The hidden cost of travel

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First published 18th June, 2011

If you've travelled much further than down to the shops for a pint of milk, you'll know extra costs loom on every corner when you're on the road. You've probably learned, the hard way, that one of those "$1 tickets" never costs just one dollar. So with that in mind, here's our guide to making sure you're aware of some of the hidden costs of travel so you keep to your trip budget.


Airline fees

Airlines, especially low cost carriers are notorious for adding all sorts of extra fees onto the ticket. Some are unavoidable (fuel surcharges for example) but others are optional and by skipping them you can save close to $100 on a typical flight.

Assuming you already have travel insurance, you don't need more from the carrier. Dodge the checked bags fee by not checking bags. Skip the preferred seating fee by accepting whatever crummy seat they give you. Avoid the food and drink fees by sneaking on your own, or just don't eat or drink for a few hours. Use a credit card supported by the airline to save extra surcharges for, well, paying for the ticket. Yes, they really have no shame.

Getting to the airport

Airports being located, as they generally are, far out from a city's centre, entrepreneurial souls tend to lie in wait to whisk you there – for a charge. Do a little research in advance to discover the full range of options for getting to and from both your local airport and the destination airport and choose to fly from airports that are cheap and easy to get to – but not if the price to pay is a much more expensive flight.


No charge to queue

Throwing liquids away at security

Don't be caught having to throw away liquids at the airport, just to have to buy them again once you're airside. Liquids include gels, creams, mascara and so on – for most international airports you can only take them in your hand luggage if the container has a capacity of 100ml or less (even if it's not full); they need to be in a clear plastic bag, holding containers with an overall capacity of not more than 1000ml.

This means you should pack all liquids you don't need during the flight into your checked baggage. If you're booked with hand luggage only, buy small travel sizes so that you don't have to throw away what's left when you come home. If you're travelling to somewhere with cheap local prices – in other words, almost anywhere in Southeast Asia – take as little with you as possible and buy everything locally; 7-Eleven stores are overflowing with cheap shampoo, conditioner, cosmetics and so on.

For the liquids you do take on board, bring your own clear plastic bag – while most airports provide these free, some charge.

Eating and drinking on board

Know what to expect on board in terms of refreshments. If you've booked with a low-cost carrier, it's unlikely you'll get any 'free' refreshments, and prices can be steep – so plan ahead. You often can't take hot drinks on-board, but there's nothing to stop you taking your own food (though technically you may be asked not to).


Good luck slipping this on

Get around the liquid restrictions by buying drinks in the airport terminal – though these aren't always cheaper than on the plane itself, and some carriers, notably AirAsia will stop you from taking more than 100ml of water on board - even if you bought it within the airport! Another option is to order your on-board meals when you book your ticket as that will be cheaper than paying in the air.

Getting online

If there's one issue that gets the goat of the online travelling community, it's the cost of accessing the internet while you're away. Plan ahead – if you know you need internet access, pick a hotel or guesthouse that includes it in the cost of the room. Some airports in the region, such as the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Kuala Lumpur, offer free WiFi access.

Don't be surprised if elsewhere you're expected to fork out outrageous amounts for sub-standard speed. Look out for cafés, coffee shops, restaurants – even beach shacks – that offer free internet access. Or just send postcards! Remember them?

Do watch the cost of roaming data charges for your Blackberry or iPhone while you're away – either pick up a local SIM or switch off data roaming for the duration of your trip, as roaming tariffs can get scarily high.

Getting breakfast

Don't assume your room rate includes breakfast. A place that does include breakfast will inevitably be charging more than similar spots where it's not; decide how important it is to you and look for accommodation that suits, comparing the price of rooms with and without breakfast and considering whether you can get breakfast elsewhere for the money you'll save by downgrading.

If breakfast is included, double-check what it is you're getting, whether it's a set size or buffet-style self service, and when it's served – then get up in time so you don't miss it! If it's not included, then so much the better – get yourself out onto the street and eat with the locals.

Insuring yourself

Here's one area where it's just not worth skimping. Yes, it might be an extra cost to add on to everything else you're paying for your trip, but it's one that you'll be grateful for if your flight is delayed, your bags go missing or worse still you end up sick.


Who needs insurance?

That said, shop around for the best deal that meets your needs – Travelfish.org recommends WorldNomads, but they are not the cheapest provider out there. Whoever you do choose, read the small print and make sure you've declared everything relevant to your insurer, so that your policy pays out if you need it to and can prove itself worth the cash you're splashing.

About the author
Chis Wotton divides his time between Europe and Southeast Asia -- especially Thailand. You can follow him on Twitter here or check out his website

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Read 2 comment(s)

  • Good tips. I think it's also good to remember, that if you are using a guidebook, prices may have changed from when it was published. Also, always have contingency funds... you never know when there is a toll that you need to pay (in some countries, the taxi passenger is responsible for paying all road tolls on top of the tariff) or when something else may come up. Also, remember in some countries it is customary to tip, so the price you might see on the menu might be less than what you actually need to pay. Same goes for some taxes like VAT that are added on to the final bill.

    Posted by Ashlee on 19th June, 2011

  • What an exciting travel review! When visiting South Asia everyone should be careful with food and water - all the meals should be eaten right away after the cooking. I have heard that people travelling to Asia have to apply for special kind of insurance. Have you heard something about it? What pitfalls do travelers face in a trip to Asia?

    Posted by Florence Centre Hotel on 5th July, 2011

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