07 Aug Your post-lockdown holiday
Your post-lockdown holiday: beware these hidden costs
People often think they’ve landed a dream travel deal only to find that many things are excluded or that the cost of ‘living’ for their destinations is far too high for an enjoyable trip. With the travel industry under immense pressure under global lockdown, it’s inevitable that businesses need to find a competitive edge to stay afloat.
This usually translates to travel specials and packages which seem too good to be true.
Indeed, it often is too good to be true, but since many of us are already planning that dream holiday post-lockdown (and the tourism industry needs all the help it can get)–[AM1] we’ll give you the low-down on holiday bookings.
Budgeting for your trip
There is nothing more annoying than hidden costs. When booking a trip, you want to be sure that you are covered for every eventuality and that you can stretch your budget to fit in a few extras (whether impromptu excursions or bagging some memorabilia.
Here are a few things you should consider when booking your trip.
These costs are becoming increasingly prevalent and must usually be paid directly to the hotel or Airbnb in cash. In [AM2] Europe, the cost is linked to the rating of your accommodation and varies between EUR 1,00 [AM3] and EUR 5,00 per person per night.
These are often overlooked by South Africans used to driving themselves between destinations. Uber isn’t available in every country and your only other option might be public transport. Depending on where you are, this can be a very costly exercise. Rail travel in the UK and Europe, for example, has become exorbitant lately.
Make sure to carefully research ways of getting around and make decisions before you go. If, for example, you decide to travel by bus, then it may be cheaper to buy a bus pass for your destination before you go.
South Africans tend to expect breakfast to be included in their accommodation rates. This is usually true of Asian nations. However, in the US and Europe breakfast is usually an extortionate add-on if pre-purchased from the hotel or guesthouse. And in some European regions finding an alternate breakfast spot can be a hard task (and just as pricey). Make sure you know exactly what’s included in your stay. Don’t assume breakfast is. If it isn’t, it may be cheaper to eat out rather than to add it on.
South Africans are spoiled when it comes to the quality of our water–quenching your thirst is as easy as opening the tap. In Europe and Asia, this is not advisable, and you will have to buy bottled water. Some hotels will include a free 500 mL[AM4] or two when you check in, but bottled water is usually for your own account. It’s not expensive, but when you’re travelling on a budget it’s best not to be surprised by this added expense.
Cost of living
Research is everything in travel. Before you go, find out exactly what things cost at your destination; for example, [AM5] find out what the average cost of a restaurant meal, a beer or a bag of bananas is so you [AM6] can compare it with what you’re used to paying. In the UK, for example, the cost of a hamburger in a central London restaurant will easily be over GBP 8.00 without chips. Once you leave the city limits you’ll find that the cost tends to halve. This is true of most countries where prime tourist spots are more costly than rural areas.
Choose what and where you will eat and budget for restaurants or stores you don’t want to skip. In Italy, for example, it’s very affordable to buy from grocery stores and even the cheapest restaurants are prohibitively expensive.
Numbeo.com has a good Cost of Living index which will give you a fair idea of what to expect in restaurants and grocery stores.
Data and phone charges
People often get nailed on data and phone costs when travelling abroad. If you want to save on superfluous costs, don’t rely on your roaming service as the costs are astronomical. Rather budget to buy a local sim card or plan your movements based on who will have free Wi-Fi available.
Tickets for ‘things’
Again, be sure to research your destination and have a good idea of what you want to see and experience when you travel. Well-known sightseeing spots often charge ridiculous entrance fees and you may need to choose what to see before you go. Don’t assume entrance to anything is free–you might be bitterly disappointed and out of pocket.
Though most tourists want to check off popular attractions when traveling abroad, ask yourself if the cost is really worth it. Perhaps there are other interesting places off the beaten track which can offer you more bang for your buck.
Tips and Gratuities
As already mentioned, research what is customary or ask a trustworthy local about tips and gratuity. You don’t want to be embarrassed by not tipping enough, but you also want to avoid being fleeced. South Africans are used to tipping at restaurants, but in many nations this is not required or expected. On the other hand, while we aren’t accustomed to tipping at bars, or giving the porters or cleaning staff something extra–this may be expected where you’re heading.
Markets vs supermarkets
Veteran travellers[AM7] will tell you that this has been proven true 100% of the time on 100% of their travels: all the wares available at the made-for-tourists, ‘authentic’ market where you want to grab souvenirs and gifts are available at a fraction of the price at the local supermarket. If you want to avoid losing half your spending money to the smooth-talking con man dressed as *insert cultural stereotype here*, avoid the market entirely and head for the nearest Costco or equivalent store. It sounds awful; of course you would much rather buy your Made In Bali t-shirt from the local vendor in flip flops hustling predictably under his grass roof, but understand that you will be paying at least double for the experience.
Indeed, it’s understandable that locals who make a living from selling curios and tourist gear need to aim high to optimise their income–but this is true of all local businesses and individuals. Paying less for your travel trophies is not a travesty and will probably see you supporting more businesses along the way.
Minibars and ‘free stuff’
Be crystal clear on what has been included in your hotel package, and what has not. Minibars are there to tempt you and will be left stocked in most hotels even if you haven’t pre-paid for the items inside.
Clarify before you crack the seal on those Pringles-at-EUR-10-per-minitube. In areas where people are used to paying for the extras the hotels or servers may not be aware of your ignorance on the matter–clarification is your own responsibility.
The terms of a car rental can be ambiguous, and we’ve yet to find a car hire company that gives all the costs upfront. It is, after all, not in their best interest to give prospective clients a run-down of all the exclusions (given that most clients don’t utilise all the add-ons), so marketing all the extras is bound to send patrons running to their nearest competitor.
You have to ask if you want to know what insurance is included, what the hold on your credit card will be and what contract fees and additional ‘admin’ charges will be levied when you collect or drop off the vehicle. Here’s a pro-tip: take a video of the car inside and out when you collect it, making sure to get the odometer reading and the fuel gauge reading, as well as any pre-existing nicks and scratches on the vehicle itself. Do the same when you return it. Should you be saddled with the bill for fixing problems you didn’t cause you’ll have proof of the state of your car before and after use.
Ask what distances may be covered, how much fuel is included, if there are any roads or regions which are excluded under your insurance and how additional drivers are covered should you be travelling as a group. If rental companies place holds on credit cards, make sure your daily card limits allow for the hold amounts else you may have a nasty surprise when booking your car.
Make sure you understand the speed limits on roads wherever you may find yourself. Traffic fines are a nasty hidden cost that will surprise you only once you’ve returned from your trip.
This is a new and nasty little hiccup in the industry. Airlines like KLM, Air France, Delta, British Airways and Virgin are offering great, discounted airfares if you’ll travel with hand luggage only. The problem is that it’s not always obvious on their booking platforms that luggage isn’t included. It is no longer safe to assume that it is, so make sure you know before you buy. Also, if you’ve booked internal flights in the US, Europe or Asia independently of your international flight, you need to ensure that their luggage allowance matches what you will have with you.
For example, if you book a flight from Johannesburg to New York, followed by an internal flight from New York to Anchorage, the international flight allows one suitcase of 23 kg, but the Anchorage flight only allows one suitcase of 15 kg. You will be charged a huge amount at the airport for that extra 8 kg, so it’s best to know beforehand what you can and cannot pack.
It’s usually much cheaper to pre-purchase extra baggage online before you arrive at the airport.
Start planning your trip!
It’s been a frustrating year, and many of us are waiting for lockdown to lift so we can resume our lives and travel across borders unencumbered. Though it may still be a while, planning a trip can be a wholesome experience, even if it’s not on the cards just yet.
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