How to do Singapore on a Budget

By Sia Ling Xin,
April 3, 2014
Singapore lit up at night
Courtesy iStock/Asiarooms

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter.

Singapore is known to be tiny, modern, and insanely expensive—especially next to her Southeast Asian counterparts. While $50 USD is more than enough for travellers to live like a prince in nearby countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, the same amount is barely enough for a hotel room in Singapore.

Still, with street food even Gordon Ramsay raved about, impeccably safe streets, and a location that makes it ideal as a stopover hub, there's no reason to give this city-state a miss. Yes, it is possible for those travelling on a budget to enjoy Singapore, just as the locals do. Here's what you need to know.

Get better rates with an ez-link card
The ez-link (easy-link) card is a type of stored value card for public transit use, similar to the Oyster card in London. The cards have a first-time cost of $12, of which $7 can be used to pay for public transport, and $5 is non-refundable. Having an ez-link card eliminates the tiresome process of digging for enough change for a bus ticket or trying to calculate how much each train journey costs as you would when buying per-trip tickets. Most importantly, it offers better rates than cash payment, so the non-refundable $5 is easily set off. At the end of the day, you save yourself the hassle of figuring out transport costs, and you get a souvenir card that truly represents life in Singapore!

Enjoy hawker food
When choosing to dine in a coffee shop or a hawker centre, go where the locals go. There are many open-air establishments that are coffee shop style, but one look at the clientele—chockfull of foreigners with garish decorations—and you know it is a tourist trap. A meal in a hawker centre—inclusive of main, drink, and dessert—should always give you change back from $10. The eateries along the Chinatown shopping alley may seem authentic, but you will be hard pressed to find locals dining there. Makansutra Gluttons Bay offers great views and is near the Esplanade theatres, but the dishes there tend to be pricier as well. Instead, head to places where you see locals congregating. Chinatown Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, or any neighbourhood hawker centre will do nicely.

Come during a festive public holiday
During festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Thaipusam, there is so much more to see, hear, and eat. During Chinese New Year, for example, dancers and celebrities put up free performances for the public in areas like Chinatown. Street vendors also offer free samples of their festive goodies in a bid to rev sales up. It is a good chance to see Singapore is a less sterile, worker-bee state, as well as capitalize on all the free food and performances going around.

Free museum days
Museums under the National Heritage Board have free admission on public holidays, which makes even more sense to plan visits around festive periods. Alternatively, plan your museum visit around the periods of free or discounted admission to save money. Many museums are located in convenient areas that travellers would be probably passing by when sightseeing, such as the National Museum of Singapore, which is within walking distance from the popular Orchard Road/Dhoby Ghaut shopping stretch. In this case, why not just pop by for a quick and free look?

Choose your hotel wisely
There is no need to splurge and spend $300 a night on a fancy hotel, even though some offer incredible views and rooms. Room standards in Singapore are decent, so even a budget hotel or hostel is safe and clean. Opt for hotels in Little India, Tanjong Pajar, or Chinatown—the locations are easily accessible, there are a wide range of prices and room types to choose from, and it is fun checking out the nightlife in these areas. If you do not want to miss out on the island fun Sentosa can offer, just make a day trip there after stocking up on food and drink from nearby shopping mall Vivocity. Hotel and food prices on the upscale island can burn a hole in any backpacker's worn pocket.

A day in Singapore is not going to come as cheap as a day in a neighbouring country, but it is not going to be exorbitant either. There are bargains and great discounts to be had here and they are not hard to find—simply do as the locals do, and go where the locals go. Those who plan to spend their money wisely will wonder why anyone ever complained that the Lion City is expensive when it has so much to offer on the cheap.

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An Affordable One-Day Tour of Honolulu

This article was written by Kristian Nielsen, the owner of Honolulu HI 5, a Honolulu based real estate agency specializing in Oahu real estate.  Traveling and sightseeing are wonderful ways to create memories, especially in a place like Hawaii. The problem is that it can be so expensive. With that in mind, we've created a full day for you that can be done on a very affordable budget. Best of all, you'll spend it immersed in the rich history and culture of Hawaii. We assume this takes place on a Friday and you're using public transportation, however, most of this can be done on any weekday. One Tip: Make traveling easier by downloading the phone app for Hawaii's bus system, The Bus so you can find nearby bus stops, check routes, and have easy access to arrival times. Get the Day Started Friday morning! Hungry? Then head over to 2256 Kuhio Ave, the Seaside Bar & Grill, for the best breakfast special in Waikiki. You'll get two pancakes, two bacon strips and two eggs, all for $3.95. Now that you're filled up, let's see some sights! First, we need to catch The Bus. Kuhio Ave has several stops, but we want one on the North, or Ala Wai, side of the street. Check your Bus app for the closest. Let's catch the #2/School Street, which picks you up at Kuhio and Seaside at 10:01 a.m. Bus fare is $2.50 for adults 18 and over while ages 6 to 17 ride for a mere $1.25. Kids ages five and under are free. Bring proof of age, just in case. We're going to get off at South Beretania and Punchbowl Streets. If you're unsure, just tell the driver you're going to Iolani Palace. They'll watch out for you. Once there, we cross Beretania St. heading south (towards the Capitol Building) on Punchbowl St. We'll come back to the Capitol later, so keep going and turn right on King St. Entering the Palace Gates, you can tell immediately that this is a special place. Since we're focused on saving money, we'll skip the interior tour (tickets are $21.75 for adults for a guided tour, $14.75 for adults for a self-guided audio tour, $6 for children ages 5-12; children under age four are not permitted). That's okay, because the outside alone is well worth the trip here. Walk around the grounds, take pictures of this historic and magnificent building, tand imagine Old Hawaii life. The Barracks, found on the west side, has bathrooms as well as a free video that gives you an introduction to the history of the Palace. Once you've finished here, just walk across King St. to the grand figure presiding over the area. The iconic statue of King Kamehameha is an awe-inspiring sight that's one of the area's must-take photos. The Ali'iolani Hale building behind it is equally stunning, yet another link to Hawaii's royal past. Built in 1874, it currently houses the Hawaii Supreme Court, but you're here to take in the grand architecture inside and out. Those who want even more can visit the Judiciary History Center, also inside, which tells about the building's very significant role throughout the islands' history. The best part: it's all free for you to check out. Lunch With Music It's almost lunchtime, but where do we go? Easy. Just a few steps to some of Honolulu's famous food trucks, parked on Mililani St. right beside the building. You'll have two or three choices and they all provide tasty food for $10 or less per person. It's lunch to go, naturally, and that's exactly what we want because we're going back to the Palace grounds by noon. The Royal Hawaiian Band gives an outdoor concert every Friday at lunchtime at the Palace gazebo. Spread out on the grass, savor your food, and enjoy the sweet, serenading sounds of the islands. Unfortunately, for the purposes of our one-day tour, you'll need to leave before it's over. At 12:35 p.m., we're on our way to the State Capitol, directly behind the Palace. Tours of the Capitol are free, but you must be there at least 10 minutes before the 1 p.m. start. Take the elevators, found in the corner areas, up to the 4th floor and go to room 415 to check in. After all that walking and sightseeing, it's time for the beach! Our bus stop is at King and Punchbowl Streets, where we'll catch #2/Waikiki back to our home-away-from-home. Head to your hotel for a break or go straight out to the beach. Your choice. Dinner Time & the Grand Finale No matter how long you're by the ocean, it's not enough time, but dinner is calling. Waikiki dining can be pricey, but you can still get great food at a great price. One favorite? Marukame Udon at 2310 Kuhio Ave, popular with locals as well, so you know it's good. Get filling noodle dishes and tempura options for as little as $5. There's usually a line, but not to worry, it moves fast. It's time to cap off this Friday in the greatest possible way. That means the 7:40 p.m. fireworks show put on by Hilton Hawaiian Village. Though you can see it from almost any beach in Waikiki, closer is better. Try the Fort DeRussy sands or even nearer to Hilton Hawaiian Village if possible. It's 10 minutes of world-class sparks and is a beloved weekly event. Don't miss it.


What Are Your Favorite Things To Do In Lima and Cusco?

A few weeks from now, I'll be checking off the number one spot on my travel bucket list: Machu Picchu. I've pretty much been obsessed with this beautiful place ever since I was a kid and saw an episode of The Wild Thornberrys on Nickelodeon when the family visited Peru (and Tim Curry as Nigel Thornberry brilliantly taught his daughter how to breathe deeply while hiking the Inca Trail by singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as they hiked—a scene I may have to re-enact when I visit!). The good news is, you can come, too! Follow along with my adventures as I post photos from the road to our Instagram page, @budgettravel. I'm going to be living out my ultimate dream trip by taking the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures, a small-group adventure tour company that offers a wide variety of trips around the world for people of all ages at super affordable prices. Not only do their trips guarantee departures (once you book, you're going!) and incredible inclusions (like guided tours of the Sacred Valley and the Ollantaytambo ruins, for instance), the company is also big on making a difference in the world. G Adventures' founder, Bruce Poon Tip, started the company in 1990 by maxing out two credit cards to follow his dream—G Adventures is now the largest adventure travel company in the world and features more than 1,000 tours on all seven continents. He recently wrote Looptail, a book that became a New York Times bestseller, about his company philosophy and how he reinvented the business model by focusing on the human element, karma, and happiness within the company. He also started the Planeterra Foundation in 2003, a non-profit that works to give back to the communities G Adventures tours visit and creates a sustainable travel network around the world—tours often stop at project sites, putting money back into the communities and allowing travelers to have a more authentic experience getting to know the local people who run them. The trip I'm taking includes lunch at a Planeterra-supported Sacred Valley Community Restautant in Huchuy Qosco village and a visit to a women's weaving project that the company started as a way to help support the area's indigenous community. The tour starts in Lima and includes internal flights from Lima to Cusco, time in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes (hot springs, anyone?), and of course, Machu Picchu. G Adventures offers a ton of Peru packages that include time in Machu Picchu and along the legendary Inca Trail. This particular tour actually offers an optional one-day hike along the end of the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu, something that must be booked far in advance so, unfortunately, I won't have a chance to do it this time around (lesson learned: always, always, always book early for sites that require permits to enter). But, I'll still be able to tour the site at another point during the tour, so it's all good. The trip ends with some more time to explore Cusco before hopping on an internal flight back to Lima for one more day of sightseeing, one of the perks of purposely booking a red-eye back to New York City. This is also going to be my first trip to South America, so I'm really excited to be visiting another continent (three down, four more to go!), but also a little nervous about accidentally ruining my whole trip by being overzealous and eating the wrong thing on day one—let's just say I've been studying this Budget Travel article about how to keep your stomach safe while traveling and reading up on foods to avoid on the road, you know, just in case. My doctor recommended getting a Typhoid vaccine before traveling to the area since water can sometimes be questionable, but I'm told as long as I stick to bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing, there's not much to worry about. Altitude sickness was another concern, but my friends who have traveled to Peru said to just keep drinking water, take it easy, and when in doubt, do as the locals do and sample the coca tea that they use to help keep their own altitude sickness at bay. (Please feel free to share any tips or recommendations from your own Peru travel adventures in the comments section below). While the G Adventures tour includes a lot of sightseeing, there is also a decent amount of free time built in. That's where you come in. Before I travel to a new place, I always ask my friends and family for recommendations for great places to eat, things I shouldn't miss, and other off-the-beaten-path spots that I'd never know about otherwise. Our intrepid Budget Travel audience has traveled all over the world and always has great advice, so now I'm asking you. What are your favorite places to visit in Lima and Cusco? What tips would you give to someone traveling to Peru for the first time? Sound off below!


Great Getaways: Three Days in Quito, Ecuador

Snow-capped volcanoes. Whitewashed Spanish colonial houses. Narrow cobblestone streets that mount steeply upward, then just as steeply descend. A fantastic labyrinth of hidden passageways and noisy markets. Brilliant white sunlight that gives way in late afternoon to swirling mists coming in off dark mountain peaks. Soaring church interiors drenched in gold. Quito, Ecuador is all this, and more. A decade ago, the world's second-highest capital had a reputation for being disorderly and dangerous, full of panhandlers and thieves. Nowadays, thanks to government initiatives to clean up the downtown neighborhoods, the city is among the safest in Latin America with the added distinction of being one of New7Wonders' 28 candidates for World's Most Beautiful City. Add to this the immaculate condition of its historical landmarks—it was the first city chosen by UNESCO as a World Heritage site—and the perfect year-round weather, and you have an ideal weekend travel destination. To maximize your 72 hours in what locals call "the city of bell towers," check out the following itinerary. Be sure to bring your walking shoes: Quito's hills can put even experienced hikers to the test. Friday 9:00     This DIY walking tour starts with two of Quito's not-to-be-missed historical churches, the Compañía de Jesús and the Convento de San Francisco. The former is the Latin American baroque at its most dazzling: lofty cupolas, intricately carved cedar framing the side chapels, ceilings crowded with indigenous designs, and gold leaf everywhere. The latter is more somber and houses one of Quito's most famous statues, the Virgen Inmaculada by Bernardo Legarda. Note: Your experience of the Compañía will be greatly enhanced if you hire one of the excellent English-speaking guides that haunt the vestibule. If you're a souvenir junkie, the Tianguez market in the Plaza de San Francisco, just below the church itself, is popular but overpriced. 11:30   Two blocks from the plaza is the house of Quito's greatest revolutionary leader, Antonio José de Sucre. Hero of the Battle of Pichincha, which secured Ecuador's independence, Sucre spent just one year in this lovely 18th-century home before being assassinated. The stables, kitchen, salon, and dining room are elegant yet homey—you can still see the Mariscal's guitar hanging from the bedroom wall. 12:30   After all that history, you'll have worked up an appetite. To feed it, head to ¡Hasta la Vuelta, Señor!, located in a charming inner courtyard of the Palacio Arzobispal in the Plaza Grande. If you've never sampled Ecuadorian cuisine, seco de chivo (goat stew) and a plate of mixed empanadas are a perfect introduction. 2:30     Ecuadorian food can be rich, so while you're digesting, take advantage of your body's down time to hail a cab to the TelefériQo, the cable-car system that whisks visitors up the slopes of Pichincha Volcano to an altitude of 14,000 feet. The views of the surrounding valley are awe-inspiring. If there's a line, you can buy an express ticket, and near the exit there's also a cute amusement park for children (and their parents). 5:30     Next it's off to New Town, Quito's modern tourist district to the north, and the seat of the city's two main parks, Parque el Ejido and Parque Carolina. The former has a thriving souvenirs market; the latter features a beautiful lagoon with paddleboats for rent. Take a few hours to wander and soak up the Andean sunset. 7:30     For dinner, New Town's La Mariscal district offers many options. Among the best is Mama Clorinda, a small tavern that serves excellent fritada (fried pork) and seafood. Try the llapingachos, small pancakes made with potatoes and cheese. 10:00   Quito's nightlife scene isn't as raucous as that of other South American capitals, but the bars and discos around the Mariscal's Plaza Foch are lively enough. Every night is different, but Bungalow 6 and NoBar consistently seem to draw heavy crowds. If you want to get your salsa on, head to the underground Seseribó, a short cab ride away. Saturday 9:00     Ecuador means "equator," and no trip to Quito is complete without visiting Mitad del Mundo, the point through which (supposedly) the Big Line passes. Any one of countless buses will take you directly to the tourist complex. After snapping the requisite photos, check out the Inti Nan museum, which claims to be the site of the true equator and features interesting activities and reconstructions of native lodgings. For lunch, browse through the menus of the inexpensive restaurants just down the road. 2:00     The House of Oswaldo Guayasimin, Ecuador's most famous modern artist, is testimony to its owner's lifelong pursuit of beauty. Home to the painter's own impressive collection of South American masterpieces (his own and those from the pre-Hispanic period onward), it is also one of the most beautiful buildings you will ever have the privilege of entering, a true paradise of the senses. Next door is his magnum opus, the Capilla del Hombre, a memorial to the sufferings of indigenous peoples everywhere. 5:00     Late afternoon is a perfect time to see the Panecillo, the hill that overlooks Old Town Quito, and a former Inca site for sun worship. The best views to be had are from the observation deck of the Virgin of the Americas, the apocalyptic statue on the hill's peak. As the sun sets, the surrounding hills become swathed in mist. Be sure to take taxis to and from the hilltop site for safety. 8:00     For dinner, it's back down the hill to La Ronda, the most romantic street in Quito. A former red-light district, it underwent gentrification a decade ago and is now a mix of artisans' studios, bohemian cafés, peñas (supper clubs with live folk music), and criollo restaurants. Good options for dinner are La Primera Casa, Café Ferran, and Los Geranios. Don't forget to try canelazo, a traditional Ecuadorian hot toddy with cinnamon. Sunday 10:00   After sleeping in, start your Sunday with a leisurely American brunch at The Magic Bean in La Mariscal. Yes, the prices are a bit high, and it's full of backpackers, but the big breakfasts really hit the spot after a festive night out. 12:00   For a final, comprehensive look at Ecuador's long history, head to the Museo Nacional de Ecuador, near Parque el Ejido. There you'll find three wings dedicated to the pre-Hispanic, Colonial, and Modern periods, with abundant artwork from each. Highlights: one of the world's only statues of a pregnant Virgin Mary, and pre-Colombian animal sculptures that you'd swear were from Ming China. 3:00     For your final meal prior to catching your flight out, consider La Canoa in La Mariscal. This friendly diner serves excellent carne asada, fried fish, and of course, empanadas. A perfect ending to your perfect weekend in Ecuador's luminous capital. Mike Gasparovic is a freelance writer, editor, and translator who devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of South American Vacations, providers of tours to Ecuador and throughout all of South America.


Whales and Wildlife: The Best of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

Alaska is a dream travel destination, and the Kenai Peninsula, located south of Anchorage on the southern coast of Alaska, encapsulates much of Alaska's natural wonders. Whale watching, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and wildlife viewing are just some of the adventures that draw travelers to "Alaska's Playground." It's also relatively accessible to visitors by Alaska standards, making it a popular summer travel destination. Many people visit the Kenai Peninsula on a cruise. Others drive along the scenic Seward Highway. No matter how you get to the Kenai, here are three not-to-miss things to do and travel trips to help you soak it all in hassle free. Wildlife and Glaciers Galore on a Kenai Fjords Boat Tour One of the best ways to see wildlife and glaciers is to hop on a boat and head out to the Kenai Fjords National Park. In the summer, boat tours depart from the Seward Harbor daily and motor through Resurrection Bay. Killer whales, puffin, steller sea lions and majestic bald eagles are just some of the animals you may spot. On my boat tour, I also witnessed the power of nature at Holgate Glacier, a tidewater glacier fed by the Harding Ice field, which, adding in the glaciers, covers approximately 1,100 square miles. That's enough ice to make the whole state of Rhode Island into a skating rink! As our boat floated close to this massive glacier, I thought for an instant that I was hearing fireworks, as giant icebergs careened off the side of the glacier and plummeted into the water in an awesome natural exercise known as calving. Top Travel Tips: If you tend towards seasickness, make sure to bring along or take the proper medication before your excursion, because the waters can be rough. Wear layers, because as you may expect, it gets cold by those glaciers! Exit Glacier Salmon Bake I had the best salmon I've ever tasted at the Exit Glacier Salmon Bake, a cozy restaurant and pub recommended to me by a local in Seward. Sit inside or out at this family style, rustic restaurant, located just outside of Exit Glacier, the only portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road. Whether you've spent your day hiking Exit Glacier or out on the water, this casual, popular restaurant with abundant portions will satisfy your seafood craving, and it can all be washed down with an Alaska beer. Top Travel Tips: Order the salmon! While the Halibut and Alaskan King Crab are also good, you've got to try the salmon. It was so fresh that it tasted to me like it was just caught, which it likely was. Chugach National Forest To get your heart pumping in Alaska nature, enjoy a hike or horse ride in the Chugach National Forest, the second largest national forest in the United States. There are a variety of day hikes that get you away from the roadways and into the wild. Consider the Russian Lakes Trail from the Cooper Landing area, which weaves through striking forests with a variety of scenic views, wildflowers and wildlife. This area is also well known for its outstanding fishing. I saddled up from stables in Cooper Landing along the Russian Gap Trail, a route that gold seekers from Russia traversed during the 1850s. After climbing up through a temperate rain forest, with soft foliage and wildflowers beneath our hooves, the views opened to a beautiful canopy of pine trees and dramatic, snow-capped mountains. I even spotted a bear, thankfully, in the distance. Top Travel Tips: The Chugach National Forest is a wild and remote, so whether you are taking off for a day hike or staying for a while in one of the forests' public cabins or campgrounds, make sure you share your route and when you'll return with a responsible friend, someone who's not on the hike with you! Encompassing over 15,000 square miles of pure nature, there are lots of other fun things to see and do on the Kenai. Summertime is peak season. You'll want to plan your travels well in advance, as accommodations and tours fill up quickly. One bonus, during summer in Alaska, it can be light for almost 24-hours a day, so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors. About the author: Darley Newman is the globe-trotting host and producer of Travel Like the Locals with Darley on and the Emmy-winning Equitrekking series on PBS. For more information on Kenai Peninsula visit their site.