Thursday 23 May 2019

How to cut costs and make your once-in-a-lifetime holiday happen

A bucket-list holiday can cost €10,000 but saving early could put it within reach, writes Louise McBride

Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies offers spectacular views
Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies offers spectacular views
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

The holiday of a lifetime could easily cost an individual €10,000 - about a quarter of the average Irish wage. The bill could be multiple times that if paying for a partner or family. However, the economic boom - which has led to a surge in the numbers of Irish people going on holiday - could now make it more feasible to save up for the break of a lifetime.

So how much would you need in the bank for a bucket-list holiday - and are there any ways to do it cheaply?

Rockies and Alaska

An 18-night holiday to the Canadian Rockies, including an Alaskan cruise, costs from €10,749 per person with travel agents Trailfinders - based on two people sharing. That price, which is for its 'Canadian Rockies Explorer and optional Alaskan Cruise' trip, includes accommodation, most meals, the cruise, and return flights from Dublin to Vancouver - assuming the initial flight out is on September 4. (Flight prices vary depending on availability, the time of year you're travelling, and whether you're travelling economy or business class). The trip takes in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, Whistler and other well-known spots in the Rockies - as well as the Glacier Bay National Park.

Trailfinders has a cheaper version of this tour that does not include the Alaskan cruise. Sunway also recently advertised a five-night trip to the Canadian Rockies in May from €2,399 per person sharing (based on two sharing) and which does not include an Alaskan cruise.

One of the cheapest months to visit the Rockies in is November - just before the ski season starts in Canada, according to Jonathan Bridge, a spokesman for Trailfinders. "If including an Alaskan cruise [in your trip], May is the cheapest [time to travel]," said Bridge.

You could save money by arranging your own holiday - rather than going through a travel agent. Should you be purely interested in the Canadian Rockies and happy to skip the Alaskan cruise, you could fly from Dublin to Calgary, hire a car, drive through the Rockies and make your way to Vancouver - where you would fly home from.

Hotel accommodation in the Rockies is often expensive, so if you're up for camping, pack a tent - as there are plenty of affordable campgrounds in and around the national parks. Hostels are another option. "Jasper and Banff have a network of around 10 rustic hostels," said Brendan Sainsbury, a freelance author who has written many books for travel guide publisher Lonely Planet - including ones on Canada.

Book your accommodation early. "The national parks have limited accommodation and strict planning laws mean no new hotels are likely to be built," said Sainsbury. "The earlier you book, the more choice you will get."

Being flexible with your travel times and avoiding travel during peak season should also help keep the bill down. "High season in the [Canadian national] parks is roughly Victoria Day [late May] to Labour Day [first weekend in September] - with July and August being the busiest and most expensive months," said Sainsbury. "Shoulder season - that is spring or early autumn - is cheaper."

Another way to keep costs down is to stay in accommodation just outside the national parks. Sainsbury often stays in Canmore when visiting Banff. "Canmore has cheaper accommodation [than Banff] and more options - including some apartments," said Sainsbury. "There are regular cheap local buses (called Roam buses) from Canmore into Banff Town - or you can cycle in."

There are some shuttle buses in the national parks (for getting around the parks), but these are mostly in Banff and more widespread in the summer, said Sainsbury.

Should you be organising your own trip to the Rockies, buy the National Park Discovery Pass - which costs about €45 (CA$67.70) per person or €91 (CA$136.40) per family (up to seven people in a car). This gives you unlimited admission to over 80 national parks in Canada and so should save you on park entrance fees.

Trans-Siberia

A 16-day trip on the Trans-Siberian Express - which will take you from Moscow to Beijing - could cost over €17,000 per person, excluding flights. This is the price of a Platinum cabin on the Tsar's Gold Trans-Siberian rail tour in July or August - a tour offered by the Russian tour specialist, Travel All Russia. (There are cheaper cabins on this tour - Platinum is the most expensive one). The price includes accommodation, meals and airport transfers - but it does not include flights. As the price of flights from Dublin to Moscow and Beijing to Dublin could be anything from €1,000 to €2,000 or more; flights would bring the total cost of the trip to almost €20,000 or more.

Trailfinders also offers trips on the Trans-Siberian Express, including a 15-day trip on the Golden Eagle luxury train. The price of this holiday starts from €15,999 per person - based on two sharing and including flights (assuming trip starts on August 18), accommodation and meals.

You need visas on the Trans-Siberian railway journey so be sure to understand - and meet - those requirements. "The visa situation with the Trans-Siberian trip is quite stressful," said Sarah Slattery, founder of the travel website, thetravelexpert.ie. "You need to fill out a huge amount of forms."

A visa specialist (such as Visa First - visafirst.com) can help to organise your visas for this trip - or your travel agent may also assist. "Russian, Chinese and Mongolian visas are usually required for Irish passport holders going on the Trans-Siberian express," said Kellsie Larkin, account manager with Visa First in Dublin.

"We organise these visas on a daily basis and have been working with these embassies for many years."

Antarctic Cruise

John Galligan Travel recently advertised an Antarctic cruise for from €11,250 per person (based on two sharing). That price - which is for a trip which starts this November - included flights from Dublin, 16 nights on board the cruise ship, meals and drinks on board, and two nights hotel accommodation.

The trip takes in Antarctic Sound, the Antarctic Peninsula and Drake Passage. You can also book Antarctic - and Arctic - cruises through Trailfinders and a number of other Irish travel agents.

Booking cruises early - and paying the full bill well in advance - often secures good discounts and gives you the best choice of cabins.

Luxury safari

You could pay several grand or more for a week's luxury safari, largely depending on where and when you go, and the standard of accommodation.

The cost of an eight-night luxury safari in Tanzania this September or October starts from €8,299 per person with Trailfinders - based on two people sharing. This price includes flights, accommodation, meals, park fees, and game drives (where you travel in a 4x4 to view wildlife).

Trailfinders also has a seven-night luxury safari in Kenya for the same months for from €6,849 per person (based on two people sharing) - or in the Dulini Lodge in Kruger National Park for from €8,649 per person .

It is possible to get cheaper safari trips. Sunway recently advertised a six-night safari in Kenya in November for from €2,099 per person.

June and November are typically the cheapest months to go on safari in Tanzania, according to Bridge. (Bear in mind though that the best time to see the migration of the wildebeest in Tanzania is typically between July and October.) April to June is typically the cheapest time to go on safari in Kenya, while May to August are generally cheapest for South Africa, according to Bridge.

Consider limiting your safari trip to two nights if struggling to afford such a holiday.

"You don't have to stay much longer than two nights on safari - particularly if you can get six-game drives in over that time," said Slattery. "Two nights is more than enough. If you go for two nights though, make sure you arrive [at the safari park] before lunchtime - and that you leave after lunch on the day of your departure. That will allow you to get all of your game drives in."

A safari, like any once-in-a-lifetime holiday, is likely to be expensive but shopping around and doing your research before booking could chop hundreds - perhaps thousands - off the bill.

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