How to save money traveling in Asia

If you’re coming from a Western land, Asia is pretty far. The flight to get to Asia costs enough; you don’t want to overspend unnecessarily. Fortunately, Southeast Asia will be kinder to your travel budget than other places, as long as you go by these tips:

air asia airplane sunset airport sunrise travel southeast asia budget travelFlying

  1. Become familiar with local airlines. The cheapest deals you will find often takes one-by-one searching of individual airline websites–Kayak and Expedia won’t help you here. AirAsia is well-known as the go-to budget airline between Asia, India, and Australia. If you’re flying to the Philippines, compare prices with Cebu Pacific.
  2. Compare prices for ports/destinations in different countries or states. For example, I saved $300-$400 dollars on a roundtrip flight between Asia and America–by means of opting to fly into Vancouver via Hong Kong Airlines. (Another example of having to check the airline website itself, since it wasn’t included in any comparative searches.)
  3. Don’t eat at the airport. Take AirAsia, for example: You can much more decent price on the airplane, plus a discount if you book your meal with your ticket.
  4. Check discounted flight ticket sites like One Travel (click for up oto $20 off fees!), CheapOAir, or Secret Flying.
  5. Buy tickets in your own currency when purchasing online. This will allow you to avoid a currency exchange charge to your card.

Accommodation

  1. Stay longer. Airbnb hosts usually offers better deals for month-long stays (or longer) as opposed to stays that are charge by the night. (Click on the link to get up $40 off your first stay!)
  2. Sleeper trains and buses. While this mode of transportation is not the best choice for the weariest of travelers, it is a great way to pay for transportation and accommodation in one cheap package deal. This method worked out well for my friend and I when we traveled between Sapa and Hanoi–especially because our tour office had free showers!
  3. Check Agoda specials. The great thing about Agoda is that it offers an easy, affordable way to set even last-minute accommodations. Of course, you get even better deals when you book way ahead of time.

Food

  1. Eat local food. As I especially learned in Vietnam–it pays to speak the language. For example, I could order tra da (iced tea) for a couple thousand dong as opposed to an expensive fruit juice with each meal. When I was in Korea, I noticed that Korean menus were a lot cheaper than English menus. Although I’m not fluent in Korean, I am able to read it–so I was grateful to recognize basic dishes on more reasonable menus. Even if you’re not learning the local language, you can at least become familiar with a few common dishes or beverages that you enjoy and will help you save a few bucks.
  2. Shop like a local and cook for yourself. There is a huge gap in prices between the grocery stores and local markets. Here in Bangkok, even Tesco and the budget Tops shave about 1000 baht off my weekly bill, when compared with what I used to spend when I lived next door to a much more fancy Tops Market. I hadn’t lived next to much else back then, but now my current street has EVERYTHING. Including a true Thai-style open-air market! The most amazing thing is that the vegetables are usually of much higher quality than that at the westernized grocery stores–not to mention much more affordable.
  3. Find the nearest water station. While I’m on the subject of where I used to live, I must say that this was the worst part: no water dispenser was nearby. Which meant I had to dish out about 40+ baht every three days for a mere 5.5 liter jug of water. Now, I live 1 minute away from a station which dispenses safe water for merely 1 baht per liter. I love Bangkok. (I’ve also seen these type of water stations in Kuala Lumpur.)

Other tips

  1. Exchange cash at no-rate places. Try to hold on to your cash until you see an exchange rate offer that makes it worth it–the best I’ve found is at Suvarnabhumi, in arrivals. Look for the free cash exchange sign–you won’t miss it.
  2. Barter. Always. Granted, there are some cases in which bartering is inappropriate. However, if you’re at stall (not operated by a company) at an open market, chances are you can steal the hearts of the vendor by using a bit of their language and smiling. Note: It’s easier to do this in Thailand than Vietnam, and it’s easier to do this in Hanoi than Ho Chi Minh City.
  3. Pack light. The local airlines may be cheap, but they’ll bust you up for checked luggage. (Hint…AirAsia…hint, hint….That’s right, AirAsia has changed their policy! Trust me–it’s safer to pack one backpack and forget everything else.) Plus, the less luggage you have, the easier it is to travel by cheaper means, such as by subway, train, or bus.
  4. Use your money wisely. Click here to find out how to use small bills and American cash to save money on traveling in Vietnam.

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