on a beach in southern Thailand then it will in a Swiss Chalet.
KNOW THE PRICE
We’re always guilty of being cavalier when it comes to day-to-day costs.
Everywhere in the world, there’s an unspoken surcharge on being a tourist, and that’s fine! In exchange, most locals will want to ease you on your way and help to show their hometown at its best.
So be classy, and don’t be tight; but having said that, there will always be those who see each tourist as a new and exciting opportunity for profit. There’s a difference between paying acceptable rates and being scammed, and there’s nothing classy about being ripped off.
For example, knowing that a city has a fixed Tariff for taxis to-and-from the airport is on you (I’m looking at you Roman cabbies!).
Taking ten minutes to look up some regular costs in the local currency should give you a decent guide as to when you’re being taken for a ride (in a taxi or otherwise). Once you know that, how much you want to fight about it is up to you.
But that’s all when you’re there. What about when you’re trying to negotiate a good deal with the owner of that perfect little Greek flat?
Communication is key and if you can’t speak like a local, consider hiring someone who can. A local personal assistant, or a virtual PA service with multilingual services sounds like a slightly ridiculous extravagance, right?
Just pull your finger out and book your holiday yourself!
We’d generally agree, but this can be one of those areas where spending money to save money is a real thing.
If you don’t have time to research all the options, or the skills to reach out to all the people you might want to contact, then you’d be foolish not to delegate some of that for a better overall experience.
Services like Time Etc. can be that extra pair of hands, making sure that you haven’t missed a crucial booking or two.
BOOK IN ADVANCE
This one isn’t a surprise, but if you know you’re going to want to be going somewhere in the next year or even more, book it now!
Got a recurring exhibition or conference on the books? Book your flights and hotel now.
Got a favourite hotel or a particular location in mind? Approach them directly and ask if they can give you a discount for being such an eager beaver!
You’ll be surprised the rewards, upgrades and extras you can get just for planning ahead.
…OR BE SPONTANEOUS
If you haven’t booked and care less where you’re headed, then take advantage of that!
Load up Skyscanner and see exactly what lines up on the Venn Diagram of cheap flights and places you want to go.
The only way that last minute bookings will break the bank is if you’re unable to compromise on the destination, but there’s somewhere else incredible you could be every weekend, if you’re willing to ride the wave.
If you’ve got the time (and an office phone to make a bunch of long-distance calls from), cold-calling a few prime hotels will often reveal some surprising last minute options, especially if they’ve got any pesky vacancies mid-week.
Even the Savoy will rather put you up at a discounted rate than leave a room empty.
Another tip for the flexibly minded, here’s a good trick you might not have considered:
Rather than AirBNB’ing your way into the local lifestyle, or paying on the odds for a short let, take a look at housesitting or house-swap options.
Sites like Housesit Match can throw up destinations and options you may not have considered.
If you’re looking to step out of your life for a week or two, and don’t mind your new life containing a pet or two, this could be a great option for living it up, rent free in a whole new place.
TRAVEL IN LOW SEASON
This is another obvious one, but if you have the luxury of travelling outside school holidays or your destination’s high-season, you can have a killer holiday for a fraction of the regular price.
Sites like Voyage Privé offer pretty great year-round discounts on many hotels, but it’s their off-season promotions that are really fantastic. If you’re after that 5-star resort experience, VP regularly have discounts of up to 80% for some of the world’s most spectacular resorts and hotels, just for the pleasure of helping them fill their rooms in quieter periods.
Treat yourself to an all inclusive city-break (without bankrupting yourself)!
Thank us later.
In this day-and-age it’s amazing that hotels will have different prices from one site to another, but they do! So be sure to shop around.
Bookings.com give good value and easy price comparisons along with regular discounts of 10% or more to return customers. Not bad!
eDreams is worth a look too, going out of their way to sweeten their deals, especially if you’re booking multiple trip elements with them.
For instance, combining your flights, accommodation and travel insurance not only comes out at competitive rates, but can land you some sweet upgrades along the way. There’s no guarantees on their bonuses, but when we do score an upgrade it’s often thanks to these guys.
Sight-seeing is great cardio. When we’re headed to a city full of new and exciting things we know we’re going to hit our 20,000 steps each day, but you don’t want to be spending half of those just getting to and from your bargain accommodation, far from where you want to be.
Stumping up a little more cash for a more central location will not only increase your enjoyment of the city, it will save you money on trains and taxis.
And the more you walk, the more delicious calories you deserve at every snack and meal!
Become a master of frequent flyer miles and travel points.
NB: Avios is winding up their operations, but the incentive schemes that use them as their currency will continue to operate (in a form yet to be made entirely clear).
You’re going to spend money anyway, so why not save yourself some money while you do?!
We’re hardly wizards when it’s comes to maximising our points, but even so, we’ve managed to regularly pay for our short hop flights around Europe, as well as getting discounts on hotels and restaurants, and all by collecting points from our normal, everyday spending.
If you’re not in on this already, check out this primer from LifeHacker.
BANK FEES BEWARE!
Internationally accepted Credit and Debit cards make it so easy to travel without cash that it’s easy to forget about the local currency until you touch down.
And if you’ve put off thinking about that, then you certainly haven’t thought about your bank’s extra little fee for every foreign currency transaction.
Having been stung by this more times than a sensible person should be, we finally made an effort to work around it; and it’s not hard! It just takes a little forethought.
First up, for debit purposes travelling out of the UK, we’re fans of Monzo, an online bank with a slick app and a significant enough user base to make it more than just a banking fad. Just load up your account and any money you spend in a foreign country will go through at MasterCard’s exchange rate, without any additional fee.
But Monzo is increasingly less cool for cash withdrawals. When they first launched, foreign currency withdrawals were unlimited, then maxed-out at £400 a month and it’s now down to £200… It’s a shame, but also makes you think: how often do you still need cash?
And that’s going to depend on where you’re headed. If you’re not leaving major cities, then going cashless is easy, but if you’re headed off-piste, make sure you’re ready for the locals who only want real money.
So, grab some cash before you go. The rates and fees will inevitably beat what you can get at the airport or where you’re headed (if you’re going from the UK, Thomas Exchange tends to have the best rates and low fees), and you never know when you’re going to need to pay cash for a cab as soon as you’re off the plane.
FOLLOW THE RATINGS
Listening to people’s advice about where to go, stay and eat always feels like a double-edged sword.
You want your own experiences and to make your own discoveries, but you don’t want to stay in a crap place and get ripped off by a tourist trap.
When we first headed out into the world, Lonely Planets were everywhere. In hostels from China to Europe and across the US, every single person had a well-thumbed LP in their rucksack, and we were all assiduously seeking the right tourist experiences. We were all so busy trying to fit those in that there wasn’t any time for serendipity.
Over time, we’ve learned to plan less and let the moment take us more (or we’ve gotten lazier). There have been misadventures and regretted bookings, but no unmitigated disasters; so it’s with some trepidation we’ve witnessed the rise of our own reliance on TripAdvisor in our travelling.
When spoiled for choice in a strange city, are you really going to risk lunch at a venue with a mere 3 spots, when there’s a 5 spot 10 minutes away?
How many ratings does it have?
What were the reviews?
Before you know it, everyone is queued outside the same 5 spotted attraction, scanning the hundreds of reviews for the most authentic local restaurant on their phone?
But…we’re kind of a fan. Why wouldn’t we want a steer on where to spend your precious holiday minutes?
Less mainstream than TripAdvisor and a great resource when trying to escape the typical tourist haunts is Spotted by Locals. We love this site. Full of suggestions about good places, not just good places for tourists.
And it’s still special, ‘cause all of you lot haven’t started using it yet.
EAT OUT AT LUNCH
Want to try out that famous restaurant but don’t want to blow a week’s accommodation on their famous prices? Then check out their lunch menu!
A Michelin-starred meal tastes just as good at 2pm as it does at 9pm, but could set you back 30% less! We’ve even seen 2-4-1 lunch deals in some of the least affordable restaurants in the world.
SHOP AT SUPERMARKETS & COOK FOR YOURSELF
Shopping is always a bit of a cultural experience in itself, though you rarely find it called out in a tourist’s itinerary.
A trip to the Monoprix, Carrefour or Casino (supermarket, not gambling den) is always a journey into a Looking-glass Land of weird and wonderful brands and often surprisingly low prices.
Preparing a meal a day for yourself – whether it’s as simple as breakfast cereal, or going all out and trying your hand at replicating some local cuisine – will save you hundreds in just a few days, and will probably introduce you to a few new brands you’ll be trying to find when you get back home.
DATA ROAMING: USE IT BUT DON’T GET BURNED!
We admire people who step away from their mobiles when they go on holiday. Cut the digital tether! Block all emails! Turn off the phone and bury it at the bottom of your carry-on.
We admire those people, because they’ve somehow overcome their natural stupidity to still successfully leave their house!
Sure: turn off your work emails, but why would you trade your map, your translator, your (second) camera, your tour guide, your local recommendations, your tickets and your phone for individual, analogue alternatives just so Brian from Accounts can’t interrupt your museum tour?
So, you’re keeping your phone on you: great. Now you need to not get charged £100 trying to find the pizza place Brian swore was so good it helped him make peace with the life-choices that landed him in Accounts in the first place.
The easy solution is to turn-off data roaming. If your plan is going to burn you, then make sure you do this!
But there is a better way.
If you’re travelling around a foreign country for any significant length of time, make sure you have a SIM that supports all-you-can-eat data roaming. This sounds pricey, but it’s really not.
Here in the UK we’re big fans of our SIM-only plans on 3, which provides us with unlimited data, not just in the UK, but in 71 other countries, including across Europe, the US, Australia, Canada and so on.
Full disclosure: we’ve been with 3 so long that our monthly rate is more than £10 cheaper than the cheapest rate they now offer. An unbeatable bargain!
If you can’t find a similar deal (sucker!) and are going to be spending a few weeks touring one country, get yourself a local SIM.
You’ll travel lighter, safer, easier and cheaper in the long run.
RENTING A CAR? BUY YOUR INSURANCE SEPARATELY
Anyone who’s hired a car on holiday has been given the hard sell on the insurance.
There you were, anticipating a perfectly nice drive through the Italian countryside, and now you’re wondering what you’ll do when your family is trapped in the mangled wreckage of the deathtrap you’re paying good money for.
What if something does happen while we’re cruising around this foreign country? Who will you call when you don’t speak the language? And if you’re paying that, then the premium package offers just that little more peace of mind!
Before you know it, what you thought was a great deal on a car for a couple of weeks has been bumped up to one of the single biggest line items of the whole trip!
Don’t lose your shirt paying for something that you and the rental agency are all banking on you not needing!
Buying your insurance from an independent insurer can take the anxiety out of this hard sell for a fraction of the price. We’ve paid as little as 5% of what the rental agency would charge for the same coverage and access to local breakdown support through websites like Worldwide Travel Insurance.
These deals are so good that you have to second-guess them; they seem absolutely too good to be true. The sad reality is that there are a bunch of scammers out there, so be sure to check the customer support reviews before you buy, but make sure that you do buy..
DON’T GET THE GPS!
While we’re saving money on up-sold car rental options, who’s still renting GPS devices?! If you’ve been given a car that doesn’t have a built-in system, most of us have GPS on us at all times in our phone, so make sure you use it!
Even if you’ve ignored our earlier point about getting unlimited data, you can download the local maps you’ll need from Google Maps before you leave WiFi and use your phone’s GPS with roaming turned off to save your phone bill.
The only thing you’ll need to remember then is a phone mount! (Which is easy to forget if you’re not a regular driver…) We grabbed this package before a trip a few years ago and it has served us well ever since.
Seriously: who is still paying extra to rent a GPS?
DON’T WRITE-OFF AIRPORT HOTELS
One more surprising, car-related travel tip: If you’re driving your own car to the airport and looking down the barrel of a couple of weeks’ long-term parking, then this is a neat trick!
Many airport hotels offer deals on long-term parking that could not only be cheaper than the cost of parking, but will save you the hassle of an early morning’s driving, parking and lugging your bags to the terminal.
For example, a night in the Heathrow Crowne Plaza will set you back £138, including parking for the duration of your trip and you get to keep your car keys. Two weeks in the LHR Long Stay will set you back £120, but doing it right with a Heathrow Meet&Greet (where a valet will take your car to and from the terminal you need) will set you back £134 for the same duration.
So, airport hotels: they’re not just for taupe conventions! Who knew?!