There are times when you have oodles of money to spend on a luxury trip. Those are always great!
But there are also times when you really want to go somewhere, even though you feel like you can’t really afford it. Fear not. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! From my experience, travelling on a budget is still worth the experience. You might not be eating caviar everyday (who wants to do that anyway?) but you still get to visit somewhere interesting and build some great new memories.
The biggest costs for travelling tend to be for transport and accommodation, so if you want to save money, try to focus on these areas first. Other costs like eating out do add up, but you can always try to find a balance of paying for nice meals and eating on the cheap. This applies for touristy things to do as well.
Here are some tips to get you thinking:
- Book early
From my experience, booking earlier has nearly always worked out cheaper. From flights to hotels, it’s easier to snag a deal in advance. I’d say at least three months in advance. Also, there is maximum holiday anticipation by booking early! It’s always nice to have a trip to look forward to.
- Low cost airlines
These are great. The purpose is to get you from one place to another. There’s generally not much point in paying extra for that. Low cost airlines are good for travelling within Europe, and also intra-country like in the US. You can save a lot of money by travelling with Ryanair or Easyjet instead of British Airways.
- Shop around for flights
Sometimes there is no low-cost option when you’re making a big trip, like from London to Thailand. But you might find some cheaper options if you’re willing to make a stop-over (these tend to be cheaper than direct flights) or be flexible with your dates.
If you’re making a big trip abroad that requires a stop-over, it can work out cheaper if you buy the two parts of the flight separately. For example, a friend of mine travelled from the US to Amsterdam with American Airlines, which required a stop in London. It worked out cheaper to buy the US-London ticket with AA + a separate ticket from London-Amsterdam with British Airways, compared to booking the whole US-London-Amsterdam combination directly through American Airlines. So she saved money by booking the two parts of her trip separately, without even looking at the low-cost airlines.
You may need to fly with a big airline to get you to the first country, then look for cheap flights on the shorter parts of your journey.
The best way to shop around like this is using a website like Sky Scanner that does the hard work for you. Try changing some of the dates around, and make sure you check the time in between flights. And make sure the agent they suggest is legitimate. I’ve seen what looked like a bargain but had never heard of the agent and their reviews weren’t good – so I chose a more expensive but safe option.
You can also use websites like Kayak and the regular online agents like Opodo, Expedia and Lastminute.com to shop around for flights. And the actual airline’s website!
Make sure you get the timings right if you book parts of your flight separately. You will need to allow extra time to collect your baggage and possibly go through security or check-in again. To avoid this hassle, see the next point…
- Travel lightly – hand luggage only
There are lots of benefits to travelling lightly. You carry less stuff around, you’re forced to be minimalist and you don’t have to pay extra on some flights for checking luggage in. Low-cost airlines are notorious for charging extra if you want to check in luggage. Ryanair charges £25/€25 for adding a checked bag, which goes up to £40/€40 if you add it after booking your flight/at the airport.
No checked luggage is especially useful if you have booked more than one flight through different airlines – you won’t need to wait around at the baggage carousel to pick up your baggage before going to your next flight.
Even if you don’t have another flight lined up, not carrying a suitcase around on foreign public transport is like a breath of fresh air. Now, I can easily go away for up to five days with just a small rucksack – I used to take a suitcase with me!
And, if you are going to make maximum use of your hand luggage allowance on a flight, make sure your cabin bag is the right size. Sometimes the maximum size varies from airline to airline, and you might be forced to pay to check in your case if it is too big.
- If you fly a lot, remember to collect and use miles
So using airline miles isn’t my strength, but it’s something I keep meaning to make use of more! Many airlines have their own miles system and are associated with other airlines too. So you can have an account with American Airlines and still collect points when you travel with British Airways.
I have used my miles to buy a flight from Costa Rica to New York for about $40, and I have also managed to lose about 20,000 points because I didn’t make use of them in time. Oops.
- You don’t have to fly
Depending on how big a trip you are planning, you may want to consider other options like coach, train or even ferry. In Europe, there are options to take Eurostar between the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Returns can be as low as £60 (around US$80).
And remember, you don’t even have to go abroad to travel.
There’s probably a whole bunch of stuff you haven’t seen in your own country, so if you’re on a real budget, consider a trip to a city you haven’t visited before. Coaches can be really cheap in the US and in Europe. I’ve booked Megabus tickets for £1 before from London to Manchester, you can’t go wrong for that price!
Comparison sites: I recommend Trivago as a first stop to find accommodation. It’s a hotel comparison site that compares hundreds of venues across different agents for the best price. Mid-week stays tend to be cheaper.
Hostels: I’ve only stayed in hostels a few times – mainly when I was travelling alone and really couldn’t justify the cost of a hotel room. Especially when it was literally for just a place to sleep as I planned to be out all day. It can be a good way to meet people – make sure you have your ‘friendly hat’ on and be prepared to expect the unexpected! I would recommend you check the reviews and the photos to make sure it is something you are happy with.
I’ve had a couple of great hostel stays including in Boston and Costa Rica. And they were much cheaper than hotels. There are often facilities to cook, saving you money when it comes to not having to eat out every day.
Airbnb: I’ve heard mixed reviews about Airbnb although all of my experiences have been pretty good. It is generally cheaper than a hotel, but make sure you do some comparisons. It can be good if there’s a group of you as there are options to have an apartment where you can hang out and eat together in a homely setting. You also have the option of cooking.
My favourite Airbnb was staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam years ago. It was much more fun than staying in a generic hotel room!
No frills hotels: I’m a really big fan of ‘budget hotels’ that are part of a chain. They tend to be simple, clean and you know what you’ll get! In the UK, I really like Travelodge and in Spain I found Ibis to be great.
- Things to do
It can be easy to spend lots of money on fun things to do when you’re exploring somewhere new. I usually pick my favourites of the paid options, like shows or big tourist attractions, then make an effort to find free things. There are plenty of options, like visiting free museums, looking at markets and even free tours.
I’m a big fan of the Sandeman free walking tours. These usually last 2-3 hours and you pay a tip of your choice at the end. This usually works out cheaper than any fixed-price tour. They currently cover 19 cities around the world. So far I’ve been to the tours in London, Dublin, Berlin and Amsterdam.
I LOVE eating out. Especially when on holiday! But when you’re on a budget, it helps to plan out those meals a little bit. Instead of pigging out at the expensive hotel buffet every morning, think about going to a local supermarket to buy some croissants, biscuits or fruits to have for breakfast. If you have access to a fridge, then you can add milk and cereal to that list. This will go nicely with the tea and coffee that you (hopefully) already have in your room. And if there’s a kettle for that tea and coffee, then you might as well buy some pot noodles for the occasional meal or snack.
For lunches and dinners, I find it works to pick out a couple of places you really want to eat at (this should include national dishes/local food), then find cheap alternatives for the other meals. This includes cafe style restaurants and, god forbid, fast food. There’s nothing as exciting as having McDonalds in a different country! (FYI the McFlurry in Morocco is the best I’ve tried so far)
If you have cooking facilities where you’re staying, like in most hostels or Airbnb, then make the most of the opportunity to buy some ingredients from a supermarket and cook some meals.
I’m not saying eat like a pauper for the whole trip, just mix it up a little bit. Try the whole array from street food to top notch. You’ll save a lot of money compared to eating in ‘proper restaurants’ each time, and sometimes street food is the best.
You can also look at my travel tips by clicking here.
I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to travel on a budget. Good luck with your travel plans!