Architectural travel on the cheap

From the plane

Gone are the days of cheap travel, I cannot believe how expensive flights and hotels have become.  Not long ago we could get half-way around the world for what now seems like peanuts.  But for us curious explorers we cannot stop traveling and visiting our favorite architectural landmarks so we must find other ways to save. 

Here are my travel budget tips to offset the costs of traveling.

(from a float plane on my way Salmon fishing in the Queen Charlotte Islands, BC)

Do the Research

Before you leave be sure to research the architecture, monuments, museums and towers you plan to visit, jot down the entry fees and compare it to your budget.  If the entry fees are adding up you may need to prioritize (also see 5 TIPS FOR VISITING ARCHITECTURE).  This will be important to help find savings in the tips below.

The Budget

Budgets aren’t my favorite thing either but here is a quick and easy formula:

  1. Start with how much you want or can afford to spend on you trip I would start with that
  2. Subtract all your transportation costs (flights, trains tickets, bus ticket etc.)
  3. Calculate how many days you will need accommodation and do a quick estimate of your average accommodation budget is
  4. You should allow for food and spending money – this is going to vary greatly depending on what country you are going to be.

Remember this is a starting point to make sure things don’t go off track to much, accommodation/ food and spending money is an average number so if one day you are going to a number of monuments but the day after you plan to hang out at the beach it should average out.

Flexibility

When you have flexibility and /or time you can usually find better deals on flights and hotels in the offseason – this will save you money on flights and hotels that you can use towards entry fees and day tours.

We all have to Eat

I am a foodie but sometimes on travels food is fuel and not the main event so what I like to do is try and save money on one meal a day.

Breakfast:  Often I travel with food, a few protein bars or granolar bars because they are easy to transport  or I will go to the market and get some fresh fruit or a treat from the bakery while I am out and about and have that in my hotel room with coffee, if there is a coffee machine in the room.  This is a relaxing and quick way to have breakfast in the morning, often while I review the plan for the day.

Lunch:  if lunch is my money saving meal I will try to have a bigger breakfast and grab a snack on the go midday.  Street food is always my favorite but that will depend on what city you are in. Also if you are having a big breakfast and an early dinner you may skip lunch all together.  If you are close to market grab some fresh fruits and vegetable which are hard to get enough of when traveling.

Istanbul Streetfood 3 Istanbul Streetfood 1 Istanbul Streetfood 2 (variety of street food in Istanbul, Turkey)

Dinner:  this is a bit trickier to save for, but possible, ask your concierge for recommendations and try to stay out of the tourist areas which are normally expensive and not that great.

Some general tips:  If coffee is super pricey, my experience in Tokyo, I have gone to the store and purchased some instant coffee to have in the hotel.

With all these ways to save I do not recommend trying to save a dollar on water.  Drink safe reliable water especially in hot places, if you are in Rome and it is over 40 degrees Celsius it is important to stay hydrated, try grabbing a big bottle of water from the grocery store instead of the stands in front of the Coliseum.

Citypass

Because you have been diligent and done a ton of research prior to your trip you will know which sites you plan to visit and the entry fee prices, but many cities offer a ‘citypass’ (the name of the pass vary from city to city) which basically bundles a bunch of popular city sights for a flat rate.  This is perfect for those who plan to go to enough of the sights on the list.  Many of these value packages offer features such as line-bypass or discounts for other places, stores or shows.  Here are a few examples:

MADRID Tourist Card:  http://www.madridcard.com/en/inicio

TORONTO Citypass:  http://www.citypass.com/toronto

NEW YORK Citypass:  http://www.citypass.com/new-york

BERLIN Welcome Card:  http://www.visitberlin.de/en/welcomecard

To find if the cities you are traveling to have a citypass I typically would Google the city name and the phrase ‘tourist card’, the officially tourist website of the city/country you are going should also have some advertising for it.

Museums

Louvre LensMany Museums and Galleries offer pricing for General Admission, the Temporary Exhibit and typically another price for both.  You can save some money by viewing only the Permanent Collection, it is all new stuff if you have never been there before and if you are really just interested in the architecture you will see the main spaces and most of the building without the up charge on the Temporary Exhibit.

Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

Also try to take advantage of the time where it is free entry, most museums and galleries do offer this so if it works with your schedule try to take advantage but I must warn you it will likely be busy.

louvre-museum

Buy your tickets in advance, sometimes there is a discount for purchasing ahead of time, for some museums and art galleries you need to book a time anyways so I would recommend always looking into this as part of your research.

Tourist Trap

Prada by Herzog & de Meuron Architekten

Prada by Herzog & de Meuron Architekten

Don’t get sucked into the tourist trap of feeling like you need to visit every monument, museum, gallery, ruin and historic something rather which all have entry fees.  Pick and choose which you actually want to go to, perhaps the Arc de Triomphe is awesome enough from the ground floor and you don’t need to go up, the view is pretty cool that was just an example. If you don’t find a bunch of ruins that interesting because history is not your thing you are better to check out an awesome Square or Piazza and have an ice cream or go shopping in some super trendy boutiques.  Don’t feel like you need to hit the top ten listed in some travel guide.

Sleep on the Go

ways_to_sleep

You can save a night’s accommodation if you book an overnight train or flight rather than spending the entire day commuting only to arrive to your destination just to sleep.  If you plan to do this bring a small inflatable pillow, ear plugs or load your iPod with some relaxing white noise, an eye mask and a light blanket.  Be sure to keep you valuables safe, I have sat on top of my passport and money on a few train rides, and try to keep your luggage in easy viewing distance, better a few seats in front of you than behind you.

Discounts

If you are young, a student or a senior you got it made for discounts.  Almost everything offers a discount from public transit to popular landmarks; if it is not advertised ask if there is a discount.  Some reward cards or membership cards offer discounts to hotels and attractions, it’s worth reviewing the offers before booking your trip.

Transportation

Kyoto on BikeTry to walk as much as possible, take public transit or rent a bike over taxis.  You can see the city the best by foot and cover a lot of terrain in a bike.  Do what the locals do to get around, ie:  in Kyoto renting a bike for a few days was perfect, very convenient and flexible, in most cities I take the metro, in Istanbul I saved a ton if money taking the regular commuting ferry up the Bosporus River rather than an expensive tourist cruise, you miss the commentary but the scenery is the same for only a few dollars.

(Kyoto, Japan by bike)

Cash

Try not to exchange money or withdrawal money too frequently, most exchange centers have bad exchange rates and banks can charge fees for each withdrawal (learned this the hard way).  Try to change as much money as you feel comfortable carrying before you leave.  I recommend not keeping all your money in one place no matter how much you have, I always try to have an emergency bill or two tucked somewhere no one would go ie: shoes, bra, sock (gross I know but I would not want to be completely stranded somewhere without even a way to get back to the hotel).   Before you leave it may be worth a quick internet search of where a good place to get cash is or ask your concierge.

Whats Included

It shocks me beyond words that in this day and age free WiFi is not standard in every hotel but many hotels do charge.  It will be beneficial and save you time and money to have free WiFi access with your accommodations, it will be easy to contact friends and family, look up venues you plan to go to, and allows more freedom to change your itinerary and research new things on the fly.

Complimentary breakfast will also save you money if you take full advantage and have a healthy size breakfast you may not to have lunch at all.

More Time – Less Places

Cherry Blossoms

I know I know – there are so many places and so little time but if you cram in too much you won’t enjoy it anyways and be paying to be in an airport, on a train/bus for half your trip.  So stop and smell the roses, it will be easier on your pocket book too.

a happy groupie is an architecture GROUPIE

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One comment

  1. Hi,
    I came across your blog when researching architects’ travel sites and resources. Just to let you know of another way that architects can enjoy “travel on the cheap”: recognizing architects’ love of travel, and their limited means, I launched a home exchange website for architects in May, http://www.ArchitectsHouseExchange.com. I hope architects will use it for weekends, short breaks and vacations, both within their own countries and abroad. We have homes in over 22 countries and hope to get the architectural community traveling again! Look forward to following your own updates.
    Eva
    Eva Byrne, MRIAI

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