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The Cheapest Ways To Travel To The World's Most Expensive Places

Forbes logo Forbes 2/14/2017 Laura Begley Bloom, Women@Forbes

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC Always wanted to visit Italy, but are daunted by the high cost of a trip there? We’ve got some great ways to save on this and other expensive destinations around the globe. Is your travel bucket list filled with spots like Italy and Iceland, Hawaii and Australia, France and Hong Kong — places that you’d love to visit but are so expensive you don’t think you’ll ever cross them off the list? Help is here. I tapped into a handful of experts around the globe, savvy women who know how to travel smart and have done all the homework for travelers like you — real people who want to know about real ways to save. These travel gurus share their tips on how to plan an affordable trip to some of the world’s most expensive vacation destinations.


© Provided by Forbes Media LLC ITALY

The Expert: Erica Firpo, a travel journalist who — along with her husband archaeologist Darius Arya — offers expert advice on Italy at Unlockedrome.com

How to Save: Thanks to the steadfast exchange rate, there is really no excuse to not visit Italy these days. Restaurants are less expensive than New York, London and Paris, whether a local trattoria, street food stand or Michelin-star restaurant, and the rise of Airbnb across the Peninsula has not-so-gently encouraged hotels to upgrade packages, amenities and rates. To make the most (and spend the least) out of a visit to the capital, consider visiting Rome in January and February, when sites like the Colosseum and Vatican are less busy, and hotel inventory is at highest. Many five and four-star properties offer incredible deals during the low season.

No matter what time of year, plan on a walking workout — Rome’s city center has the highest concentration of masterpieces (in churches where all you need is a spare 1 or 2 euro coin to light up a Caravaggio or a hidden Michelangelo) and monuments like the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. The city’s museum system MuseiinComune has a lineup of free entry museums, which together cover the more than 2,800-year cultural history of Rome, while the 7 euro ticket to the National Museum gives you entry to four incredible ancient sites (Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, Baths of Diocletian) in a three-day period.

Travelers looking to discover a more “unknown” Italy should consider a long weekend in Sicily: Alitalia constantly has offerte, special deals to Palermo and Catania, where the food is delicious and very different from the Italian cuisines you are used to, and the culture is right in front of you on the streets.

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC ICELAND

The Expert: Katie Hammel, marketing manager at Go Overseas, and a frequent traveler to Iceland 

How to Save: Despite the many low-cost flights now available to reach Iceland, it’s still an expensive place to visit. The country’s tourism scene is also exploding and infrastructure is struggling to catch up, even outside of peak season, when hotels and car rental offices face a shortage of supply and prices are high. Basic hotel rooms cost $200 per night or more, rental cars may cost $100 per day and food and drink prices are on par with London or New York City. Going in off season will typically cut your hotel and car rental costs by about 20 to 30%. If you plan to drink, do as the Icelanders do and visit the duty-free shop at the airport upon landing. Alcohol is quite expensive in Iceland and you’ll save buying it at the duty-free instead of at the Vínbúðin (government-run shops). The high price of alcohol is also why the clubs in Iceland don’t get busy until after midnight; most locals save money by having a few drinks at home before they go out. If you’re not a night owl, check out the local weekly, the Reykjavik Grapevine, to find a list of all the happy hour specials in the city.

You absolutely do not need a car if you’re staying only in downtown Reykjavik. The city is compact and walkable, and there’s a bus that runs to and from the airport; most activities also include transportation. You’ll want a car for some independent day trips, so schedule those days together so that you can ditch the car for the rest of your time. Most rental companies have both airport and city locations and will allow you to rent from one and drop off in another for less than the cost of another day’s rental. Some will even come pick the car up. When it comes to day trips, most of Iceland’s most beautiful natural attractions are free. Places like Gullfoss, Geysir, Thingvellir, Jokulsarlon, Reynisfjara and others don’t charge admission and are easily accessed from smooth, paved roads, so it’s easy to drive yourself. Skip the bus tour and rent a car; it’ll not only cost less but will allow you more freedom. Skip the Blue Lagoon as well. It’s the most famous of Iceland’s hot springs for good reason — the milky blue water is a sight to behold — but it’s also the most expensive and crowded. There are dozens of other hot springs scattered around the country (the Myvatn Nature Baths and the Secret Lagoon are excellent alternatives). 

For a truly local Icelandic experience, head to the pool. Nearly every town has a public pool with geothermally heated water; the pools are open year round and admission is only a few dollars. For cheap eats, there’s nothing better than an Icelandic hot dog. Hot dogs are the national snack food of Iceland and are found at just about every gas station around the country, as well as at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand in the Reykjavik harbor, which has served the likes of Bill Clinton and Kim Kardashian. The dogs are made of lamb and pork and topped with fried and raw onions, remoulade, a sweet mustard and ketchup — and they cost less than $3. Other great cheap eats include pizza from Eldsmiðjan or noodles from Noodle Station. Save even more on food by booking an apartment or a guest house with a kitchen or opting for a hotel that offers a free breakfast. Our House and Guesthouse Sunna are both great values.  

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC OAHU

The Expert: Pamela Young, travel journalist with KHON2-TV Honolulu and columnist with Midweek Magazine

How to Save: Go local and be prepared to spend a lot of time outdoors. That’s why you want to vacation in the islands, right? Fortunately all of Hawaii’s beaches are free and open to the public, even if they front a private residence. That leaves 750 miles of white sand and teal water for you to make your private playground. If higher altitudes are what you prefer, hundreds of hiking trails on every island offer mountain and rain forest exploration, most at no charge. The sites with higher traffic, like the Diamond Head State Monument, charge for parking: $5 for a car, but only $1 for walk-ins. Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve (favorite of the Obamas) has the same fee, but if you’re an early riser, you can enter for free in the first hour, usually 6 a.m. in the summer, 7 a.m. in the winter. The state’s most popular visitor attraction, the USS Arizona Memorial, is now commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor. Private tours offer transportation to Pearl Harbor and entry to the area, but the National Park Service gives out 1,300 free walk-up tickets each day, first come, first serve, and the city’s bus will get you there for $2.50. TheBus is a bargain, especially for visitors. A four-day pass is $35, 30-day pass $60, far cheaper than renting a car. The around-the-island-ride is the best way to see Oahu. Either pass allows riders to get off to see the sights, then hop on the next bus at their leisure.

Hungry? With 80% of Hawaii’s food shipped from the mainland, it’s expensive for even locals to find reasonable grindz (the local slang for alimentary pleasures). Look for lunch wagons on street corners like Nicky’s Lunch Wagon at Mililani and Queen across from Iolani Palace (most plates under $8, lunch only), mom-and-pop diners like Ono Seafood in Kapahulu, five minutes from Waikiki ($7.50 for a poke bowl) and open markets. The Kapiolani Community College Open Market on Saturdays and Wednesday evenings have become wildly popular with visitors, who take the 15 minute bus ride from Waikiki. There’s something to be said for the Waikiki experience. Sunset on the beach is nature’s daily masterpiece, but you will pay heavy coin to set up camp there. Many Airbnbs will have the same view at a fraction of the cost. Also look for off-season packages that include hotel/air/car during the months of (late) January, February, September and October. Feeling the Aloha Spirit doesn’t need to be expensive!

View of NYC skyline from rooftop bar of Jane Hotel © Provided by Forbes Media LLC View of NYC skyline from rooftop bar of Jane Hotel FRANCE

The Expert:  Marcia De Sanctis, frequent contributor to Vogue and Town & Country magazines, and author of The New York Times travel best seller 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go(Travelers’ Tales, Inc.)

How to Save: 

If, as I do, you prefer the convenience and security of a hotel rather than apartment options, search the sites for three-star hotels, which are plenty comfortable, especially those with modern design. (Two of my favorites in Paris are L’hôtel Les Jardins d’Eiffel and Hôtel Gabriel Paris.) Same with second-class seats on the country’s terrific trains. There’s a little less legroom for a lot less money. Unless it’s included, have your croissant and coffee at a café in the neighborhood or in town. Each day, I allow myself one restaurant extravagance — either lunch or dinner, but never both, and I always drink the house wine, which is fine. In Paris, skip taxis and buy a 10-pack of metro tickets to use as needed (passes often don’t end up paying for themselves).

Better yet, walk. It’s one of the most satisfying free activities in the world, as are the city’s many parks, open-air markets, flea markets and famous sites — among them, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Atelier Brancusi, Place des Vosges, and Jardin des Tuileries. My favorite activities that cost nothing: Marché Aligre for cheese and bread, Canal St. Martin for a stroll, Parc Monceau and Jardins des Plantes for contemplation, Luxembourg Gardens for people watching and the Hermès flagship store for dreaming.

William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg © Provided by Forbes Media LLC William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg NEW YORK CITY

Who: Laura Begley Bloom, author of this column, travel expert and longtime resident of New York City

How to Save: The trick to an affordable New York City vacation is to live like a New Yorker. Midtown Manhattan has its appeals, but you’ll want to base yourself in one of the more residential neighborhoods and seek out low-key restaurants where New Yorkers eat on a regular basis. The charming West Village isn’t exactly a bargain destination, but it’s home to an affordable find called the Jane Hotel. Set in a red-brick building on a leafy street with views of the river, the hotel was originally built for sailors in 1908 and still has that cruise-inspired vibe (read: small rooms). You can snag rates as low as $69 a night, if you book a single room with a shared bath. Or upgrade to a Captain’s Cabin, with a full-, queen- or king-size bed and an en-suite bath. A perennial local favorite for dinner is the French bistro, Tartine, or check out the popular Corner Bistro, which sells addictive burgers for just $8.75. Another neighborhood highlight not to miss: the High Line, a restored elevated urban park that’s always free. I’m also a big fan of the Empire Hotel, which is on the Upper West Side, close to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. Local (and affordable) restaurants there include Jacob’s PicklesPio Pio and Regional.

Another strategy is to stay in one of the boroughs. My own neighborhood — Williamsburg — is a cool spot in Brooklyn that’s just one subway stop away from Manhattan on the L train. The new William Vale Hotel has rooms from $199 and dazzling views of the city. To stay even cheaper, head to the Hotel Le Jolie on the edge of the neighborhood (I’ve put up my own parents here). My top spots for cheap eats: Radegast, a boisterous German beer hall, and the oyster happy hour at Maison Premiere, a speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar. On summer Saturdays, don’t miss Smorgasburg, an open-air market with artisanal food stalls. Nearby Long Island City is a burgeoning Queens neighborhood that’s also a quick subway ride from Manhattan. The Paper Factory Hotel has views of the skyline and low rates year-round, not to mention a happening lobby scene. And check out the cutting-edge art museum MoMA PS1; as with many of the museums in New York City, the entrance fee is a suggested donation, but you can always pay less. No matter where you stay, you’ll want to skip taking cabs or Uber and take advantage of public transport or Via, which offers cheap shared rides. One of my favorite things to do on a warm day is to take the East River Ferry, which connects Manhattan to spots in Queens and Brooklyn. You can buy a day pass, hop on and off and explore.

Arai Ryokan © Provided by Forbes Media LLC Arai Ryokan JAPAN

The Expert: Marian Goldberg, writer, travel planner and founder of Goldberg on Travel

How to Save: Compared to other countries in Asia, Japan can be expensive. But I definitely find it cheaper than New York. First of all, there is no tipping in taxis, restaurants and hotels. Secondly, as a foreigner, you can take advantage of travel passes. A seven-day all-Japan Rail pass costs 29,110 (about $257 at the current exchange rate of 113 yen to the dollar). This is about the same price as one round-trip bullet train ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto. JAL and ANA airlines sell airfares that allow you to explore Japan (“ Explore ” and “ Experience ,” respectively). Flights between any two domestic legs within Japan cost foreigners only 10,800 yen (about $100) each. A way to make traveling around Tokyo more convenient is to purchase a PASSMO card. This “debit card” can be used on both subways and JR trains (JR pass does not include the Tokyo subway lines), so you don’t have to buy any individual tickets. It doesn’t provide a discount on the trains, but it makes it so much easier than trying to figure out which ticket to buy every time you enter the station. PASSMO can even be used to purchase drinks and snacks from Tokyo’s ubiquitous vending machines. The subway can seem daunting, but the stops work on a numbering system and there is English signage, so it’s pretty easy to figure out once you try it.

To make subway traveling even easier and to have a more personal experience with a local, book a volunteer guide. They are available all over Japan, including in Tokyo. Volunteer guides usually have to be arranged at least two weeks in advance and can be found on the Japan National Tourism website. While staying in a traditional Japanese inn can seem expensive, since they charge per person — rather than per room — the price includes two full meals, often with a choice of Western- or Japanese-style breakfast. Lots of people want to stay in a ryokan in Hakone for hot springs (onsen) or Kyoto for history. But you can often get a better value if you go to less-crowded locations. Instead of Hakone, go just a little further south on the Izu Peninsula to Shuzenji, and stay in Arai Ryokan. It’s half the price of the luxury ryokan in Hakone. And Shuzenji is a lovely, quaint town that’s aglow at night with crimson lanterns.

Instead of Kyoto, stay in a ryokan in neighboring Nara, a capital even more ancient than Kyoto. The website Japanese Small Luxuries details five luxury ryokan and one historic, boutique hotel in Nara. The ryokan run about $300-$350 per night per person, which is about $100-$200 per night less than the top ryokan in Kyoto. One property, Sasayuri-an, was even the setting for a famous Japanese movie. Renting a furnished traditional apartment is also an option. In fact, Japan is the fastest growing destination for Airbnb in the world. Another option offering a cultural experience that can be extremely value oriented are temple-inn stays called shukubo. These are especially popular in the magical mountain town of Koyasan  and even in Kyoto . Some shukubo even have luxury rooms with garden views and in-room Japanese baths. 

Place des Vosges (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Ernst) © Provided by Forbes Media LLC Place des Vosges (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Ernst) ST. BARTH

The Expert: Bianca Connolly

How to Save: Contrary to popular belief, St. Barth isn’t solely comprised of break-the-bank hotels and over-the-top restaurants. The island actually has a very bohemian spirit, and if you’re smart, affordable options can be had. There are a few simple but quaint hotels like Le P’tit Morne Hotel (with some of the best views on the island) in Colombier and Hotel Le Village in St. Jean (walking distance to lots of shops and restaurants) that afford travelers all the beauty of the island without the extreme price tag. Some of the pricier hotels like Le Barthelemy, Le Guanahani, Cheval Blanc and the Hôtel Christopher occasionally offer day passes that include a spa treatment, lunch and a lounge chair on the beach for the day at a very reasonable price.

The pool at Le Barthelemy Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Le Barthelemy)

Keep food costs down by frequenting local hang outs like the famous Le Select, Le Jardin for lunch and Au Corail. The grocery stores have delicious prepared food and very affordable French wine, and the bakeries have great sandwiches and bread. You can also save some money by taking the ferry over from St. Maarten instead of taking the plane. And of course, the time of year you go makes a significant difference — accommodations are much cheaper between April 15th and Thanksgiving.

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC SINGAPORE

Who: Charlene Fang, a travel and lifestyle journalist with a passion for uncovering secret beaches and discovering hidden finds; follow her on Instagram (CharleneFang) or reach out to her at www.charlenefang.co

How to Save: Being named the world’s most expensive city for the third year running by the Economist Intelligence Unit has not dimmed Singapore’s shiny lights. The little-big city is determined to prove it is one of Asia’s best cities, despite its high rents and steep alcohol duties, offering something unique for every type of budget. The best time to visit is during the Singapore Grand Prix where the city comes alive and the roars of the F1 cars can be heard, for free, all around the city circuit racetrack. Airbnb listings provide an alternative to chic hostels and three or four-star abodes, however choosing a hotel in a trendy suburbs like Hotel Indigo Katong or Lloyd’s Inn delivers more value for money. Food is the heart and soul of this island-state, and in Singapore, a Michelin meal can be experienced for less than the cost of a beer. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle (#02-127 Chinatown Complex, 335 Smith Street) dishes out plates of tender soya sauce chicken noodles or rice at a humble S$2 (USD$1.41).

Making the most of its eye-catching skyscrapers, elevated views are one way to soak in the city’s vibe. One free perch can be found at the rooftop garden of the Esplande – Theatres on the Bay, which also provides a view of the iconic, half-fish, half lion Merlion statue and historic Fullerton Hotel. Otherwise drink in the view at Ce La Vie on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands. Ladies enter free on Wednesdays; on other days the S$20 entry charge (daily from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.) is fully redeemable for food or drink. Some of Singapore’s best sites can be enjoyed without forking over a cent. The outdoor gardens of Gardens by the Bay are free to enter (opened till 2 a.m. daily), and at 7:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., there’s a light and sound show that makes the most of its 25 and 50 meter tall Supertrees.

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC GREAT BRITAIN

Who: Amy Laughinghouse, a London-based travel writer and photographer who contributes to publications around the U.S., Canada and the U.K., as well as her travel website, AmyLaughinghouse.com

How to save: Travelers looking for a bargain in Great Britain are in luck. With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit — the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union — the pound has plummeted. In the capital, make your money stretch even further by using a Visitor Oyster card for journeys on a variety of public transportation services around London, thus ensuring the lowest rates, capping daily travel costs and sidestepping the hassle of deciding which ticket to buy. If you’re flying into Heathrow, don’t shell out for the Heathrow Express, but opt for the cheaper Piccadilly Underground line, which takes you into the heart of the city.

Culture vultures can visit more than 20 free museums and galleries in London, including the new Switch House at the Tate Modern. Bonus: the viewing deck atop Switch House offers a 360-degree panorama of the city skyline, at no charge. For discounts on paying attractions, check out VisitBritain.com. This official tourism authority also offers unlimited train journeys around Great Britain with its BritRail passes (lasting three days to one month), allowing you to take advantage of visits to less expensive cities like Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow. Save a bundle on accommodations with Airbnb, or bunk down at Generator London, a new generation of hostel with a selection of private, en-suite rooms, as well as shared accommodations. Finally, for high-quality, low-cost grub, fill up at restaurant chains like Eat and Pret-a-Manger (serving fresh sandwiches and salads), Itsu (offering sushi and soups) and Wahaca, dishing up delicious Mexican dishes. (Good Mexican in Great Britain? Yes, really).

Dubai Marina (Photo courtesy of Maher Naim/Flickr) © Provided by Forbes Media LLC Dubai Marina (Photo courtesy of Maher Naim/Flickr) DUBAI

Who: Arva Ahmed, food blogger and founder of Frying Pan Adventures, which offers culinary tours around old Dubai, as well as authentic food and cultural experiences around the city 

How to Save:  It may sound paradoxical to plan a low-cost itinerary in Dubai. The glittering city has built the world’s tallest building, served the world’s most expensive cupcake and surfaces in over 800 other search results of the Guinness Book of World Records’ website. But this shouldn’t deter the bargain hunter from planning a trip that runs counter to the popular wallet-busting theme. In fact, it is all the more satisfying to stumble upon budget ways of experiencing the city, even if you don’t own an oil rig in your backyard. The key is to use the metro to explore — it takes about $2 USD to travel from one end of the metro to another, as opposed to about $27 USD between the same stops by taxi — without wasting time and money stuck in a taxi through Dubai’s notorious traffic. Use the metro to stop off at Dubai Mall and walk to the dancing fountains at night (free), visit the Mall of Emirates to gawk at the ski slopes (also free!), and finally check the Palm Jumeirah island off your list by using connections between the metro, tram and the Palm monorail. Dubai has obviously built a metro with a ‘Gold Class’ cabin, one whose ticket costs double the price but that is well worth the upgrade to avoid being sandwiched during peak commute hours.

There are a number of well-placed hotels close to the metro, such as the Hyatt Place in Rigga or their branch in Baniyas, both of which are also in areas of Old Dubai that get lively at night, are pedestrian-friendly and are hot spots for delicious and dirt-cheap food. The Rigga neighborhood is rich in Middle Eastern restaurants and small tea cafeterias that will serve up a mean breakfast egg, cheese and hot sauce roll that is best washed down with a cloyingly sweet cup of karak chai (about $1.5 USD). The metro station by the Baniyas Square is steps away from shawarmas that cost just 6 dirham ($1.6 USD) and the Abra station where small wooden boats (abras) will shuttle you across the creek (1 dirham or $0.27 USD) to Bur Dubai. This is the place where you can enjoy the textile souk, the Dubai Museum, the heritage area in neighboring Shindagha, the galleries and coffee museum in the Old Fahidi neighborhood and the tiny Indian eateries dotted all across Meena Bazaar. If you’re in the neighborhood for longer, book a traditional Emirati breakfast at the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding  or visit the popular Special Ustad restaurant that’s been skewering Iranian kababs since 1978 — or given how reasonably priced the two are, do both! 

Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden © Provided by Forbes Media LLC Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden SWEDEN

The Expert: Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Stockholm-based writer and photographer, as well as editor of Slow Travel Stockholm, dedicated to slower exploration.

How to Save: Make no mistake, Sweden — and Stockholm in particular — will put a dent in your wallet especially eating out, but that’s why it’s important to follow these local insider tips  to ease the pain.  Eat your heaviest meals during lunch by keeping an eye out for  “ Dagens rätt ” (Daily Lunch) signs at restaurants. These are often dinner-sized portions with salad buffets, bread/butter, and coffee all included for at least half the price.  If you’re pushing a stroller/buggy with children in Stockholm, you get to ride buses for free. T here are also tons of  free museums and free walking tours  and at least 40 free outdoor gyms across town. You can even take a free guided tour of Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (subway) system, which is the  world’s longest art exhibition .  

Consider bedding down in one of several  floating boat hotels  docked around town for novel ambiance at affordable rates.  The  elegant  M/S Kronprinsesse Märtha is a  refurbished  1928  steamship , while  Mälardrottningen Yacht Hotel was b uilt  in 1924 by American millionaire C.K.G Billings and later  given to Barbara Hutton – heiress of the Woolworth Empire  — as a gift for her 18th birthday.  For more ideas, here are  50 free ways to enjoy Stockholm  without carrying your wallet over on Slow Travel Stockholm. 

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC AUSTRALIA

The Expert: Stephanie Parker, an Australia-based writer and founder of  Big World Small Pockets , created to showcase the highs and lows of happy, healthy budget travel. Its motto: Spend Less, Travel More!

How to Save: One of the best ways to explore Australia cheaply is to hire your own campervan and travel the country independently. This will allow you to design your own itinerary, rather than pay for any organized tours, and will save you heaps in accommodation expenses, too. Vroomvroomvroom.com.au is a great comparison site for finding the cheapest campervan deals in Australia. Even better than hiring a campervan is to pick up a relocation deal — this is when you grab a rental vehicle for free in return for “couriering” it to a particular location, and is an amazing way to see some of Australia’s highlight attractions for nothing. The website imoova.com collates all the available relocations in an area and matches them to your travel plans. Even if you don’t see something that suits your itinerary, you can still fill out a waiting list form. Then if something does become available, imoova will contact you with a relocation deal.

When it comes to highlights, many people consider Sydney a must-do. But it’s also shockingly expensive. My advice: There’s plenty beyond the city walls to keep you amused, so get out of the metro area to see some quieter and more peaceful destinations. Located in Ku-Ring-Gar Chase National Park, the Basin is Sydney’s most popular beach camping spot. A little further afield, you’ll find places like Hunter Valley, New South Wales’ premier wine region. For more ideas, check out “ 8 Fantastic Sydney Day Trips Worth Leaving The City For!“ 

The Whitsundays are also at the top of many Australia bucket lists, but forking out for a sailing tour here can be a major expense. So, why not get off the beaten track and camp on these remote, paradise islands instead for a few days — you’ll save a ton and get to enjoy a perfect sunset without the crowds. If camping isn’t your thing, then check out Rambutan, a five-star hostel just further up the coast in Townsville. This accommodation pick offers poolside luxury at backpacker prices and is hard to pass up if you’re heading out to see the Great Barrier Reef. For more ideas, check out “9 Easy Ways to Save Money When Travelling Australia.”

 

Hong Kong Lights (Photo courtesy of Colin Tsoi/Flickr) © Provided by Forbes Media LLC Hong Kong Lights (Photo courtesy of Colin Tsoi/Flickr) HONG KONG

Who: Daisann McLane, ex-New York Times Frugal Traveler and founder of Little Adventures in Hong Kong , a private food and cultural walk company

How to Save: Seeing Hong Kong on a budget has to be one of the biggest challenges in travel — it regularly hits number one on the “Most Expensive City in the World” lists . The best strategy for skirting the city’s high-ticket costs is to do as savvy expats do: Live, as much as possible, like a local. Lodging is going to be your number one expense in this city of breathtakingly high housing prices — the price of a decent “budget” hotel will rarely dip below $100. It’s worth spending a bit more on a hotel for location, which for me means somewhere in a walkable, dense and interesting neighborhood close to an MTR train stop. Mini-chains like the Butterfly Hotel group are well priced and have great locations (I like Butterfly on Hollywood, which is right at the edge of an outdoor market in the heart of Hong Kong island, with doubles at $120 a night). The big chains Ibis, Holiday Inn and Best Western have moved into up-and-coming areas like Sai Ying Pun, Kennedy Town and Sheung Wan, all well connected by transport. For really getting a local feel, consider a night in the Mei Ho House, a historic public housing estate in Kowloon transformed into an upscale hostel with private rooms from $100. Most locals and expats here rely on public transport to get them conveniently around the city, and you should, too. I always recommend that our guests pick up an Octopus card upon arrival; like London’s Oyster, this is a chip-enabled pass that gets you effortlessly from busses to subways to light rail trains and even onto ferries with a tap and a “doot” (that is the well-known sound the card makes, and it’s also the Cantonese word for the action of tapping the card on the sensor). Make sure you get the regular Octopus, and not the special one for tourists, which will only work on the train system. (Octopus cards require a $22 USD initial layout, including a deposit — anything you don’t use, including the deposit, is all refundable as you leave Hong Kong.)

Hong Kong Lights. (Photo courtesy of Colin Tsoi/Flickr)

Food and activities are the best Hong Kong bargains. Stay away from pricey Western restaurants and stick to cheap and cheerful noodle shops for lunch, while “splurging” (at $50 per person) on fine Cantonese dining for dinner at locally-renowned but low key Michelin-star restaurants like our favorite, Kin’s Kitchen.  Hong Kong’s biggest bargain is that one block here is as jam-packed with sights, sounds and fascination as 10 blocks of any other city — and walking around to explore is completely free. Our amazing system of hiking trails (surprising factoid: 40% of urban Hong Kong is country parkland) will get you to the city’s best views, including the Peak, for free. Skip the Big Buddha and its pricey (and touristy) cable car ride and hop a ferry from Central Hong Kong piers to an Outlying Island instead (ferries are about $3.50 a ride and yes, you can “doot” your Octopus for the fare). Hong Kong’s rural islands are its hidden treasure, and you can easily spend a fascinating day or afternoon exploring the lanes of the town in Cheung Chau, Lamma or Peng Chau, roaming little beaches, eating fresh seafood and seeing life in Hong Kong as it was lived 50 years ago, and — incredibly — as it is still lived today.

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