With only 14 days of annual leave, Singapore is the sixth most vacation-starved countries in the world according to Expedia’s 2018 Vacation Deprivation Study. Unsurprisingly, staycations and short getaways remain popular with Singaporeans. For instance, Skyscanner’s 2018 Year In Review trend report revealed that nine out of the top 10 destinations for Singaporeans were Asian cities. Fortunately, with public holidays and long weekends, longer vacations to cheap, far-flung destinations are possible if we plan well. Here are 5 lesser-known cities where you can enjoy guilt-free luxuries.
Sun, Sand and Sea - Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is a fast developing yet relatively untouched idyllic island in Vietnam. Besides being known for its production of fish sauce, the beach town offers activities for the adventurous—hiking, diving, biking and swimming. Peak season is in December and January, so for a cheaper getaway, you can travel between February and March with roundtrip flights costing about S$242. Accommodations are fairly affordable, with a VIP suite in a 4-star hotel in the center of town costing an average of S$55 per night. Eating out is also quite cheap, with meals costing between S$2 to S$10 depending on whether you’re eating at a roadside stall, local eatery or a restaurant.
You should set aside about S$120 for scuba diving, and S$10.50 per day for renting a bike to zip through forests and dirt roads to finally be rewarded with white sand, crystal clear waters and starfish on Starfish beach. You should just remember to get a travel insurance policy that covers adventurous activities so you won't have to pay out-of-pocket in the event of an unfortunate accident.
The Birthplace of Western Civilisation - Athens
Athens is where history buffs can dive deep into the origins of democracy and Western civilisation. A direct flight from Singapore on Scoot is the best way to fly. If you avoid the peak period of July and August when flights are the most expensive and the heat in the city is unbearable, you can have a more pleasant and cheaper trip during April or May, with return flights costing just S$587. A spacious 2-bedroom apartment with a jacuzzi on Airbnb costs about S$45 per night.
Meals average to about S$30 a day in restaurants, but you can find cheaper options at a Gyradiko where you can buy a huge, filling gyro or Greek salad for less than S$5. Alternatively, you can consider buying some breakfast food from the supermarket to eat at home every morning. Set aside about $18 per day for tickets to museums and the Acropolis, free walking tours (pay an obligatory tip) and a day trip to Lake Vouliagmeni, a stunning natural mineral spring lake where you can have a swim. To skip the queue, consider sites like Get Your Guide to book your entrance tickets.
The Old, The New and The Hip - Tbilisi
With a 360-day visa-free stay, Tbilisi is fast becoming the new hot spot for digital nomads and long-term travellers from all over the world. With that comes newly developed apartments, hip cafes, countless dining options and a vibrant nightlife. Established in the 4th century AD, the city reflects a long history of Persian and Soviet rule. While roundtrip airfare from Singapore currently starts at S$1,252 for flights in March, cheaper airfare is on the horizon as Air Asia X may be starting direct flights from Bangkok to Tbilisi from December 28, 2019.
Besides the airfare, Georgia is fairly affordable. For instance, meals cost an average of S$7 per day, with cheaper options in taverns costing just S$1.50. Accommodations are also quite cheap, with well-equipped 1-bedroom Airbnbs near the city centre priced as low as S$13 per night. Clubbers can expect to pay S$10 to S$25 for a cover charge to underground clubs. Not into nightlife? Relaxing in a public thermal bath will set you back just S$5.
A Glimpse of Armenia - Yerevan
Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Like its neighbours Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia was also under Soviet rule. In recent years, cafes, restaurants and shopping centers have sprung up all over the city, co-existing with historical monuments and grand Soviet-era architecture. Armenia is known for its hearty meals that cost an average of S$12 at restaurants. It is cheapest to fly there in April, when roundtrip airfare starts at S$1,428. You can rent a modern 1-bedroom Airbnb apartment for as low as S$14 per night. Entrance tickets to museums cost less than S$2, so take this opportunity to explore the ancient Urartian Fortress, Erebuni, which was believed to have been built in 782 BCE.
The Mother of Eastern Europe - Kiev
Dating back to the 5th century, Kiev is the largest city in Ukraine and one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe. Built in the 11th century, Kiev Pechersk Lavra complex is worth exploring. It’s a historical area, consisting of 14 Orthodox churches, seven museums, and underground caves. While in Kiev, you’ll inevitably walk on its main street, Khreschatyk. It’s one of the smallest in Europe stretching just 1.2km, and consists of an indoor market and a Soviet monument. You can dine at a number of modern restaurants and cafes for an average of S$13 per day. Return flights (with one stop each way) are the cheapest in May, starting from S$1,297. You can find affordable apartments on Airbnb for as low as S$30 a night.
Getting The Most Value For Your Money
There are a few ways to get the most value for your money when travelling to the aforementioned destinations. For instance, you may save money by booking an Airbnb instead of staying at a hotel. If you prefer hotels, you should look for ones with breakfast included so you can save a meal's worth of money every day. If you have at least two weeks’ leave, try plannign a multi-destination trip to get the most out of your holiday. For instance, using a major city like Athens as a launchpad, you can easily hop to Tbilisi, Yerevan, or Kiev, which are less than a three-hour direct flight away. Roundtrip tickets from Athens to each of these destinations in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe cost between S$230 to S$331 if you book at least three months in advance. Since returning to Singapore from Athens is cheaper and more convenient, it’s best to book a return ticket to Athens from these destinations before flying home.