I’ve had so many questions about travel logistics, that I thought I would restart my Frugal Friday blog posts with this one on budget homeland travel to Ethiopia.
We were gone for two weeks total, which is not a very long time, but we managed to fly around the world and back again for almost exactly $8000 Canadian. Not bad! Here are my tips on how to have a wonderful time, without breaking the bank.
Be flexible in your flights.
There were four of us flying, and we had a pretty tight timeline. Usually, to save money on tickets, it’s best to be flexible on departure and arrival dates, and to fly out of airports with a lot of service. I literally finished class and drove to the airport, however, so I at least didn’t have this luxury. What we did was drove to Seattle, which is across the US border. Sometimes driving from your hometown to a major metropolitan center can save a bundle. This saved our family at least a couple thousand dollars, so it is well worth it. This is even with an international Airport in our own backyard. I had to fly out of Kelowna, so I met my family on the way. But my big flight tips are this… Be flexible and when you have to leave, drive to a major metropolitan center, and be prepared to take a red eye flight every now and again.
Also watch those airport costs… Do you know that we paid more for food in airports on our trip then we did in country? That’s ridiculous! And something we will try to change next time. We always travel with food replacement bars, and fruit bars, and a water bottle. Although I don’t use the water bottle in country, it does save us at airports. Also, make sure that you are bringing luggage that fits your luggage allowance. It makes a ton of difference in the long run. We also travel with a tiny scale that allows us to we are luggage and save hundreds of dollars of overweight charges. That is a gadget worth the investment.
Manage transportation costs.
In country transportation, I mean. In Ethiopia, as well as many other emerging economies, there are different prices for different categories of people. Taxis in Addis Ababa, for example, have a foreigner price, a foreigner that lives in the country price, and an Ethiopian price. If you are not prepared to barter dramatically, it’s simply best for a foreigner to get a driver. Or of course, you can ride in town buses. But if you want the convenience of going where you want to go, I driver quickly becomes a lot cheaper than a taxi. We have a great driver to recommend… His name is now home, and on our last trip had the extremely reasonable rate of 800 per day in Addis Ababa, and 1000 per day outside of the capital. Of course, you also pay for fuel, and his food and accommodation. But when you traveled as much as we do, it’s worth having someone at your beck and call.
Barter and budget accommodation.
This might may surprise some people, as accommodation often is the second biggest expense. But not with my family! We find that people often spend way too much money, since they are used to western conveniences and don’t take time to look for something at a reasonable price. I understand that there is a good market for hotels at the same rate I would play page in Canada… But that is not for our family.
We stayed at perfectly reasonable hotels, and never spent any more then $40 US a night. Our hotel in the account, was only $20 a night. So first, choose a place without a lot of frills. But secondly, realize that everything is negotiable. If you are staying for more than three nights… Ask for a discount! If you have more than one hotel room and have rooms for drivers and translators, ask for a discount. If you have a popular blog or have sent lots of friends to the same hotel… Ask for a discount! These are not unreasonable request. You can also discuss room or bed upgrades and breakfast as well. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t try to take advantage of business owners in developing countries. However, bartering is part of every day life, and reasonable small discount of 10 to 20% for extended stays are the norm, not the exception.
Spend money where it counts.
We chose to go to Bishanghari Lodge for three nights… Which was not cheap, by any standards! But it was worth every penny, and is the experience my girls will remember for the longest. We also never skimp on eating out, or on food or drinks with our meals, which is in direct contrast to Canada. In Ethiopia, it is so inexpensive to eat out… You might as well enjoy it and not worry about pinching a few dollars here and there. This also pertains to tipping… Make sure that you tip your hotel staff appropriately. The service will be so much better the second time you visit! And it’s also the Fairway to treat people in the service economy, in an emerging country.
Lastly, don’t spend money where you don’t need to.
Sure, we bought the girls new suitcases for Christmas. And yes, those are included in the $8000 Canadian. But we didn’t need to new clothes for this trip, or fancy travel apparatus, or exorbitant gifts for family. People can spend a fortune before they ever leave home. So think about all those pretrip expenditures, and if they will really add value to your trip. You can save a lot of money by not shopping until you reach your destination!
I hope those tips are helpful! Happy home land traveling!
In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. Enjoy the many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip! I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!