story | Pham Le Vi, News Editor
photo | Rachel Juay
Sri Lanka, North Korea, Iran. These are just some of the countries Coco Cao ’19 has been to alone in the past year. Last semester, she went off for a beach retreat in Batam for reading week. During summer, she was in Turkey (during the coup no less). This recess week, she jetted off to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, for a six-day holiday, spending only a grand total of SGD214 on flight tickets and accommodation. In this article, The Octant explores different ways to travel the world on a student budget.
In Pursuit of the Cheapest Flight Tickets
“I generally don’t have a specific destination,” Cao says. Instead, she regularly checks the websites of major budget airlines (Tigerair, Scoot, AirAsia) for discounts and chooses from the locations offered. This recess week, she chose AirAsia’s flight to Yogyakarta for SGD178. So, if you’re exploring Southeast Asia, rather than fixing on your destination, be flexible and see where your stingy wallets lead you.
However, if you have a specific destination in mind or are venturing further away, Google Flights is a quick and easy way to start. Google Flights scours a host of airline websites and online booking agents to collate a list of flights for you. It also suggests alternative arrival and departure dates with lower ticket prices. Once you have selected your flight, Google Flights will link you to a list of websites where you can purchase your ticket.
You can also book your ticket directly from online booking agents such as Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak and CheapoAir. One advantage to this is that you can get discounts on your hotel or hostel in your destination city.
Another option is Cleverlayover which helps you search for two roundtrip tickets from non-partner airlines to find the cheapest flights. This is especially useful for longer flights and less popular destinations.
However, with so many options, how do you know which one to choose? The Octant does a short test to see which website offers the cheapest prices for flights on our move-out date. Prices are accurate as of 9 October.
Singapore to London, UK, Dec. 5–Jan. 8
Singapore to Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 5–Dec. 22
|China Eastern Airlines
|Tigerair & Thai Airways
|China Eastern Airlines
Although Expedia owns Travelocity, the websites occasionally offer different prices. Alexia Davidson ’19 prefers to use Travelocity to book her flights between Jamaica to Singapore each semester. This semester, she managed to find a roundtrip Singapore Airlines ticket from Miami to Singapore for a mere SGD1503 (USD1049).
For a more exotic location—Singapore to Santiago, Chile, Dec. 5–Dec.22
There is no clear winner. While Google Flights and Expedia are more well-known and easy to use, this short search shows that they are generally more expensive as well. Often, we tend to stick to one website when searching for plane tickets. However, if you really want to save, you have to take time to research.
Hunting for Accommodation
According to Cao, while Airbnb offers cheaper accommodation options in more developed countries where the usual hostel prices are more costly, this is not the case for Southeast Asia. “The minimum rate on Airbnb is generally more expensive than the usual hostel price in Southeast Asia,” Cao says. Thus, she uses Agoda to search for accommodation in Southeast Asia. She adds that it is cheaper to book hostels or hotels on their own page instead of through an intermediary website.
There is also the option of Couchsurfing; it is free but risky, especially if you’re travelling alone. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it though. Research your host thoroughly and read all comments about them. Cao recommends you choose a family as your host as it is generally safer.
But if you’d prefer to play it safe, stick to the basics: Airbnb, Agoda and HostelWorld.
Befriending the Locals
Cao also recommends you befriend the locals. Make friends and save costs. Locals are a valuable source of information; they know the best locations for food and shopping and the places to avoid —which is especially important if you’re going to a country that is not as safe.
“When I was younger and more naive,” Cao says, “I read Trip Advisor and then I realised [the places recommended there] were overpriced.” So now, if she is Couchsurfing or staying with a host family on Airbnb, she will get to know them and find out more about the place.
“Be friendly, be open-minded, be accepting of new stuff,” Cao says. “Don’t guard yourself too much,” Cao says. People can tell.
Besides, we travel to open our hearts and minds so closing yourself off just defeats the purpose.
One last thing … if you’re travelling alone
During your years here at Yale-NUS College, you may find yourself needing to travel alone. Maybe you got a summer school abroad but no one you know is going. Maybe, you really want to explore a country but none of your flaky friends can make up their minds to join you.
“I would say [travelling alone] is a double-edged sword,” Cao says. She admits that it can be dangerous to be alone in a foreign country and unable to speak the language. But at the same, she has also found that people are willing to help a young traveller on the road alone. Hence, she advises you not to over-worry since that would ruin your travel experience.
Still, “you should have the mental preparation that things might happen so that when things happen, you don’t panic,” Cao adds. And don’t be afraid to seek help.
“Don’t feel that [not knowing the language] is a barrier to getting help,” Cao says. “And people will help you. Even if they cannot do anything, as long as there’s enough attention from passersby, that [suspicious] person will not dare do anything to you.”
Don’t be put off by the risks of travelling alone and give it a chance.