The most expensive part of traveling will no doubt be transportation. Whether it’s by plane, train, or automobile the cost can be pretty intimidating. It’s either a lump of money up front or it adds up with every stop you make. But like most elements of travel you just have to know the tips and tricks of finding the right price.
Don’t be intimidated by the initial price you see when looking at airfare. Prices will fluctuate based on days, times, and sites you use in order to book. There are different ways to save money when purchasing flights. As time is money, finding the best prices requires a little bit of patience and a few days or weeks of research to find a comfortable price. First, you have to find the right site that you feel comfortable navigating. There are an infinite amount of websites you can choose from including platform sites that compile varying prices. Personally, we book through Orbitz or Kiwi.com because for the past six years they’ve provided the lowest prices and greatest service. But we always start research with Skyscanner. It's the greatest tool and amazingly fun to work with. A fun feature is that when searching, from the homepage, you can enter a departure city and for arrival, you can type "everywhere." This lists the cheapest destinations by country, according to your departure city. That being said here are some other good sites to use while researching flights.
TRAVEL TIP: Whenever you are searching for flights, no matter what website you use, ALWAYS search in Incognito mode. This blocks the website from storing cookies. This is a preventative step in the website storing your searches. When you don't use incognito mode, the website stores your searches and we've noticed a trend in price increases when we don't search incognito.
Make Sure to check the countries local airlines for the possibility of discounted tickets. Some of the bigger named airlines include:
South America- LATAM/LAN
Turkey- Turkish Air
Ireland- Air Lingus
Iceland- Iceland Air Iceland Air is popular in its exclusive opportunity for passengers to schedule a layover in Iceland, at no extra cost. Just be sure you know the prices of Iceland before you plan to visit. We've received reports that Iceland is quite expensive, making a free layover actually very pricey.
Don't forget to check the budget airlines. They’re known for being very cheap, only charging $10-$150 to fly between countries. Which is great for backpackers, but keep in mind they make their money by charging for checked bags, printing boarding passes, name change, snacks etc. The new age of budget travel is trading in comfort for cost.
Ryanair and Easyjet: These are inexpensive European flight companies.
Air Asia, Nok Air, Tiger Airways, Spice Jet, Peach, Scoot, Jetstar, and Indigo: These are the 8 most popular and inexpensive Southeast Asian Airline companies.
Jetstar: This is pretty much THE budget airline for Australia and New Zealand. They also fly to many Asian countries, so it's a great budget airline.
Once you’ve found a site to work with, you want to find a starting price or reference price to know how expensive it would be if you were to fly at the peak time of the week (Friday, Saturday, Monday) or the year (national holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas). This will give you a sense of the highest prices so that you can begin searching for the lowest. Google Flights is a great tool for finding good deals and setting up price alerts for when the ticket you want finally reaches that low price you were hoping to for.
Researching at different times of the day can fluctuate the price as well as researching during the week vs. weekends. Studies show that Tuesdays around 3:00 pm is the best time to buy tickets. We've also found that Wednesdays are the best day to fly. Early mornings might show discounted seats that the airlines have released for a limited time. There's also the possibility of finding last minute discounts the day of a flight as airlines try to fill empty seats. The airline market is outrageously complex and sneaky if we might add. They match the highest prices to when the public is most likely to shop and fly so be aware. It's also a possibility that cheap flights will "disappear" or fluctuate when you repeatedly search for a specific route. Because of the stored cache and cookies in your web browser, sites might list that there are only a few seats left in order to encourage you to buy. You can avoid this again by searching incognito. You can do this by opening up your browser and holding down the keys ctrl+shift+N simultaneously (it's command+N if you have a Mac). This will allow you to peruse the internet and find the best deals.
THE IDEAL situation would be that your schedule is flexible and you can buy based on the cheapest date and route rather than being limited to exact dates. Of course, that's not always the case, but it's something to consider.
When using a site to search for flights, you'll be required to fill out initial travel information (departure/arrival city, dates, passengers, etc.) after which, your search will turn up a comparison of different airlines that match. The searches are usually listed lowest to highest. After finding a price that looks affordable, click on the listed flight to view the travel details. This includes departure/arrival times, layovers, and transfers which are good pieces of information to consider for your ideal comfort.
Comfort is always something to consider. If you don’t prefer to sleep in an airport on a 12hr layover, then spending the money to avoid that might be worth it. It also may be worth the extra money to get to your destination faster. Convenience is not always expensive, but it does require some patience.
The hard part of actually committing to a flight comes down to your research and comfort with the price. Most often we look for tickets checking prices every day for a couple days. There are options to sign up with sites and get price updates for routes that you're looking at. Just compare your prices based on the most expensive you've found in order to gauge what's a good price. Go with your gut.
Some Helpful Airline Links:
Skyscanner: This is a really great website that ideally works if you don’t have a specific destination. It provides deals of the week to different places but isn’t the most helpful when looking for a certain destination. It's a good place to start your research.
Secret Flying: One of the coolest websites that we've uncovered recently is this site. It's entirely dedicated to finding "mistake fares" and unbelievable flight deals based on regions of the world.
Airfare Watchdog: Another great site dedicated to finding extraordinary flash deals. It's geared more specifically for travelers from the USA.
Yapta: This website compares different prices on airlines and works toward providing customers with vouchers and crediting customers the difference in price if prices drop after you’ve purchased your ticket. There are of course loop holes and it doesn’t apply to all airlines, but it can be worth checking out for international flights.
Kayak Explore: Using this site, you can enter your departure city as well as a rough estimation of the time you will be traveling (month or season) and a map will appear with estimated costs of cities you can fly into. This allows you to see if get a better idea of the cheapest cities to fly into and to compare prices with neighboring cities.
Trains are a great opportunity to see the country while traveling from A-B. When flying, you get a view of the clouds and travel time is shorter, but trains offer a whole different landscape as you tour through the country.
The availability of trains is going to be different in every country and even vary from city to city. In Europe traveling by train is used for both international and intercity commuting making it easy to get around. The distance you travel has an obvious correlation to the price you'll pay.
When buying any sort of day pass for public transportation, take a second to figure out how much you will actually use your pass. Are the sites you want to see in a destination close enough to walk between? If so, you may just want to buy a round trip metro ticket instead of a day pass. Or maybe just a single journey ticket to a destination and then you can walk back. Some cities, however, are very spread out and do require lots of commuting between sites in which a day pass would suit best.
TRAVEL TIP: In Europe and North America, when you buy a single journey ticket or even a round-trip ticket, your "trip" starts when you enter the station (scan or insert your ticket and go through the turn style) and ends when you exit the station (leaving through a turn style). If you do get off at an incorrect stop don't exit the station, simply return to the map and figure out how to get where you need to go by connecting walkways, bridges, or lines back.
Tickets will differentiate as well with different zones in the cities. Most places divide up their transportation maps into zones which will be covered under different tickets. You may want to buy a day pass that covers multiple zones so that you can explore a whole bunch in one day.
In Asia, the bigger cities with metros require passengers to designate their route by stop rather than by zone. This means any transfers are included when you purchase your ticket from either a machine or a ticket office. You'll use the ticket to enter through any turn styles connecting your route and upon exiting, the machine will keep your ticket.
No matter how you're traveling, buy a ticket and buy the right ticket. Security officers take this very seriously. They fine their residents and will not hesitate to fine you as a foreigner for not having a ticket. We don’t say this to freak you out, but we were proven very wrong after not buying a ticket in a hurry leaving Prague on the first train in the morning. We were cornered by the transit police (they ride the transit undercover) and we had to pay $50 as a fine. It was an inconvenience and embarrassment. We weren’t intentionally trying to be disrespectful, but in a rush to catch the train that would connect us to our international train, we didn't buy a ticket. In Paris, we bought a single journey ticket from a machine without realizing that we needed to buy a different ticket to take the subway all the way to the airport. We were stopped by officials at the airport, yet again early in the morning, and having the wrong ticket they fined us €100. Always buy a ticket to ride.
Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time when traveling so you don't have to rush and potentially purchase the wrong transit ticket.
With all means of traveling do your research in advance. The internet allows a great deal of access to time tables for the day of or even months in advance. Time tables are kind of a pain to read if you’ve never seen one before, but they are extremely helpful when creating your itinerary. They’re divided into columns and you must first figure out where you need to go and which station you're boarding at. The corresponding stop will be followed by different times throughout the day, ranging from 15-60 minute intervals, listed in world time (also known as military time in the USA). The different stops along the track should be listed in order so you’re able to see when and where the train starts as well as what time you’re scheduled to arrive based on the chart.
The punctuality of trains differentiate between regions and countries. We found Germany’s trains to always be on time but Greek and Hungarian trains were always late. Japan's trains leave precisely on time. Always be early and if you are planning connections leave room for delays. The time on the table is the time the train will depart the station not the time it arrives. The train won’t take off until the switch man on the station holds up the signal to take off, usually a red flag or sign, but they don’t like to wait for people.
EuRail/InterRail Passes (Europe Only)
Possibly the greatest resource when traveling Europe is the EuRail pass. The four years we traveled in Europe, we bought the youth EuRail pass which allowed us 20 days of consecutive travel. We could hop on and off as many times as we wanted where ever the EuRail traveled. They have different plans you can buy that are either based on consecutive days of travel or a set amount of stops. The initial price of the EuRail is no doubt a large sum of money. We paid around $600 for our youth pass. But with the research, it ended up being cheaper to buy in bulk rather than paying for each individual journey. Another great benefit is that the EuRail offers discounts on ferries and buses. We were able to buy early (six months) and received five extra days on our pass for free. This allowed us to travel to 12 different cities in six different European countries over 30 days.
The EuRail pass allows you to travel with less hassle. The pass varies in order to accommodate different types of extended travel. It’s essentially a pre-purchased hop-on/hop-off ticket that can be used both internationally and between cities. It is limited to EU countries and every year the list of countries included can vary, but having access to so many trains makes travel a lot less stressful. The EuRail App provides you with the most accurate and easy to read time table. It’s free to download. It may not give you all the trains, but especially in Western Europe, it often provides more information than you actually need.
Normally, you can just get a ticket from the counter (by showing them your EuRail pass, they'll print you a ticket) and board the train with no problem, but some of the more popular train routes require you to pay for a reservation. This means that the train is usually booked or is an overnight train and they need to account for all the people on board. This shouldn’t be more than a few dollars but if it's last minute or a popular route than the reservation could be up to $20. You’re still spending considerably less than those who are paying $50-$100 for one-way journeys.
When you first receive your EuRail, usually in the mail, make sure that you don’t write anything in the trip area. Really, you should just leave all of it blank until you arrive at your first train station. This is very important! If you write anything in this area without the pass being validated, your pass is now invalid. You have to leave this part blank until your first journey where the ticket counter will stamp the pass validating the beginning of your consecutive pass. Upon their validation, you can then appropriately fill out the journey area stating the train departure time, where you’re coming from and where you’re going.
The conductor who checks your tickets, tend to have varying requirements on how your pass should be filled out. Read all the instructions and once it’s validated make sure to fill out all the available areas. We had two conductors in Hungary try and charge us for tickets because they said it wasn’t valid without us filling in the “Return by mail to receive a prize” section. We had never experienced this before and it turned out to be a scam. They were trying to double charge foreigners, specifically with EuRail passes, for a bit of extra pocket change. Luckily we had absolutely no cash to pay them and the train was already in route so we told them we weren't going to pay them. That was a unique and rare case, but you should always read the instructions for your pass thoroughly.
Buses are another opportunity to experience the country fully all while traveling inexpensively. Buses are used both for commuting within a city and between countries. Buses are a popular choice while traveling throughout South America and Southeast Asia. The prices vary with distance, but overall buses are pretty cheap because they take the longest amount of time. Buses are certainly beneficial because they're inexpensive and bus routes, especially within a city, get you to more exclusive destinations than a subway or train would.
TRAVEL TIP: When arriving at a new city, especially by plane, consider where the bus station is. In Eastern Europe, we found that the two were adjacent to one another which meant that we could take a local bus into the center of town rather than a taxi.
Bus stations, if not located directly next to the train station or airport are located next to the harbor in port cities, or the old town/city center of bigger cities. If you're unsure of where a station is, follow the buses or ask a local. They're nice, we promise.
There are three ways to buy tickets that we've experienced: from a bus station ticket counter, from a travel agency, or from the bus driver directly. We've found that the cheapest prices are when purchased from a bus station directly. At the bus station, there will be serval different ticket counters all for the different bus companies. Each one will offer different prices, times, and levels of comfort (how far back the seat reclines determines the class). Purchasing tickets from a travel agency is beneficial when you're far out from the bus station. The company will usually pick you up from your accommodation. Lastly, you can purchase bus tickets on the bus, specifically on local city buses. You'll pay for your ticket when picked up by the bus driver in route.
When in the station looking for your specific bus, keep in mind the top of the buses will read where they departed from and where they’re traveling to. Your stop won't be listed on the top of the bus if it's not the departure or arrival station, but you can check the time tables to find your correct route. If all else fails, you can just ask the bus driver if you're boarding the correct bus.
There may be an opportunity to get a discounted student price in Europe, South America, and Japan. In Europe, they usually don’t accept a college ID unless it’s from the EU. It’s always worth a shot to ask for a discount, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t give it to you.
If you plan to travel by bus, it's worth checking out Busabout. They have routes in South America and Europe. It's sort of like the EuRail of riding buses. You can pay for certain loops that Busabout has designated or you can pay at each stop. You have to follow the direction of the designated Busabout routes, but their website states that "each year there are over 2,000 different itineraries travelled by our passengers." That's a lot of options. Busabout allows you to stay in destinations, like a layover, for a few days before continuing on. They have partnerships with a good deal of hostels and activities so you'll get dropped off at specific partner locations. That doesn't mean that you have to stay at these places, but they usually offer a discount if you do. This type of travel requires that you have a decently flexible schedule, that you follow the route that Busabout follows and that you're patient. They do recommend if you're traveling in high season that you book or plan your route early as buses fill up quickly.
TRAVEL TIP: If you're traveling in New Zealand, they have a similar program called the Kiwi Experience.
Depending on where you're traveling in the world and where you want to go, the prices for taking taxis vary a whole lot. For example, taxis in Paris were affordable compared to taxis in Rome. Taking a taxi between cities in Colombia, was surprisingly cheaper than taking a taxi to the airport.
Taxis are, admittedly, super convenient as they take you straight to your destination, unlike buses or trains. They're often quick and drivers can be helpful when discovering a city for the first time. However, this is the only type of transportation that doesn’t have a flat fee.
There are a few different ways to ensure a reasonable cab fare. We've found that splitting the fare among a group of people, makes for an inexpensive trip. We've also come to find that negotiating the price before hand means that you can arrange a better price. Knowing the price beforehand also ensures that you'll get to your destination faster because they're not dependent on the meter to make money. Another good tip is comparing with different cab drivers if you have the option.
It's ok to ask a driver how much the fare would be for a specific route. The answer may vary between drivers, especially if you look like a tourist. You can barter on prices, but most corporate companies have a meter so their price depends on that. If you haven't agreed on a set price, always be sure that the meter is running so that there is no question about the price. If the meter starts at a certain price, don't hesitate to ask why.
When asking about prices also take note of the dashboard in the car. If you’re apprehensive about taking taxis, then take comfort in noting that drivers are required to be certified and most are required and their valid license on the dashboard. Not all countries have this rule but most places in the world require that you display your qualifications for providing a service such as driving and taking payments for such services.
The distance, time and specific driver will influence how much you pay. Our advice is to know the larger cab companies and ask a few drivers their price. If you see that there are six Yellow Cab cars on one corner and only one 911 Cab (making up names) then you can assume that Yellow Cab is a bigger company. Bigger companies, or corporate companies, are bound by some standard rules, which to us means getting an honest rate.
TRAVEL TIP: When using a metered taxi, check that their meter has been sealed shut and is mounted on the dashboard. You can tell when it's been sealed because it will have a metal wire on the either side. This means the meter hasn't been tampered with.
Some of the fees we've been subject to:
Multiple Occupancy Fee: charging for more than one passenger in the cab.
Port Fees: charging an extra fee for picking up at the airport or boat port.
Late Night Fee: charging passengers a fee for pickup during late night hours (11 pm- 5 am).
Trunk Fee: charging passengers to store luggage in the trunk rather than the backseat.
Hotel Service Fee: if you or your hotel call for a cab, they start the meter when the cab is ordered not when you get in.
We also had the pleasure of taking tuk-tuks all over the South America and South East Asia. They're little motor cars that fit two to four people in the back. We had a blast zipping about in these little taxis. Because they're open on the sides, except for a small cover overhead, it's a fun way to see the sites. You aren't enclosed like other forms of transportation options so you get to experience the sounds and smells of the environment around you. This is a cheap option to get around. Before taking one we ask locals, usually the staff at the hostel, what we should expect to pay based on a destination so we can negotiate appropriately with drivers. It's not rude to negotiate in most places, but again keep in mind that what may be pennies to you could make a world of difference to them. Every culture is different and there's an art to finding the balance between not being scammed and not being cheap. Tourists are easy targets, so just be smart and ask questions up front. Again, you are a guest in someone else's country.
Uber and Grab
The competing markets of transportation have recently brought about companies like Uber and Grab which definitely make traveling more convenient. These companies operate much like taxis except that the operation of ordering and paying for the taxi is all done through your phone. It's incredibly handy because you'll know exactly what you're paying and you can track the status of your ride in real time. However convenient, there is a big push back from the cab companies in many countries and in some cases it's illegal to take an Uber vs. a taxi.
Uber is officially banned in Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, Hungary, British Columbia in Canada, China, Taiwan, and the Northern Territory in Australia. Apart for these official bans, we encountered taxi drivers that claimed it was illegal in Colombia, Peru, and New Zealand. There are still drivers working in these areas, but they're certainly more contraversial to use. We took an Uber in Colombia and the driver said it was better if we look like friends when he dropped us off at the airport. We didn't mind because it was an affordable ride and so we just hugged and laughed when we got out. The risk is there in some cases, but as always do your research and go with your gut.
Most likely you won't even have to face this question because the Uber app requires an active phone number and while you're traveling, more than likely, your number won't be active (unless you want massive roaming charges).
The other company mentioned is Grab which is labeled as the Ride Hailing Platform. They operate in Southeast Asia. The fun with Grab is that it's not just cars, but motor taxis. This company also requires that you have an active phone number, but we've had good luck in having others hail us a grab. Hostels have been able to arrange Grab taxis for us that were safe, efficient, and affordable.