The pros and cons of buying a tourist pass for a city

There are few things worse than watch your travel budget be eaten away by just getting from point A to B - especially with the rand jiggling in your pocket overseas.

But one of the best ways to always travel within a budget is to prepay for as much as possible. Accommodation, transport, activities - anything that you can already book means you're less likely to overspend while in holiday mode.

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One of the oft-touted methods of keeping costs down is the purchase of a tourist pass of whichever city you're visiting - it normally includes entrance to attractions and museums, free transport and discounts on other activities and shops.

On a long layover in Lisbon, I bought my first tourist pass - the Lisboa Card - just for the day and set off to explore the city. Paying a one-off amount for all my planned sightseeing - including free transport on Lisbon's fantastic public transport system - meant my only concern regarding money was limited to deciding whether I wanted to spend R30 on a can of coke.

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tram in lisbon

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Here are a few pros and cons to a tourist pass:

Free transport takes the stress out of transit

Using public transport you've never used before can be daunting at first, especially when trying to work out how much money you need to get from point A to point B - and sometimes even more costly when you realise you've taken the completely wrong route.

But take cost out of the equation, and you become a lot more relaxed about potentially missing a stop - and you'll end up seeing more of the city, perhaps even discover some hidden gems.

Most of the time you can jump the queue

At certain places, the Lisboa Card let me jump the queue a few times, which is especially great when you're on a tight schedule and don't want to waste time standing behind loud Americans debating whether or not to stay in the long queue. 

With any city pass check whether it has this option, and always look out for a 'fast track' sign with the logo of the pass.

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jeronimos monastery

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Great for one day, less useful for two or three days

Tourist passes normally come with one, two, three or five-day options - it all depends on your schedule. The one day pass was great for a layover as I wanted to see as much of the city as my poor feet can handle, but if you're staying in the city for longer you definitely don't want to be as rushed.

In the latter situation, rather buy a one-day pass for a fast tour around the city for a starter, but then take it easy for the rest of your trip so you can really gorge yourself on the main meal.

You might end up seeing some less spectacular places

Not all tourist attractions are created equal - I picked areas with the highest density of places with free entrance, and to get the most out of what I paid I went to all of them. 

One was the strangest museum I have ever been into, filled with woven baskets and strange white models of random buildings. Safe to say I would never have gone in if it wasn't for the Lisboa Card.

Always go through the list of any tourist pass to see if there are places you actually want to see.

READ: 24-hour getaways: Get that holiday feeling on a tight schedule

throne room in portugal royal palace

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

You have to see as much as you can

The Lisboa Card costs 20 Euro (about R340 at R16,98/Euro) and I travelled extensively in and out of the airport. I managed five attractions in one day, which consisted of Belem Tower, museums, a monastery and a grand royal palace. All of this would have cost me way more if bought individually, especially with the distances I travelled.

The key is to figure out how much time you will spend at any attraction, as that will determine whether you can do enough to make it worth it. 

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belem tower

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

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