This is going to be a pretty short post since there are only a few ways to cut costs for Tibet travel, which is expensive, plain and simple.
The high costs of travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is due in large part to the government rules requiring you have to have a guide and driver for each day that you are there. (Though for certain low-level activities in Lhasa itself you can get away with just a guide.) In spring of 2016, the already-expensive prices rose substantially higher due to a new government policy centralizing all the tourism vehicles.
If you haven’t already seen them, you can get a sample of current tour prices here, and a list of some actual prices paid by travelers in 2016 here.
So the prices are high. What can a traveler to do cut costs?
- Join a group: The single most effective way to bring your expenses down is to join a group for travel in the TAR. If you can form a group on your own, great. If you are traveling solo, our agents can help form groups for 4-day Lhasa Highlights, 6-day Cultural Highlights (including Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse), Everest Base Camp, and Mt. Kailash tours. (You can inquire here for a group trip.)
- Travel in low season: Trips from November to mid-February are going to be cheapest. It’s cold in winter and you have some limitations about where you can travel, but winter is actually a good time to travel in the TAR. See this post on 5 Reasons Winter is the Best Time to Visit Tibet.
- Outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), travel with a guide but no driver: If you are traveling in non-TAR areas of Kham and Amdo, you can hire a guide to go with you on public transportation. Obviously, this is a tougher trip than if you have a driver, but you can definitely save money this way, and see more of the local culture. Actually, you can technically travel without a guide too, in the non-restricted and non-TAR areas of Kham and Amdo, but we don’t recommend it. Yolanda has traveled all over the world on her own, but Tibet is one place she wouldn’t do it, for multiple reasons. (Inquire here for a guide for Kham/Amdo.)
- Sign up 3 months in advance for Early Bird Discount: Some of our recommended agents offer a 5% discount when travelers confirm a group tour at least 3 months in advance.
- Share a room to avoid the Single Room Supplement: Many agents charge a supplemental fee for travelers staying solo in a room on a group tour. The fee can really add up so especially on longer trips like Mount Kailash, you can save hundreds of dollars by opting to share a room with a fellow traveler.
- Take a short trip: The very least expensive trip we know of is a 4-day Lhasa highlights group tour. Clearly, shorter trips cost less, also in Kham and Amdo, so if you really, really want to see Tibet, but you’re low on cash (or even time), inquire about a Lhasa highlights tour, or ask here for a short Kham/Amdo trip.
Our honest recommendation about costs and prices, though, is to recognize that it is going to cost a lot, and to save your vacation time and money so that you can afford to go for at least 10 days, and hopefully 2-4 weeks. Tibet is a magnificent country and the farther out you get from the main areas, the richer and more authentic your experience becomes, but it will take time to get out there.
Personally, we set aside $200 every month by automatic deposit into a special savings account that is for travel, for a total of $2400 a year. We pretty much forget about it, and then every couple of years, we have enough for a decent-sized trip. If you can set aside even $50 a month, it will build in no time!
Plus, if you’re someone who can use credit cards responsibly, you can build up free flights over time by using credit cards that give points. There is a huge amount of info about how to do this online.