We’ve arrived in the United Arab Emirates! And I’m back on the travel-bargain bandwagon. My cost control contest continues.
Higher prices have me more determined than ever to show that fun international travel and early-retired living can be far less expensive than sitting on a bar stool in Cleveland, Ohio or elsewhere in the Western world.
Below is a good start: 17 nights in UAE (Ras Al-Kaimah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi) for under $37.50 per night on average.
Summer airfare deals & Airbnb discounts
To be honest, this current effort began more than a year ago. That’s when we were comfortably able to start moving and living overseas again after COVID.
That first year cost us exactly $27,218, a few thousand over our goal of $24,000 ($2,000 per month).
Still, those early ‘restart’ days were not representative of normal travel conditions. Hardly anybody was out there. We repeatedly noted just a fraction of tourists in Thailand and Malaysia where we spent much of 2022. And Southeast Asia is always a bargain.
Then we moved on to India – ‘Planet India’ as my wife and I have fondly started calling it. Nine months in India and Nepal — an incredible experience. Yet, so different and removed from ‘Western reality’ that we were usually happily oblivious to inflation and interest rates and brewing economic uncertainty elsewhere.
That all ended as we began to plan travel life after Planet India. The US debt ceiling crisis (thankfully averted), general price increases, and airfare costs were all a wake-up call.
Those factors and a gradual, continuing return to travel and tourism ‘normalcy’, certainly have the potential to result in higher expenses across the board.
But check out the airfare receipts below. They show the total cost of our flights from New Delhi, India to Ras Al-Kaimah, UAE. Plus our next journey from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Belgrade, Serbia.
You may wonder how and why we even envisioned such routes. Easy answer: as continuous slow travelers we have no set schedule. No deadlines. No absolutes. We’re free as birds. We can go where the wind blows. Or in this case; where the cheap airfares lead us. (For the record, we do try to minimize air travel. But major continental relocations require it.)
Seriously, a couple months ago, when we decided to depart India before monsoon season – which usually begins in June – I did some quick Skyscanner ‘everywhere’ searches (Kayak has a similar feature). Put in a start point and search “everywhere” and the absolute lowest airfares for all destinations in coming months will be displayed.
From New Delhi, India, those lowest fares were all to the Persian Gulf states — routes popular due to Indian workers who take overseas jobs. We tinkered with different destinations, dates, flight times, etc. and settled on an arrival at Ras Al-Kaimah, the easternmost Emirate along the Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz.
Indian carrier IndiGo (with one free checked bag) was the cheapest way to get to the UAE where we could then bus onward to Dubai and Abu Dhabi — destinations all found on our endless bucket list.
Another Skyscanner search using Abu Dhabi as a start point led to the discovery of Wizz Air. Wizz is a Hungarian (Budapest) based budget carrier with routes concentrated on eastern European destinations. I’d barely heard of them — but their prices from the UAE to places like Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia, and Bulgaria were shockingly low. With the Balkan area as an attractive ‘lower cost’ option for summertime, we settled on $55 tickets from Abu Dhabi to Belgrade, Serbia.
The one hitch with Wizz Air is the baggage. Anything more than a small personal item will cost you big time. In fact, we paid another $52 for one 20-kilo checked bag. We’ll pare down what else we carry in our free personal items.
Yet at only $162 total, that’s a fantastic long-distance airfare deal –nearly 2,400 miles on a six-hour direct flight!
Airbnb discounts & the ‘zoom’ trick
Of course, once in the Balkans we know bus and train travel is easy and reasonably priced. But like most places, the cost of high-season lodging is on the rise. Still, with some careful Airbnb searching, bargains can be had.
I don’t know how many people take the time, but if you tinker with the ‘zoom’ level on Airbnb maps and search repeatedly over a small area, many, many more listings often appear that are somehow left off of a more casual zoomed-out search.
We snatched up what I think are two of the best deals in all of Europe in Bucharest, Romania and Varna, Bulgaria. These are month-long, one-bedroom apartment stays (with AC) for barely $20 per day — the same as we were paying in the Philippines in 2018 and throughout the pandemic. It’s even less than some of our India rentals! Wow!
Most similar Balkan places were asking over $1000 per month – some over $1500! I couldn’t help but notice, those listings had like zero bookings. I’m starting to think people are just throwing their apartment onto Airbnb at a ‘fantasy’ price – just in case someone will rent it. Then they will clean up and move out for the period — go stay with relatives or on vacation.
In any case, the places we’ve rented are undoubtedly ‘real’ rental units and because we were looking several months in advance, we were able to snag them longer-term. I know this; the $500 to $1,000 price difference will provide a lot of meals and other expenses during the rental time.
Meanwhile, back here in the UAE, it’s 100°+ F every day. But our reasonably priced rentals (with AC) are working out just fine. To contain costs, we’ve booked a couple ‘private room/guest house’ style places and a Dubai stay at a ‘new’ Airbnb studio listing a little further out of town (but right on the metro line). For us, those are well-proven ways to fight back against ‘cost creep’ in places where prices are already high.
We plan to beat the ‘cost creep’
An old friend told me years ago that I construct money saving exercises like this “because you’re bored”… lol. Thankfully, there is some truth to that. We are fortunate that we could pay more if necessary — but why? We enjoy schlepping around on the cheap while we are young and healthy enough to do so. And what we save will be there in future years when we do slow down and want more comforts.
I told another friend recently that I approach our budget slow travel lifestyle almost like a sport, a game, a contest. It’s a tug-of-war over my money versus banks, airlines, government taxes, big corporations, etc. And I intend to win!
Our $2,000 per month ‘Asian’ budget will have to be increased now – but by how much remains to be seen: 20%? 33%? 50%? The game is on! Stay tuned for the updated score throughout the summer.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!
Theo (also called Tedly) retired early from the news business to wander the planet with his wife, Ellen. He enjoys exploring all Earth has to offer from jungles and beaches to volcanoes and deserts, always drinking beer along the way.