This article is dedicated to two people: my brother, who could never afford an overseas holiday and passed away at the untimely age of 32 having never stepped foot off Australia, and my migrant father who travelled far and wide before his death, but accumulated much debt in order to do so.
It is possible to travel overseas without breaking the bank.
This article explores five glorious options you can manage on a budget of less than $3,000. As you will see, with a bit of further tightening, many of these holidays can be conducted on far less.
I'm going to start with the cheapest. In this line-up the cheapest is by no means the least, as you are about to find out. You won't find any numbers on this list. I consider these holiday options equal and as in all things, it's a matter of personal taste.
Road-side cows passing in front of 80km long inland Lake Wakatipu (elevation 1020 ft) in the alps of New Zealand's picturesque South Island. No, this isn't Australia.
Can't afford Switzerland? No worries. You can have New Zealand's South Island for far less. In fact, a man I once knew (who managed to travel the world before he passed away in his early thirties), informed me that of all the places he'd visited, New Zealand's South Island was the most beautiful. If that isn't a plug, I don't know what is?
Perplexingly, many Aussies don't think of New Zealand as a true overseas trip. I confess I was of the same ilk, until I visited this beautiful country by default, courtesy of a past Kiwi boyfriend. Let me tell you once and for all, this isn't Australia, although you will find more sheep here per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Here are some facts to give you some idea of the differences between NZ and Australia.
Major attractions: On the south Island, feast your eyes on vast lakes, fjords (these are lengthy, narrow inlets of sea bound by steep sided cliffs) glaciers, soaring mountains in the alps. Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand has an elevation of 12,316 feet above sea-level compared to Mount Kosciuszko's piddly 7,310 ft. The North Island features volcanos, geothermal areas, natural hot springs, lakes and Maori culture.
Does this sound like Australia? Nope. Okay, I'll stop pushing the point. Plus I will concede we do have a bit of Maori culture in parts of Australia.
In addition, you can look at luscious gardens, national parks and in the North Island - beautiful bays.
The Remarkables Mountain range dusted with snow at Queenstown on New Zealand's South Island. Remarkable indeed!
Price: You can pick up a return fly/drive airfares and car hire package to either Queenstown (the main ski site and site of the beautiful alps), Christchurch (capital city of the South Island) or Auckland (capitol of the North Island) for under $1,000.
At the time of writing this article, Virgin was offering one-way flights from Sydney to Christchurch and Auckland for under $120. Auckland fares are always the less expensive of the two cities, so if you're on a tight budget, Auckland might be the way to go.
From there, it's just the cost of your accommodation and food. Bear in mind, if you are going with a mate you will be paying half the price of the petrol, room-rate or car hire costs. To give you some bearing and assist with budgeting, costs for both accommodation and car hire are similar to Australia. Hiring a campervan to double as vehicle and bed is a popular option and will save bucks on accommodation. It also has a practical basis – there aren't many accommodation choices along the often remote and uninhabited roads of the South Island.
The skiing season is popular in New Zealand with lots of bargains to be picked up that might include your airfares, accommodation and / or car or campervan hire or even ski pass. Shop around. Interestingly, it costs roughly the same price to ski the alps surrounding Queenstown, as it does to get away to the Snowy Mountains of Australia. So if you want an overseas trip, here's one you can afford.
Milford Sound - majestic fjord within Fiordland National Park in the South Island and N.Z's most famous tourist site. Deemed the world's top travel destination in TripAdvisor's 2008 Travelers' Choice Destinations Awards.
When to go: You can go anytime that suits you. New Zealand is suitable for tourism all year around. Base your trip on what you want to do and see.
The peak season for tourism to NZ is summer (Dec-Feb). The winter ski season is also popular. At that time you will see snow-capped mountains, but be aware that New Zealand winters are more severe than in Australia. It is also a very windy country, with the South Island being much colder than the North. If you can't abide the cold you may want to go in the warmer seasons. Autumn is another pretty time, particularly in the more 'English' styled parts of the South Island. If you are visiting the North Island, summer can be lovely. Beaches aren't a strong point on the South Island, but there are many lovely bays and beaches in the North.
Island restaurant at Koh Samui, Thailand. Cheap food and awesome sea vista. Go on do it.
Want to experience azure seas, balmy air and a foreign culture? Thailand is your answer. For the price of the Whitsundays, you can have the overseas experience and get considerably more for your money. How crazy is that?
Avoid the monstrous traffic and pollution of Bangkok and head direct to one of its islands. Direct flights (via Bangkok) can be had to the islands of Phuket and Samui or the Northern city of Chiang Mai. While this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Thailand has to offer island-wise, a direct flight is likely to save you money.
Major Attractions: Beaches, Thai culture, snorkelling, diving, national parks, temples, exotic animals (like tigers and elephants), floating markets, ancient cities and limestone karsts (limestone or dolomite rock formations), night-life, cheap shopping, caramel banana pancakes stalls (these were a missed opportunity in Koh Samui and it just came to mind while writing this).
Colourful and ornate temples like these abound in Thailand.
Price: Like anywhere in the world (with the exception of places like Turkmenistan - wherever that is) prices fluctuate depending on when you visit. You can grab a return flight to Phuket starting from about $700 to twice as much as that, or more. Of course, we're talking economy class here.
When to Go:
Avoid the rainy season (July to October). If you do go then, you will benefit from cheaper prices, but avoid October - the wettest month of the entire year. Typical of tropical weather, a downpour might not last all day, so it's not the end of the world.
The peak tourist season is from November to late March when there is the least chance of rain or overly hot temperatures. Between November and February is your best bet for lowest rainfall levels and temperate weather. The least crowded months for tourists are April, May, June, September and October.
Terraced rice paddies in Sapa in the North of Vietnam. Pic courtesy of Wikipedia
Similar to Thailand, but more untouched and scenic and also doesn't have the girlie bars. As it's a little less known than Thailand, Vietnam possesses an appealing air of oriental mystique. My advice is to get in while it lasts. It's also a different country and culture to Thailand, but I gathered you knew that.
Major Attractions: Vietnam is known for amazing scenery. Top sights include Halong Bay (limestone karsts rising out of the sea), ancient temples and buildings, stepped rice-paddies and rural fields, cheap shopping, national parks, floating villages and markets, the Mekong Delta, indigenous tribes, beautiful highland areas like Dalat, the French influence upon Vietnam.
Magnificent Halong Bay - One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, it covers an area of around 1,553 km2, including 1,960–2,000 limestone karsts and islets. Pic: Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Vietnam has three main geographic regions - North, South and Central Vietnam, with different climates and sights to see. The more mountainous and cooler North is known for captivating scenery, while Central Vietnam is the site of ancient cities and seaside towns as well as forested highland areas. The hotter South of Vietnam is famed for the Mekong Delta (the 39,000 square kilometre region where the Mekong River and its distributaries empty into the sea) as well as rice-growing. It's also the main commercial epicentre of the country.
Be aware that there is considerable distance to cover the length of this country and a common problem experienced by travellers is under-estimating the true travel distance between the major cities within Vietnam. For example, Hanoi (the main city in the North) is 1,800 kms from Ho Chi Minh City in the South. It takes about 30-40 hours by road or rail to travel between the two. Internal flights are available and save masses of time.
Local Hmong Women in Vietnam. Pic courtesy of Wikipedia.
Price: By all reports it's possible to see Vietnam for under $2000 - if you stick to a budget and avoid the peak tourist season. Within the tourist season, accommodation and airfare prices spike.
When To Go: The answer to this question depends on where in Vietnam you want to go. For travel to the North, it's best to go in October-November (from a seasonal point of view). Rainfall is low at this time, yet temperatures haven't declined too much. Temps start to cool in November - the beginning of winter. Central Vietnam has variable weather conditions depending on whether you are inland, in the mountainous regions or the coast. Hot and humid with little annual fluctuation in temperature, December to March is the best time to hit the hotter South. Temperatures are at their most pleasant then.
Can Tho Floating Market, Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Pic: courtesy of Wikipedia
For a lot more detail on weather conditions and best times to travel to Vietnam, check out the Vietnam travel site here.
To get cheaper internal flights in Vietnam (remember what I said earlier about the distance to travel across different sites within Vietnam) book your international flight with Vietnam Airways. This enables you to get discounted rates on internal airfares, such as flights to Ho Chi Minh city from Hanoi for instance.
Fiji - quintessential island experience. Coconut trees, sand and sea. Pic: courtesy of Wikipedia.
Want a tropical haven in the South Pacific replete with palm trees and shining waters? If you want lazy time on the beach, think Fiji.
Fiji is also a top option for people with kids. No long road trips to worry about and not too many exotic and malicious diseases either. In fact, Fiji is big on 'Kid's Club' - which can include special kid-friendly amenities and services, scheduled activities, games and meals.
Fiji is actually a republic of over 332 islands and 500 islets. 110 of these are permanently inhabited. The archipelago has a total land area of around 18,300 square kilometres. The two largest islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Most of the resorts are located on these two islands and on some of the smaller islands of Fiji.
The international airport is located at Nadi on the west coast of the main island, Vitu Levu. From Nadi you can get a boat or plane to the smaller islands. The common method is to catch a boat to the closer islands and air travel to the outer islands.The Mamanuca Group of islands, close to Nadi, contain many popular island resorts. Which island and resort you choose to stay at depends on what kind of experience you are seeking.
Fijian huts. Pic: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Major Attractions: Stunning beaches, island atmosphere, warm climate, chance to chill, diving, cruises, tropical rainforest, hot springs and mud pools.
A flight plus accommodation package to Fiji for 5 nights will typically set you back about $1,000-$2000 per person, depending on the quality of your accommodation and inclusions. It's possible to find packages for $700-$900 or so. They are about. Extend your holiday if you so desire, and pay a little more.
Be aware that food prices at the resorts can be expensive and once you're trapped on an island there may be no-where else to eat (if it's a small island with few facilities, for example). Research well before you go. I've heard that it can be a good idea to secure a 'meal deal' in advance, however, on the downside it may limit your meal options.
When to Go: With annual temperatures hovering between 26 to 31 degrees, Fiji is always deliciously warm. The best time to travel to Fiji is in the cooler months of April to October. Avoid the wet season (December to March) when heavy rains and tropical cyclones may be on the cards. See more on Fiji weather conditions on the Tourism Fiji website here.
Rock-mounted, Tanah Lot Temple, one of 7 sea-temples on the coast of Bali. Pic: courtesy of Wikipedia.
For eons, Bali has been the holiday of choice by Australians looking for a cheap overseas experience. On that account, I think, enough said. Then again ...
Bali scored Best Island award from Travel and Leisure in 2010 and was ranked second best island in the world according to BBC Travel (2011). The memoir and film "Eat, Pray, Love" was set there.
Bali is an island of Indonesia. The island is about 153 km wide (from East to West) and makes up a total land mass area of 5,632 km˛
Major Attractions: Palm fringed white sand beaches, tropical waters, pretty mountain and coastal areas, Balinese temples and architecture, terraced rice paddies, waterfalls, jungle, plantations, snorkelling and diving, arts and crafts, cheap shopping, friendly locals (with the exception of the Bali Bomber).
Price: Hitch a flight from Sydney to Bali on Jetstar for as low as $560. With prices this low, there's no excuse not to go (rhyming not intended).
When to go: As a tropical destination, Bali hovers around 31 degrees celsius all year and has two seasons - wet and dry. Check out Bali in April to October - during the cooler temps of the dry season. Outside of that, it's the wet season and on the humid side. The weather in the Ubud (mountainous) area is a bit cooler.
The most popular (aka - tourist ridden) times to visit Bali, are July and August and Christmas and New Year. In turn, flight and accommodation prices are more. For best cheap deals go in the shoulder season around March or October.
Tip: Bali suffers from its tourist proportions. To get the most out of your trip, financially and otherwise, research the over-rated tourist traps to avoid. See this travel website for some tips as a start.
VOLUNTARY WORK OVERSEAS
Volunteers in Nepal. Pic: courtesy of Projects Abroad.
I know of several people (all female mind you) who have managed to travel very cheaply to places as diverse as India, Africa and South America through offering themselves up for volunteer work overseas. This altruistic travel option is worth a mention, because it's the antithesis of the usual "selfish" holiday. You may not find time for sun-tanning on the deck with a cocktail, but you will gain life experience, potential work experience, a chance to use your skills and meet more locals and contribute to the betterment of the world. Hard not to commend something like that.
The downside - resorts in the Maldives probably aren't on offer, whereas the Third World is.
The focus of voluntary work abroad encompasses teaching English, conservation, wild-life refuges, construction, health-care, work with children and more.
Volunteer work overseas doesn't necessarily mean a free holiday. With some organisations, some of your costs might be funded (such as accommodation) or at least be reduced, or you may have to fund not only all your own costs but pay for the privilege of volunteering.
Check out the GVI (Global Vision International) or Projects Abroad websites for more information. These are just some of the many organisations' that deal with volunteer work abroad. Do a Google search and you will see that in line with the need, many such organisations exist.
SCORING A CHEAP FLIGHT
Many tour operators offer cheap flight and accommodation packages to entice the public. Keep your eyes peeled on local travel agents and discount websites.
For novices - flight fares vary according to the time you are flying (6.30am flights are less in demand and cheaper for obvious reasons), the time of year (outside peak season can be considerably less) and the carrier you choose (Air Asia and Thai Airways are among the cheapest options for Asia travel for example). The total length of the flight (affected by the choice of stopover and the time between connecting flights) can also affect price. Other hidden factors can be the amount of baggage covered in the flight price.
FURTHER WAYS TO REDUCE THE COST OF YOUR TRIP
- Book your air-fares in advance.
- Keep an eye out for travel specials. Also alert all your friends and family - the more eyes on the prize the better.
- Go outside the main tourist season.
- Reduce the length of time you are away. A one-week holiday is cheaper than taking three weeks. If this is all you can afford, accept it and make the most of it. Better to go than not at all.
- Buy food cheaply from the local markets.
- Book your tours locally rather than from Australia. Often, though not always, this works out cheaper.
- Save money by down-grading on accommodation. After all, you're here to see the country, not the hotel.
- Go in a group and share the expenses of car hire, accommodation and so on.
- Cut overall travel costs by limiting the number of destinations you plan to cover within the one country.
- Catch the bus.
In reducing costs, be aware that some things aren't worth cutting or back-fire in the long run. Choose wisely what you choose to forego. The loss of a gourmet dinner may not put you out too much, but saving bucks by taking an uncomfortable and overly lengthy bus ride instead of the train may ruin your whole day.
Don't forget to factor travel insurance and the cost of visas into your overall travel budget.