Great travel on a budget in economic uncertainty
Here in Central Europe, we are good at doom and gloom after nearly three years of pandemic and nearly a year of war at our doorstep. Not to mention other conflicts not so far from us – Israel-Palestine, various environmental disasters, and now… if media has us believe we will be starving and freezing cold in the winter. It is time to look at travel on a budget in economic uncertainty.
It’s true, prices have sprung up, shops and restaurants are worrying about a decrease in turnover, and we will all get big fat electricity and heating bills come next year. Who wants to think about holidays and travelling? I do. I travel on a budget in economic uncertainty – personal and general. Admittedly, as child-free double incomers with relatively secure jobs we do not need to worry about the immediate effects of the economical crisis, but travel is definitely a “nice to have” rather than essential in our household. My husband does not travel on his own, but says he loves travelling with me except when it’s 24/7 touristing, and me… well, I wouldn’t have this blog if I did not love travel. However, I do like financial security and spend wisely. So, what’s in store for the next 12 months?
How to plan travel on a budget in economic uncertainty
Travel for me still falls in the “nice to have” category, but is pretty high up on that list. So even when I was a student with little money, I would do one trip abroad a year, although that was Ireland rather than Thailand. Only in my final year did I leave Europe proper.
And right now, with a regular income, I could perhaps spend more money on travel however, I do enjoy travelling on a modest budget! I meet more people, I love public transport – most of the time, and I just don’t need luxury.
So I have always been in the habit to book my own flights and accommodation, compare prices and sniff out places where travel isn’t too expensive. So, here, in no particular order, some my tips for travel planning on a modest or small budget, followed by a practical example. You may guess from the pictures, it’s a classic “Silk Road” trip in Uzbekistan!
Due to my job, I need to plan my annual leave a year in advance. Yup, so that leaves me with little flexibility for special offers. I do make a rough plan of places I’d like to travel to and keep looking for flights perhaps once a week, usually during my commute.
I use Skyscanner, then book directly with the airline in 99% of cases. Depending on when I plan my trip, I book as early as 6 months in advance, but my most recent trip to Uzbekistan, in 2019, I booked, err, two or three weeks in advance. I haven’t seen much of a difference whether I look using an incognito tab or on my mobile, as I tend to end up booking directly with the airline anyway.
Travel in shoulder season or out of season
Big fan of than and probably the biggest money saver for me. We don’t have children, so we are not tied to any school holidays. And because of that, I never got time off in summer in my employed jobs, so I got used to that and always searched out destinations that are great outside the classic European summer travel months of June to August.
This year, I happened to have a week off and got quite a shock when looking for a nice solo trip and seeing flights costing 5-7 times as much as out of season – Europe, Turkey and Middle East in particular, but also South East Asia.
Same happens with accommodations – prices appear to double in high season. And special places are often booked up.
Nothing wrong with Economy Class
As a healthy middle-aged person, I don’t have an issue travelling in a packed Economy Class. Sure, it is uncomfortable, but I do not need to sleep on the airplane in the middle of the day. My longest trips were maybe 20 hours to Hawaii and then some to Japan, and I was just fine in Economy Class. Why pay an absolute ton of money for more space in a limited amount of time?
I try to fly “nice” airlines such as Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines or Turkish Airlines who do offer a good Economy Class product. I have had great flights on packed Japan Airlines where there was good airconditioning, food aplenty, clean restrooms and the plane packed with polite Japanese and it is still one of the nicest flights I ever had.
And I have flown Business Class where I really didn’t see the point much, as there were no lie-flat beds and I couldn’t sleep anyway, but I wasn’t paying, so I enjoyed it, but would never fork out the cash myself.
When looking for flights, it pays to look for airlines that offer good levels of safety and comfort, but aren’t on everyones’s radar. In 2019, Aeroflot was a great option, offering frequent connections between Berlin and Moscow, with onward flights to Samarkand. Moscow Sheremetyevo was efficient, generally a nice place to wait a couple hours, the airplane looked in good form. Now, Turkish Airways is a good option, with frequent Central Asia flights and a great hub at Istanbul – perfect for a stopover.
Use public transport where possible
Another big money saver certainly when it comes to parts of Europe or Asia. Most countries nowadays have a great public transport network, be it by bus or rail, and the appropriate booking channels. And if they don’t share taxis are usually aplenty. I cannot remember a single country I have travelled to in the past ten years that had poor public transport – except perhaps Ghana.
If you stay in smaller guesthouses, usually the owner will point you towards public transport. Open a travel blog relevant for the country you wish to travel check Seat61 for rail travel information, or look at Busbud for long distance coaches.
I do like countries with a good rail network. Often, sleeper trains are cheaper and more comfy than in Europe, and often they are inexpensive. Train is my favourite mode of transport, but in other countries,such as Turkey, it’s a network of coaches that allow for swift and easy transport between cities.
Research your destination
It goes without saying that wishing to travel somewhere involves some research. I get quite easily hooked on random travel documentaries on TV – that’s how I landed in Southeastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. My next step would then be to scan a comparison sight for approximate flight prices, read a couple travel blogs and get a cheapo older edition second-hand guide book, usually a Bradt or Rough Guide, or a Lonely Planet. Last not ;east, I check the up-t0-date foreign office travel advice on visa, safety and red tape. Doesn’t take long, but a couple hours leisurely research will tell you whether a trip is feasible for your safety and comfort level on your budget.
When travelling alone, I tend to stay in guesthouses or small privately run hotels. They are often cheaper than a comparable hotel. When I do go for a hotel and want to book ahead, I use Booking.com most of the time. Guesthouse owners have told me they do take a rather large cut, so being aware of that, I often try to book hotels directly, but then, I do like the certainty of having a hotel booking for the night and the easy booking though an app with instant confirmation.
And then, most of my trips in recent years were to countries where you find small family-run guest houses very easily. So, I am quite spoiled in that sense, finding accommodation quite easily, and I get quite shocked when I want to stay in a city but somehow manage to find something good and dorm-free in the 50-Euro range even in places like Venice or London by staying in convents or student accommodation.
In destinations like South East Asia, this might be a no-brainer, but even in other places it is worth seeking out local restaurants. In many countries, markets have great cafes for an instant meal. Like this one in Samarkand, where I discovered that Uzbek bread is some of the best I ever tasted.
I am going to continue using Uzbekistan as an example, as it does have somewhat touristy restaurants near the historic sights, but lots and lots of cheaper option in the newer parts of town.
I had a somewhat hard time as a vegetarian eating a mostly vegan diet in Uzbekistan in early spring, as nearly all produce there is seasonal. And to be honest, I did visit touridt restaurants a lot, because they would always have at least one vegetarian option. I lived on raw salads, green tea – and manty. To add to that, a meal did not really cost much, perhaps 2-3 Euro, so that wasn’t worth trudging into the new town for me. Also, a lot of these salads were available in the market, so anywhere with a kitchen I could have self catered easily.
A Practical Example
So, I am thinking of going on a classic Silk Road trip. Actually, I am flying to Usbekistan, but I am not sold on the Silk Road yet, as I have been to both Samarkand and Bukhara before. But I would love to visit Khiva, then perhaps the Fergana Valley. Some borders are still closed, or there is a lot of red tape, so I will probably stick to Uzbekistan on this visit.
As an employee, I have approximately ten days set aside.
Classic Silk Road trip – how much does it cost?
A classic Silk Road like this costs roughly 1000 US Dollars based on double occupation, excluding flights. One Euro equals one dollar right now. A very competitive price. To do this solo… well, I planned this for half the price. THis is possible if you visit a considerably safe country like Uzbekistan. The US Department of State rates this as “Level 1 – exercise normal caution”, and the German and UK Foreign Offices warn against travel into some region, none of which are classic Silk Road destinations. I booked international flights for the month of October, knowing we would be in shoulder season, a few months ago.
I would say October might be the best time to visit Uzbekistan. The great heat and the main tourist season are definitely over, there will be an abundance of local produce, attractions, hotels and restaurants are still open, it’s nice and balmy. If you plan to visit neighbouring Tajikistan or Kyrgystan, summer might be better due to the altitude, but for Uzbekistan alone, spring and autumn are perfect.
Right now, it is only really feasible to fly into Tashkent because of the ban on Russian air space. Uzbekistan has a great train network, so I booked myself some train tickets in their web shop.
I paid about 16 Euros for a 1000km journey in an open bunk carriage, about double that for a two-berth sleeper. Other than that, there are buses and shared taxis going almost anywhere. A lot of the group trips do fly, but a night on a train saves on accommodation, and does not soak up an extreme amount of sightseeing time. Between Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, you can take the high-speed Afrosiyob train, which definitely needs to be booked in advance , but tickets don’t cost more than normal trains. So, transport, let’s say 150 Euro for transport altogether including an occasional taxi to and from train or bus stations.
For hotel bookings, Booking,com is my friend – most of the time. Sometimes, I use Agoda as well. I just feel a bit safer with pre-booking. However, with a relatively new copy of a budget travel guide, you could look up accommodations and phone in advance. I would probably choose something mid range but atmospheric like the Caravansarai for about 20 Euro including breakfast.
I have never been to Tashkent, but for my arrival, I booked a somewhat fancier room at the central ATECA Suites Hotel. I thought about booking myself into the superbly central Soviet colossus, the Hotel Uzbekistan, but the reviews did put me off a bit, although those curious about Soviet style should consider staying here. All these accommodation options include breakfast. So , let’s say, for nine night at an average of 270 Euros per night, we are at 270 Euros for accommodation but potentially as low as 200 Euro .
Entry fees? Are moderate. About 5 Euro for the Registan, 1 to 3 Euro for some other major attractions, most are free. So, it’s kinda negligible but at most 30 Euro.
Food is relatively cheap especially when sticking to local food, but the more tourist-friendly restaurants will perhaps charge 1.50 to 5 Euro for a full meal. Add a tea and coffee here and there, and you are at 100 Euro for food. Which, I point out, you would pay in the guided trip as well.
Now, last not least… the guiding. Not included in the group tour, you do get a tour leader to accompany the group but no local guide. So that’ll be extra. To be fair, I bought a art travel guide for my last visit and skipped the local guide. So, that’s a big fat zero. If you travel on a budget in economic uncertainty, guides are a nice add-on that you could arrange locally, and, where possible, share with other travellers.
So, here we go, a classic 10-day Silk Road Itinerary for a solo traveller for 10 days at to 450- 520 Euro, not skimping on comfort save for one train ride. Cheaper if two people share a room. I still believe more money lands with locals than on an organised tour especially if you book the accommodation directly.
Now Uzbekistan is probably one of the safest countries to travel in right now, and it is safe for independent travellers. I speak a bit of Russian which helps but even without, the national language is Uzbek which now uses the Latin alphabet and after a couple of days, things will become decipherable. And people are generally so nice, it is almost impossible to fail.
Side Job to make a budget for travel?
Last not least, if you need money, make some more. I must admit for decades I worked 70-hour weeks, which is quite normal for a medic, but scaled down to a more manageable 40 to 50 hours a week. However, I recently took a new job which is travel-related and where I can just be at home and near a telephone, as it’s a remote job. Anything earned on this extra job is money for the travel budget. And had I not travelled widely, I doubt I would have gotten the job.
The Small Print
In my “Practical Example”, I have included affiliate links to hotels on Booking.com, where I have, with the exception of those in Tashkent or Chiva, have stayed before. Other than that, all scenarios are real and prices correct as of August 2022. As always, I pay for my own travels and everything recommended here is totally unbiased.