16 June 2017

Budget Travel to Taiwan | How to Save Money When Traveling

After 13 trips to Taiwan, you bet I've learnt quite a few ways to save some money when traveling there. Pardon me for not sharing this earlier! These are things I've learnt along the way, slowly consolidating in my brain, and do note that not all my trips to Taiwan are budget travel, as I do indulge in food and stay in luxurious accommodation when I get great hotel deals such as La Vida in Taichung. Nonetheless I hope you'll find this blog post useful, and drop me a comment or share this post in Facebook with your friends :)

How To Save Money When Shopping in Taiwan

BYOB! Bring your own shopping bag! I can't recall which are the places that charge for shopping bag, other than Watsons. Sometimes the staff do not inform you that you are being charged for the plastic bag and you get a rude surprise when checking your receipt (though it's usually a small sum). Well, look at it this way - you can do your part to save the earth and generally you wouldn't need so many plastic bags when traveling. Probably just one for dirty socks, another for dirty undergarments, one for your wet umbrella during rainy seasons, and one huge one to act as your daily shopping bag. No worries about bringing the huge red plastic bag or even NTUC grocery bag from Singapore - I often do it too! When I'm shopping in Taiwan, I would be carrying a backpack or a tote bag, and inside would be at least 2 huge fold-able shopping bags.

Check prices between stores! If you're shopping for snacks, drinks or beauty items, you may want to compare the prices between stores. Other than pricing differently, sometimes they run different promotions for that same one item. I was lucky in my last trip when I needed to buy lots of facial masks for Mom. Cosmed offered a better promo than Watsons on that day - spending TWD 2,000 rewards me with a discount of TWD 200, and on top of that I did my downtown tax refund at the same shop. A bit inconvenient though as I needed to climb those narrow stairs to the top floor of the 3-storey shop while carrying my heavy shopping bags just to get the tax refund done... FYI tax refund eligibility is TWD 2,000, and there are random spot-checks at the Immigration, so do leave the items unused and the packaging intact.

Be mindful of misleading promotions! I'm not a competent reader of Traditional Mandarin characters myself and get pretty mentally challenged when faced with numerous signboards and price-tags screaming their discounts and promotions. So do your sums correctly before heading to the cashier.
  • When you see "6 折", it does not mean 60% off. Rather it means you pay 60% of the price (i.e. you are receiving a 40% discount). So don't be too happy when you see lots of red sales signage with "9 折"... you should scream for joy when you see "1 折" 
  • I was in NET fashion store in Taipei in one of my recent trips, and chanced upon their "5 折" promotion. When I went nearer to the discount bin, guess what? The signage still states "5 折", but the price-tags on the sale items read "Buy 5 pieces of the sale items to receive a 50% discount". My instant response was to throw what I have on my hands back into the discount bin.
  • Convenience stores often have "Buy 2 for $XX" promotions for their beverages. Do note that the discounted price sometimes apply only for the same flavor. Hence do check with the cashier before buying/paying; they are usually quite helpful to advise you. 
  • In my last trip, I learnt that Watsons (or was it Cosmed?) sell facial masks by pieces even if they are packaged in a box. 

If you've bought so much stuff that your luggage cases are running out of space (but you still have sufficient check-in luggage on your flight), you need not buy a new luggage. Instead head down to the 24-hour Carrefour (nearest MRT: Ximen or Xiao Nan Men) to get some empty carton boxes from the packing station. Yes, I would strongly recommend you to buy something from Carrefour before you do so. Oh, the Taiwanese beer and instant beef noodles are much cheaper at Carrefour as compared to convenience stores.... and Carrefour do sell luggage too ;)

How to Save Money Before Your Arrival in Taiwan

Do book your hotel before your trip so you can compare rates, especially during peak season. Personally I like to use Agoda when planning my travel lodging due to the map function. When you enter your destination in the discount site, for example Ximending, you can see all the lodging at the specific area available on your travel dates. You can further narrow by the price to fit your budget, whether you're ok with staying in a 3 star or want to stay in a luxurious 5 star, select which facilities you cannot do without (e.g. 'bathtub' when I'm travelling with Hubs), and most importantly - scour the guest ratings to check out any hotel nightmare stories!  

And for flights, I usually book my tickets as soon as the budget airlines announce their promotions. However you have to be very sure of your leave plans and leave availability before doing so, in case of work conflicts... somehow work triumphs holidays (that's how Hubs sorta abandoned me on a few trips - but at least I get to travel solo! woohoo!) And if you're a Krisflyer member, or member of any frequent flyer club, do remember to check if you've got sufficient points/credit to exchange for a ticket (or even two!) Those numerous business trips helped one of my friends to chalk up quite a fair bit of such points that her honeymoon flights were literally 'free'!

You should also check out kkday if you intend to go on day-tours to places such as Jiufen and Yehliu. Especially if it's your first trip to Taiwan, directions to get to the Northeastern coast may be confusing and time-consuming on public transportation too. FYI, kkday also offers English tours for some of the itineraries. 

For fellow Singapore-based travelers, these 2 tips are especially for you:

1. For seamless WIFI connectivity as soon as you step out from the plane upon arrival in Taiwan, I would recommend that you reserve ChangiWifi. I've tested this in both mountainous and seaside areas in Taiwan and connectivity is great! Moreover with Skype and Whatsapp call these days, you can actually do without purchasing a local SIM card. 

2. Do collect your freebies from the Taiwan Visitor Association at Chevron House Level 10 (Raffles Place MRT). So far I've been there twice (didn't learn about this earlier!) and I've mainly gotten free one-way bus tickets from Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei (which may be otherwise used from the city to the airport), and theme park discount vouchers. 
  • Remember to bring a copy of your flight itinerary and hotel booking. Softcopy on your mobile will do too.
  • A word of advice: please call them at 62236546 on the day itself before making your way down. While they are usually open Mondays to Fridays 9am to 5pm, there was this one time when I went all the way there - but only to find out from the security that the association was closed for that day due to a Taiwanese public holiday. 
  • When calling them, you can also check with the staff what are the freebies available for now, as well as any stock left. 

Other ways to save money in Taiwan

Taiwan is bubble-tea / milk-tea paradise! I know it's not the healthiest option, but I can down close to 5 cups a day during the summer.. opps! I do convince myself that the sugars are burnt with the long hours of walking I do in Taiwan though haha! Besides.. it's cheaper in Taiwan than in Singapore! 

OK ok... so if you need to quench your thirst the economical way, do bring along an empty water bottle (you'll 'need' one if you're getting on a budget flight anyway) and refill it at the water coolers - usually outside the toilets at the airports, MRT stations, train stations, etc. If you prefer hot/warm drinks, bring a thermal flask as most water coolers dispense hot water too. 

There's no need to bring too much tissue paper unless you've got a sensitive nose like mine and often sneezes in the plane or at change of weather... Most of the eateries provide tissue for their customers. Do note that their tissue paper is half of our usual square sized ones. 

Oh, talking about tissue paper.. you know those wet tissue packets (often charged at SGD 0.30 a piece and you'll be too embarrassed to return to cashier) when dining in certain restaurants in Singapore? Bring them along for the trip. Super useful when visiting night markets. I tried using disposable plastic gloves like some of my Korean friends does; I guess I don't really like the feel of the plastic clinging onto my sweaty hands..

Hope you enjoy this post! And if you have any great tips about saving $ when traveling in Taiwan, do share with me by leaving a comment. And of course, if you find this post useful, do share this with your friends who are making plans for Taiwan too :)