A budget-friendly city?
When it comes to budget traveling, Singapore surely does not come to mind to most people as an affordable place to visit. In fact, as I usually do before traveling, I made my homework trying to find an estimate of the daily expenses (including accommodation, food, and enjoyments) in Singapore, and I found out that most “budget travel” articles advice approximately USD 80 worth on daily expenses (come on, is that really budget traveling?).
This means that for my trip, I had to be ready to spend more than USD 300 in only four days. With that money, it is possible to live and travel around Cambodia or Myanmar for weeks, or buy a round trip from Taiwan to Hong Kong, twice!
Thus, the “economy strategy” for most people is to spend in Singapore as few days as possible, usually arguing that it is such a small city that you can see everything in one or two days. Logically, fewer days means less money spent in the most expensive capital in Southeast Asia. But when there are three very strong cultures coexisting prosperously in the same territory, namely Indian, Chinese and Malay, I just think such a place deserves more than a couple of days to be experienced properly.
Enjoy Singapore on a budget
Thus, after I visited Singapore, could you believe me if I tell you that I traveled for four days with less than USD 40 per day?
If you are a budget backpacker like me, you will agree that there is a sense of achievement and joy after surviving the reputation of expensive places, without compromising the travel experience to levels where it is not enjoyable anymore. Thus, I have made a list of the hacks that allowed me to successfully travel cheaply within the Lion City, hoping that they can also be helpful for you whenever you decide to make your way there.
Hack 1: Book overnight flights
Yes, this means that you will likely have two not so comfortable nights of sleep sitting on a tight airplane seat, but hey, we are talking about budget traveling here, remember?
In my case, I booked a round trip between Taiwan and Singapore. Both flights were after midnight, with a duration of 5 hours. Make sure you have a light jacket, a sleep mask, headphones, and a neck pillow at hand to be comfortable and as much sleep as possible. These flights will save you two hostel nights and also, at the time of your arrival, you will be ready for the action, whether that is breakfast or some sightseeing. At the time of departure, this will allow you to squeeze all the time of the last day. Remember to leave your heavy luggage at the hostel until the very moment you head to the airport.
Hack 2: Make sure your accommodation is as close to the city center as possible and…walk!
I booked a bunk bed in an 18-people bedroom at the heart of Little India, which is already a place you must visit in Singapore. The Downtown Line and the East-West line of the metro system were at walking distance as well as Bugis and Arab Street.
After I made it out of the airport, I intentionally alighted a couple of stations before my destination (EW11, Lavender Station) just to have a taste of the city in the first hours of the morning. On my way to the hostel, I took some great photos (with little or no people in them), had my first glance of Little India, and even went for some Indian breakfast. All that would have been missed if I had just headed directly to my accommodation.
Walking not only saves you money, but it gives you so much else. While riding (paying) any transport is faster, convenient and will not make you sweat, walking will allow you to “feel” the place you are at. I mean, the non-touristic streets and the people doing their everyday chores, not trying to sell souvenirs at Chinatown.
Do not get me wrong here, I did take the metro and bus several times to get to farther places or just to commute quickly (and certainly I felt so thankful for the air conditioning like never before!), but walking was the best overall when it comes to explore and discover.
Thus, if your backpack is not extremely heavy to carry around for too long, just walk your way to the hostel. Needless to say, once you leave your big luggage at the hostel, walking with a smaller bag should be much more comfortable.
Finally, since exercising is rarely among the goals of a trip for most of the people, walking is actually a great way to burn some extra calories from all that food-tasting (ice cream here, pastry over there, fried chicken later…) that is part of any traveling experience.
Hack 3: Make sure your accommodation includes breakfast
Try to wake up earlier than the rest of the guests to be the first to take any breakfast you can get to keep your belly full for as long as possible. After this meal, is up to you, whether you go back to bed or head down to the touristic action. I just assume you will not make your way to Singapore to lay in a bed the whole day, right?
If you are lucky enough (as I was this time), the hostel will even let you take breakfast that same morning of your arrival, before the check-in.
Hack 4: Pay a visit to the (super)market to get snacks
If you are an ever-hungry person like me, you are always thinking about food. Besides, traveling oftentimes means a lot of walking and standing for long periods of time. This will make you feel hungrier than usual and will make you binge on anything on sight. But in a city like Singapore, most of the food you could possibly have in touristic areas is twice or thrice as expensive as it is in other Southeast Asian countries. This is the situation I tried to avoid at all costs.
So, the trick here is to take advantage of the trading nature of Singapore, which receives goods from all parts of the world, so finding fruits and interesting snacks is quite easy. Just pay a visit to any fruit market or supermarket where you will find more “local” prices. Personally, I prefer supermarkets over fruit markets due to the greater assortment and fixed prices (unless you love to bargain). Try to focus on solid food (not drinks) that will have you full for longer. Apples, yogurt, chocolate cookies, and nuts were on my bag all the time.
Some people say that Singapore has three kinds of weather: hot, very hot and too hot! And that is totally true! So be prepared to sweat (a lot) here. In order to replenish all that lost water, there is something really nice about this city: when it comes to quenching your thirst, just bring your own bottle or buy bottled water once as soon as you arrive and fill it with some tap water. It is perfectly safe to drink.
Hack 5: Prepare some meals before your trip
I bet you did not see that coming! Well, maybe now you can get a better idea of what I mean with budget traveling. Whether you are traveling from home or coming from visiting another country, pay a visit to the nearest supermarket before your trip and spend some time to prepare some meals. When I say “meal” I mean something that is nutritious, compact and tasty. For my 4-day trip to Singapore, I prepared four zip lock bags with my own version of protein oats (chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and protein powder and some sugar). Then, after my arrival, I checked the milk options that would be the most suitable to mix with this meal at the supermarket and 7-eleven. This way, every evening, at my return to the hostel, I would have a very convenient and satisfying meal. So, be creative and prepare something in advance!
In sum, if you put together Hack 3, Hack 4 and Hack 5, you will not be spending too much money every day on food, (which is one of the most expensive sides of Singapore) apart from entrance fees, transportation, and any souvenirs for your parents and friends. The next level of the “food hack” is to get the daily meals down to two: the (biggest possible) breakfast at the hostel, and the prepared meal in the afternoon or at the evening. Small bites during the day (including some stops at any convenience store nearby) are key to bridge these two big meals.
If you have read up to this point, you might be thinking: “what about actually enjoying the local food and leisure activities then?”. I am addressing this question on the following Hack.
Hack 6: Be strategic about where and when to spend
In the same way you need to be strategic to save money on regular meals, you also need to be strategic about when and where to spend on fancy meals and any other interest you might have. So, as you can see, it is not about abstaining yourself of every little joy the city has to offer, but more about planning ahead your experiences.
In my case, I knew in advance I wanted to have: as much Indian food I could get (one of my main reasons to come to Singapore, honestly), some iced drinks on the go, a fancy cup of coffee in the afternoon with a view of the Marina Bay Sands, as well as a cold beer at the top of the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck. As you can see, on some days I did not only ate the hostel breakfast and the meal I prepared, but also one of those “treats” I wanted to enjoy.
So, where to go then?
Here I leave a non-exhaustive list of the places I liked the most. They are just the ones I recommend as “must visit”:
1. The bay at the Downtown Core.
Make sure to walk across the Helix Bridge, Esplanade Outdoor Theatre, Esplanade Bridge, Merlion, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, ArtScience Museum, and the rest of the bay shore. Plenty of people just walk or jog around this trail. There is great outdoor weather with the sea breeze and excellent photo opportunities.
Not only this place has two of the most famous religious landmarks, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Sri Mariamman Temple, but also a very vibrant nightlife. There is also a lot to see if you head to the east of this location, to the colonial-style alleys with pubs and coffee shops.
3. Peranakan Houses
They might be just a bunch of beautiful pastel-colored houses in a totally not touristic area, but it is totally worth visiting. I believe that part of the attraction is that actual people live in them. It’s a great way to discover the not-so-famous side of Singapore, namely, the suburbs. Because of this, be mindful of your tourism and do not disturb. If you head northwest from here, you will find the Malay Market, a place with a great assortment of Muslim-oriented food, clothes, and other products.
4. Little India
The most colorful place, and very interesting people with the most colorful outfits. Lovely place to have hearty food for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. I also loved the atmosphere of the whole area filled with strong scents, fruits, veggies, and flowers.
5. The Gardens by the Bay
This is probably the top-of-mind picture most of the people have of Singapore. A beautiful and peaceful array of waterfront parks containing the iconic Supertree Grove. The entrance is free and can be accessed through Marina Bay Sands hotel indoor bridge connecting The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands with the gardens.
6. Sands SkyPark Observation Deck
Although a bit pricey (about USD 17), the view from the top of Marina Bay Sands is worth every penny. Check the forecast before going, though. The staff may suspend the normal operation if there is any threat of strong winds or rain.
With all the above being said, I hope this can give you an idea of how you can travel in this city without breaking the bank but leaving with some amazing memories (and pictures).
There is also a Story Highlight on my Instagram profile that illustrates my experience more graphically. You can see it here. Enjoy!
All pictures were taken with a Google Pixel (12 MP, f/2) and a Canon EOS M50.