Don’t mind me and my poolside photo – I just got back from a couple of weeks in Mexico.
I’ll admit that many margaritas were consumed, as were a wide selection of tortilla-based foods with unlimited guacamole.
I also spent a few days in Los Angeles. If you have to fly in that way, it would be wrong not to stop and sample some of the retail outlets.
So, I came back with a tan, four pairs of sneakers, $50 tracksuit pants from Victoria’s Secret (no regrets – my butt looks amazing in them), and a slightly obscene amount of make-up from Sephora.
What I didn’t come back with was a credit card debt. Well, admittedly, I don’t have a credit card. But the point is, I didn’t slide into debt or even have a major blow-out.
My traveling companion and general partner-in-crime, Gigi, is also a finance nerd, moneysaver, and travels a lot.
So we spent some time on the daybed by the pool, discussing what tips we could share with the Fierce Girl community. There are basically two.
Be flexible on your destination.
Gigi puts it this bluntly: “If you don’t want to spend a lot, don’t go to Western Europe”. Harsh, I know.
But Europe is effing expensive to fly to and to spend time in. And sure, Paris is amazing, but so are thousands of other cities all over the world. (Can I suggest Mexico City for amazing food on the cheap?).
So if you’re at a point where you’re trying to save for something else, or you aren’t earning that much, think very carefully about where you go.
Start by thinking about the particular elements you’re after. Gigi and I picked Mexico through a process of elimination. Argentina was originally our choice, but it’s cold at this time of year. Flying time was an issue – I live in Sydney, Gigi lives in New York – so we needed somewhere that worked for us both.
And then there were the actual activities – we wanted a bit of culture, some relaxing and some shopping. A lot of places tick these boxes. Mexico was one of them – and it was pretty easy on the old wallet.
Someone asked me about going there for Christmas holidays. My answer is that if you just want a resort experience, go to Bali. It’s five hours flying (not 20), it’s cheap, and all you do is sit by the pool and maybe go to the beach.
Many years ago, I dropped a ton of cash on going to Tahiti for my honeymoon, when I could have done basically the same thing in Fiji or Bali. Not a great return on investment.
So, bottom line, think about the actual elements of a holiday that you want, then get creative and curious about where you can get those. Ask people, read blogs, talk to travel agents. There are way more places to holiday than Europe.
Decide which things you’ll throw money at – and won’t
Maybe this sounds obvious – but holy shit, some people are brats about their holidays.
Some insist they will die if they stay in anything less than a 3-star hotel. (I’m ok with a dorm room hostel in a pinch). Other people have to try the best restaurants in a city and can’t stand the thought of eating bread and cheese in the park. Like yeah, we all have our quirks but hold up, you aren’t the Queen of England.
The key is to decide which things mean a lot to you. Why have fancy accommodation if you’re one of those tourists who has to be out, doing stuff for 18 hours out of 24 each day?
Then it’s about finding little ways to cut costs, so that they all add up and you can spend more on the things you like.
Sometimes it takes is a bit of research. For example, Gigi worked out that we could take a nice air-conditioned coach from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen for just US$14. That compared to hiring a driver for upwards of $50. But if we didn’t know that in advance, we would have walked out of the airport and been totally overwhelmed by the choices.
And we chatted to some lovely Scandinavian flight crew at a taco stand in Mexico City, who told us about the super cheap tix to the dance show at the Arts Centre. So talk to strangers too!
The other thing to plan is your shopping. I knew I was buying Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Sephora, because they are great in the US. So I planned that into my spending and didn’t get too dazzled by other stuff.
My hot tip with souvenir-type purchases is to imagine it in your house or wardrobe. I’ve learnt the hard way that some handicrafts and costumes look amazing at the markets, and then you’re stuck lugging around a bloody ceramic platter – and it ends up looking tacky on the dining table at home! So I’m pretty strict with myself now.
Look, I’m no budget travel hacker. There are proper experts out there who do that.
I would just say you need to apply the same mindful spending approach to travel, as you do to everything else.
Spend on some thing, cut corners elsewhere, and remember – posting photos on social media to make people jealous – that is totally free!