When Jordan and I were first coming up with a list of places we wanted to go, we had to trim the list to make it more manageable. The first places we cut were expensive-to-get-to places and places we thought we had a high chance of visiting in the future.
The Middle East was neither of these things to us, so we decided to make a concerted effort to get over. We have scheduled roughly three weeks to spend over there before returning to a place a little cheaper and more familiar, South America.
Because we’re on a budget, we tried lots of things to keep our costs down. We booked our flights to Egypt through StudentUniverse, a great resource for all sorts of transportation and tour needs. We almost booked a really cheap flight through a third party called Govolo, but thankfully I read reviews of the company before we spent any money. They have a reputation of making things very difficult for their customers.
For other airlines in the Middle East I considered using third parties, but decided against it. It was worth it to us to pay just a little extra through purchasing tickets through the airline itself. I know far too little about budget airlines and third parties in other countries to confidently or successfully planning sensitive transportation! For trains, buses, metro, and whatnot, I have used Rome2Rio extensively in showing me the cheapest and best options to pick from.
STA Travel was also a great resource for us—we purchased our travel insurance, our ISIC and youth cards, and our tour of Egypt through them. They offer great deals for students (which I am considered one) and youths, or people under 26. The Egypt tour is definitely budget (no nice hotels) but it looks worth it. The ISIC card was about $20, but will be worth it also. I can get half-price or even free admission into museums and other places all around the world. In about two weeks’ time I should have gained back all the money I spent buying the card. Jordan’s youth card works similarly.
We will be staying most of the time in hostels or apartments through airbnb. This is a great resource to use as well. In Athens we will stay for two nights in an apartment for just over $100. In Dubai we will be spending a couple of nights in someone’s living room, but he has a great location—just a few blocks away from the famous mall. I highly recommend checking this out. It’s got great hosts and accommodations for reasonable pricing! Hostels also are always cheap.
For day trips and activities, we bought most of them through our bank, USAA. We’ve done this before in the past and had a good experience. They choose safe, good tour companies at really great pricing. For the past year or so Jordan and I have put everything we can on our credit card to rack up points. Our tour of Coptic churches in Cairo, Bethlehem tour, Dubai bus tour, UAE desert safari evening, and multiple others were chosen through USAA’s associated company. I used all of our points, which covered almost half of the costs for the total tours. Using our credit card more has helped us build credit history, so it’s a win-win situation for us!
Of course, because we are packing so light, we can buy almost no souvenirs. This will keep weight down, life simple, and money easier. We also plan to split meals in local restaurants and just enjoy the culture. It is far more immersive that way, anyway, rather than spending a lot of money shopping.
We are more concerned with seeing as much as we can and interacting with local people in local settings as much as we can reasonably do (without overtiring ourselves)—and often the ways to accomplish these things tend to be the less expensive options.
What ideas do you have to keep costs down while touring the Middle East?