How not to blow the budget on holiday

I love going on holiday. In 2014 it was Brazil for the Fifa World Cup. With a bit of luck we’ll be off to Harry Potter Land in Orlando next.

How do we afford it? I live frugally during the year and save hard. What’s more I manage to take these holidays because I keep my head screwed on when we’re away and spend carefully. Here are some of the ways I keep my holiday budget under control:

Take public transport.

Whenever we go anywhere we bypass a hire car and zip around on public transport. On the Gold Coast we buy a Go card at the airport to pay local transport prices. In Argentina it was a SUBE card. What I love about public transport over a hire car is that it forces me to slow down. Public transport is often much more efficient overseas than it is in New Zealand. In Rio de Janiero we jumped on free, clean, safe, subway trains from the games. A Kiwi family from our hotel spent $75 on a taxi for the same trip from the Maracanã stadium to Copacabana beach. The other option is quite radical. That’s walk.

Watch out for the lunch costs.

In Brazil families staying at our hotel were whinging their heads off about the cost of eating out. The trouble was that they were going to restaurants every day for lunch and it was costing them NZ$25 a head. We always have a couple of special meals out on holiday. But the rest of the time I just nip into the supermarket, grab cheese, rolls and fruit and spend a pittance. In Brazil we discovered the “lanchonete” (juice/snack bars). Our lunches there cost around NZ$6 for the two of us.

Get a self-catering apartment.

Apartments with kitchens often cost more than hotel rooms. In fact if you use an online booking service such as AirBNB.com they’re often cheaper. Friends of mine have hired microwave ovens from the hotel and I’ve read on forums of people bringing their own microwave from home. If you’re embarrassed, tell the hotel you need the microwave for heating up formula milk for the baby. Never mind that you don’t check in with a baby. Even if you’re staying in a hotel and can’t cook, you could always buy a cooked chicken and salad from the supermarket and have a picnic in the park, or use a public BBQ to cook a cheap dinner.

Beware of holiday brain.

In my twenties I always bought souvenirs because that’s what tourists do, don’t they? Not anymore. The other area where holiday brain always got me was with whatever clothing was all the rage at my holiday destination. The reality is that when I get home I think: “what was I thinking when I bought THAT”. Shopping is a waste of valuable vacation time anyway.

Don’t buy presents to bring home.

People travel more and are less likely to bring home naff gifts for friends and relatives these days. If you really must buy gifts, get some local chocolate or sweets. It’s the thought that counts. If you need an excuse, just point out that Jetstar, or whatever airline you’re flying on, has baggage restrictions and you simply couldn’t fit anything in. Or point out that buying unnecessary stuff is bad for the environment.

Use the Internet.

Wherever you are in the world there is the equivalent of GrabOne or Treat Me. Check them out for discount vouchers to attractions you want to visit. Or visit the attraction’s own website looking for offers.

Buy a local SIM card.

If you must use your smartphone on holiday, buy a local SIM card at the airport. In Australia I always use a $2-a-day deal that gives me 500MB data. I then set my phone up as a hotspot and link our tablets to it so we can surf the net for “free” at our apartment. Of course, simply doing this with wifi in the hotel would save even more. Sometimes we pop to the nearest McDonalds for a free wifi fix.

Happy holidaying, everyone.

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