5 Ways to Save Money When Traveling

18th May 2017
save money when traveling image of a plane taking off at night with skyscraper background

Ah travel. The sweet feeling of freedom, taste of airplane food and exploring unknown (or known) places. Bruneians love to travel (and as much as possible, save money when traveling). We love it more so than many of our neighbouring counterparts because of a few key factors:

1. Most have the means

Travel doesn’t necessary need to get on a plane. Many of us would be happy enough going on a day trip to Miri, Sarawak or a road trip down to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. And because of our exchange rates of BND1 to RM3, it’s pretty much seen as “cheap”.

2. More choices and varieties

Really, there are so many different things outside of our little country. Many more malls to shop, food to try, and different attractions to see. I haven’t heard of many Bruneians doing staycations locally but that may just be my group of friends.

3. Get away from normalcy

Travel is a great excuse to get away from school, work and life here in general. Everything is slow and steady in Brunei. It’s exhilarating to experience the hustle and bustle of busy cities such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. But then, prolonged experience is draining in terms of not only your wallet but also your energy.

Save Money when Traveling

With the love of travel, there is one key ingredient you need to enjoy it: money. But then, traveling is also part of the contributing factors to our weakened economy in recent years; Brunei’s money going out instead of spent within. Of course, there have been cases where young travelers resorted to crowdfunding or asking for money on the streets to fuel their escapades. That doesn’t sit well with me as I’m a believer of living within your means. If you go beyond and need to seek help from every Tom, Dick and Harry, then there’s a problem.

So with having enough cash being key, there are also other factors you’d have to take into consideration. Things like security and attitudes of the locals towards outsiders will also affect your overall experience. But we only care about the ka-chings so here are 5 things that you should remember when traveling that could save you a shiny coin.

1. Claim back the GST!

Many developed countries have implemented a system of Goods and Services Tax (GST) for almost all things you spend money on like food and shopping. Places like Singapore, for example, will offer GST refunds if you spend over SGD100 on certain items. That being said, claiming GST is different for different places and there are a few hoops you would need to jump through to get your money back:

  1. Find out what conditions need to be met to claim GST. Things like length of stay, purpose of stay and types of things bought can play a role.
  2. Usually you would need to ask the shop where you made your purchase to give you a GST refund receipt (you may need your passport for this).
  3. Then at the airport, you will need to proceed to get your GST sorted first. The customs officials may want to inspect your items.
  4. Only then should you check in your luggage.

In a recent trip to Singapore, I checked in my luggages only to remember I didn’t claim my GST yet. Surely enough their strict regulations didn’t allow me to claim my refund. Costly lesson learned…

2. Exchange rates

When traveling to places with different currencies, it’s best to ask any friends who have traveled there recently what the rates are. Together with checking rates online, you know what are the “acceptable” ranges of exchange rates you should look for both in your home country and in the destination country. Airports usually have very bad rates (for us, at least), it’s usually fine to change a little back home and then look for legitimate exchanges at your destination.

Don’t be afraid to shop around different money changers to get the best rate. While they usually don’t differ much, it could make a big difference (one meal, perhaps?) if you were to exchange a large sum.

That being said, be careful when you see big signs with rates that seem too good to be true because they usually are! I’ve seen one sign that leads down a dodgy alleyway in Bali; not somewhere I’d go into looking for local currency!

Also bear in mind of places that accept USD as legal tender like Vietnam. Usually it is cheaper to use local currency as USD prices will be marked up quite high! If you calculate the price back into their currency, you will see that you’re paying unnecessarily more. To be safe just have your other currencies as back up and use what’s the norm there. And when needed, just exchange first rather than spend as is.

3. Taxis and transportation

With apps like Uber and Grab, it’s getting much easier to get from place to place and at a cheaper price. My experience has been that they’re very convenient! Able to get a car in about 5 mins from where you are to where you need to be; no hassle! But if you do opt for the normal taxis do make sure of a few things:

  1. Legitimacy

    Make sure you see licenses that they usually have displayed visibly. Also if they have dodgy questions or requests, steer clear.

  2. Meters

    If they don’t use meters, they may charge you an extortionate amount.

  3. Surcharges

    Taxis usually charge you fixed amount the moment you get in. Be sure to include this in your calculations.

  4. Know where you’re going

    Have a map app handy in case they try to take you for a ride to buff up the meter.

If they do not check the first two boxes, you’re better off looking for another cab. As for being taken for a ride, you will not know until you’re actually in the taxi. I’ve experienced this once in Singapore when the taxi uncle drove about a bit and I only caught on when he passed by our hotel! At the end when the bill came, it had a ride to the airport and whatnot tagged to it! I was trying not to make a big fuss at the time but if that happened to me now, I’d definitely make it hell for him. Take down his name, car plate number and lodge a report. You’ll help many people avoid a scam.

Public transport is the most frugal you can go without resorting to walking. Places with developed public transport provide a cheap and efficient way to go around. You might need to learn a bit of how their system works though, and usually what you save in money, you make up with time spent.

4. Shopping

When it comes to shopping, it’s usually best to go when there is a big sale going on. But we usually won’t sync our holidays with that so when it’s not sale season, what can you do to not overspend? Take a moment to plan your course of action:

  1. Set a budget

    Prepare a separate budget for your trip. It could be as simple as setting a limit e.g. BND1,000 but you have to stick to it. You can set your budget far in advance and start saving up for it.

  2. Buy what you can’t get back home

    This will be the biggest alasan (“excuses” in Malay) to buy stuff overseas. Things that are truly unobtainable in Brunei should net a higher priority on your shopping list (although this could put a lot on that list). Things that are significantly cheaper (especially with GST refund) will be a close second.

  3. Shop around for prices

    Unless what you’re after is some super rare artifact or an item no longer in production, or you just don’t have the time, it is best to shop around to find the lowest prices. This can be done online even before you get there for certain things. Smaller local own stores are more likely to give you a good deal compared to supermarkets.

  4. Haggle

    My second favourite part of traveling is visiting local niche stores and sometimes markets for what I want. Why? Haggling! I love to haggle down prices and it’s really fun most of the time especially when the shopkeeper or owner are friendly and sporting. You definitely can get better prices by being friendly and just asking!
    One thing about markets especially high tourist traffic ones is that they’re literal tourist traps! Things could be marked up to 5 times! Therefore haggling is a good way to bring the price to a “fair” level for both of you (well, especially you). Don’t worry and just ask; worst thing that happens is they say “no” and you move on.

5. Food

Definitely my favourite thing about traveling! Show me the eateries with their special blend of coffee or local style cooking and I’ll be there. I find food is one of the better ways to experience a culture; you get to taste what a particular populace prefers and the sensations derived from it.

Usually a simple search on Google will help you decide what you wanna go for. Ramen? Seafood buffet? Local delights? All with a click or tap on your phone. Like shopping, tourist trap food places will gut your wallet if you’re not careful. If you have any friends in the area they may be able to suggest decent places to try. If not, the hotel concierge might have recommendations too!

While food is something I’d splurge on indiscriminately, some like to save on it so proper research is necessary. Many established or modern eateries have menus online and you can view the prices there. Alternatively, you may opt to eat at hawker centers or food courts which offer good eats for very cheap.

For those with dietary constraints due to religion or medical conditions, it’s even more important to do your research before heading off. You can find eateries that suit you and plan your shopping or day around it. Also it’s best to have some energy bars, snacks or chocolate handy for emergencies!


Traveling is indeed exciting and a well deserved time “away from it all” but if not careful, you’ll come back home with a bigger headache such as a giant debt e.g. credit card bill. These are some things that I have experienced, as well as advice given to me and also mistakes I’ve made. The reason a tourist industry exists is because countries want to earn your money so make sure you at least get your money’s worth. Some say travel is more valuable than money and:

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

– Saint Augustine

But don’t forget that you will have to come back to normal life. And a life full of travel but is unable to sustain day-to-day properly… Well, you be the judge of its worth!

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