How To Explore Switzerland Without Breaking Your Bank
We always hear people talking about how expensive Switzerland is, and they are telling the truth. However, there are ways to cheat the system and still skip jail 😀. What I mean is you can survive Switzerland and still comeback to live your normal life and not scramble to make ends meet till your next pay cheque. We made it just fine and some even came back with unfinished budgets because we had planned well enough to ensure that we enjoy our hiking vacation without worrying about money.
Research and planning are key in every trip but for this one they are essential, or else you will say, you are never going back to Switzerland, which would be such a shame. Below you will learn how you can maximize your trip and even save your money:
A Friend of mine shared a very important tip with me about how to comfortably budget for a trip, especially those 10 days and more (though I now use this tip for all my travels, long or short). Turns out this is the same trick they use at the visa application centre when they calculate if you will be able to sustain yourself during your stay in that particular country (depending on each currency). She told me that it works better if you allocate a daily budget of between R1000 – R1500 a day (it can be more if you are seriously balling).
This helps in making sure that you will be in a position to make healthy savings for the trip. There is NOTHING nice about balling on a budget in a foreign country. This amount includes meals, activities and entertainment. Before you start complaining or getting excited, be mindful that there is no way you can be doing all these things every day. This means, on some days you will be in a position to save and carry over some money to the following day, which will give you a leeway to feel like a rich person the next day 😀. Always try to have transport money separate because it is not fixed, as plans can change and you can find yourselves in a lot of places that you did not even know existed. Similarly if you will be shopping, have a separate budget for that as well, though most of the time you could still get it from your main savings jar.
I always know a year or two in advance where I will be traveling next and that makes my life somewhat easier to manage. It gives me enough time to do all the searches and see the trends. It always starts with a big pool of searches on different sites and as the time approaches, the process gets narrowed down slowly but surely. As much as you would like to get the cheapest deal available, be careful to NOT leave it to the last minute.
After a long search and careful consideration we decided to go with an agent (Take Off Travel) who managed to get us the best travel deals and transfers in and out of Switzerland. We had an option to fly to Geneva which was even cheaper but for our itinerary, Zurich made more sense, so we went with it. You need to be flexible enough on your planning so that you can make those saving whether it’s time or money, they are equally important.
Same principle applies; you start your search well in advance. It is always advisable to have two dates so that you can be sure you are getting the best deals. Because the Swiss Frank is stronger than the ZAR, choosing your accommodation wisely is very important. Also factor in the season you are visiting in. If you are a luxury traveler that wants to travel during the peak season, it’s best you re-evaluate your standards.
Because we traveled in Summer, the accommodation was a bit steep so we opted to go for hostels and Guest Houses, we did not even look at the side of hotels (maybe when we started the searches 😉). These were not even cheap but the consolation was that they were super clean, convenient and helped us save a lot of money through getting special discounts for city tours and transportation. Underline the discounts, this is what influenced our decision to use them in the first place, because it meant huge saving while still sleeping in comfortable beds with white sheets – Be Smart!
I cannot stress enough that all your accommodation should come with breakfast and if they offer supper, first check the menu and how much it will cost you. If it fits in your daily allowance, go for it.
Trains and Boats
As you might be aware, the mainly used mode of transport in Switzerland are trains, though there are buses too that connect you to the main routes where there are limited lines. The first thing you must do as soon as you get off the train from the airport, go to the ticket sales counter and ask about your options. Depending on the number of days and the places you will be visiting, there is an option suitable for you.
We opted for the 50% discount on every mode of transport we would be using. You buy it for a fixed amount and you pay 50% on your transportation going forward. You even go to the airport for free from Zurich station. What is nice about the transport system there is that you can change your ticket from one mode of transport to another if need be. When we found out about this we ended up cancelling the special cruise experience from our itinerary, saving more money and having a great time for next to nothing. We had the best time on our sunset cruise from Interlaken to the City of Bern (after changing our return train tickets to boat cruise tickets). The key is to know your options! However, the only way to know is to make use of the information counters and ask, ask, ask, I promise you, you will never go wrong.
Choose your struggle; do you want fine dining or just food? Don’t get me wrong when I say just food I do not mean you must now starve yourself, NO, that’s not want I mean. I just mean you do not need fine dining to enjoy the food. We survived mainly on food from the supermarkets; we are talking Woollies equivalent maybe 😉 – COOP was our supermarket of choice.
And no we did not eat bread every day, we had proper suppers like Lasagna, Pizza, Burgers, Chicken stake. They also had a wide selection of salads. I even had my favourite freshly squeezed juices, though I will have you know that it is always overtaken by fizzy drinks for some odd reason. We always sample the local staples and delicacies in restaurants, so Switzerland was no different.
Also don’t be shy to peruse the menu and move to the next one if you feel it is still sending you way off your budget. Most restaurants will have their menu outside, which makes it easier for you to peruse 😀. You can also avoid service charge by ordering take away instead of sitting in (that’s how we got to enjoy our pizza by the lake in Lucerne). How can I forget the money we saved by having our own water bottles. Switzerland has very clean drinkable water fountains everywhere you go, so we did not have to buy any bottled water.
Book your own activities, always. Of all the things you can outsource, never outsource this element of your trip. This is the one thing that has worked for us, in all our trips. Upon checking with what the agent can get us and what is on offer on the internet and finding out the prices when we get to the destination, the destination prices always won. We tried it twice/trice and have since made it our motto and we have not been proven otherwise.
You need to have strong negotiation skills though, to fully enjoy this. I am very sleek when it comes this department. I squeeze it to the last penny. The fact that I am from Africa and worse South Africa with our weak Rand, I always make sure they know. I even go as far as showing them the exchange rate (that is my last weapon and only comes out when dealing with fierce opponents) for empathy, and it works like a charm, almost every time.
Though some people like the element of surprise, another way to save money is to identify activities before you travel so that you can pack your necessities instead of buying stuff when you get there. We were on a hiking vacation, so we packed all our hiking gear and warm clothes for some fun in the Snow in Mount Titlis and avoided unnecessary expenses.
Most importantly, always, I mean ALWAYS search for FREE activities to do in each City you visit. They are always there; all you need to do is find them. City Tours are always featured in our trips because they are a huge money saver as most of the time they are free.
Some people will wonder why I separated the two, it’s simple, entertainment is relative therefore it requires special attention especially if you are travelling in a group, like we always do. What you regard as entertainment might not be for me therefore, it will be fair to keep it as neutral and flexible as possible so that people can cater to their individual needs.
Always ask about the happy hour and free clubs or karaoke nights. They add flavour to your stay and your wallet will thank you for that. Better yet try and stay in sometimes, recharge and prepare to take on the next day with the same energy as your day of arrival. Befriend locals, they are your plug to the cool hangout spots that will not dent your bank. We always look for markets as they are a good way of spending a day exploring the culture and food.
Though you cannot always get it right, it is also true that you can always improve on your next experience. We learn every day that you do not need a huge budget to enjoy your holiday but you just need to know how to maximize it. Though you do not need to go through struggles, however it will not fall on your lap, you need to do the work, especially if you are a serial traveler like me. I am always on a mission to see how far my wallet can take me in a year (the dark side of being a nomad), but hey, you did not hear any complaints from me.
I hope this helps you on your next trip, as the principle applies for domestic and international travel. You just need to work out what you want to achieve with each trip, and you will be set for life #khenkethamzansi