So my oh so lovely boyfriend was asking me the other day if I actually think I’m the right person to advise people on budget travel, considering of course my love for the finer things in life.. *I will not go on to explain to you the berating he received after this statement/question*…Needless to say…Despite having a point, he made me question that assertion. I think unless you’re balling out of control – which having recently graduated from my masters; I am not; you have to have a budget when you travel. Normally, I have everything between a fixed deposit and a travel pot with Monzo that I deposit money into every few weeks when I have extra cash to ensure that I have some extra cash to afford all the extra *finer* things he alluded to.
So, at the turn of the year wanting to get in some R&R at recently graduated a masters program budgets we set out for Tunisia. Our main needs for the trip were really (1) budget friendliness, (2) warm-ish weather, (3) R&R so we could plan the year properly, (4) A country that didn’t require me to get a visa because well.. traveling while brown is difficult enough, passport restrictions make it even more difficult. Due to number 4, I always arrive super early at the airport much to the dismay of my favourite travel partner who with his European passport tends to whizz through and can actually check-in online. Another disclaimer: I am not a morning person, I never have been and at this rate I never will be. I blame it on Investment Banking habits – working till 3am and then strolling into the office at 9am doesn’t lend itself to being able to wake up at 5am. Especially for travel when you haven’t been able to sleep properly for days because your boyfriend is sick and tosses and turns for most of the night..I’m not crying..I’m not crying ..I actually am crying. So two days before our Tunisia adventure I basically got not more than 3 /4 hours of sleep both nights because Mr. “I have an amazing passport but don’t appreciate it” was super sick, talking in his sleep and super feverish.
Mind you, in terms of immigration I really struggled getting the 411 on whether I needed a visa as a South African, whether I could get it on arrival or whether we shouldn’t book this trip because a visa would take more than 15 business days (I see you Morocco and I don’t appreciate it). I finally convinced myself that the numerous blog discussions from 2011 that I saw online were sufficient to comfort me that I could get a visa when I landed only for USD50… because that really does seem like a fair price to pay for a week holiday. NOT. So here is your friend grumpy AF having not slept for days headed to the airport at the dead of morning… We’re already running a little late for my liking because… What is travel without life anxiety? We get to the airport, our credit card doesn’t go through because it’s foreign and the car company guy basically tells us to run to the ATM because…well…he needs to get paid… If you’ve ever been to Gatwick you’ll know that ATMs are few and far in-between. So before I could scream – ‘not it’..because well I’m a selfish human being at 5.30am and I really hadn’t slept my partner runs off (#BrowniePointsForKnowingYourPartnerIsAGrinchBefore9am). So crisis averted we check in, they have to do the dutiful….oooh…South African passport…give us a second while we check that you don’t need a pre-arrival visa… Prays to all of her ancestors, Wakandan and otherwise… praying that the 8 year old blog posts did not lead me astray and I really don’t need a visa. because well – I would be in doo doo the holiday being completely paid for and all – and remember #TravellingOnABudget was one of our goals. And yes, I get the all clear!!!
So for this particular trip we opted to for all inclusive package – not something I’m used to because I clearly always think I’m better at finding a deal than most agents/ Travel companies (I often am). But if you really don’t have time I would strongly suggest getting an all inclusive package with a site (I’ve used a couple that I found to be good). Basically all this meant was that with one fell swoop of the plastic sword (credit card, I mean credit card… Someone please tell me I actually am funny) we had booked flights, accommodation, transfers and all food and beverages our little bodies could consume. So when landing in this amazing country, the hardest thing we had to do was find the people responsible for our transfers… that is after I make it through immigration and find an ATM to pay for this visa in USD cash. So if you’ve ever traveled with me you will unfortunately know that I’m an anxious flyer, not because I hate flying but because I always want to have things in order. It’s a great but also annoying habit. So I’ll always want hotel confirmations printed, enough cash for the visa on arrival and a powerbank just incase our phones die. Depending on where you are on the OCD scale it can either be super refreshing or super grating (Yes, I know I can admit my own shortcomings).
I would like to send a shout out to my travel partner for teaching me a valuable lesson – sometimes you gotta fake it till you make it. I land and I’m of course stressing over finding an ATM so my visa process goes off without a hitch …I of course don’t find one…If there was a GIF to explain my stress it would be that one that has smoke coming out from her ears…smiling…but kinda dying inside slowly…After getting to the front of the immigration line…which is fairly easy when both travelers high tail it out of the plane because they know one of us has a ‘difficult’ passport and would need to probably spend more time than others (much to the dismay of one of them who’s current read unfortunately got left on the plane because of this strategy). After stressing and letting people go in front of us for about 4 mins my travel companion literally goes f*&^ it lets go I’m sure they wont bother you. Yay, for white man confidence! The guy takes the Irish passport and doesn’t hesitate to stamp it. He then suspiciously looks at my passport…asks us where we just landed from (me beaming, London 😊)… he stamps it and lets us go through…yes, I just saved USD50 because of white man confidence…
So let me drop a little bit of recent history about Tunisia…because despite never being I’d spent a lot of time in college doing research about the Arab Spring and ways that non-violent protests contributed to the Arab Spring as part of my research assistant job (Nerd alert!). The Tunisian Revolution, also called the Jasmine Revolution, was an intensive 28-day campaign of civil resistance. It effectively was the catalyst for what we now call the Arab Spring. It included a series of street demonstrations which took place in Tunisia, and led to the ousting of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. It started when a fruit vendor set himself on fire in protest in front of a government building. … Within days, protests started popping up across the country, calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime to step down. About a month later, he fled the country. There was relative quiet for a few years… In 2015 there were a spate of foreigner killings claimed by IS. Post that most European countries put the country on the high alert list and a few airlines stopped flying to Tunisia.
So landing on this cold-ish January morning and driving along the highway to get to our beach resort you could feel some of this old history permeating the region. It looked a little desolate, dry and like there was a war at some point and people forgot to rebuild. For a country that had started it all, it felt like it was somehow left behind in all the rush and happiness around the Arab Spring. It felt as if it was stuck in an era slightly beyond what I was used to.
I.AM.SO.GLAD.THAT.WE.DID.AN.ALL.INCLUSIVE.PACKAGE. Can you tell my excitement? I think being in a foreign country, especially one where one doesn’t fluently speak the two most spoken languages, nothing is as important as taking the stress away from everyday menial tasks like finding a restaurant or working out your own activities when you could have someone else do it for you. Our hotel was lovely and perched on a lovely part of the seaside town. Shout to Hammamet!!! We got a massively great deal because it was off season for Tunisian beaches so what is normally a 1000 pax hotel was really filled to a quarter of the capacity. Everyone kind of knew us by the second day which was also rather lovely. We ensured that we did not do too much as we really wanted to plan for the year, write out our goals and plan our yearly travel schedule etc. What I didn’t realize and appreciate was really the fact that all inclusive meant…all of the G&T’s and wine we could drink…which would have been AMAZING if it were not for the fact that one of us was sick for each of the days we were there. Brendan had had a flu for the first two or three days which he then passed on to me – can you say a waste of an all-inclusive package? I have never appreciated the value of medicine till this trip. The hotel staff was super helpful, but there’s nothing harder than knowing what you need to get for the flu and realizing there is no equivalent…even struggling to explain it in Arabic/French. So here we were trying to make do with what we could find in the local pharmacy… We had a couple of days where we both rallied and managed to get a couple of clear non-flu activities in.
So after this amazing trip that I was supposed to be on a budget on (and I really do think we succeeded), what are some of my dos and donts to ensure you actually keep to a proper budget? I thought you’d never ask. Case and point below please. Also, these are not prescriptive…Some may work for you and some may be difficult to stick to, but these ensured we roughly stuck to it.
- Do: Opt for an all-inclusive package where possible, this gives you the flexibility to go out and find activities but lifts the pressure because most hotels will cater for all of your meals including snacks and as we learned also have nightly activities to keep you entertained. I did not hit up karaoke every day, but it was nice to know that we had the option
- Do: Decide on what activities you want to do ahead of time as these are not included in the ‘all inclusive’ prize- they’re essentially where the hotels make most of their money. So, we opted for a balance. We stayed away from the touristy stuff – insert another market where I was going to buy more trinkets that I wasn’t going to use but probably sell off the next time we move to a new house. We opted to avoid Tunis the capital on this trip (we also have our collective flu to thank for that). We went to the Amphitheatre of El Jem as one of our activities and it was amazing – A ton of movies were shot there and you really felt like you were walking through history
- Do: Find a few activities that you can do yourself without a tour guide. If you have a general understanding of how much things are generally supposed to cost this is a great option as you look less touristy and of course no one will try and charge you tourist prices
- Do: Find a few local restaurants so you can try something new and not pay exorbitant hotel/ Europe prices. This worked a treat for us, and we had some amazing local wine and fish. It definitely didn’t cost at much as the French 5 star restaurant we went to later in the week – This was not by choice (Rolls eyes, we were doing so well on this #TravellingOnABudget mission till then)
- Don’t: Overpack your schedule, more activities obviously mean more money and very often you end up not really enjoying it because you’re so tired from the days/weeks activities. There’s nothing worse than needing a holiday from your holiday
- Do: Be very specific with hotel staff when you ask for a restaurant recommendation. One of our only boos boos on this budget mission was asking for a recommendation of a restaurant with a view…but still local… Ofcourse they recommended a place which had quite few ‘locals’ – read foreigners who live locally and costs twice the amount of money of a restaurant in London. You live and you learn! We ended up enjoying it but it put a dent on our budget!
- Do: Ensure that your hotel has some free amenities… for us that was staying at a beach resort and having the beach be a 2 minute walk away and having a heated pool because the weather was definitely playing games and it was not in the early 20s they promised…so we could solo mission
- Do: spoil yourselffff. Yes, I will get crucified for this but like budgeting for life its uber important to spoil yourself. It makes all the saving worth it and having at least one leisure activity makes you feel like its worth it. So for us it was a Tunisian spa day, for you it may be that market shopping day! Balance is crucial always!!!!
- Don’t: Succumb to the pressure! We all have varying budgets and want different things from holidays. If you completely base your budget / holiday on what you see on the internet, (read: Instagram) you will end up spending way more than you can afford. What usually works is what feels right to your pocket. I tend to always have a balance of a few more ‘splurge’ worthy holidays and more – ‘we will find all of the deals even if it kills us’ holidays. Find whats right for you!
So if someone was to ask me if I could holiday on a budget, my answer would be ofcourse… are we talking GBP400 or GBP4000? What budget are we really playing with? Seriously though – there are so many little things / tips you can incorporate on all your travels that can ensure than you’re keeping your spending within reason whilst having a great time and making some amazing memories! Choose your budget and find the right tools to support those!
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