10 Super Useful Travel Hacks for Independent Travellers

How to save money, eat like a local and get off the tourist map.  
Go beyond the usual tourist traps when you travel with our guide. Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Over three years ago, when I quit my corporate job for a life on the road, I knew the challenge I was up against. I wanted to travel in comfort, experience the local way of life and stay in truly unique places – and yet stretch my earnings on-the-go as much as possible.

Relentless research, connecting with fellow travellers and tips from my social networks have helped me find the best resources to make the most of my travel. Here are my top 10 tips:

#1. Book fully refundable hotels for visa applications

On an Indian passport, visa applications for most countries in the world have a classic dilemma: you need to book and show proof of accommodation before you even receive your visa. I usually find it too early to plan my trip and too risky to pay for my accommodation before my visa is approved. Luckily for us, Booking.com offers a wide range of fully refundable hotels that can be reserved using a credit or debit card, and bookings (depending on the individual terms of each hotel) can usually be cancelled without any charges up to one week before the date of travel. It’s a perfect DIY way to score your visa without the risk of losing money.

#2. Stay with locals in innovative homes and local neighbourhoods

I was hooked to Airbnb when I found a solar-powered studio designed by a French artist, perched above the stunning Lake Atitlan and its active volcanoes, on my trip to Guatemala – for only ₹1,600 a night! I’ve stayed in off-the-grid homes, private islands, organic farms and artistic houses in local neighborhoods using Airbnb, which offer far richer experiences and value for money than regular hotels. You can even sleep in a beer barrel in Germany or in Charles Dickens’ former apartment in London!


Via Airbnb, you can sleep in a 19th-century barrel that was used until 1995. Photo: Dirk/Airbnb

#3. Follow travel brands on Facebook and Twitter

I started connecting with travel brands on social media as part of my work, back when I still had a full-time corporate job. I soon realised that it is the best way to track flight and accommodation sales and deals that can save you a fortune in travel costs, as well as keep a tab on travel contests. I won my first trip to Europe from Malaysia (I lived in Singapore then) in a contest on AirAsia’s Facebook page, and haven’t stopped trying my luck in contests since! The odds might be against you, but it takes only one entry to get lucky.

#4. Be flexible when finding the cheapest flights

Over the years, I’ve learnt that it is possible to save thousands of rupees on flights, especially to and within international destinations. If your plans are flexible, start with an exploratory research on Google Flights; enter only your departure location to screen out the most economical outbound options, and scroll through the monthly graph to find the lowest fare each month. You can also do the latter for domestic flights within India using the Cleartrip Calendar. Many airline-booking engines track cookies and show higher prices each time you search the same route, so be sure to clear cookies before you’re ready to book.

#5. Know where to find vegetarian/vegan food when you travel

Having slow-travelled across several countries, I’m often asked about the challenges of being a travelling vegetarian. I find it useful to know the names of ingredients in the local language so as to customise my order, but easier than that is researching vegetarian and vegan (no eggs, no dairy) restaurants online. HappyCow is my go-to resource – a community website spanning the entire world, which lists vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants along with reviews of past diners. It is how I’ve discovered delicious local vegetarian food in Turkey, Romania, Spain, Germany and other meat-loving countries.

#6. Save money with incentive-based travel concepts

An economics case study compared airline loyalty versus booking the cheapest available airfare every time, and found that the latter saves money in the long run. While I use that logic when I’m booking flights, I’ve been saving a ton of money using incentive-based travel concepts. Besides offering the highest value for money in most Western countries, Booking.com also offers a 10 per cent Genius discount for loyal users. Similarly, each time someone signs up on Airbnb with your member referral link, you both get a credit of US$25.

#7. Have a meal at the home of a local chef


Choose from a range of meal and cooking interactions via platforms like EatWith. Photo courtesy EatWith

As a vegetarian foodie with experimental taste buds, I’m always on the lookout for food experiences that use local produce and flavours in innovative ways – and I was delighted to discover EatWith on my recent trip to New York. The platform features local chefs in over 150 cities, who open up their dining rooms for home-cooked meals. You can find an offering of your choice, indicate your dietary restrictions, and join fellow travellers for a communal meal. I chose to dine with a Jewish couple – as much a cultural experience, complete with Hebrew prayers to bless the wine and challah (braided Jewish bread) – as a culinary one.

#8. Ask a traveller

Google has a wealth of travel information, but nothing is more valuable than the personal experiences, impressions and tips of someone who has travelled to a place before you. Planning services like ThinkPlaces and Planmy.travel connect you with travel experts across the world over Skype or email, to help you score local tips and plan themed trips, for a small fee. A basic Google search can also throw up relevant travel blogs, authors of which are usually accessible on their social networks to answer questions about destinations they’ve travelled to in the past. I personally value reviews by past travellers over guidebooks that often offer outdated information.

#9. Compare and buy travel insurance when you go abroad

When an unexpected water accident in Mauritius set me back a few thousand rupees, I realized the importance of buying travel insurance while traveling abroad, whether your visa application demands it or not. Insurance Pandit aggregates India-based travel insurance policies across credible vendors in an easy-to-compare manner, and instantly delivers an e-policy over email upon payment. Remember that you need to purchase one before you set out of the country.

#10. Give or ask for the gift of travel

As someone who carries all her possessions in a single backpack and hates accumulating unnecessary things, I’ve found the perfect way to receive (and give) presents – Tinggly, a gift collection priced at $125 (₹7,500), each of which entitles you to one travel experience in any part of the world. So instead of stacking your (or some newlyweds’) shelves with antiques, you could be filling your (or someone else’s) memory with the thrill of canyon-jumping in Mexico, hiking in the Western Ghats of India, or whale-watching in Iceland!


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    Shivya Nath quit her corporate job for a nomadic life over three years ago. She has hitchhiked through northern Romania, lived in a nunnery in Ladakh and boarded down a volcano in Nicaragua. She tweets as @shivya.

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