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Mr. FAF and I are planning a 4-5 week trip to Vietnam to visit my family after the Covid situation calms down and after we get vaccinated.
And we plan to stay there for the Lunar New Year in late January.
I am beyond excited for three reasons.
First, I haven’t celebrated the Lunar New Year with my family for 14 years.
Second, my extended family (grandparents, parents, etc.) will get to see our two kids.
And lastly, I can’t wait to try all the traditional and new food and check out new touristy places in Vietnam that I have missed out on for years.
Though excited, I am also a bit concerned about the cost of the trip.
Mr. FAF and I have been saving up both money and our vacation for this long overdue trip, and we will pay cash for it.
We have planned and gathered some tips and tricks to keep our travel expenses low.
If you plan to travel internationally, you might find the tips below helpful.
1. Plane tickets
We will need to purchase four plane tickets for Mr. FAF, our two kids, and me. We plan to depart in early January, and each ticket will cost roughly $1,500 or $6,000 for three people. However, we can still save on tickets by:
— Using travel rewards: I have been using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card since July and now have 68,000 points (roughly $800) I can use to purchase a ticket. I suggest you apply for a travel rewards credit card at least 4 months before you travel. That way, you can rack up those reward points and purchase the ticket one month in advance.
— Compare prices on different sites. We have been checking flight tickets on CheapAir, CheapTickets, Orbitz, and Kayak. I personally love flying with Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines since I can have a layover in Incheon, Hong Kong, and Narita to check out their cute souvenir stores at the airport. And It’s not to mention all the Asian food that soothes my soul on a long flight! If you fly Korean Air from Asia to the US, they will also provide a hotel room for you to stay overnight and explore the city the next day.
— Fly off season: Tickets are most expensive in December and are cheapest in January, February, and September. If you have to travel during a certain period of time, you might not have a lot of options. But if your schedule is flexible, you can plan a trip during the off season to save money on plane tickets.
2. Transportation to and from the airport
When I travel alone, I usually take a shuttle that takes me to and from the airport. I usually pay $36 in advance for a round trip. This time, Mr. FAF and I will probably take Uber or Lyft and leave our car at home.
If you have family or friends that can take you to and from the airport, it’s more savings right there. Just make sure you don’t ask them to drive you at 3-4 AM (you know what I mean). They might not say no, but I’d feel bad for making them suffer so that I can save some money.
3. Food and drinks on the trip
During the trip, you might get hungry and balk at the high food prices at the airport. You can prepare some non-perishable food such as granola bars, crackers, cookies, and even bread to eat on the way.
Drinks are not allowed past the security check. But you can bring an empty and light bottle to get free water from the water fountain at the airport.
If you have an infant, don’t forget to bring baby food and milk for them. Milk for babies is usually allowed past the security. You can ask your airline about that if you are not sure.
If you have family in the destination country and are invited to stay with them, you should take them up on their offer. By staying with my parents, Mr. FAF and I can avoid paying at least $50/day on hotels. Another option is to check out an AirBnB where you can stay for a couple of weeks.
If not, you can ask your friends or family to ask around for short-term leases that you can sign for your stay. You can plan your trip so that you stay near where the touristy places you want to visit to save on transportation costs, which brings me to my next point.
Prior to your travel, you can do some research on what means of transportation are popular in the destination country and if they are safe. In Vietnam, most people ride motorbikes or scooters. There’s bad traffic everywhere, so cars can get stuck in traffic for hours.
You can also take the bus or the cab. But make sure you know your route, so you won’t get lost on the bus and the cab driver won’t trip to rip you off by driving you around in circles to get paid more based on the mileage.
This is what I’m looking forward to the most (besides seeing my family, of course). Before you travel, do a quick Google search on the famous food places you should check out in the new city. You can also use Google translate to search in the local language since it might bring up the best results for you.
What you should take notes of is what places you want to visit and their addresses. Use Google Maps to group nearby restaurants to save on time and costs of transportation.
In Vietnam, the best authentic food is not always found at fancy restaurants or hotels that cater to foreigners, but at food stalls on the street. But beware the food safety and know where the nearest public restroom is if you have a weak digestive system.
7. Domestic travel
Once you are in the new country, you might want to travel to different places to explore. You can always book flight tickets and hotels in advance to make sure you don’t scramble for accommodation in a totally new city. You can also ask your family or friends to book you a trip package that includes both transportation and hotels.
For example, my aunt and uncle surprised Mr. FAF and me by gifting us a travel package to a 5-star report in Quy Nhon (a coastal city with a beautiful beach) for three days and two nights.
The package includes transportation to and from the airport and hotel, bus tours around the city, breakfast, and hotel accommodation. They bought the package for a total of $300 when there was a promotional deal in November (off season).
I know you might be enthralled by all the fancy and cute souvenirs, but don’t go crazy on them. In some places, the sellers charge foreigners more since tourists usually don’t negotiate in the local language. If you want to buy gifts, you can go to department stores or supermarkets where the prices are marked so you don’t get ripped off.
9. Bring medicine
You might get sick on the trip, so bring some medication to fight off that cold or fever before seeing a doctor. If you get really sick, you might have a case of food poisoning or something serious. In that case, don’t hesitate to go to the ER to get checked.
10. Gifts for family/friends
Before you travel, look for deals to buy gifts for your family and friends in the destination country if you have any. You don’t want to wait until you are at the airport and realize you need to grab some items at marked-up prices to give to your loved ones.
Bonus: Forget about your work!
Well, not entirely, but you are traveling for a reason. If there’s nothing urgent, cut yourself some slack and enjoy the trip so that you won’t be missing out on amazing things you will regret not doing later on.
That’s it for my brief travel guide and ways to save money when you travel internationally. If you visit family, you might not feel as stressed as when you explore a whole new territory.
Yet, whatever the reason is, don’t go into debt to travel. Your bank account and mental health will thank you for that later.
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