“Travelling or saving? What should be my priority?”
Many expat teachers have asked me this and I don’t think it has to be one or the other. While teaching abroad, we are making enough money to save each month AND take regular trips to explore the globe!
I would say that your saving should be your priority, but travelling doesn’t need to happen at the expense of your savings. You just need to make a few changes to your habits to keep your travel costs low. Here are my top 14 tips:
When booking your flights
- Look at cheaper destinations. Living in the Middle East means I am a stone’s throw from Asia, which is a brilliantly cheap holiday destination. Read this article on the top 50 cheapest cities in the world to backpack for more inspiration!
- Use Google Flights to find the cheapest times, days, and routes to fly to different countries. This fantastic article, “7 Google Flights Tricks That Are Better Than Any Travel Agent,” will show you how to use different features on Google Flights, including how to get alerts when prices are about to skyrocket.
- Use Skyscanner to find the shortest/ cheapest / most direct flights and deals.
- A great website I have just discovered (from others’ positive reviews) is the Secret Flying website. It posts the best flights deals from all around the world, including any cheap error fares. I haven’t used it yet but I have signed up for its newsletter and to its Facebook page, so I hope to report back on it soon!
- Sign up for a loyalty card with every airline you use to get air miles! If you don’t fancy doing that, then definitely sign up with the airline you use the most. This year, I got a free return flight from Dubai to Istanbul using my Turkish Miles air miles; I only had to pay the $120 tax. This allowed me to save a fortune on my 5-day holiday to Turkey’s beautiful capital. Read about my incredible yet inexpensive trip here! You can also earn air miles if you get a credit card with travel perks. When I moved to Dubai, I carried out a lot of research on credit cards here and eventually settled on a credit card offered by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD). For each AED (dirham) I spend, I get air miles that I can spend on Fly Dubai, Etihad, or Emirates. If you are unsure about getting a credit card in the Middle East, read my article “Should you get a credit card while teaching in the Middle East?”
At the airport
- Save money at the airport by using the lounge for free. If you have a credit card with travel perks, such as free airport lounge access, you can eat and drink for up to 4 hours in comfort. The credit card I own is from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) and it gives me free airport lounge access, where I have up to 4 hours of free access to great food, drink, magazines, comfy seating, and high-speed wi-fi.
At the hotel
- Register with the Booking website. You can use it to find accommodation to suit all budgets and it is free to register. Once you use it a few times to book hotels, you become a Genius Member and get further 10-15% discounts on accommodation or get Genius-only deals on hotels all around the world.
For tourist attractions
- Check the local Groupon. You can find super offers on admissions to tourist attractions, meals, beach days, spas, massages, and guided tours. When I have visitors coming to the UAE, I always check Groupon (UAE) or Qgrabs (Qatar) for any offers, before I plan their itinerary. The Entertainer app is also wonderful for saving you money on eating out, theme parks, etc.!
- Book a tour once you’re there, NOT beforehand. When you’re in a popular tourist city, especially in Asia and South America, it is often better to book a tour once you’re in the place rather than from your home country. I have found that the tours you book from your hotel/ hostel tend to be more expensive because the hotel/hostel takes a commission too, hence the higher price. Instead, skip the middleman and go straight to the tour operator’s office. There tend to be lots dotted around the tourist areas, so check a few out (and bargain) to find your best deal.
- Choose a great hotel deal with breakfast included. Not only does the breakfast timing get you up and out, it will also save you at least $5 every day of your holiday. Make the most of the breakfast to set you up for the busy day!
- Don’t buy lunch every day. When I fill up on my hotel breakfast and I am walking around during the day, I try to carry fruit (bought from the local market) and cereal bars (brought from a local supermarket or from my home country) to snack on during the day. When I need a break, I stop for a coffee or a local drink rather than needing a big meal. I like to save my money to treat myself to a great dinner in the evening instead.
- Ask locals where they like to eat. When I am buying something in a local shop, I always strike up a conversation with the locals and ask them where they’d recommend for a snack, dinner, dessert, etc. They tend to show me lovely local restaurants that serve the most delicious local cuisine at a local price, which I would have probably never discovered in any guide book. I also ask them the rough price of a taxi for a certain route, so I won’t get ripped off by taxi drivers.
- Haggle! It is part of many cultures in the Middle East and Asia to haggle or bargain over prices in markets and shops, so don’t feel embarrassed or awkward doing it. I tend to offer half of the asking price and then we can usually find a compromise that we are both happy with. Especially when I am buying quite a few of one item or paying in cash rather than credit card, I ask for their “best price.” However, I think it is important to not get carried away and be sure you don’t end up angrily arguing with a market owner over a 10p difference! I like to haggle good-naturedly and within my own comfort zone because I’d never want a local person to feel bitter or forced to sell something without some kind of decent profit.
- Buy souvenirs away from the tourist hotspots! During my last holiday in Istanbul, I found great offers on “evil eye” keyrings, coasters, postcards, lamps, and cushion covers, when I shopped away from Sultanahmet. Instead I went to another part of Istanbul called Kadakoy, just across the Galata bridge. It was only a 15-20 minute walk from Sultanahmet, but everything seemed half the price, including souvenirs, food, and drink! Read more here. You could also a local person working at your hotel about the cheapest areas of the city, which is another easy way for you to save money while travelling!