One of the main reasons people say they don’t travel is down to money. A lot of people out there will go on to claim that finances are just an excuse, and it is possible to travel with little to no money. While I’m not going to claim that it can’t be done, I am going to say that it does cost something to travel and everyone’s idea of ‘little money’ is different. Effective travel budgeting takes planning and experience to get right and I want to share some of the realistic things I’ve learnt that have saved me cash on the road.
Of course, the best way to truly grab yourself a budget travel deal is through complete flexibility with both time and place. In this ideal world, there’s no restriction on the time you spend away, what month you go abroad, or the destination you visit. Yet, I know this is not the case for most of us. There’s always something to get in the way. So each of the following ideas are adaptable to the amount of flexibility you have, and some will be more helpful for you than others.
The effectiveness of these tips also depends on how fussy you are too. If you’re fixed on going to Costa Rica for example, not a lot of these will work. Budget travelling really is a sliding scale between necessity, how much you have to spend, and desire, how much out of your budget you’re willing to spend. So with all of that out the way, let’s get into what you came here for…
Budget travel ideas
Save £100s on flights
When considering the expenses of a trip abroad, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is the pricey flights. This is one area you can really cut down your expenses on if you allow yourself to be open-minded about other aspects of your trip. I mainly use Skyscanner to search for all my flights as it compares a whole bunch of airlines in one go.
- If your timings are fixed, loosen up the destination plans – search for the cheapest flights using the ‘everywhere’ setting on Skyscanner for your dates. The best deals will come up first: with many flights under £50.
- If your heart is set on a place, loosen up your dates – if you’ve got your heart set on Canada, see which time of year has the cheapest flights to North America. Be wary of the climate conditions though – there might be a huge reason why the flights to your favourite destination drop radically in January.
- Flight hop based on prices – if you’re wanting to see several places in one go, pick a time frame, enter in your closest airport on Skyscanner and select the ‘everywhere’ option for destination. Whatever comes up cheapest, see if that’s somewhere you’d like to visit. If it’s a yes, allow enough days to see that place and then repeat the search for that airport too. Keep going until you reach the end of your timeframe or you get to a place with cheap enough flights back to your home country. (This is basically what I did for the trip I’m on now!)
- Dodge peak season – tourist spots will mostly still be open either side of the peak season, and the weather will hopefully hold out for you. You just won’t be hit with the eye-watering price tags for summer holiday flights.
Save £30-80+ a night on accommodation
- The most obvious one: learn to love hostels – definitely one everyone knows about but many might feel apprehensive about. The quality of hostels varies massively, and if you’re staying in a dorm room the people you’re stuck with can make or break a trip. But either way it is an experience, and you’ll go home with more stories to tell and perhaps a few more friends.
- Research private rooms in hostels – if the thought of a dorm room fills you with dread, have a look into their private options. Often a lot cheaper than a hotel but with the same amount of privacy and security.
- Check out Airbnb – if hostels are a little thin on the ground, your next best bet is probably Airbnb, a site where you can find a host to stay with: either in a room in their house or in a whole rental property.
- Use an Airbnb discount code – if you use my referral code when you sign up for Airbnb, you will receive £25 free credit for your first booking. That’s already a whole night’s accommodation for free in some places!
- Spend longer somewhere – if you have the luxury of time on your side, spending a few more days somewhere can sometimes benefit your wallet. If you’re looking for hostel or Airbnb accommodation, some places offer discounts for long stays, (sometimes called a ‘weekly rate’ in hostels).
- Work in exchange for accommodation – if you have flexible plans and an open mindset, then using a website like Workaway to find an exchange experience can be interesting. These sites allow you work in childcare, maintenance, on a farm – anything and everything really – for hosts that have a spare room they don’t mind you crashing in for a while.
- Cleverly timed transport – overnight flights or trains save on a night of accommodation, or, if budget really is your thing: book an early morning flight, travel to the airport the night before and camp out on the uncomfortable departure lounge chairs. Just pray you get the ones with no armrests.
Save £20+ a day on food
After flights and accommodation, your next largest expense is probably going to be food. It can be tempted to get carried away with eating out all of the time and trying all of the local cuisine, but that is a surefire way to rack up the spending, so:
- Supermarkets are your friend – scout them out, know what they sell and use them religiously for lunches and dinners. Not every meal has to be eaten in a restaurant.
- Choose a hostel with free breakfast – if there’s a wide choice of hostels, choose one for the same price which includes breakfast. It’s a good start to the day to at least get a slice of toast down, and staves off some of your hunger without you having to spend anything extra.
Save £ on sightseeing
If you’re pushed for time, you’re probably going to head straight for the tourist bus that promises to hit all of the top attractions in an hour. These are super convenient but the downside is often the price. The upside of this is that there are several easy ways around it.
- Get a free map – pick up a sightseeing map for free from one of these bus tours or the tourist information centre and mark off what you’re interested in. Often, a lot of these places will be clustered together in walking distance of each other, so use your legs to look around.
- Use public transport – if walking isn’t a practical option for you, research the public transport systems that go to the same places as the tours do. These will be a fraction of the price.
- Make friends – if you’re spending a good length of time somewhere, befriend a local and voila, you have a free tour with added local knowledge thrown in!
Don’t let budgeting limit you
If you’ve worked hard to save money at every twist and turn, then hopefully, when an experience arises that you don’t want to miss out on, you can afford it. Budgeting doesn’t mean ‘never spend money’, it means ‘have a greater awareness of your priorities’. Basically, you have to decide what’s worth the expense, and what’s not – that camping tour of Uluru isn’t gonna happen without spending money, so if you came to Australia to see the big rock in the middle of the country you’re going to feel it’s worth splashing the cash that one time. But going to an expensive club for the fourth night in a row and dropping big notes on alcohol? Perhaps not the wisest choice.
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