50 smart tips for travelling on a budget
by Kelly Henderson (follow Kelly on Twitter @kellythekiwi)
Travelling can be expensive but it isn’t something that we are going to stop doing any time soon. Luckily, there are all sorts of things you can do to save money while you’re away (and before you go). Here is my top 50 tips for travelling on a budget:
#1 Research your trip before you go
#2 Avoid travelling in peak season
If you can help it, it is better to travel outside of peak season (normally the summer months). Not only are the prices cheaper but the tourist attractions are less crowded and the accommodation will not be booked up.
#3 Don’t take too much luggage with you
More and more airlines (especially low cost ones like Ryanair and easyJet) charge you for checking in luggage. If it is possible, try to fly with hand luggage only.
#4 Don’t buy your currency at the airport
Exchanging your money at the airport is a really bad idea – you will definitely get a bad rate. It always plays to plan ahead and take some with you and then exchange more when you arrive.
#5 Avoid withdrawing cash from an ATM
You are likely to receive a poor exchange rate from your bank and then have to pay a fee for withdrawing the cash on top of this. If you do have to use an ATM then make sure to withdraw large amounts at a time rather than lots of small withdrawals.
#6 Hunt out long lost friends and family
Travelling is a great excuse to hunt out friends and family that live in other countries. Whether they can offer free accommodation, a home cooked meal or just some insider knowledge; this is a great way to save some money.
#7 Save money by staying in a hostel
Most hostels are not the horror stories that they used to be – all over Europe (and the world) there are nice and clean, family friendly hostels. You can find cheap hostels via Hostelworld and Hostelz. Check out this list from The Budget Traveller.
#8 Buddy up if you’re travelling alone
Not only will you enjoy the company but you will save money. A double/twin room is generally not much more expensive than a single, you will save money if you decide to take a taxi, cook for yourself or have a picnic and you share the cost of things like guidebooks, toiletries and travel adaptors.
#9 If you think you’re entitled to a discount – ask for it
Students, seniors, families and groups can all get discounts in most countries for most attractions. Whether it is a percentage off or a fixed rate; it always pays to check.
#10 Use a guidebook
In the days of free Wi-Fi, mobile internet and travel blogs many think guide books are a thing of the past. I tend to disagree though – sometimes the internet is a bit overwhelming! I was given Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring guidebook before I moved to London and I still have a read of it every time I travel.
#11 Use your feet – walk as much as you can
Most of the big cities are not as spread out as you think they are. Before spending money on public transport, work out the actual distances between where you are staying and the things that you want to see. With a good pair of walking shoes, you might cut down your transport costs.
#12 Use a travelcard if you are taking public transport
Instead of spending lots of money on single journeys, see what other options there are. Cities like Berlin have day tickets for individuals and groups of 5. In Paris it is cheaper to buy a book of 10 tickets at once than 10 single tickets and in London you should always get an Oyster Card.
#13 Explore the sights by going on a free walking tour
Every time I go to a new city I find out if there is a free walking tour that I can go on. So far I have walked my way around London, Paris, Edinburgh, Berlin and other cities too. Sandemans New Europe offers free walking tours in 18 cities across Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
#14 When in Rome….
No matter which city you are in, the locals are the best people to follow. If you want to see a football match, see one of the local games for a fraction of the price. Talk to the locals (or the staff where you are staying) about the places where they go – they’ll let you know where the best happy hours are and what local events are worth going to.
#15 Get a museum pass
If you are planning on spending a lot of your trip visiting museums then have a look what offers are available. In Paris you can buy the Paris Pass that allows you entrance in to all of the museums (including the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and the Arc de Triomphe) without queueing.
#16 Bring a packed lunch or make a picnic stop
Some bread rolls, sandwich fillings, a piece of fruit and a treat from the supermarket cost a lot less than eating out every lunch time. A packed lunch can also help you pass the time when you are on a train or lining up for tourist attractions. Whenever I go on holiday, I aim to take a packed lunch each day so I can enjoy a restaurant dinner.
#17 Take advantage of fixed price (or set) menu offers
Lots of restaurants around the world offer set menus where you pay a certain amount for either 2 or 3 courses. You normally only have a couple of menu choices and you will need to eat between certain hours but sticking to these can be a great way of eating at some of the best restaurants. In London, look out for pre-theatre menus, whilst in Paris you will see them list as ‘prix fixe’ menus.
#18 Eat where the locals eat
Avoid going to the places with bright, colourful English menus, or ones with pictures of the food on them – these are known to be tourist traps. Some of the best food I have eaten on holiday comes from tiny little places resembling somebody’s dining room rather than a restaurant.
#19 Eat at a local’s house with EatWith
If you want real quality food at a set price in a genuine environment then sign up with EatWith. The whole concept started as a way for tourists to avoid the usual tourist trap restaurants and dine in people’s houses. Simply look at the experiences available, book it online and then enjoy your night!
#20 Drink at the bar
It may sound like a strange concept but in some cities a drink is cheaper depending on where you are when you drink it. In Rome, it is cheaper to have your espresso standing at the counter. Whilst in Paris, it is cheaper to drink at the bar rather than sitting at a table and more expensive again if you’re going to sit outside on the patio.
#21 Don’t tip too much and look out for optional service charges added to your bill
Not all countries will expect to tip and the amount will differ depending on whether you are in a hotel, restaurant or taking a taxi. Some countries (like the United Kingdom) will automatically add an optional service charge to the bottom of your bill. If you’re unsure then take a look at this pretty amusing website for advice.
#22 Don’t use data roaming
The price of using mobile internet abroad is still ridiculously high so avoid it at all costs. If you need the internet, take advantage of free Wi-Fi in restaurants, cafes and other public spaces.
#23 Keep in touch by using an international phone card
These are sold at newsstands and off-licenses all over the world and off a much cheaper calling rate than what your phone provider or a payphone would. Just make sure to check whether there is a call connection fee or not.
#24 Share a long distance car journey
Sites like Bla Bla Car, liftshare and carpooling.co.uk are becoming increasing popular as travelers try to lower the cost of their long distance journeys. You can be a driver, or just go along for the ride but you may end up making some friends for life.
#25 Travel during the night
#26 Choose where you are going wisely
There are cities/countries all over Europe which are better value than others. If you are looking for the perfect weekend break, have a look at our list of top 5 cheapest European getaways.
#27 Have a staycation rather than a vacation
Instead of packing your bags and heading overseas why not holiday right here in the UK. In just a couple of hours you can be in the mountains, at the beach or in another city. Here are our favourite UK weekend destinations.
#28 Don’t spend all your money getting to your destination – book a cheap flight
Have a look at airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet when booking. Be careful though, whilst at first glance these airlines look really cheap, there are extra bits (like luggage) they might try and charge you for. You can use a flight comparison site like Skyscanner to compare cheap flights. Look here for more tips on getting a cheap flight.
#29 Book a return journey then don’t come back
I know it sounds strange but it is sometimes cheaper to book a return journey than it is to book a single ticket.
#30 Save money by not flying direct
Instead of flying directly from point A to point B have a stopover. Whilst this can be the long way round, you can save a lot of money – you may even get to leave the airport and experience another city on your way.
#31 Sign up for a Frequent Flyer program
Even if you only make a few journeys the points add up quickly. You can use these points for free flights or discounts off other flights. Be careful not to make bad choices just to get points though. Take the flight that is the best value for you (and the most convenient) rather than one that gives you maximum points. Check out a list of frequent flyer programs on wikipedia.
#32 Don’t splurge on a first class train ticket
There’s a reason that first class carriages are almost always empty – the difference isn’t great enough to make it worth it. Whilst you may get a bit more room you won’t get to your destination any faster.
#33 Travel by bicycle
If you’re keen cyclist then drastically reduce the cost of travel by taking your bike. There is website called Warmshowers which works a bit like couchsurfing except it is specifically aimed at providing accommodation for cyclists.
#34 Rent an apartment/house rather than pay the price for a hotel
Instead of paying full price for a hotel room, have a look at Airbnb (get a free £30 coupon for registering via BrokeinLondon) and HouseTrip. When my parents were over here from New Zealand, it was better value for us to book a 2 bedroom apartment using Airbnb than it was to get 2 hotel rooms. It also meant we had a kitchen to use if we wanted to cook for ourselves.
#35 Take part in a home exchange
Home Exchange is popular way of staying in another country for free – you stay in a person’s house and while you are away they will be staying in yours. Simply go to the Home Exchange website and choose where you want to go, you will be given a list of all the properties of people wanting to come to your home (London). Find more ways to stay for free here.
#36 Book directly with the hostel/hotel rather than using a travel agent or accommodation finder
Generally, they will only offer you the highest price rooms and will add a fee on top as their commission. Booking directly will also give you the opportunity to ask for deals and discounts.
#37 Get a discount or loyalty card to help you with the cost of accommodation
Go Around Europe is a travel network where showing one of their cards will give you a 10% discount on your accommodation. There are over 150 hostels on the list so get travelling!
#38 Fill the room
If you are travelling with friends sleep in the same room. Normally, a 4 bed dorm or quad room will be only slightly more expensive than a double – an 8 bed dorm cheaper still.
#39 Stay just outside the city centre
Hotels, hostels and B&BS are a lot cheaper if you stay outside the city centre. Make sure there are good transport links though, and that the cost of transportation is not more than the accommodation would be if you had stayed more centrally.
#40 Make your first stop the Visitor Information Centre
I think that people tend to miss these out now that they find so much information on the internet but they are worth the visit. You can normally get free maps here and they will have the best advice on cheap events that are happening and the best way to get around.
#41 Make the most of free tourist attractions
In London most of the big museums and art galleries are free like the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery. In Berlin, some museums are free on certain days. Whilst in Paris, many of museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. If you want to spend some time in the museums on your holiday then work your trip around these days.
#42 Keep in touch for free by using Viber, Skype or WhatsApp
These are 3 of the apps that I use all the time if I want to contact friends or family overseas. Make sure to use them on free Wi-Fi rather than data roaming though!
#43 Don’t take cars into big cities
If you are hiring a car to travel between cities then make sure to pick it up when you leave the first place and drop it off as soon as you arrive in the next. Not only is parking ridiculously expensive the closer to the city you get, there are road taxes (like the congestion charge) to take into account as well.
#44 Shop till you drop… in the right locations
If you choose to do some shopping whilst you are away then why not go to the markets of Turkey and Morocco rather than the high streets of Paris and Rome? Don’t forget in some cultures it is perfectly acceptable to barter for the right price.
#45 Claim a tax refund
There are some countries that will allow you to get your tax back on purchases made while you were there. There is a bit of a process but if you have made big purchases then it is definitely worth seeing if this is possible.
#46 Shop locally and buy local products
Instead of just buying what you know, try some of what is on offer locally. Beer, wine and spirits are generally cheaper if you buy local products. Also, ask the reception staff where you are staying where they shop – they will be able to tell you the best places to go.
#47 If you are unlucky enough to get sick, seek treatment right away
Getting sick in a foreign country is always a bit scary, especially if you don’t speak the language. See a doctor straight away so they can prescribe the right medication. Hopefully, this will help to avoid large medical bills if the problem gets worse.
#48 Get a European Health Insurance Card
If you are from the UK, Switzerland or any other EEA country then this card will give you free or discounted medical treatment in any other EEA country. If you don’t have one yet apply online for free.
#49 Take out a travel insurance policy
For a small price you can be reassured that if anything happens to you, your belongings or your travel plans, the cost will be covered. If you are going to make lots of trips then consider getting an annual plan rather than one just for a single trip. There are lots of companies that offer travel insurance including your bank, the post office or InsureandGo.
#50 Earn money whilst you travel
You could teach English in Korea, work on a farm in New Zealand or pour pints in Portugal. The best way to travel on a budget is to earn money doing it. For more information on working while you are abroad or travelling the world for cheap have a read of this article.
You may also want to check out the budget travelling category.