12 March 2013

Budget airlines and cheap travel Street Food style

Want to eat real street food at the source? We just got back from another short trip to China and some of our friends and family are wondering where this bottomless well of travel money has been coming from. We thought we'd inspire you to get out and travel in 2013 and share some of our ways of getting around on the cheap, Street Food style.

We started our love of street food through travel experiences. Starting this blog was a way to extend the thrill  of street food finds by finding and celebrating fantastic food in our own hometown. The new crop of budget airlines to hit Sydney (as well as Melbourne and Gold Coast) has really made it possible for us to travel back to favourite places and get a fix of wonderful finds. Budget airlines really take away the 'too expensive' excuse of affording to get away for a holiday, or to travel from Asia direct to the east coast of Australia. It also means you can travel more often and to more places, rather than waiting for one trip a year.

Instead of having to be digital nomads or long term travellers, we can get away for quite a few weeks of the year thanks to cheap flights, budget accommodation, generous leave allowances and then duck back to the comforts of home to save for the next round. We break up our time into smaller chunks so we can get to more places.

Air Asia and Scoot are the two major budget airlines that fly from Sydney. Cheap direct flights to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore are a gateway to other destinations previously too expensive or too difficult to get to on the cheap. Air Asia flies direct from Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Perth to Kuala Lumpur. From there the gateway is open. Scoot flies direct to Singapore from Sydney and Gold Coast.

Jetstar have few direct flights from Sydney which makes them less attractive for us now except for Japan, you either have to go via Melbourne, Gold Coast, Cairns or Darwin to get to your exotic locale. We now consider getting a cheap flight to KL or Singers and then onwards rather than a jump across Australia. Sometimes it can even be cheaper to fly Qantas direct (sometimes on special with all the bells and whistles) than saving $100 on a Jetstar flight and having to wait for a connection at an ungodly hour in the morning so you need to check out all the options.

Some tips on Street Food style travel:
  • Subscribe to airline newsletters and watch out for the specials. Be prepared to beg the boss for holidays at short notice or work out in advance when your windows of holiday opportunity are. Avoid school holiday periods in Australia, and know when big events or public holidays might fall overseas so you can work around their peak times too. Consider travelling Monday to Thursday for even cheaper flights, but sometimes its worth paying a little more to stay one more day away. I always ask the question "would you pay $50 to stay overseas one more day?" The answer is usually yes. Japan, I'd pay even more.
  • Read the business news for tips on new airlines hitting the market or new routes being announced. This might sound extreme but it's worked for us. We grabbed excellent opening specials for Scoot and Air Asia this way. On top of that we scored inaugural route deals to Sri Lanka making our Sri Lanka flights about $400 each for return tickets from Sydney to Colombo via Singapore. 
  • Be prepared to arrive and leave at strange times and wait around for connecting flights, this isn't luxury or easy travel. Just sit back and think of that great meal waiting for you at the other end.
  • On Jetstar and Scoot, take your own food. The best thing about them is the speed you can get a beer when you want it, often better than full service airlines because you are wielding a credit card. Sometimes a simple sandwich or a fresh apple can be the best thing to take on a flight, kind of refreshing and comforting. Don't bother buying the food package on a Jetstar trip to Bali, the flight isn't long enough and $20 for one meal doesn't cover it. Air Asia have good snacks and cheap beer as it's Malaysian priced, the nasi lemak we tried was excellent and bottles of Korean shochu keep you nicely primed. You can get a Tiger beer for SIN$6 on Scoot.
  • Take carry on baggage only. This isn't about the smallest bag contest so many backpackers play. There are endless packing lists that will help you pack light, and not only is the reduced airfare worth it but there is so much joy in not lugging around a big bag on your trip. We used MacPac 28 litre packs on our last few trips and it was heaven without the burden of a large bag to lug around. Packing cubes, Lush hair shampoo/soap bars, a kindle or e-reader and a multi USB charger are all great light travel accessories. Some Apple products don't like anything but their own charger so test before you go. A travel 'spork' can also help when you need something to eat with, if you have room a small cup and plate are great for impromptu picnics or midnight feeds in your hotel room.
  • Stay at hostels or budget hotels where possible, most 'nice' hotels are so alike you wouldn't know where in the world you are. We break up the dirty backpacker feel with an occasional indulgence at a fancy joint, usually after an ugly overnight bus ride when we crave clean white sheets or at the end of the trip so we can lie around the pool for free until our flight. We use a combination of sources to search out places, sometimes we win and sometimes we are kept awake all night listening to a Bob Marley/Michael Jackson marathon.
  • A good budgeting tool helps you on the road as well. We use Trail Wallet which is great.
In the end, take a punt and just get out there. The cost of the flight is no excuse any more.

(We didn't get paid to flog any of these airlines, places or products, we've used them all and our recommendations or advice comes from experience we forked out for out of our own pockets.)


  1. Great article. Tripadvisor.com is great for finding those good budget hotels, although in the Asian countries you/we tend to target, you can get very decent hotels for USD50-70 per double per night including breakfast. Hardly "budget" in standard. But if a hotel is asking $10 or $20 for breakfast, of course you are better off having that meal outside as well.

    And the best, as well as cheapest, food and beer is always found simply by walking around and going into any dodgy looking establishment (or street stall) that is busy and filled with locals, and cooks the food in full view. Avoid any restaurants listed in Lonely Planet.


    1. Sometimes when breakfast is included, we still skip it as it's usually poor and the street offerings are far better value. We like a good budget hotel too. Some of the hostels are getting into hotel qulaity, the one we stayed in Guangzhou was excellent.

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Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).