Tip: Check out your options

I’ve not posted much on here recently as I’ve not one a lot of travelling since I got back last summer. However, I’m trying to organise some things for Easter and summer and thought I’d pop another “Tip” post up.

This really applies to you if you’ve got a bit of spare time around the dates your travelling and it can be a way of spending less, or getting more for your money.

As an example, I’m trying to get to Warsaw for the Sonisphere festival on June 16th. I have a few days spare beforehand and need to be in Warsaw itself for the 15th. Presently I’m staying in Glasgow though my folks live in Perth.

My first stop is usually SkyScanner. It’s a great way to check for flights between various destinations, including direct and indirect flights. One bonus is being able to name just a city or even a country and letting the search engine check flight prices for all departure or arrival airports in that area.

In my case, it would be far cheaper to fly out of Liverpool, Leeds/Bradford or Edinburgh than Glasgow. Another alternative is Heathrow. Pricier, but the only one not using RyanAir – so the price quoted is the price charged without any crap about bags, booking fees and needing the loo. I’d also get a snack or meal. The downside? A late arrival time in Warsaw.

Next flight down is with LOT and for a pound more, I depart late morning and arrive early afternoon. Plenty of time to find where I’m staying and enjoy the rest of the day.

Things to bear in mind, then, as far as flights are concerned:

  • You will need to check in around 2 hours before you fly. This is why I ruled out some of the cheaper flights. Departing at 6:45am means being at the airport before 5am. The only way you’ll manage this is with a taxi or by inconveniencing friends. Factor this into your costs. Similarly, late arrival times.
  • Provincial airports are often out in the sticks (or even in other countries…). Flying to Frankfurt? It takes 20 mins and a couple of Euros to get into the city. Flying to Frankfurt Hahn? €25 (if I recall correctly) and 2 hours.
  • Don’t forget the additional costs for baggage, check-in options, credit card fees, sports equipment, priority boarding, meals and so forth. These can easily raise the price of a flight on a budget airline above those of a non-budget.

So, what else can you do? Well, let’s say that I could save £40 by flying from Heathrow. If I book at the right time I can fly or get the train to London for under £20. I have friends there I can stay with and it’s always nice to see them. Given the extra time I do have available then a weekend catching up is worth the time – and the £20 I save would be well spent at the pub.

Often it will cost you a little extra to go out of the way once you factor in the additional costs – but is it worth it?

For instance, it’s cheaper to fly to Krakow than Warsaw from a lot of airports. There’s a regular train from Krakow to the capital which takes around 3-4 hours. If I had the time (I do) and hadn’t already been there (I have) then that would be an excellent option – fly out a day or so earlier and sightsee in Krakow before hopping on the train.

OK, I’ll be spending money on a train and a hostel (unless I couchsurf) but I’ll be seeing another lovely city. Again, likely back up to the price of the flight direct to Warsaw… but better value for my money.

Don’t limit yourself to “departure … destination”. Look into all the options. Work out what you’d be getting for extra cash you spend or where you can tweak your itinerary to get an extra day somewhere, or travel along a recommended route.

Sure, this is a simple example. But throw in the low-cost transport options around Southeast Asia, for instance, and you can really cram more in than you expected. Eastern Europe, also, has very affordable and easily booked rail and bus links.

Don’t stare too hard at the simple things. Make the most of your time and budget!

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Tip: cheap bus tickets (UK)

I just booked a ticket through National Express and spotted a way to get cheaper tickets (half price or less) depending on where you’re going. They currently offer what they call “funfare” prices on certain routes. The one I looked at was Cambridge to London. However, it’s quicker to get a bus to Stratford (halfway roughly) then then catch a tube the rest of the way.

However, Cambridge to London qualifies for a funfare ticket from £4 to £6 (normally £10 upwards). Cambridge to Stratford is £10.30 with no cheap options. What’s important, though, is that you can purchase the longer distance ticket – for less money – and hop off the bus early. This is allowed by the terms and conditions as long as you tell the driver when boarding to ensure your luggage is stowed conveniently.

So when booking a National Express ticket, if you’re planning to disembark partway along a major route then you should check the price for the full route and see if it’s cheaper than the segment you’re doing.

This correct at time of writing. I’m sure their offers change all the time.

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Back in Belgium

I woke at a reasonable hour and made sure I was all packed up. I had time to do a quick email check and get breakfast before I had to walk over the road to the hauptbahnhof for my coach to Brussels. Hans was already there doing the tourist thing and we’d agreed to meet up for a drink in the pub with 2004 beers.

At 10:30, I was on time for check-in on the coach. Here’s a warning… Eurolines are OK. But despite booking through them, I was on a “Euro Buses” (I think) coach instead. As a result, I had to pay an extra Euro for my rucksack. When I complained, the driver got out a battered A4 sheet stapled to some card with the details of the luggage charge in three languages – none of them English.

Bizarre thing is that I swear this has happened to me before. Something similar happened when Hans and I were ripped off by a taxi driver and his mate in Mumbai (at least they’d laminated their sheet which they used to fleece us). But I have a niggly memory of being charged for luggage carriage in Europe before. Yeah, it was only a Euro but it’s the principle.

Anyhow, the journey was pleasant enough with some nice weather and scenery. I watched another Dead Zone on my PSP and read some more of my book (Elephant Song by Wilbur Smith – rather good). We passed through a couple of other cities on the way in, including a drop-off in Liége. Which I can tell you is definitely not designed for coaches. Brussels hove into view later than planned due to traffic, but it didn’t feel like I was late.

I walked down to the 2Go4 hostel where I’d stayed last time. In fact, almost exactly a year ago when Marina and I attended last year’s Graspop. As ever, the welcome was warm and the place was clean and busy. I had been lucky to get a bed as Hans had been kind enough to keep badgering them until they assured me a spot due to a cancellation. A very busy hostel and justifiably so.

After dropping my stuff we headed straight out for some food (kebab was quick and easy) and a walk around. We took in the usual touristy stuff like the town hall and the Mannequin Pis. Bizarrely when we got to the little fella having a wee, few people were looking at him. Instead, eyes were focussed on a woman trying to rescue her kitten from a window ledge.

Lowering a basket with food in only succeeded in having the cat tip the basket over, pinch the food and eat it on the ledge. D’oh. Eventually he found another open window and – I hope – would have been found by office staff the next day.

Walking back towards the town hall, Hans dropped a few cents into the hat of a human statue. “Have a photo!” he shouted, so we did. One each. Cool. Then “Give me two Euros!” resulted in a firm “no” and us walking off.

A word for anyone planning on doing the whole statue thing. If you want money for photos – ask first. Not after. It’s far more polite.

We located the Delirium Bar which serves over 2000 beers and enjoyed a cheeky one each followed by ice cream from an nearby stand. Hans was exhausted as he’d had a couple of early mornings and I wanted to catch the footie so we walked back to the hostel where I got online while he had a snooze. Spain beat Russia to go through to the final, which entailed the entire Spanish population of Brussels driving arond town beeping their damn car horns till the silly hours. Who’d have thought Brussels had so many Spaniards?

Our plans to go out again kind of tailed off when we both realised we were still tired later on. We’d need our strength the next couple of days so had a moderately early night after chatting to our roomies for a while. Tomorrow, Graspop beckoned.

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