Posts tagged “Money-saving tips

How to save money on your South American trip

Many people might rule out a holiday in South America on the grounds that it is too expensive, but there are ways to save money and make that dream trip an affordable reality. Here’s what you need to know:

Book independently

Tour operator prices to Latin America are often prohibitively expensive. Although some operators offer good value, such as Llama Travel and Journey Latin America’s value range, typical tour prices are high. Unpackage your trip and book it yourself. Get decent insurance and make sure that your Transatlantic flights aren’t going to be affected by a cancelled or delayed short haul connection by purchasing all legs as a through ticket. Don’t be tempted to book airport transfers or tours in advance for the popular destinations as you’ll pay a premium and it’s simple to arrange these on arrival.

Llama feeding in the village of Toconao

Llama feeding in the village of Toconao

Book your trip for shoulder season

Peak period flights to South America are expensive, there’s no getting round it. But if you can be flexible with your dates, then it is possible to slash the cost of your Transatlantic fare. For example, travelling in the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) can reduce prices significantly. Don’t rule out the southern hemisphere winter. Air France flights from London to Lima last June were on sale for a little over £500 (compared to over £1000 in August) and if your planned destination is up in the Andes such as Cusco in Peru or San Pedro de Atacama in Chile then it will be dry and sunny during the daytime – just pack a thick fleece and jacket for the evenings.

Don’t assume the European route will be the cheapest

There are few direct flights to Latin America, meaning demand often outstrips supply which pushes the prices up. Use a flight comparison website to see which routes are cheapest for the dates you wish to travel; many people consider the US and European hubs such as Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid, but there are often deals to be had to west coast destinations via Brazil or Argentina with LATAM. At the time of writing, LAN were offering return fares to Rio for £419. If you’re on a really tight budget but have bags of time, you could consider reaching your final destination overland from Rio or Buenos Aires.

Hubbing through Buenos Aires could save you a packet

Hubbing through Buenos Aires could save you a packet

Do your homework on internal flights

Sometimes, overnight buses provide a cheap and surprisingly comfortable alternative to flying. Many large bus companies in Latin America offer cama or semi-cama seating – large spacious seats which recline far enough for you to have a good night’s sleep. Stick to a reputable operator which will use two drivers and ensure they are drug-tested and safe to go behind the wheel. Try Cruz del Sur, for example, between Arequipa and Cusco. If you do need to fly, check the terms and conditions before purchasing. LAN offers sizeable discounts on its internal flights in Chile if you book from a Chilean website (use free software such as Tor) or via a Chilean travel agent – and you don’t have to be Chilean national to take advantage of them. This isn’t the case for all countries; in Argentina, discounted prices are for nationals only.

Valle de la Luna, Chile

Valle de la Luna, Chile

Don’t rule out hostels and guest houses

Private rooms in hostels increasingly come with private bathrooms and can be a fraction of the cost of a similar quality hotel room. They’re also a good way to meet other like-minded travellers who might be willing to split the cost of tours with you. Use a reliable website such as Booking.com or Hostelbookers.com to fix up your accommodation in advance – use the free cancellation option, monitoring prices so you can cancel and rebook if prices fall before you leave. Check locations carefully so that you are within walking distance of transport operators or the attractions you want to visit.

Package up tours

If you do decide to book tours, some operators will bundle up different day and half-day excursions offering a discount for cash. If you’re booking for the next few days ahead, they’ll be keen to fill their minibus and will want to make sure you don’t take your business elsewhere. This works well where it’s normal to take tours rather than use public transport to visit sites of interest, such as the Sacred Valley near Cusco and Los Flamencos National Reserve in the Chilean Atacama.

Inti Raymi celebrations take place in Cusco each June

Inti Raymi celebrations take place in Cusco each June

Consider self-drive

In Chilean Patagonia, accommodation providers in the Torres del Paine National Park offered expensive all-inclusive packages. Self-drive from Punta Arenas (four hours) or Puerto Natales (one hour) and drive yourself round the park. Stock up at the supermarket in Puerto Natales for provisions to save buying expensive box lunches from the hotel (and make sure you have a full tank of petrol). The maps and information provided by the visitor centre are excellent and you won’t have wasted money on a guide.

The Torres del Paine National Park

The Torres del Paine National Park

Tips for getting the best out of a trip to New York City

There’s so much to see in the Big Apple so making sense of it all as a first time visitor can be daunting.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

Use the subway

Getting around in New York’s traffic can be hell so why waste your precious time sitting in traffic?  Instead take the subway.  A one week MetroCard costs $30 plus a $1 fee to buy the card.  Tip: save your card and take it with you on your next holiday – the card is reusable.  Standard fare per journey is $2.75 so you don’t have to use it much over a week to get your money’s worth.  Check out the MTA tourist’s guide here: http://web.mta.info/metrocard/tourism/index.html.

Essex Street subway station

Essex Street subway station

Both JFK and Newark airports, serving UK carriers, are located out of Manhattan – JFK is out in Queens and Newark is over in New Jersey.  Both take a similar amount of time to reach.  If you are offered a coach or shuttle connection to the airport as part of a package, think carefully as to whether to take it – journey times are often double that of the subway or Long Island Rail Road, especially at rush hour.  Note that if you take the subway or LIRR to JFK you’ll need to connect to the AirTrain which requires an extra ticket (a $5 fare).  In the city, look to see whether you can take an express train; for longer journeys (e.g. Upper West Side to Battery Park) these can be considerably quicker.  But at busy periods, you might have a better chance of getting a seat (or even getting on!) if you take the local.  Print off a map from http://web.mta.info/maps/submap.html or download a free app so that you can ensure you don’t go whizzing past your stop.

See NYC’s museums and attractions free of charge

Time your visit right and you could save a ton of money.  Many of New York’s premier attractions offer free entry at particular times of the week, so before you consider buying a tourist pass, work out which attractions you want to visit and when you can see them for nothing.  For example, up in the Bronx, the Zoo offers free entry on a Wednesday, though some exhibits charge an additional fee, such as the excellent Congo Gorilla Forest.

Bears playing in the Bronx Zoo

Bears playing in the Bronx Zoo

The nearby Botanical Gardens offers free entry on the same day, so combining the two makes sense.  The city’s top museums are also free some of the time – try the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on Tuesdays after 5pm (reservations recommended) and the Museum of Modern Art between 4 and 8pm every Friday.  For a fuller list, check out http://www.nycgo.com/articles/free-nyc-museums and double check things haven’t changed just prior to your visit.

Go local and eat at a food cart

Some of the best food in New York can be found at the city’s food trucks.  Famous burger chain Shake Shack started from a cart in Madison Square Park back in 2000.

Shake Shack, near the Brooklyn Bridge

Shake Shack, near the Brooklyn Bridge

No matter what your favourite type of food, there’s a truck to suit.  Try Calexico, a Cal-Mex eatery with a range of restaurant locations and carts scattered across lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, including the Flat Iron and SoHo.  Schnitzel and Things brings an American twist to German food and again shifts from place to place; follow them at http://www.schnitzelandthings.com/ to find out whether they’ll be near you.  If you’d rather try something from the US, then I have a couple of recommendations.  Shorty’s on Wheels is the mobile offering from Philly cheesesteak provider Shorty’s – check out its website http://www.shortysnyc.com/truck-schedule.php for the week’s locations as the vehicle moves on a daily basis.  Luke’s Lobster have a number of restaurants scattered across the city bringing a taste of New England (think clam chowder, crab and lobster rolls) but they go mobile via the Nauti Mobile.  Find them here: http://lukeslobster.com/nauti and check out their scrumptious menu.

Get off Manhattan

There’s so much to do and see that it is tempting to limit yourself to Manhattan, but that would be a pity.  On a summer’s weekend, there are few places better than Governor’s Island.  Take the ferry from southern Manhattan, rent a bicycle and enjoy fabulous views of the New York skyline from two wheels without having to worry about traffic.  Over in Brooklyn, the neighbourhood of Williamsburg contains a clutch of great shops (and eateries) centred on Bedford Avenue including the Goorin Bros. hat shop, the Bedford Cheese Shop and the delightful Red Pearl, a boutique selling clothes, jewellery and gifts: http://shop.redpearlbrooklyn.com/.  If you have enough time to venture further afield, take a Metro North train out of Grand Central and visit the quaint town of Rye or, a little further on, Old Greenwich, one of Connecticut’s prettiest little towns and home to the Sweet Pea’s Baking Company: http://sweetpeasct.com/.

Sweet Pea's Baking Co, Old Greenwich

Sweet Pea’s Baking Co, Old Greenwich

Kindle guide to Cusco now available to download at Unanchor.com & on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that my latest Kindle guide is now available to download. It’s a five day itinerary covering the best of Cusco and the Sacred Valley and you can purchase it now on Unanchor’s website here:


It is also available on Amazon here:


There’s a free sample on Amazon, so why not download it and perhaps write a review?

Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is Peru’s top visitor destination. Around two million foreign visitors travel to this part of South America annually, with numbers steadily growing year on year. Aside from nearby Machu Picchu, the jewel in Peru’s tourist crown by some considerable margin, there are enough historic and cultural attractions in the Cusco area to keep visitors occupied for weeks.

Alpacas are a common sight in the countryside around Cusco

Alpacas are a common sight in the countryside around Cusco

Cusco, with its colonial architecture set around characterful squares, warrants a whole trip in itself. The historic city is centred on the bustling Plaza de Armas. The imposing cathedral and its tiny neighbour, the Iglesia del Triunfo, face off against the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, built by the Jesuits to rival their Catholic counterpart. The most important temple of the Inca Empire, Koricancha, occupies a prime location on Avenida El Sol, just a short walk from the plaza. Neighbourhoods such as San Blas, with steep cobbled streets packed with cafes, bars and galleries, have much to delight tourists. Higher still, exploring the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, with its enormous blocks of stone and impressive Inca engineering, is a must on every visitor’s itinerary.

Inti Raymi celebrations take place each June

Inti Raymi celebrations take place each June

But that’s not all. Cusco is a short drive away from the Sacred Valley, crammed full of Inca archaeological sites amidst stunning highland scenery. The agricultural terraces and storehouses of Ollantaytambo offer a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of the Incas. The valley is settled and farmed to this day and the bustling markets at Pisac and Chinchero draw thousands seeking the perfect souvenir to take home.

Chinchero market

Chinchero market

Therein lies the problem: there’s so much to see that careful planning is essential. Knowing what to leave out and what not to miss is crucial to making the best of your time here. Lesser known attractions such as the circular terraces of the Inca’s agricultural laboratory at Moray or the incredible salt pans, the Salineras de Maras, are often overlooked as the tour buses hurtle past on their way to the big attractions.

Salt production near Maras

Salt production near Maras

That’s where this guide comes in. I’ve visited Cusco and the Sacred Valley on numerous occasions spanning a period of twenty years, most recently in 2014. This tailor-made itinerary explains how to dodge the crowds and see the best of the area without relying on expensive tours. It offers recommendations for accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets as well as detailing the best places to eat. Day by day plans with clear maps and photographs make navigating on foot and by public transport simple, giving you the confidence to step out on your own.

Nine tips to save money on flights – and one to avoid!

Flight costs often represent a big chunk of your holiday budget but there are ways for the savvy traveller to save money.  Here’s how to free up more cash for your holiday.

How to save money when you fly

Book early

Airlines are keen to lock you in to a date and offer enticing early bird fares. Once sold, prices are likely to go up (though this isn’t guaranteed!)  If you are certain about when you will travel – a birthday celebration perhaps or fixed school term dates – then it is worth booking in advance.  It also has the advantage of spreading the cost of the trip over a period of time compared to the shock of a large bill from a tour operator a couple of months before departure.  Scheduled flights become available about 11 months before you fly, while some budget airlines, such as the US carrier Southwest, publish the date flights will be released for the new season on their websites. Make sure you take out travel insurance to be sure you’re covered in the event something doesn’t go according to plan.

Sign up for offers

For UK budget airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, the easiest way to keep abreast of the schedules is to sign up for their email newsletter. These will regularly send you details of special sales, release dates for particular routes and new destinations.  Follow your preferred carriers on Facebook and other social networking sites to be the first to be notified of their latest promotions.  It’s also worth looking at the news and media sections of airline websites to get wind of what’s coming up.

Fly indirect

It’s not everyone’s idea of fun to spend some of their precious holiday stuck in an airport waiting lounge. That said, the savings to be had from an indirect flight can be too tempting to resist.  Use an online agent like Opodo or Expedia to compare the savings on your chosen route or by mixing airlines.  Be careful of very long layovers as the cost of booking an airport hotel could negate the savings you’ve just made.  Using indirect flights with long daytime layovers can be a good way of seeing a city knowing that your luggage is safely checked ready for the second flight. Some airports such as Singapore Changi even offer free trips for eligible passengers. Make sure you’ve checked the visa requirements if you’re planning to sightsee along the way.

Look for alternative destinations

Horror stories abound in the media of airlines that deposit their unwitting passengers at obscure airports far from their intended destinations. It is possible, however, to make this work for you rather than against you.  Travelling from an alternative airport can not only save you money, but it can also save you time.  Factor in journey times, rail fares, airport parking and the availability of public transport at your destination to get an overall price rather than the basic flight price.  Don’t dismiss a smaller airport until you’ve scrutinised the schedule; you might find an indirect flight is still quicker than travelling to a larger hub such as Heathrow.

Shop around for the best baggage allowance

Depending on how long you are away for and what kind of gear you need to take, the cost of transporting your belongings varies enormously between airlines. Think seriously about hand baggage only fares; some airlines offer generous cabin baggage allowances and some hotels provide many of the products you might be thinking of carrying with you.  Check websites and email hotels in advance to make sure you only take what you need.  If you really can’t leave the suitcase behind, compare airline baggage fees to ensure you choose the cheapest option. Often headline “deals” don’t include baggage fees.

Choose when you fly

Midweek fares tend to be better value than weekend to weekend deals as many people like to take their holiday in complete weeks. If you are going away for a weekend, look for Saturday to Monday flights rather than Friday to Sunday.  Hotel room rates are often lowest on a Sunday night giving you further savings.  Think about whether you can travel on the early or very late flights; if you’re not tied to public transport these may offer considerable savings on the more convenient middle of the day departures.  Even the time of day that you search for flights might be a factor; some people say that booking late at night throws up better deals than if you surf at peak times.  It’s anecdotal rather than based on scientific fact but it can’t hurt to try.

Travel in the shoulder seasons

It’s worth doing your homework on the weather. Missing the peak months doesn’t have to mean missing out on sunshine.  Consider travelling in September for the Med or in winter for a city-break.  Temperatures in Australia are much more conducive to sightseeing in the Antipodean winter – and it’s dry season up in the north too.  Try the Caribbean in November or May; check out historic hurricane data to make an educated guess at which islands are least likely to get a direct hit if you want to visit between August and October.

Travel outside festival times

Depending on how badly you want to celebrate, you might consider flying out or back on a public holiday. Returning on New Year’s Eve rather than after the hangovers have lifted can save you money and you’ll be able to party back home with your friends instead of strangers.

Consider alternative methods of transport

Depending on the journey you wish to make, it might be a realistic alternative to take an overnight sleeper train or take your car on the ferry. Booking well ahead is just as important on popular train routes, such as Eurostar, as it is with flights but you have the added advantage of arriving in the centre of the city rather than a long taxi ride away on its outskirts.  Some long distance bus companies offer one dollar fares if you book sufficiently early – and it is possible to get hold of them.

And one to avoid…

There’s one tip for saving money on flights that could actually cost you a small fortune. Taxes vary from airport to airport, meaning that the long-haul savings travelling from Paris or Amsterdam could be significant compared to, say, Heathrow.  However, don’t be tempted to use a different airline to cover the first leg on a separate ticket.  If that flight is delayed or cancelled and you miss your second leg, the second airline is under no obligation to honour your ticket and you could be left considerably out of pocket.