Wanderlust On A Budget? Take The Wheel!

James Wong
15 Jan 2020

One convenient way to circumvent this seeming conundrum of tightening budgets and an increasing love for travel - and car enthusiasts can rejoice now - is to take a road trip.

Many of us have made new year’s resolutions and always near the top of everyone’s lists is to travel to somewhere new. There’s just a little problem though - traveling costs a lot more money than just staying at home and watching Netflix. 

There are accommodation, food and drink, shopping, insurance and attraction entry costs, just to name a few wallet busters. If you fly, you will need to factor in flight bookings as well, which can be disproportionately expensive if you can only travel during peak periods (we know your pain, teachers and parents alike). This is becoming a real concern for Singaporeans as around 1 in 5 employees here are experiencing stagnating wage growth, according to the Hays’ Asia Salary Guide 2019 report. Yet there is a greater desire to travel more to see the world outside of our little red dot. According to a survey done by performance marketing technology company Criteo in 2017, Singaporeans took an average of 5.2 trips in 12 months. 

One convenient way to circumvent this seeming conundrum of tightening budgets and an increasing love for travel - and car enthusiasts can rejoice now - is to take a road trip. Petrol prices stay range bound whether it’s peak period or not, and if you’re traveling as a family it isn’t any more expensive to have more people in your car - so long as everyone gets their fair share of space! No extra fees for excess baggage - the amount you pack is only limited by your boot space. With the flexibility to move about, you can also choose to stay in hotels located further away in suburban areas which may be cheaper.  

Besides the cost advantages, there are also intangible benefits: if you’ve got a fairly efficient car, you are probably going to tread lighter on the environment than an airplane too, if that’s something you’re concerned about. You’ll get to explore our neighbouring countries more intimately, which could have hidden gems that Singaporeans are quick to miss for more glamorous destinations further abroad. You also tend to travel a little slower to soak in the sights and culture.

An example of a road trip I took recently was a rather adventurous one, but no less achievable by anyone else: a drive from Singapore to Bangkok. With Malaysia being too predictable for some, heavyweight travelers can try to cross two borders to the Land of Smiles.

It is actually easier than one might expect. The main difference is to settle the Malaysia-Thailand border crossing paperwork way in advance. This can be done by many agents located on the Malaysian side of the border, but it’s best to contact one in advance to sort it for you before you arrive. They will need your vehicle details, insurance certificate, driving license, copy of road tax, vehicle log card and passports of all travelers (a non-exhaustive list to be sure, but you get the idea). With an agent advising you this process is actually a breeze. Once the paperwork is sorted, it is no more difficult to get to Thailand as it is to get to Malaysia. I would recommend to prepare to Google Translate if you cannot speak Thai though, as unlike Malaysia, most customs officers can’t speak a word of English.

Along the way, it is wise to stop on the way at Kuala Lumpur; if you can drive for long stretches at a time, you can go straight to Penang as well, which was what I did. From Penang, it is just a short hop over to the southern Thailand border. After crossing, you may choose to stay at Krabi/Phuket or Chumphon (I was at the latter). Between those locations I would recommend Krabi/Phuket instead, as Chumphon is very isolated and quite dull (it’s a transit point for many revellers to Ko Tao). You may even choose to stop at Surat Thani and hop over to Koh Samui. A great stop further north closer to Bangkok is Hua Hin. Home to the holiday villas of many of Bangkok’s wealthy set, it is a beautiful town set next to sandy beaches and blue waters.  I stopped here for lunch but wished I could have stayed longer. 

And then the destination: Bangkok. Needless to say, it is a hotbed of activity but I would be extra cautious driving there - urban planning is haphazard and with flyovers often running above roads it is easy to get your GPS confused. A wrong turn on the highway can easily add 10 kilometres and many more untold minutes to your journey. 

For a trip like this, which can probably be achieved comfortably in 9 days, this is what you could possibly spend: 
Fuel: assuming a 5,000km journey and fuel at an average of S$1/L, with fuel consumption at 12km/l. S$417.
Hotel: assuming two rooms, each at S$100 a night. S$1,600.
F&B: assuming S$50 per meal, 3 times a day. S$1,350.
Paperwork: assuming $50 per person for a family of 4. S$200. 
Total: S$3,567

As you can see, it is pretty reasonable compared to a flight, which may cost the following: 
Air tickets: assuming $300 per pax. S$1,200 
Hotel: assuming two rooms, each at S$100 a night. S$,1600.
F&B: assuming S$50 per meal, 3 times a day. S$1,350.
Total: S$4150 

If you have always driven your car only in Singapore as your daily commute, maybe it is time to put it to its fullest potential by going on a road trip. You would be surprised how much fun it would be! 

But if you do choose to take a drive, here are a few things you could consider loading up your ride with before going up north.


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