Lana Adams Blog
Bacall Associates Travel Singapore: How to travel on a (very tight) budget

 

Blogger Isabel Leong spent less than S$7,000 traveling to 15 countries in Europe. Can you beat that?

 

SINGAPORE — Isabel Leong is barely 23 years old, and she has already travelled to more than 105 cities in 30 countries — mostly on her own dime.

 

And now, the Singaporean hopes that by sharing her travel tips and experiences, students here, especially those who are cash-strapped, will be motivated to go out and see the world.

 

“(Travelling) opens up their minds about the possibilities of the future. A lot of young people (like me) are lost about their life direction, and going out there and being exposed to different people and their life stories can give them some insight,” Leong said in an interview with TODAY. “There are a lot of soft skills to learn as well, including adaptability, independence, social skills and intercultural knowledge.”

 

Leong started supporting her own travel adventures in 2013, beginning with the usual destinations like Bali and Phuket, and then eventually heading off the beaten path to smaller cities and towns around the world, like Cambodia’s Kampot province and Cantabaco in the Philippines. In 2015, she went on a student exchange programme in Rouen, France, where she began travelling around Europe in earnest. Since 2013, she has been to 64 cities in 16 countries.

 

To fund her exploits, she worked part-time for about four to five hours a week to pay for her own food and transport, and saved whatever she could to fund her travels.

 

“I became financially independent after junior college. There was an eight-month break after I graduated from junior college until school started in university. I took the time to explore different occupations and what I liked. I did everything from admin work to telemarketing to being a camp instructor,” said Leong, who recently graduated from Singapore Management University. She now runs a travel blog on student and budget travel called belaroundtheworld.com, which she set up last year.

 

“That was when I found out the importance of saving up. When I was in university, I also worked as a gym instructor, training clients part-time while juggling my studies.”

 

Leong also became an expert at travelling on a tight budget, spending less than S$7,000 over three months travelling to 15 countries in Europe. She kept a mental meal budget of about S$10 per day whenever she travelled, and stocked up on apples to keep herself from going hungry.

 

Instead of staying at expensive hotels, she also chose to couch-surf, which allowed her to stay with a host for free in exchange for prepacked bak kwa (barbecued pork) or a Singapore magnet. And even though most of her couch-surfing experiences have been positive, one particular incident in France taught her to be more judicious about her choice of hosts.

 

“As a beginner in couch-surfing, I wouldn’t select solo male hosts. There was one time I was in the south of France, in Nice, I couch-surfed with a guy. He expressed designs and it was quite scary. I tried to make up emergency plans in case he went overboard, but luckily I held my (ground) and he didn’t pursue it any further,” she said, adding that the host had started getting “uncomfortably” close to her, and had even offered to let her snuggle with him on his bed.

 

“I was constantly talking to my friends at home — but not my family because they would be worried sick — in case anything happened they would know what happened. It deterred me from couch-surfing, but I still went on after that, mostly with families or couples, though.”

 

Here are Leong’s three other tips for young travellers:

 

BRING YOUR STUDENT CARD

 

“This is one very valuable tip, because museums and even train tickets offer cheaper student ticket deals, especially in Europe. Sometimes you even get to go to museums for free.”

 

DON’T BE OSTENTATIOUS

 

“A lot of students, when they travel, are very worried about whether they would get pickpocketed. What I tell them is to try not to be too ostentatious about their belongings. Keep your bags zipped and don’t wear expensive-looking watches. They also talk about not putting your wallets at the back of your pocket, and that is also true because I have had instances where people were feeling my butt for stuff on a very packed train in Prague.”

 

BE BOLD

 

“If you are thinking about whether to do (something), just go and do it. You are only visiting a place once and you don’t want to leave with regrets. One of the boldest things I have done was to go bungee jumping in Phuket. My friend and I were (hesitant) at first, but we decided, what could we lose? Since then I’ve been (braver) about adventure (travel).”

How to do Singapore on a Budget by Bacall Associates Travel

 

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter.

 

Singapore is known to be tiny, modern, and insanely expensive—especially next to her Southeast Asian counterparts. While $50 USD is more than enough for travellers to live like a prince in nearby countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, the same amount is barely enough for a hotel room in Singapore.

 

Still, with street food even Gordon Ramsay raved about, impeccably safe streets, and a location that makes it ideal as a stopover hub, there's no reason to give this city-state a miss. Yes, it is possible for those travelling on a budget to enjoy Singapore, just as the locals do. Here's what you need to know.

 

Get better rates with an ez-link card

 

The ez-link (easy-link) card is a type of stored value card for public transit use, similar to the Oyster card in London. The cards have a first-time cost of $12, of which $7 can be used to pay for public transport, and $5 is non-refundable. Having an ez-link card eliminates the tiresome process of digging for enough change for a bus ticket or trying to calculate how much each train journey costs as you would when buying per-trip tickets. Most importantly, it offers better rates than cash payment, so the non-refundable $5 is easily set off. At the end of the day, you save yourself the hassle of figuring out transport costs, and you get a souvenir card that truly represents life in Singapore!

 

Enjoy hawker food

 

When choosing to dine in a coffee shop or a hawker centre, go where the locals go. There are many open-air establishments that are coffee shop style, but one look at the clientele—chockfull of foreigners with garish decorations—and you know it is a tourist trap. A meal in a hawker centre—inclusive of main, drink, and dessert—should always give you change back from $10. The eateries along the Chinatown shopping alley may seem authentic, but you will be hard pressed to find locals dining there. Makansutra Gluttons Bay offers great views and is near the Esplanade theatres, but the dishes there tend to be pricier as well. Instead, head to places where you see locals congregating. Chinatown Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, or any neighbourhood hawker centre will do nicely.

 

Come during a festive public holiday

 

During festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Thaipusam, there is so much more to see, hear, and eat. During Chinese New Year, for example, dancers and celebrities put up free performances for the public in areas like Chinatown. Street vendors also offer free samples of their festive goodies in a bid to rev sales up. It is a good chance to see Singapore is a less sterile, worker-bee state, as well as capitalize on all the free food and performances going around.

 

Free museum days

 

Museums under the National Heritage Board have free admission on public holidays, which makes even more sense to plan visits around festive periods. Alternatively, plan your museum visit around the periods of free or discounted admission to save money. Many museums are located in convenient areas that travellers would be probably passing by when sightseeing, such as the National Museum of Singapore, which is within walking distance from the popular Orchard Road/Dhoby Ghaut shopping stretch. In this case, why not just pop by for a quick and free look?

 

Choose your hotel wisely

 

There is no need to splurge and spend $300 a night on a fancy hotel, even though some offer incredible views and rooms. Room standards in Singapore are decent, so even a budget hotel or hostel is safe and clean. Opt for hotels in Little India, Tanjong Pajar, or Chinatown—the locations are easily accessible, there are a wide range of prices and room types to choose from, and it is fun checking out the nightlife in these areas. If you do not want to miss out on the island fun Sentosa can offer, just make a day trip there after stocking up on food and drink from nearby shopping mall Vivocity. Hotel and food prices on the upscale island can burn a hole in any backpacker's worn pocket.

 

A day in Singapore is not going to come as cheap as a day in a neighbouring country, but it is not going to be exorbitant either. There are bargains and great discounts to be had here and they are not hard to find—simply do as the locals do, and go where the locals go. Those who plan to spend their money wisely will wonder why anyone ever complained that the Lion City is expensive when it has so much to offer on the cheap.