Sunday, September 27, 2015

10 Days in Turkey and Greece (Greek Island included) for just a little over €2,000 or Php100,000

If going to Turkey and/or Greece, islands included is on your bucket list, you can start planning your trip already because it is actually more affordable than you think. We actually paid for it over time too, and not in one go, so it's quite friendly on the pocket. You might say, it's not your habit to pay for things on installment, well, no worries, it's not mine too, but because you normally pay for your plane tickets ahead of time, and your accommodation a few months before, when the trip date comes, you just normally need to shell out the pocket money, or half of the budget required.  

Here's a quick budgeting guide, based on my personal experience, when we went in August of this year. 

Just a caveat on assumptions: 
1. Amounts here are based on Euros/Philippine Peso conversion based on the September 2015 average.
2. For this exercise, I assumed full-price Manila-Istanbul-Manila Singapore Airline Round Trip Tickets, but I got mine through mileage redemption which cut down my spend even more.
3. The total spend for the trip, which has been itemized in the graph is roughly at €2,600 or Php140,000, so if you cut out the shopping (20% of my spend), you can bring down the total to just a little over  €2,000 or Php100,000.
4. Accommodation was based on twin-sharing for hotels, quadruple-sharing for Airbnb apartments, and most of our Airport Transfers or Taxis were divided by four people.
5. Lastly, we were travelling during summer, or peak tourist season for Greece. If you choose any other time to travel, you will most likely get lower rates too.

Definition of Terms:
1. Airplane and Ferry Tickets - include MLA-IST-MLA and flights between Istanbul and Athens, as well as the ferry ride from Athens to Hydra.
2. Airport Transfers - include all those airport pick-ups arranged as well as taxis we took to and from the airport or port where we have our luggage
3. Local Transport - includes local taxis, trams, local ferries (and ideally trains and buses - but I don't recall taking any)
4. Touristy Stuff - includes entrance to all the sights, together with the Big Bus Tours, and train to get around the Ruins in Athens
5. Local Sim - If you are addicted to data like I am, this is essential, and so much more cost efficient than International Roaming.

Here are some of my travel-smart tips, though you should note that when I travel for holiday, I normally go to absorb the local culture, eat good food, drink good coffee, see *some sights, and generally take it easy:

Where to Stay
1. Hotel vs Airbnb
Before this trip, I would have said, in places where hotels are expensive, go for Airbnb. Where hotels are affordable, go for the convenience of staying in a hotel. But honestly, after two Airbnb nightmares, which you can read about here, I am re-thinking that principle!!! Even the Airbnb host ratings does not protect you from unscrupulous hosts and nightmare experiences, which is what happened to us. So I guess my revised principle is only book Airbnb if you know someone who has stayed with that landlord before, or if you have back-up options in that place. ie you know someone where you can crash if you end up homeless, or if you have friends who speak the local language and can find you a hotel at short notice.
2. Location, location, location
You will save a lot of time and money if you stay in a good location. If you choose well, from there, you can walk everywhere. 
In Istanbul, we ended up staying at Taksim Premium Hotel off Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping street in Istanbul, everything is so accessible from there, you can actually walk around the whole Beyoglu area. Also connected by tram to the old city.
In Athens, we stayed at the Psyri neighborhood where you have a great view of the ruins, and again, you could walk to it too.

1. Tour Bus vs Tour it Yourself
If you're going to a new place, for a short time, you should marry how big the place is, where you want to go, and read reviews if you need to pay for a tour, or if you can do it yourself.
In Istanbul, we took the Big Bus 24 Hour Hop on Hop off Ticket for 100TL
(less than €30) It's a great way to see all the sights in Europe and Asia. 
In Athens, it's easy to tour it yourself. Just buy a ticket to
the Ancient sites. €12 allows you entry into five different
sites of your choice. Yes, it was very windy!

At one of the other ruins. Since they all looked the same
to me, I just took photos from under the olive tree.
One thing you shouldn't scrimp on, is the Hop on Hop off train to take you
around the ruins in Athens, a steal for €5, but they only allow one round.

2. Living like a local
A lot of the best things in life are free, and this pertains to enjoying the local life, and going to the local markets... well, once you start shopping, that's a different story.

I loved the Kadikoy Market, on the Asian side of Istanbul.
Things were much cheaper too than shopping in the European Side.
If there was one thing on my bucket list, it was the experience that is
The Grand Bazaar. 
Even in Athens, my favorite buy came from the local
market. Hello Pink Salt! If only I could bring home 1 sack.
Travel like a local. In Istanbul, a ride on the electric tram is just TL4!
The ferry ride to get from Asia to Europe also costs the same.
It thrills me that to cross continents for TL4!!! Yes, that's just a bit over a Euro.
3. When in doubt, ask a local
We really wanted to go to a Greek Island, but Santorini was just too expensive for a day or two, and I've been there and I wasn't really THAT blown-away to want to come back. So I asked my Greek friend Thodoris, who introduced me to his friend Sonia, and together they both gave us the best advice.
They recommended Hydra (Island), an hour away from Athens, for just €28 one-way! Such a steal vs flying to Santorini. It's such a small island too, so boat or donkey is the only way around.
This was the view from the port. It was even more beautiful once you get
to explore it. More on a separate post. 

On Food
1. Do your research before leaving and make reservations where required.
If there is one thing I don't scrimp on when I am travelling, it's food. But I also believe in mixing both good places to eat, together with more affordable places. So in my mind, it all evens out in the end, with my tummy happy.
2. Eat where the locals eat
While I normally have a detailed to eat list, I also have room to be flexible. Long lines and busy places filled with locals, are places I definitely want to try!
One of the best meals we had in Athens, was from this street side
food stall, right around the corner from our flat. I don't even know it's name.

On Shopping
1. Shop where the locals shop
The further you are from touristy places, the cheaper things are. Yes. Even things that are exactly the same.
Leather sandals sold around the Agora or in Monastiraki Square cost €25-35!
That's more than double than the €10 it costs on the stores in Athinas Street,
or on the stores in Ermou Street (Main Shopping Street).
2. Jewelry make the best souvenirs. Seriously.
I love buying jewelry from the places I visit. I feel like you bring home a
memories that you can wear on a daily basis.
It helps if you make friends with the store owners. They give you the best prices, and some times even free gifts too. My everyday jewelry now are my gold stackable rings (evil eye rings from The Grand Bazaar and infinity ring from Hydra) and a gold charm bracelet with the pendants I bought and the evil eye charm that was a gift from Mr. Lakis in Hydra.

3. Sucker for a freebie
When abroad, I love looking at the magazine stands for the freebies. Yes, even if I don't understand the language. The pictures are nice to look at anyway. Plus, you can bring it home to wrap small gifts.

In Greece, magazines with free gifts is a whole industry.
We even discovered that the gift is not totally free because they can have the same magazine issue, with different gifts, selling for different prices! Just make sure you pick a gift that you think is worth more than the prize of the magazine!

On exploring
Go with the flow, and don't be afraid of discovering places, even if it's away from the crowds! Just make sure you're street smart and don't unnecessarily put yourself in danger. 

We found this totally isolated private beach, a cove away from the crowds!
Off San Nikolas beach on Hydra
We went for a photo, and stayed for a day! The magazine freebies came in
handy too, saved us from renting €3 lounge chairs on the busy public beach.
I honestly believe travel enriches your soul, even if it's costly for the pocket, but if you travel like I do (minus the shopping), it doesn't even have to be costly at all. just saying.

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