12 ways to save time and money while traveling

When I was a kid my fortune teller told my mom that when I grow up I will have to travel a lot to earn a living. 30 years on, the prediction seems to have come through. I spent the past 10 years traveling a lot for work. At the peak I was overseas for as many days as I have been home.

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Over that time though I’ve learned how to travel more efficiently. Here are some of the things I’ve learned. Note that I don’t consistently follow each and every one of these so pick the ones that you think makes sense for you.

1) Don’t wear a belt and wear easy slip ons like Toms when traveling.

If there’s one thing that Osama Bin Laden was successful in, it’s wasting hours of our travel time. Post 9/11, security check points at airports have become increasingly more complex. From banning everything from bottled water and hand cream to having to remove your belt and shoes.

What I find myself spending the most time doing after each security check is wearing my belt and shoes again.

So lesson learned: Don’t wear a belt and wear shoes that you can almost slip on and off so you can breeze through security checks like the wind!

2) Pack a Medikit

Many years ago I made a business trip to Shanghai and my friend brought me for some super spicy and oily Sichuan food. I walked away from that dinner with some major food poisoning, spending the next few days locked up in my hotel room with a severe case of diarrhoea and vomiting.

I also couldn’t believe how hard it was to find a western style pharmacy like a Boots or Watsons that we’re so used to in Malaysia or Singapore. So I resorted to a lot of chinese herbal medicine that didn’t seem to do anything for me.

It was in that time of crisis that I remembered my Dad’s advice. My Dad has this habit of carrying a medikit with him with medicine that treats everything from flu, diarrhoea, fever and all the bad stuff that could happen to you. He even packs two courses of antibiotics in it. One mild one and one strong one like Zithromax. He says you’ll never know how easy it is or how expensive it might be to see a doctor when you’re traveling so bring your own medicine just in case.

I ignored his advice and learned things the hard way.

3) Carry a travel wallet with a combination of major currencies.

Having to constantly change money in and out whenever I travel is difficult. So I have a pouch with all currencies of the countries I visit the most and also of all major currencies so I can use them to change to local currency whenever I need to. I’m not sure how widely accepted the Malaysian Ringgit would be to money changers in say Mongolia. But I’m pretty sure they’d take USD or GBP.

4) Always pay with cash when you can. When you pay by credit card, use the local currency option.

The rate you can negotiate with money changers is more often than not better than the rate your bank would give you on the credit card. Worse…. if you buy something and the merchant offers you a chance to pay in your home currency… don’t do it. Always pay in the local currency. If you thought the bank rate was bad, the merchant’s rates are just outright daylight robbery. You know they’re trying to cheat you right there and then when they by default give you their converted rates at the poor exchange rate and as part of the slip make you sign on a waiver that says you were offered bank rates but you chose the merchant’s rates.

5) Always have PENS in your travel backpack/handbag.

This is for filling in the arrival cards that almost every country requires you to fill in (except Malaysia now so I hear).

6) Have two sets of face wash, toothbrush, toothpaste and other toiletries. One for home and one that is permanently kept in your travel suit case.

Have you ever been on a trip then forgotten your contact lens case, or your toothbrush, or shaver?

Well… do this and you’ll never forget it again. Use travel sized toiletries when you can too so you can get away without having to check-in your luggage.

7) Don’t check-in luggage unless you absolutely have to.

Some airports are better at others when it comes to delivering your check-in luggage to you. KLIA is one of the worst. I’ve waited so long for my luggage I sometimes wondered if it was being sent on the next flight.

8) Uber is almost always cheaper than taxis.

This is true to me even when compared to places where taxis are cheap like Bangkok. It’s not just the price though. It’s also to save time negotiating with the taxi drivers that don’t want to go by meter and not having to dig your pockets for cash when you can just pay by credit card with Uber.

9) When you’re traveling with the family, AirBnB is almost always more cost efficient than booking multiple hotel rooms.

This is a straightforward one.

10) Always carry a power bank with you.

Another straightforward one. My Dad used to say that when traveling there are only 3 things you need. Air ticket, passport and money. Everything else can be bought if you forget.

Well in recent times, I think air ticket isn’t necessary anymore and that position is quickly replaced by your phone. So always have enough juice for your phone.

11)  Get free data roaming plans

We need data wherever we go and the thrifty Penangnite in me makes it a point to buy a local SIM whenever I land at the airport. It’s often cheaper than data roaming itself but it has its downsides. Often the queue to buy SIM cards at airport are long and sometimes you get cheated and overpay (like in Bali.. watch out for that).

My favourite solution for this now is U-Mobile. I pay RM70 a month for unlimited calls and 15GB. Do you know what the best part is? Is that I get unlimited data roaming in 12 countries around the region which includes Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and more. So whenever I travel I roam for free and just use my local data package. It’s cheap.

If you talk a lot on the phone while roaming though Maxis’s RM38 a day is pretty good because it covers data and also allows you to receive calls from telemarketers without having to pay the GDP of a small nation. Never again will you be pissed off when telemarketers call you when you’re roaming.

12) If time is important to you, always weigh in the delay costs vs the price of each airline.

Not all airlines or budget airlines are equal. Many of them have a different track record of delays. For example Air Asia is often cheap but it has a really bad track record when it comes to being on time. Every time I fly Air Asia I always prepare myself that the flight will be delayed for 15 minutes (if I’m lucky) to just under 2 hours (if I’m not). The air crew make it a point to apologise after each delay but it happens so much you can’t help but feel like they’re not even trying to be on time. We all have that friend who is always late for appointments no matter how many times he apologises.

I believe Air Asia has a policy that compensates you if their flights are delayed longer than 2 hours so I think they try not to let that happen but when it comes to delays under 2 hours, expect it.

For full service airlines, in my experience Cathay is really bad when it comes to being on time.

So okay guys that’s all I got. Hope it helps and safe travels!

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