I went to UK after a gap of 5 years. I was going to cruise on the Harmony of the Seas (on invitation). I was sure I wanted to extend my stay. I was not sure what to do tough. In the end I decided to stay in London for 3 nights on my own. Visit Britain in India sponsored some of my tickets in and around London. The next task was to find a roof over my head. I now wonder why I was so nervous. In the end I asked one of my former students to recommend me a place in London. His name is Chander and he works in the hospitality industry from past many years in UK. He asked if I had any special requirements. My only requirement was that the hotel should be close to the underground and should not cost me a bomb. He told me in that case I could stay at his former workplace, Ibis Budget London Hounslow.
I booked the hotel closer to my departure. I paid in full from India itself. I arrived at Heathrow, went to Southampton to the cruise, which was amazing. I was dropped back at the Heathrow and it was time to find Ibis Budget hotel in Hounslow, London. As usual I walked for 20 minutes in the opposite direction before giving up on Google Maps offline. I asked a human being about the hotel and they set me on the right path.
I met Manuel (people mention him a lot on Tripadvisor) at the reception. To find my reservation, I handed him my passport. He offered to keep my luggage as I arrived much before the check-in time- 2.00 pm.
I went out to the High Street in Hounslow which is a one minute walk from the hotel. Before I headed out Manuel added I do not look old enough to be Chander’s teacher! Most of the staff at the hotel identified me as Chander’s teacher. When I came back around 2.00 pm, there was a young girl at the reception. I gave her my passport and waited for the room keys.
She said, “I immediately started smiling when I saw that you are related to Chander.” I repeated that I was his teacher. She said he was the best manager she has ever worked with. She praised him to the moon and back as a manager. It always feels good see my students doing well!
I went to my room, it was spacious. I have a feeling that it was the accessible room and hence it had more space. My window opened to the street below. There was a table for me to work but I would dump every odd and end there! The bed was comfortable. It was a basic room, absolutely clean. In the bathroom they give only soap but I read this on the Internet and I carried my shampoo. I am not much of a moisturizer person anyway.
I stayed there for 3 Nights. I paid the ‘friends and family rate’ thanks to Chander. Usually the breakfast is not included in the room rate but for me it was. I paid 42 pounds per night. There is no tea or coffee making facility in the room, there is a coffee machine in the lobby (extra charges) where there are café style tables. Breakfast is served in this area. Only at the breakfast the tea/coffee is free. The breakfast had fruits, bread, butter, other spreads, croissant and muffins and cakes. I enjoyed my breakfast on all the days.
Finding a reasonable room in London is no easy task. As I was paying for my London hotel stay from my own pocket I could not afford to spend a lot of money. The hotel is five to seven minutes walking distance from the Hounslow Central tube station. That made it perfect for my needs.
While I was staying at Ibis Budget Hotel, a large group of students also checked in. I was wondering if they would play football in the corridors at night! There were school kids all around my floor. But to their credit and to their teachers, they did not make any ruckus inside the hotel. One night, I was walking back to my room around 11.00 pm. I was coming back after meeting my two former students who stayed near the hotel. I think the instruction to the kids was that they could not venture in the corridors late at night. As soon as they heard the lift doors opening and my footsteps approaching in the corridors, they just ran back to the rooms. I could not even see a single one, they were that fast! When I saw so many students, I was a bit worried if it would get to noisy at night but it was not.
Not only did Chander get me a special rate, he also invited me to his home for dinner with his wife and son. When I met him, after a while he said, “ma’am do you remember how bad my English was?” I replied “I do remember but I am surprised that you remember!” He remarked, “It is one of those things one can never forget.” He has done so well for himself. Even though he is no longer the manager at Ibis Budget Hotel, London, Hounslow, his stuff remembers him with a lot of affection. Thanks to him and his staff, I had a comfortable stay in London!
For many, traveling is a way of life. You not only get to explore new destinations, cultures, and cuisines but, eventually, end up discovering a side of yourself that you never knew existed. But before you take the plunge, let’s take a look at some of the unexpected expenses that can catch you off-guard and derail your entire vacation.
Converting money at currency exchanges at the airport will incur an additional administrative charge. There is also a probability that ATMs around the airport will levy a hefty service charge on foreign debit or credit cards.
With the constant fluctuation in foreign exchange rates, your pre-planned budget can get out of hand. If you are on a shoestring budget, it is better that you put off your travel plans till you have saved enough to account for currency volatility.
You can deposit your luggage at the airport locker if it exceeds the baggage limit or if you don’t want to carry it around the city. Each airport has its own rate for locker storage. For instance, the New Delhi airport charges INR 80-600 depending upon the weight of your luggage and the period of storage.
Departure tax is an additional fee that a visitor incurs when they are leaving the country by air. Countries like China, Thailand, and Cambodia include departure fees in the airline tickets. While other countries like Egypt, Dominican Republic, and Indonesia charge travellers separately, often at the airport departure gate.
If you are booking a flight from Pune to London, you would have a layover at airports like Mumbai, Delhi, or Chennai. Many of these airports have different terminals for arrivals and departures that are quite far away from each other. Often, you’ll have to hire a cab or hop onto a coach if you want to make your connecting flight.
The amount charged for your visa depends on the duration of your stay at any destination. Make sure that you include visa expenses when creating a travel budget. Remember that you’ll have to make a run to the local embassy a couple of times, which will cost you both money and time.
Most often, airlines will track and return lost luggage as soon as possible. But in cases where there is a delay of more than 12 hours, it can be daunting if you don’t have the right financial resources to help you sustain your activities. Insurance will make sure that you are compensated for your lost luggage.
Keeping in touch with your loved ones back at home is important. Opting for international roaming plans or choosing a local network provider during your stay will keep you from being overcharged. You can also opt to use the hotel WiFi or the internet available at local cafes.
Buying travel insurance prior to the trip helps to avoid draining your resources during a medical emergency. Check out how Travel Health Insurance from
ICICI Lombard helps you deal with medical emergencies in case there’s any.
Many hotels charge additional fees for using room service, the mini bar, or even the internet. Before you zero-in on a hotel, make sure that you know what your final bill is going to look like.
Many a times we forget to factor in basic resources we might need every day. And sometimes, it can be as basic as the cost and availability of drinking water. You can’t determine the quality of drinking water available in your destination. Hence, it’s always a good idea to buy a packaged bottle of drinking water wherever you go. Though the cost of bottled water is often a minor expense, you can’t let it escape your budget if you want to micro-manage your entire trip.
If you rent a car for sightseeing or plan on touring with your own car, taking into account the parking charges is important. Though some hotels offer complimentary parking, it is always a good idea to clarify the charges with either the concierge or the parking attendant.
There are some activities you would know of only when you reach the destination. For instance, places like a flea market, a local fair, or adventure activities might not be listed anywhere. Include an amount for these contingencies while making a budget so that you are not caught off guard.
No bank has an ATM in every city, town or airport. To reduce the additional fees charged by ATMs, you can opt to carry more cash or find your bank’s nearest ATM. You could also use your credit card for shopping purposes while keeping your debit card exclusively for withdrawal. Travel checks and check cards can also come in handy if you can’t find a functioning ATM. Keep an emergency reserve of widely accepted currency separate from your other travel money. It can come handy during a crisis.
If you love to add that personal touch to all your travels, you might’ve considered taking your car on an extended road trip. Though it seems like an exciting venture, it can also lead to unforeseen costs like car repairs, constant refueling, and expensive roadside meals.
This would range from paying for entry to a botanical garden, amusement park or a museum to even paying tax for your camera at any site. Going through the charges for these sites will help you pre-plan your budget more effectively.
Countries like Japan, China, and Singapore do not expect you to tip porters or waiters. While countries in Europe expect visitors to leave tips for hospitality services that can generally be around 3-5% of your total bill.
Sometimes drastic weather like heavy rainfall or thunderstorms might just force you to postpone your return flight and extend your stay. Checking meteorological forecasts and planning for such a possibility, prior to leaving for the holiday, will save you from panicking later.
We all love to bring back souvenirs for our loved ones. But sometimes you might just overspend if you don’t settle on a budget and make a list of must-buys.
Sometimes an unforeseen incident can lead you to cancel your vacation. Make sure that you read up on the refund policies of the airline, hotel, resort, and other services before you book a trip.
I always had the impression, along with some of my friends who like to travel, that Maldives was an incredibly expensive destination. Then I chanced across Svetlana’s Maldives posts on a budget. That was a complete blessing, as it showed me that Maldives on budget was possible. Now, that I have done the trip here are my tips for doing Maldives on budget.
Flight Costs: I had actually applied for leaves to visit Maldives in March. But then I was late in looking for flight tickets. I usually search on multiple aggregating websites and then go and check the fare on the airline website as well. I found the Spicejet Delhi-Mumbai-Kochi and then Kochi-Male flight to be cheapest. In March I was getting 21 thousand Indian rupees return fare. I was hesitating to spend 42K for two people just on the airfare. In the end, when I got the tickets for April I paid 17K each as the return fare. If I had leaves I would have taken the flight from Kochi, but what to do, with a full time job leaves are precious as I have to make them last for one full year. Being in academics helps as I get a bit more leaves than others but I still treat my leaves with enormous care.
Visa On Arrival: For Indians, Maldives has visa on arrival. The good news is that it is free of cost! When we arrived at least 3 flights landed and there was a queue. It would have taken us 30-40 minutes to get out. I had all the documents they recommend but they didn’t ask for any. Having said that I know of people who were asked for the documents. So, please do carry the required documents like return flight ticket, hotel reservation etc.
Finding an Island: I zeroed down at Maafushi because I searched for budget islands in Maldives and this one was popular. There are two type of islands in Maldives, resort islands and budget islands. Resort Islands have existed for a long time, I am told budget islands were opened about three years before. I am not sure about the time frame at all, it could be that Maafushi opened to the tourists three years before. The resort islands are expensive. For example I cannot find anything under US dollars 200 (without taxes) on the resort side. Whereas on the budget side you can find accommodations starting from $50. There are many more budget islands in Maldives.
Taxes: When a person quotes a price in Maldives, the actual price will be invariably more. They have a 8% tax on almost everything. Then there could be a 10% extra tax. So when you are planning your Maldives trip do keep in mind that you will pay more than the quoted price most of the time.
Finding a Hotel: I found the hotel via Tripadvisor. I stayed at Picnic Inn which is a basic guesthouse. There are cheaper hotels than Picnic Inn at Maafushi. But while researching at Tripadvisor I realized that the lower priced ones were in close proximity to the jail on the island. I decided to stay mid way. The hotels on the beach side are more expensive, the hotels closer to the jail less so. I booked directly through the hotel. I finally went with them because they were very prompt in answering my queries. I wrote to a few others but found them slow in providing information to me.
Speed Boats are Expensive: Maldives is an island nation. So you take boats to go from one place to another. The local ferries are cheap but not frequent. There are no ferries on Fridays as well. The speed boats are really expensive. I was quoted 200 dollar for the speedboat transfer from Male Airport to Maafushi. The ferry was at 3.00 pm from Male city. My flight landed at 2.10 pm. With visa on arrival I knew there was no way we could take the ferry. So I agreed to the speed boat transfer. If there are more than 5 people sharing a speed boat they charge you $39. I was lucky that the hotel had another group coming by the same flight and I paid $39 per head in the end. But this was just luck. For the Fihalhohi Resort Island trip the speedboat cost was $65 per head. For comparison entry fee with lunch at the resort was $48 per head.
The alternative was to stay at Male and take the ferry to Maafushi the next day. I realized the speedboat costs quite close to my trip and I was not willing to go and search for another hotel in Male. The ferry cost is about $3 and I took it on my return leg from Maafushi to Male.
Money Matters: On the islands everyone accepted dollars so I never exchanged currency. We were offered 15.4 Maldivian Rufiyaa for a dollar. Now that Indian rupee is about 60 to a dollar I was not thrilled. Some of the shopkeepers return you the local currency for the change even if you paid in dollars and that is how we had local currency with us in the end to pay on the ferry.
Food and Water: On budget islands there is no liquor available. The resort islands have no such restrictions. On an average we paid $20 for a a meal for two with fruit juice. In the tropics it is impossible to stay away from juices.Tap water is not potable. A 1.5 liter water bottle costs $1.
Excursions: At Maldives the temptation is to go on other side excursions like diving, snorkeling, sunset cruise and island hopping to name a few. All these are expensive. The prices will vary but do keep a budget for it.
From my side I have tried to give an idea about various costs. If you think I have missed out on something important do let me know, I will try to update the post.
To the 5 budget hotels that I have enjoyed, there are at least 50 that I didn’t. Some of them were outright nightmares. One day I will talk about them too. Thinking about those experiences, I guess they will generate more conversation but for today I talk about the good ones.
One word of caution about the word budget itself. In India any random hotel charges 1500. The hotels I talk about could cost up to 3000 Indian Rupees. For me all I need in a budget hotel is clean bed, clean bathroom with hot water, if it is a really hot place then air conditioning. I do not look for anything else beyond it.
The Waterfall within Shringi Vatika Premises
5. Shringi Vatika, Himachal Pradesh: Shringi Vatika has a waterfall within its premises, it has a small flour mill too. The couple Mr and Mrs Manohar Lal, who run it, give out a few rooms out of their own house. They do have a restaurant though. They cook some awesome Himachali dishes like sidu, sweet rajma and nettle leaf soup. This is a place to go to if you like to go on long walks.It is also a place to go to if you want to do nothing. It is on the old Shimla Manali highway between Banjar and Ghiyagi. I have been here twice and on my second trip my nephew who eats non-veg thought very highly of the food (my experience of the trip here).
View from the Balcony, Holiday Home, Palampur
4. Holiday Home, Palampur: I went to Palampur before the 16th December Gang Rape in Delhi. I just turned up there without pre-booking anything. I had seen good reviews of Holiday Home on Tripadvisor. This hotel is run by a couple, Sher Saklani and Shakuntala Saklani. They rent out a few rooms out of their own home. Their new wing is outside but as I was a solo traveler they offered one of the rooms inside the house. They told me they don’t take in single men unless they are recommended by someone who has stayed with them before. The rooms are clean, there is a small TV and the bathroom has hot water and is really clean. They cook the food for you in the family kitchen. It is served hot and it is delicious. The view from the balcony is fabulous too. I found it absolutely safe as a solo female traveler. But that was before 16th December. I still do FAM trips alone but I have not gone out in India solo after this trip without a FAM offer (the hotel’s official website here).
Breeze Backwater Homes, Alappuza, Kerala
3. Breeze Backwater Homes, Alappuza, Kerala: Breeze Backwater Homes has just four rooms. Each of those rooms are between 5-10 steps away from the Vembanad Lake. They serve delicious South Indian food and they make good tea as well. It is place where you go and do nothing. The trees within the premises attract many species of birds. They own a canoe and a house boat both hand powered. There are hammocks to lie down in and read a book. If you feel inclined to lift a finger go on a cycling tour of the village and go for a canoe ride. If you wish to stay in the house boat that is also possible. A gem of a place, go there before it is discovered (hotel official website link).
The Stairs from the Thaporban Beach House Leading to the Unawatuna Beach, Sri Lanka
2. Thaporban Beach House, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka: The location is to die for. You climb down the ladder at the back of the hotel and you straight get down on to the Unawatuna beach. Unawatuna figures regularly in various top 100 beaches of the world lists. They have various category of rooms and their standard rooms used to cost $55. It used to be less than 3000 Indian Rupees when the rupee was not in a free fall. The rooms were clean, air conditioned and well maintained, the bathroom was clean and had hot water. They have a nice deck overlooking the sea where they serve food. The best part about the hotel was their staff. It was such a cheerful and friendly bunch. It was actually cheaper for me to travel to Sri Lanka than many destinations in India (official website of the hotel here).
The Trekking Lodges in Nepal
1. An Ode to Trekking Lodges in Nepal: I have trekked twice in Nepal to the Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. Both are remote regions, Everest Base Camp more than Annapurna Circuit. They are high altitude treks, these are cold regions. But was this any excuse to keep the basic lodges less than clean? Never did I stay in a lodge that was not clean, really clean. Food can be variable not because they don’t cook it well but because at higher altitudes it is very difficult to eat anything anyway. I can keep singing praises for the trekking lodges in Nepal. On my first trek I thought they were clean because my guide knew which lodges were clean. But when I found them clean on my second trip too, I asked my guide. And he said as a rule most of them are clean. But this applies only to the trekking lodges only and not to the city budget hotels in Kathmandu or Beshishahar ( my Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit Trek experiences here and here).
So which are some nice budget hotels that you have discovered?