How to get that bang for your travel buck! 3

2 minutes into this blog post, and you may begin to question whether I am a travel blogger or a financial management blogger.

I wouldn’t blame you if you did. But I would subtly remind you that I am the worst person to be taking financial management lessons from, since my ideas mostly work only for myself. Yet they can be modified and used for your own travel plan. And I would even remind you – even more subtly – that continued and sustainable travel is only possible when there is strong financial management skills to back it up.

Why do I even sound like a preacher?

penang malaysia

Give me my money back!! I fight with little street kids for my hard-earned cash. Just so you know.

Well, money is definitely a huge deterrent when it comes to travel, and it is sufficient to say that people need some kind of financial strength before they can travel freely. Well, at least I did. But today, I am not talking about financial strength and weaknesses. Let’s suppose, for the sake of supposing, that you are a  financially stable individual. You have the money to travel, and you don’t necessarily have to worry too much about the green stuff when you decide to take that dream vacation, or that long-awaited sabbatical. But what would definitely have you worried is, how to maximise the worth of that money when you travel? If you are an Indian like me, of course you do think about this from the time you book your flight to the moment you get back home! We are born with the skills to maximise the worth of our rupee, and like Russel Peters famously said, “People may say that Indians are cheap. But what they actually mean is, that Indians are smart!”. Tadaa!
So, lets begin this post by being proud of our ability to look for the Desi jackpot of ‘Paisa vasool’. Or ‘money well-spent’.
The comfort of knowing that money went into good reasons, makes me sleep even on TGV trains in France! Despite a 'famine' over my head.

The comfort of knowing that my money went into good reasons, makes me sleep even on TGV trains in France! Despite a ‘famine’ over my head.

So, you have been recently bitten by the wanderlust, and you are planning your next travel. You are figuring out how to spend your money. Hostels or hotels? Splurge in a little bit of spa? Or maybe do some adventure sports? And what about the food? Streetfood or high-street cuisine? In other words :
How on earth do I spend less, yet get more for what I spend, apart from the obvious choice of flying Lufthansa’s premium economy? (Subtle, I know!)
But what about the most basic question of all: Where are you going to travel to? In a world where YMMV rules are stuck on huge billboards, where can you go, that will give you the most mileage for your money?
Maybe you will follow the masses and head to Paris or Barcelona or Istanbul. Or, maybe you would venture off-the beaten track, and end up in Vanuatu or Timor Leste or Myanmar. So, is there a method to the madness? How do you choose your dream destination, while also making sure that your hard-earned money will be utilised properly to the last cent?
My take on this: hit the median line. Find a fine balance. Walk the midway. Sit through … Ok, I think you get the point.
After struggling with this problem for years and making many, many stupid travel mistakes, I think I have finalised settled down to how I want to plan my travels. And I call this ‘Abhi’s travel index’, until some economist decides to take it up, make it even better, and show me the finger. A simple 5-step method that works for me in overcoming the problem of travel choices, is based on what you would call ‘paisa vasool’ – the Indian notion of getting maximum bang for the buck, with your hard-earned bucks.
And let me break down my method for you:
Important note: I am not an economist, and I learnt more of my economics from Jimmy Wales, than from Adam Smith. So, you should know that I am not an authority on this topic. Not even next-township close. But it works for me. Read, use, follow, change, distribute – all at your own risk. 
Neo, have you Met the ‘Matrix’?
  1. Make a list of all the countries that you want to visit, ranking them for desirability.
  2. Make a list of the purchasing power of the rupee, with against the local currency.
  3. Rank the countries depending on visa availability.
  4. List the consumer price index and groceries price index of the countries in your list.
  5. Assign your weightages arbitrarily, and calculate the total score. Choose the country with the highest score.
  6. Book your tickets!
Wait! What! Why?! Did I lose you there? Lets break it down with a table.
Step 1
So, in the table below, are the top 10 countries that I haven’t visited yet, and I rank my desirability to get there, with 10 being the most desirable and 1 being the least. So, Brazil comes first, and Mauritius comes last. Good, thats a good start. Now, let me inject some of my high-school maths into the equation.
Paisa vasool 1

Behold! Step 1.

Note: These are the top 10 list of countries which I have NOT yet visited. It doesn’t mean that Brazil is necessarily my favourite country, or Mauritius is my least favourite.
Step 2
Next, I list the purchasing power of the local currency versus the Indian rupee. I get my exchange rates from the money convertor easily.
Behold! Step 2!

Behold! Step 2!

This step is extremely important to me, and let me tell you a reason. I was in Europe first in August 2003, when the Euro was stretching for the 85 rupee mark, and every single time I bought anything in Europe, I wept a silent tear. And I was even scared to buy tissues to wipe off that tear!
End of flashback.
Cut back to June 2015, now. I just finished travelling through Western Europe recently, and the highest the Euro ever hit, was around 70 INR during the last 4 months. It may look like only a savings of 15 rupees, but when you consider that I was in Europe for the last 4 months, and for all the times that I used the local currency, you know what was the emotion I felt? Paisa vasool!
Still don’t believe it is important? Well, compare the 2 tables below. Geddit? Geddit?
USD to CNY comparisonchinese_visitors_us_chart
Step 3
Visa availability is an important factor I take into consideration too. After being to 53 countries, I have had plenty of tiring visa applications for some of the countries around the world, and many ridiculous border crossings. So nowadays, I tend to give priority for countries where I don’t need a visa, or at least have visa-on-arrival. So, I give a rating of 0 if I need to apply for a visa, and 5 if I don’t. This score is completely up to an individual, and one can choose according to their preference on what scores/weights to assign here.
I use this wikipedia article for finding out my Visa requirements.
Behold! Step 3.

Behold! Step 3.

Note: I have a US visa. And Indians normally need visa for Costa Rica, but this is waived off if they have a US visa. So gave scores for both the countries.
Step 4
Next, I need to know how expensive it is to actually live there, even if it is for a short duration. In other words, I need to factor the cost of living.
There are countless number of indices available to compare the cost of living. There is the big mac index, the beer price index, and even a hemline index which states that the height of a woman’s clothes is connected to the stock performance of the country. Good lord! Or worse, the horrible, horrible secret of the men’s underwear index! (Even Alan Greenspan seems to know my travel secrets!)
But I needed something which lets me compare many different countries, and not just wonder about the possible future of my underwear collection. And most of the above mentioned indexes do not cover all the countries of the world. So, I use the cost of living index numbers from Numbeo.
Wait!! Before you crucify me for taking a crowdsourced data source, chill a little bit. I am planning a travel vacation, not a hydro-electric power plant, for christ’s sake! And yes, I did notice that the index is comparative to New York. Well, if you have better ideas specific to India, then hit me up!
Note that I take the inverse of the consumer price index, so as to keep my totals logical. So, if Brazil has a consumer price index of 55.33%, I take (100 – 55.33). Or 44.67. So that way, the higher the better.
Behold! Step 4

Behold! Step 4

Maybe you are really paying attention, and hence you also noticed that I use the Groceries Price index. This is because I rarely eat outside when I travel. I always buy my own groceries, and cook. Maybe you don’t consider toast sandwiches as cooking, but hey, its my style of travelling, so give me a break! But on the other hand, if you prefer to eat out when travelling, you should choose the restaurant price index, which is available on numbeo too.
“Abhi, what about accommodation?”
Well, the fact is, I am a budget traveller and I mostly couchsurf, and this also lets me meet some very interesting locals. I have made a whole travelling career out of couchsurfing, so I dont really look for accommodation costs. But if you must, you can factor the rent price index, also available on numbeo.
Step 5
Simply total all of the scores you have! You get your total score per country, and then rank them.
Behold! Step 5.

Behold! Step 5.

So, as per the table above, although I would love to go to the United States and Japan, the consumer price index and my purchasing power there, is pushing me off from taking that decision, and heading to places where I will get the more for my Rupee. And if I go by my own method, the next 3 destinations that are on the top of my head right now, are Morocco, Kenya and Mexico.
Now, does this mean that I will never visit Japan or United States? Of course not, silly rabbit! I will play the waiting game, and wait for the purchasing power of the Rupee to increase a bit, and then make that decision. This table has to change sometime, you know.
In other words, I will wait for the Achche din!

In other words, I will wait for the Achche din!

“WTF Abhi. You are not going to compare flight costs? For Christ’s sake, a flight to Japan would be much cheaper, compared to a flight to Morocco!”
I don’t factor my flight expenses in this table, because of 2 reasons. Note that these may not apply to you:
a) I am not a vacation traveller. I travel for longer durations, and hence the cost of the flight is offset because I stay longer in a place. And moreover, I will not visit just a single country in my trip. If I spend 3 weeks in Morocco, you can be rest assured that I will find some cheap flight linking from Morocco to other African countries, and eventually end up in Kenya too. That’s like 2 birdies, for one very big stone, eh?
b) Commercial Airlines have become extremely competitive, so you are not paying more than what you are supposed to. I play around with my dates and schedule, until I find the best match for a flight.
But no, really, I don’t prefer to pinch much on my aviation expenses. Mind you, these are long-haul, intercontinental flights we are talking about. The last thing I would want, is to be stuck on a 10 hour flight with my legs feeling like they should have belonged to a 4-year old. Or having one boring newspaper to read for that whole time, and surviving on cold sandwiches which I wouldn’t feed even my enemy.
I would rather to spend on a little bit of luxury – at least, the kind that I can still afford – instead of penny-pinching too much. And then, save more money at my destination when I finally reach there. So, I prefer to optimise my tourist bucks, by choosing airlines which give me more services, without charging me a bomb for it, and helping me keep my left kidney intact.
Just like taking a premium economy seat on a lufthansa flight. You pay economy rates, yet you enjoy premium services like 50% more space, getting your food served on a china tableware, and getting high-quality onboard entertainment. Now that, my friend, is how I want to spend 10 hours on a flight.
What about you? What are your trips and tricks to make your rupee last more?
Author’s note: As I have mentioned before in this post, this is not a scientific, in-depth study of economic planning, travel planning, or any kind of planning. Its not even close. Its just my own personal way of planning my future travels. But if you are a real economist, and would like to use this method and make it better, please write to me, and I can help you with your efforts, and send you my calculation file. Similarly, if you are another budget traveller like me, who would like to give this a shot, and follow in my totally unreliable footsteps, write to me and I will give you the source file. And I will pray that I never run into you on the street.
This post was originally written for the #LufthansaPremiumEconomy competition on Indiblogger. For any other questions, contact the blog admin here.



About Abhi Surendran

Abhi quit his corporate job, and decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He is currently working on a book of his experiences, and a dream road trip through South Asia. Both in a haphazard fashion. He blogs at Iamnothome and you can also catch him at times on Facebook and twitter.

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