Saving Money

Semi-independent tour packages

How to save money on international trips

Occasionally, we buy a semi-independent tour package. These trips include only airfare and hotel. Since you are not part of a group, you can spend your days exactly how you like.

Besides breakfast at the hotel, other meals and local transportation are not included in semi-independent packages. Therefore you can choose restaurants and food that best suit your tastes and budget.

Here is the example how we spend money during our recent short trip to Madrid. We bought a very inexpensive package: $500 per person for flight and four nights in a hotel. Some people would feel that they can splurge on everything else since the basics (flight and hotel) were so cheap. Not us. We brought from home 95 euros (left from the previous trips to Europe), and we used ATM to get another 150 euros, just in case. We returned home with the same 150 euros. How could we manage to spend so little money in one of the European capitals?

We brought from home 95 euros (left from the previous trips to Europe), and we used ATM to get another 150 euros, just in case. We returned home with the same 150 euros. How could we manage to spend so little money in one of the European capitals?

We had big breakfasts in the hotel and small lunches in inexpensive cafes. For dinners, we were buying food at the nearby supermarket and had filling meals in the hotel room.

Instead of going on expensive “Hop-on Hop-off” bus, we took the regular bus (1.2 euro pp) to the center of Madrid and walked everywhere, using a guidebook for a self-guided tour. When we got tired from walking, we would rest on a bench and watch people and activities around us. When we visited museums, we asked for a senior discount. We got such discount even at the Madrid Zoo.

We purchased 10-trips Metrobus pass, which made each trip by bus or metro only 1.2 euro per person. At the hotel, they advised us to take a taxi to the airport, which, as they said, would cost only 25-30 euros. Since we travel with carry-ons and small backpacks, it seemed silly to us to pay for the taxi. Instead, we took a bus. Our ride back to the airport was short, convenient and cheap: only 2.4 euros per person.

Saving on massage

I love all kinds of massage: Shiatsu, Swedish, deep tissue, Thai. I always treat myself to massage when I am in Asia.

Massage in Cambodia

In Cambodia (Siem Riep) many people from our group decided to go shopping (favorite past-time for a typical American tourist). I do not like shopping, and I decided to do something else. Luckily, the day before I noticed a massage place not far from our hotel.

I suggested to a few women (who did not want to shop) to try massage. The owner of the massage parlor punched a few numbers on his calculator (he did not speak English). He explained by gestures that the regular price is $12 per hour, but for us, it will be $6. We did not bargain.

The place was deserted, no customers and just one masseuse. In 5 minutes all seven of us had seven very skilled massage therapists who relieved us of all the pain we had in our bodies after walking in Angkor Wat for the whole day. We guessed that the owner called other massage parlors and asked for help.

Also in Cambodia, this time in Phnom Penh, I asked a local guide where I could have an inexpensive massage close to the hotel. The guide told the driver to stop a block away from our hotel and both of us, I  and the local guide, hopped off the bus. We went to a massage school for the blind where we paid the same magic price $6 for an hour-long,  fantastic massage.

Massage in the hotel

On our first trip to Bangkok, we stayed in Royal Orchid Sheraton. This 5-star hotel had an elegant spa where massage was $150 per hour. I decided to skip it. When we walked on the streets around the hotel, I noticed lots of small massage parlors. It took me less than 5 minutes to find a nice clean place that charged $5 per hour!

Next day, after visiting Royal Palace, we could return to the hotel by our bus. Instead, we chose to spend the afternoon in the old center and then go back to the hotel by ferry. While we were resting in the shade, a French tourist asked us if we knew where to find the famous massage school located nearby.

I read about this school in my travel book and wrote down the address and directions. Together we quickly found this massage school. The price was slightly higher than at the previous place – $7.50, which of course was still a great bargain. They even asked us if we wanted to “splurge” on the clean sheets. It would cost us extra 50 cents. I do not know about that French guy, but we certainly “splurged.”

Saving on Passport Photos

And why not to save money on passport photos. I like to order them from Costco; you cannot beat their price. When we were in Cambodia (Siem Rip), we needed some extra photos for a visa for traveling to Vietnam. The tour guide recommended a local photo studio not far from our hotel.

Next day, our group had to leave Cambodia for Vietnam, and we were worried that the photos would not be ready on time. Luckily we got them right before we had to board the bus to the airport. We were pleasantly surprised by the low price at this hole-in-a-wall place. From that time on, we make additional passport photos when we travel abroad.

Several years ago we went to Brazilian consulate in Miami to get a visa. We brought passport photos from Costco, but to our surprise, the office needed “different” photos. We could leave the building and find a photographer somewhere in Miami, come back to the consulate and wait in the long line all over again. Or, we could ask to keep our space in the line, take the elevator to the lower floor in the same building and pay for a few expensive photos. Of course, we took that elevator down.

I mentioned just a few ways of saving money. While planning your trip, you can come up with many more ideas.