One of the biggest myths of travelling is the extortionate amounts you must save to go in the first place. Travel agencies and other travel-based businesses rarely set their sights on helping underprivileged people get out of the country and so at first glance, travelling seems to be completely out of the question with the high cost of hotels, eating at restaurants, doing all the tourist attractions, not to mention getting to the destination and back. Then there’s all the TV programmes, films, magazines, radio shows and documentaries which focus primarily on the upper end of the scale holidays; it’s everywhere you look. It’s all well and good telling people to ‘just save’, but when people are paying rent, are on minimum wage and have dependencies, there’s so much more to take into consideration. In this blog, I’ll be focusing on how to keep travelling costs at an absolute minimum, without making you feel like you’re missing out. This is for the people who feel like they’d never be able to save enough to travel, by talking about how to shave the costs of travel, accommodation, food and activities, as well as how to save money by packing correctly and discounts you may be entitled to. First, let’s focus on getting you there and back.
In April’s newsletter, I briefly gave instructions on how to find the cheapest flights to your desired destinations, but I’m going to go into much more detail and talk about transport as a whole. First, let’s talk about Skyscanner.
Skyscanner is my favourite app for finding cheap flights, but only if you really know how to use it. It is essentially a comparison site for airlines across the world, just as Go Compare and Compare the Market search for all car insurance quotes. Using this app will help you find the cheapest flights available for your chosen dates. You are also able to view all the cheapest flights throughout the year, and I highly recommend reading my guide to Skyscanner on last month’s newsletter to see how to do this. There are four ways to make your flights even cheaper than the cheapest flights of the day, so definitely take a look! Download the app here.
Flying is great for long journeys as it is much faster and much more comfortable, but if you’re looking to go on shorter journeys that would take no longer than 10 hours to drive, consider using buses and coaches. I have regularly used Flixbus, which is an absolute shambles of a company when it comes to picking people up on time (they are almost always late) but are very comfortable and extremely cheap. I travelled from Budapest, Hungary to Krakow, Poland using Flixbus for just £8 so it’s worth looking into. Then there’s Megabus which provides £1 and £3.50 journeys if you’re lucky with your booking! This usually requires you to book far in advance, so it may not suit those who want to book as they go.
Whether you’re going to the airport or travelling back from the airport, never use a taxi. Taxis are always the most expensive way to travel around and you should turn your head to Uber, Grabcar, Lyft or Gett instead. They provide the same service but for a fraction of the price, so if you do need to get somewhere in a hurry or would prefer a more comfortable journey, this is a better option. However, if you’re not bothered about getting any form of taxi at all, I suggest finding the cheapest airport transfers available, which are seriously cheaper than Uber etc. I recently discovered Easybus, who provide airport transfers from multiple pick up points in London to all the London airports from £5pp. Just to put that in perspective, a taxi going from London Victoria to Stanstead Airport costs around £60. Skyscanner provides a search option for airport transfers, and National Express offer journeys from £3.50 too (although very unlikely to get that price).
So, you’ve finally arrived at your accommodation and you start to plan your first day out around the City. First thing’s first, make sure you know how far you are from all the places you’re looking to visit. If it’s walking distance, never get public transport. If it isn’t walking distance, consider renting a bicycle as this works out so much cheaper than public transport or taxis. It’s also worth looking up the cost of a multi-day transport pass as our weekly ticket in Budapest was just £15 for the use of all trams, buses and metro across the entire City. I’d suggest avoiding public transport overall unless the weather takes a sudden turn!
If you have the option to go away at any time of the year, avoid your Country’s public holidays at all costs. Travel costs rise dramatically, and you may be looking at spending double what you would in low season. It’s also worth looking up the public holidays of the countries you wish to visit, so that you don’t end up arriving in their peak season either. Just remember that Public Holidays are not the same in each country so don’t just guess! Office Holidays is a good website to check public holidays around he world.
The best time to book your flights are 4 weeks prior on a Tuesday (or so I hear, I’ve never actually tried this myself!), and during large sales such as Boxing Day or Black Friday. Ryanair had £10 flights to over 30 destinations in Europe on our most recent Black Friday. I try to avoid going shopping on those days and head straight to Skyscanner instead!
There are 3 things that will make your flight more expensive; hold luggage, meals and seat selection. If it’s a very long flight, I highly recommend investing in seat selection, but at no point will you need to buy the other two options. Once you know which airline you’re flying with, look at their website to see what foods aren’t allowed in your hand luggage, and then take the rest! Taking your own food is so vital to saving money on flights and means you can eat whenever you like as opposed to waiting until the airline feeds you. Also, travelling with hand luggage not only saves money, it also avoids having to wait for up to an hour to collect it once you arrive! I’ll talk about what to pack later in the blog.
Now we go right back to basics when we may not have even decided where we want to go. Sign up to Jack’s Flight Club as he sends discounted flights as and when they pop up for free! Also visit websites such as Rome to Rio, Seat 61, Go Euro and Bla-Bla-Car to see all the options you have when it comes to transporting to another place. Rome to Rio is my personal favourite and covers the whole world, Seat 61 is an absolute dream when it comes to train travel, Go Euro puts the focus directly on Europe and Bla-Bla-Car is the best website for hitching a ride in someone else’s car!
My final tip on transport is my all time personal favourite; night trains and buses. Having experienced both in various countries, I have concluded that this is my favourite way to travel. First, the low cost of these trains and buses cover both transport and accommodation all in one, which is genius; secondly, I sleep like an absolute baby every time; and lastly, because you’re travelling overnight, you get more time to spend in each of the places you visit! Seat 61 has most of these journeys on his website so take a look. He’ll be able to direct you where to book them, but your accommodation should have access to all this information too if you’re not looking to book in advance. Ben wrote a mini-blog on how to survive the South East Asian sleeper buses, so have a read here!
Following on from the idea of night buses and trains, there are 4 more ways of saving money on accommodation that I would suggest, and each of them completely depend on what type of person you are.
First up is Airbnb, which is essentially a booking website and app that allows homeowners to put their houses up for rent to holiday makers. I love this as a concept as it provides a much cheaper option than hotels, and it allows you to choose the type of accommodation you want, your budget, how many people and which dates. The downside to this site is that because home owners are making more money renting to holiday makers, there are fewer places available to rent for people who need a place to live. I only use Airbnb when I need some personal time or when a huge group of friends is going on holiday.
The second option is for those of you who love socialising and don’t mind sleeping in the same room as others. Hostels are my favourite form of accommodation, as they are super cheap and allow me to meet my next travel buddies! They range in price depending on the country, but they’re up 20x cheaper than hotels! Hostels are great because they’re filled with travellers who often have tips on the cheaper places to visit and the quirky sites which are often better than the expensive tourist traps. They also offer lots of freebies such as breakfast, tea and coffee, tours, travel books, internet and booking options. Take a look at the different hostels on Hostelworld.
The third option is for people who want to take it one step further, both with saving money and with taking chances, and that’s couchsurfing. This doesn’t mean just turning up to a random person’s house and asking to stay; it’s a website that allows you to view multiple hosts who offer a bed or couch for a few nights for free! Quite often, these hosts are travellers themselves and they just want to meet new people from all over the world, so in return they may ask for you to show them a local dish or help with another language. You usually only have access to the property when the host is there, so be prepared when you leave in the morning. The site works on reviews, so to avoid any creeps or unfortunate experiences, always go for the hosts with very positive reviews.
My final option is also free but works as an exchange. Workaway connects travellers to local families or businesses who will feed and accommodate you for your stay in exchange for work. For example, farming, helping around the house, building and decorating or receptionist duties. This is a great way to meet new people, save money and add experience to your CVs as you travel. Sometimes these places will love you so much that they’ll offer you paid work, so it’s worth trying at least once!
Food is potentially the most challenging part of keeping costs low, as everywhere you walk there will be beautiful restaurants that are recommended all over the internet. As much as I can suggest not using restaurants, I understand that eating good food is an important part of your travels, so if you’re able to, budget for one restaurant per City. If, however, you want to focus on keeping costs as low as possible, there are multiple ways to do this, including a few already mentioned such as packing your own food on flights and Workaway hosts feeding you in exchange for work.
If you’re wanting to stay at hostels, use the Hostelworld app which allows you to define your search to best suit what you’re looking for. When doing this, always tick the ‘breakfast included’ option. This rarely affects the cost of hostels and means you have one less meal per day you need to worry about. This won’t be available for Airbnb or Couchsurfing.
When searching for accommodation, always make sure the place you’re staying at has a kitchen. This way, you can go to a local market and supermarket to buy your own ingredients to cook. Doing this will save you so much money, so it’s worth doing. You can buy Tupperware from a supermarket or bring your own to ensure you don’t have to return home every time you want to eat.
The final option is to buy food from food stalls. Not only is it very cheap to buy, it also allows you to try local food without the restaurant prices. These places won’t have seating, but you can often find your own cute spot to eat that gives you a great view! If you do want to try local food from a restaurant instead, go for lunch instead of dinner as the prices are often far cheaper.
As previously mentioned, never get sucked into the tourist traps! I understand the want to be able to say you did it, but it’s just not worth the cash! There are often ways to have a similar experience but for a lot less money, so make sure you do your research first!
Firstly, don’t bother booking a walking tour. Ask about the best free walking tours and go on one of those instead! They work purely on a tips basis, so you pay what you can rather than a set price. This is great for those of us who want to have a great tour but are worried about our wallets! Walking tours are great to do on the first day because it allows you some insight into what sort of things you’d like to do for the rest of your time there.
If you’re looking to do a day tour, ask your hostel first as they often have deals with several companies. Also, get your haggling hat on and try and get a good deal at a street stand selling tours. Make sure you research whether haggling is part of the culture first as some places would get extremely offended!
Many tourist attractions are cheaper on certain days for certain people. For example, you could pay €9 entry for The Louvre in Paris and then find out afterwards that it’s free for under 26s on Friday evenings and has a reduced entry fee of €6 on a Wednesday and Friday evening for anyone. That’s a €9 or €3 saving right there, and you’re still getting to do the tourist attractions!
Finally, the best way to find the true hidden gems of the place you’re visiting is by talking to the locals. This means getting out there and really meeting people as well as fellow travellers at your accommodation. We met a local in Prague who we became friends with over time and he drove us to a local town where we got to see the famous bone chapel!
What to bring
One of the major ways to save money is by packing the correct items in your backpack! This will change depending on which Country you come from, as different items are easier to get elsewhere. As we’ve already established, taking a carry on instead of hold luggage will significantly reduce your flight cost, so be sure to research the size of the backpack you will need to buy. Stores such as Sports Direct and TK Maxx have great prices for good quality bags.
Towel – most places will charge you for renting a towel, so be sure to buy a microfibre towel before you go as they’re travel size but still do the job.
Washing line and travel detergent – being able to wash your own clothes saves so much money, especially if you’re planning a longer trip. Bringing a travel washing line means you can avoid tumble dryers altogether, and detergent means you can wash your clothes in any sink. Sometimes washing machines are free to use at hostels and they charge for detergent, so you’ve saved money here too.
Collapsible Tupperware and cutlery – this won’t take up much space in your bag but comes in extremely handy when you’re cooking your own meals.
Water-to-go bottle – carrying around filtration bottles mean you can drink from any tap and any stream or puddle. This saves a lot of money, especially in particularly hot countries and helps decrease plastic waste. If you’d like to buy one, you can get 15% off by using the code UNRAVELLING15 which we highly recommend!
Shampoo bars and regular soap – these last so much longer than bottles and reduce plastic waste too. You can buy them from Lush and they can last up to 80 washes.
Padlock – this doesn’t necessarily save you money, but if your stuff gets stolen you’ll have to fork out for replacements, so always carry a padlock to keep your belongings safe!
An unlocked phone – This means you can put a local sim card in so you’re not paying extortionate rates for data.
Medication and first aid kit – because of our wonderful NHS, these things are very very cheap here, but you’ll find that most other places charge huge amounts for something as simple as paracetamol and plasters. Please research this first as some countries don’t allow certain medications into their country.
Menstrual Cup – for the ladies, these are so much cheaper than tampons and pads, which are also very difficult to find in normal shops! I have a blog on making periods cheaper here.
A pre-paid card or cash readily in the required currency – conversion fees are the worst. Never take out money from a cash machine unless you absolutely must or have a travel card.
There are a few known discounts that work across several tourist attractions, accommodation and food places which will help a lot!
The most well-known is the student discount, but we recommend getting an ISIC card, which is recognised Internationally over 133 countries and has over 160,000 discounts. Similarly, to the ISIC, we also have the ITIC which is there for the teachers and IYTC for anyone under the age of 30!
Providing you can prove your age, many attractions and events are cheaper for people under the age of 26, so make sure you’re always carrying around your ID.
Make sure you’re signed up to as many travel newsletters as possible to ensure you get as many discounts in the build up to your trip as possible.
So, there we have it. Travel doesn’t need to be as middle class as it’s made out to be. Shout out to all the working-class travellers out there who work exceptionally hard to pay for your travels – you’re terrific and If you have any other ideas on how to save money while travelling, be sure to contact me here and I’ll add it in!