Taking a vacation can get so expensive, so my next tip in House of Six’s travel cheap tips is stay away from the tourist traps. What do I mean by this? This includes not only the restaurants where the tourists eat but the tour buses, the taxis, the boat tours, and so on. When traveling, these seem to be the biggest waste of money and an area where the operators will try to gouge you for more than its worth.
Instead of going to upscale restaurants – you know the ones, where there is white sheer drapes that billow over an open patio and the lighting only comes from white candles set in a glass jar (sounds pretty, doesn’t it) – try looking for the small mom and pop-run restaurants where the locals hang out. You will find the portions are bigger, the food tastes better (home cooking) and the atmosphere will be livelier. On one of our vacations, I can remember my husband and I followed the garbage men (yes, the garbage men) into a restaurant where they were having their lunch and had a great meal there. We ended up ordering a beef stew pasta with a flask of wine for 7 Euros for the both of us to eat. The food was great, the service was quick and it was interesting to watch the locals descend on the place for lunch. Within 10 minutes of us arriving there, the place was full with locals eating their mid-day meal.
Avoid the tour buses. You know the ones – the double decker, brightly painted buses that will take you on a tour of the surrounding area. The ones that look like if they turn the corner too quickly they will topple over. Instead, investigate the local buses, trains and subways. Usually there will be a main hub where you can ask questions and find out which route and which bus to take to go where you want to go. Or, your hotel, hostel, or bed and breakfast may have that information. Even if the locals speak another language, usually the people who work for the city’s transportation speak English or at least speak some English. In Madeira, we took a local bus to visit my husband’s cousin on the west side of the island. We found out what route to take from the bus company. My husband also asked the bus driver when we boarded the bus to let us know when our stop was coming up which he did without a hassle. We even took a photo of the bus routes so that we could refer to them later if we decided to go somewhere else. You’ll spend much less than a tour bus and you will see much more of the city or town you are visiting.
Taxis are another major expense that go hand-in-hand with the tour buses. Again, take the local buses and subways. And walk. Walking is the best way to really tour a city or town. It’s the only way that you can really see and experience a city and all its nooks and crannies. I remember about 6 years ago when my husband and I visited Madeira for our second time together, we wanted to go to see his aunt also on the far west side of the island. At that time, we didn’t think about using the buses and weren’t sure exactly where her house was. My husband found out from a taxi driver where she lived and he took us for 8 Euros which we thought reasonable at the time. On the way back to our hotel, we called for another taxi to take us back. While he drove us back to our hotel, we realized he was taking another, much longer route so he could charge us more. He wanted to charge us 12 Euros for the ride which we knew only cost 8. We refused to pay the 12 Euros explaining to him the cost of the first taxi which had taken us to our destination. He didn’t argue much as he knew we knew better. Most taxi drivers in a foreign country, not all but most, if they know you are tourists, and they usually know, will try to attempt to increase the fare.
Boat tours are probably the hardest to avoid if you want to tour an island or “watch the dolphins”. Most boat tours that try to entice the tourists by selling tickets on the beach or busy sidewalks are not what they claim to be. The best thing may be to try to book a private boat either from a local or from a private tour company that has a good reputation. You can find some of these on Trip Advisor. You do have to do your research. Trip Advisor is a good place to start. Use the reviews there to give you a good idea of where to go. I find most people on Trip Advisor write an honest review. Maybe scout some of the private tours out before your trip so you have an idea of what they do and how much they cost.
You can also take the local ferries or boats. We took a local ferry to Porto Santo to visit that island which is about 2 hours away from Madeira. Beautiful boat, lots of seating and food available to buy. This boat is used by the locals who vacation on Porto Santo and also ships food and supplies to the island. To take my husband and I to Porto Santo and back cost us about 113 Euros.
So, Tip No. 2, try to use transportation that the locals in the area use. You will find it is much easier on your budget and you actually will see more of the place you are vacationing in. If you can’t get away without booking a tour, try to find a private company or a private person that would be willing to take you for a lower cost.