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How to Maximize Your Travel Budget: Asia and Beyond

Traveling out of the country and seeing the world can be more than just a dream. Like most, I used to think that travel outside of the US was extremely expensive and it prohibited me from traveling. However, the truth is the opposite. You can have amazing experiences on a budget. You just need to know how and where to look.

Cruise through the streets in Bangkok, in style.
Cruise through the streets in Bangkok, in style.

Travel involves sacrifices…

…But it doesn’t have to feel like it. Just like any other project, travel has goals. Ask yourself “what I do I want to get out of this trip?”. If you cannot understand what you want out of travel, it will never be fulfilling.

Chinatown in Bangkok
Interesting new street foods in Bangkok, Thailand

Whether you want to experience new cultures, try amazing new foods, or get away from the office with a beach holiday, it starts with understanding what you want and need.

So, before deciding on any destination, before booking any hotel or flight, understand what you want out of your next trip. Without this, you’ll never feel satisfaction or fulfillment.


Understand the bulk of travel costs

Everyone talks about airfare deals. However, deal or not, airfare is not the majority of your travel expenses. Hotels and lodging are. Hotel prices and deals are less visible, less frequent, and more predictable than airfare. Read on to learn how to find the best deals.

Hotel Gracery Shinjuku Tokyo
View from the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku in Tokyo

Most people are deterred from travel because of airfare costs. Since it’s often the first purchase in a trip, it’s also the first cliff to climb. Unless you find a sale on airfare that is 50% of the normal prices, work backwards to plan your trip.

Some places are cheaper than others

Jiufen – a mountainous-coastal city east of Taipei in Taiwan. It’s amazingly beautiful, and affordable.

Developed destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai cost more than those that are not. There’s amazing experiences to be had in Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Because these places are still considered to be developing, it simply costs less.

How to travel to Asia (and beyond) on a budget and still have amazing experiences.

Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1

You understand your goals, you understand your budget, and your understand the source of travel costs. Now you’ll learn how to find and plan a trip full of amazing experiences.

First: Find your destination

I love to use TripAdvisor to find interesting things to do in any city. Although there are other, more city specific websites out there, TripAdvisor aggregates the best info from millions of travelers for a first search.

Based on that, here are links to the most popular destinations in Asia:

When you do this, you can get an idea of the relative expense of a particular city or country. Another handy thing that I use to estimate the cost of a trip to somewhere is the Big Mac Index. It’s a great baseline comparison for the overall food/lodging for two different countries.


Second: Find your hotel on multiple booking sites

Different booking sites will have different prices on the same hotels. It’s highly recommended to check a couple different sites before you book.

Generally, I start my research on Hotels.com. From experience, they have the best website, and best options in finding hotels. After finding a couple hotels I like, I will then check Expedia and Travelocity.

One of the most commonly known secrets is member-only pricing. If you create an account on any of those websites, you’ll be able to access secret prices to different hotels. They are generally 10-20% cheaper than the normal price, and are limited time. And, almost always, the secret prices are the cheapest of anywhere on the internet, if there are not a lot of rooms remaining, it’s safe to book right then and there, without needing to compare prices.

This is always a rule. The only exception is if I have loyalty to a particular hotel chain.


Third: Airfare is its own game

Because airfare is a huge barrier, it’s easy to change your perspective. Understand where the hubs are, and how flying to a different country first can open up possibilities.

If you’re locked into vacation days and traveling certain days, flight deals won’t help. But there are two ways to help find a great deal.

The easiest thing to do is use SkyScanner’s flight prediction and monitoring tools to know exactly when to buy, when to wait, and what prices might look like in the future.

The other thing is to purchase packages on Expedia. Package deals have built in savings. You also have the flexibility to choose flights, and choose the hotel. These have led to some extraordinary deals that seemed almost too good to be true. But because you’re booking from a reliable site, it was true.


Credit cards can help you towards a free trip

Travel Credit Cards
These are just some of my favorite cards I’ve used to earn free travel.

Credit cards with rewards for travel are commonplace. But it may seem like it would take forever to earn enough miles for a free trip.

This is where bonuses come in. Put all of your everyday expenses on a credit card, meet the bonus minimum spending, and earn bonuses up to 50,000 miles – enough for a whole trip!

This is my recommended card:

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 Bonus Miles after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months

With this card, I’ve flown business class on ANA, absolutely free.


Final tip: Make it a group trip

Since lodging is the most expensive part of the trip, bring friends or stay in a hostel. When you take part in ‘group’ activities, you divide the costs, and you’ll get more experiences for your money. Maybe you’ll meet new friends in the process too, if that’s your type of thing.

Published by

Kevin Chau

World Traveler, Photographer, Expat. Traveling at the Pointy End.