Monday 28 September, 2020

Here's how to get to Trinidad Carnival on a budget

by Kristel Kouly

Trinidad carnival is over and you missed it again, stuck at home watching everyone have an amazing time via Instagram. Want to hear the good news? Trinidad Carnival happens every year, and in 2020 you can be there!

While this blog post may help you find more cost effective ways to do carnival, the festival has gotten quite expensive since I first started jumping back in 2009. To give you an idea, my first costume cost US$300, my last costume in 2018 cost US$900, and I didn’t really get much more for that price increase.

Before I go down the road of costume price increases over the years, let’s stick to the plan. How do you do carnival for less you ask? One word-  PREPARATION. 

You cannot decide to go last minute. This was ME in 2019, last minute frantically trying to find a way to go realizing the price of everything had skyrocketed, which I knew while looking, but just thought maybe I’d get lucky. In the end of course, I didn’t go anywhere.

Start with Flight

First step is to book your flight early, right when the dates are released is when you’ll usually find the best fares or just a week or two after. Be mindful that you are not the only one frantically searching for a plane ticket to carnival 2020, remember you’re in the boat with all those other people who missed out on 2019 and those coming off their carnival high ready to go for next year. It is a race, but if you track your flights using Google Flights (find my guide here), you can score a decent price.

How many days do you need?

If you don’t have many vacation days and are trying to cut cost, you can catch all the action by simply arriving on Friday and leaving on Ash Wednesday. Most people will arrive at this time or just a day or two before. It may be tempting to visit for Machel Monday, but staying for over a week will quickly get expensive. Beware of long lines at the airport when you arrive and leave, these will be the busiest travel times!

Where to stay

Accommodation is the next thing you’ll have to book quickly, these fill up fast and will take up a lot of your budget, everything triples in price during carnival time. The worst 2 star hotel will go from $75 a night to over $200, it really is insane. Luckly, AirBnb and Home Away offer apartments and houses that can accommodate you and a few friends who you’ll need to split the bill. Ensure that your friends commit with cash, far too many times I’ve seen people book accommodation only for friends to cancel. If they can’t contribute to the nonrefundable deposit, they can’t stay! When looking for a place, be sure that it is centrally located near Port of Spain, this will help you save on expensive taxi fares.

Of course if you’re lucky to have a friend to stay with in Trinidad, this will save you a ton of money. Check your phone contacts to find that long lost friend you went to school with, they will be a life saver and probably a fun carnival tag.

Getting around

Most people during carnival hire a driver and split the cost with friends. Do not consider renting a car during carnival, this is a bad idea unless you have a friend who absolutely does not drink. You will be consuming large amounts of alcohol at every party, having a driver is the safest way to go.

Customize your mas

Sometimes we only hear about the bigger, more popular bands, but there are so many bands to play with for Trinidad Carnival - with some of the smaller bands offering costumes at a lower price. You can also choose to customize your costume by only purchasing the body wear and skipping the expensive feathers. Any time you add a feathered collar, backpiece or leg piece to your costume you will drive up the price instantly. Keep it simple if you’re trying to save on the total price! The most basic costume will still run you about US$500 so be prepared to pay something around there even when you’re trying to cut back.

Just like your flight, book your costume early. If you try to buy one last minute, you may end up spending more, they won’t have the one you like, or your size won’t be available. Most band launches start from June to August. Follow them on Instagram to find out all the details about the launch. You will be required to pay just under half the price of the costume as your deposit when booking so start saving from now! Most bands will allow you to log in and pay a little more online whenever you like. Make monthly payments to pay off your costume quicker to avoid being stuck with a big bill come carnival time.

Skip Tuesday mas

This may sound like a crazy concept but if you really want to save money, some bands will allow you to play mas only on Monday! Not only will your costume price go down significantly but you will save a ton on your flight leaving on Carnival Tuesday. This might be hard to do but will save you a lot of money.

Get crafty

Trinidad is a bit unique to other carnivals where in the last few years they have introduced something called Monday Wear. A trend I really don’t like but hey, it is what it is. This is where you’ll not wear any of your costume on Monday and either purchase one from one of the many Monday Wear designers or wear a bathing suit or something you create on your own. We’re here to save money so buying one of these custom pieces isn’t going to work.

The cheapest thing to do is buy a cute pair of sparkly shorts or bikini bottom and wear your costume bra with it, that’s it. If you want to create something on your own, you can also reuse an old bathing suit or buy one online and decorate it with gems yourself. You’ll be surprised what you can do with a glue gun! Either option will significantly cut your cost of Monday Wear.

Be picky with parties

Next up, decide on the parties you’d like to go to, you cannot do everything on a budget! All-inclusives will always be more expensive, cooler fetes will always be a cheaper option, you can bring your own drinks, vibe out with your crew and still catch a performance from your favorite artist.  At the end of the day, that’s really all you need! While some people fete 2-3 times a day, if you’re on a budget, choosing one good party a day is more than enough. You will need time to rest, recover and recuperate for the next day.

If you really just want a taste of the Trinidad experience, you can decide to only go for a few key parties and leave on Carnival Monday, however this is not recommended! You will probably have the time of your life and cry yourself all the way back home.

The alternative carnival

If you really, really cannot make it to carnival, there are a few key events like Rise & Roast and Bacchanal Road that you can attend just a week before traditional mas to get a taste of the action. Flights and accommodation will be much cheaper and you’ll only need a weekend to hit the key events. Warning, you might also cry doing this because you will want to stay longer…but I say it’s better to get a taste than having no carnival at all!

While carnival is expensive, going with a group of friends can cut your cost and make the experience something you will all remember. Plan ahead, commit with cash and get ready for Trinidad carnival 2020, you can be there!

To contact the author, Kristel Kouly, check out her travel blog or visit her Instagram to keep up with all her travels!

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