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Travel

How to Travel on a Budget

Spending weeks, months or even years exploring the world is a dream for many people, but it is one that can prove incredibly expensive if you don’t plan properly.  While some think that backpacking and extended trips are outside of their price range, there are often smart ways to cut down on costs throughout the trip and save money that can go into prolonging that dream adventure.

The main thing to remember is if you plan well enough in advance, you could make substantial savings later on down the line. Having said this, a savvy traveller should be ready to think on the go and adapt when an opportunity to make a saving presents itself.

Ever wondered, how can I stay on a budget while travelling? How can I travel the world cheaply? Or what should I budget for travelling?

Then click one of the following links for more information on each of the topics:

Best places to travel on a budget

Things cost more in different places. This is a fact of life, and your hard-earned money will get you further in some places than it will in others. Take a look at the price of different essentials in countries you consider visiting and check out the currency exchange rates to get an idea of how much money you will spend. This way, you can save money by choosing more affordable destinations.

Go ‘off-season’. In the height of summer, everyone is tripping over themselves to go on holiday. As a result, prices are usually higher and places are usually busier. Going out of season will provide a cheaper and less crowded holiday experience, often at a more bearable temperature.

Transport on a Budget: Getting to Your Destination

BY PLANE

Your initial idea for transport will be by plane. This is by far the fastest way to travel and allows you to go anywhere in the world. Flying can be costly, with plane tickets often equating to be the most expensive purchase of your trip. Although this is mainly unavoidable, there are several ways you can soften the blow.

Check out flight comparison websites regularly for up-to-date ticket prices, discounts, and how different airlines shape up in comparison. Ticket costs can vary depending on many factors so you will likely find that you can save money by booking early, choosing international airlines or waiting for the “off” season. One sneaky tip for dealing with comparison sites is to use the private or incognito mode in your browser, as regular searches will cause the price to go up to trick you into impulse buys.

  • If you’re flexible as to what your destination is, check out Jacks Flight Club. They send out emails with cheap flight deals, including hidden offers, error fares and discounts.
  • You could also try booking through a travel agent as they will have special rates direct from airlines.

There are some other tricks to reduce your flight price, too. Depending on the day of the week, such as travelling on a Thursday, ticket prices can be cheaper. You might also find that you can save money by opting for a less popular airport to land at and travelling the last leg of your journey by bus or train.

BY TRAIN

Travelling by train is one of the most scenic ways to do it as you pass through both countryside and urban areas with a view you wouldn’t get from walking or driving. Although it may work out more expensive in the long run and you will have to make a few changes if you plan on going further afield, many people choose the train for the invaluable and unique experiences it offers.

Some choose to fly to their initial destination, then travel onwards by train. There are many fantastic routes, and it’s a brilliant way to see the world without using up too much of your limited travelling time.

Interrailing is a particularly great way to see the world as it is one pass that can take you wherever you choose. Tickets can be very reasonable, including many discounted options for students and the like. Check out the Interrail website to browse through rates.

BY BUS

While it may seem daunting, you can actually take a bus from the UK to many cities across Europe. This would amount to a long journey – up to several days – and you will have to put up with fairly cramped, potentially uncomfortable conditions. But, there’s a good chance you will save large amounts of money.

Travelling by bus can also let you see multiple countries in one trip. While you may not be stopping for long, any traveller looking for a unique, no-frills experience may find this a more rewarding choice than the plane. Either way, huge savings can be made by taking the bus, but make sure you’ve prepared for a trip lasting several days.

BY CAR OR CAMPER VAN

Driving across countries and continents is a long and arduous affair, but who could deny the allure of a classic road trip? You can go wherever you please, and if you’re using your own car, the only costs are insurance, fuel and maintenance.

Many travellers choose to drive in a camper van as it can be used for both travel and accommodation purposes, saving money. It is considered to be one of the ultimate adventures, but you will need a vehicle that can handle the mileage or you may end up with higher maintenance costs and the need for a back-up plan.

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Budget Accommodation: Cheap Ways to Stay

HOTELS

A hotel is the easiest way to go and will likely offer more comfort and security than most other options, and usually a much appreciated complimentary breakfast. However, hotels will often prove to be the most expensive choice of accommodation, especially if you are staying for more than a couple of nights.

One way to avoid a sky-high price is to shop around. Many people opt for a hotel chain they know well, but this will rarely prove the best deal. There are loads of price comparison websites that will showcase the best deals out there, or again, pop to your local travel agent. Look at smaller, family-run hotels in the area as they may offer a less costly service with a more personalised feel.

HOSTELS

A classic choice for travellers around the world, these may not be as comfortable or private but they will offer a place to sleep at a fraction of the price, and a better option for socialising if you’re going solo.

When it comes to hostels, it’s still worth shopping around, but do remember that the quality varies widely and it may be worth paying a little extra for a more reputable area and a better night’s sleep. Hostels are also a great idea for friends travelling in a group.

RENTING

If you’re travelling within a group, you might find it cheaper to rent a flat or apartment for a few days. This will give you your own space to cook meals, which in turn, will save you money. Opt for a room each if you’re looking for a little luxury, or put sleeping bags down for an even cheaper stay.

Sites like Airbnb offer a range of short-term rentals which you can compare against each other, not just for the price, but for the location, utilities and other features that come with the accommodation. Staying in a city dweller’s home or renting your own place gives you a much more authentic taste of city life – and you might get some local tips for making the most of your venture, too.

CAMPER VANS

If you rent or own a camper van, your bed is wherever you park up for the night. This method pairs your accommodation and travel into one bundle, and if you pick the right camper, you can still enjoy a comfortable journey.

Camper vans are very easy to hire out and you can often drop it off at your final destination, instead of making a circular trip. As they are mainly rented for prolonged periods, even if your trip lasts weeks or months, it won’t break the bank.

CAMPING

If you’re spending most of your trip outside of the city, camping is a smart option that can cost very little. With any luck, you will already have tents and sleeping bags, and all you would need to pay would be campsite fees – unless you choose to go wild.

Be aware of local rules on camping and remember that camping doesn’t necessarily offer the same security and comfort other accommodations might. If you are planning to pursue this option, we recommend sticking to existing trails and campsites where there is safety in numbers.

COUCH SURFING

This is a potentially risky one that some might advise against. Couch Surfing involves staying on couches offered up by strangers with a whole network of people offering a bed (couch) for the night around the world. This costs very little and allows you to meet and stay with locals.

The downside to this is that you are relying on a complete stranger for your accommodation, and there have been horror stories of things going horribly wrong. If you are going down the couch surfing route, try and do so through an official website that can verify the person you are staying with, and showcases reviews from others who stayed before.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

If you have friends or family in other countries, why not try and schedule in a couple of nights with them? This will give you a chance to catch up and is also cheap and likely to be more comfortable than other options.

It works both ways though, so expect to return the favour at some point in the future. ‘Thank you’ bottles of wine or chocolates never go amiss, either. This is a fantastic way to see another country in assuredly good company, with the bonus of local knowledge, too!

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Transport on a Budget: Getting Around

TRAINS AND SUBWAYS

As aforementioned, if you are making long journeys to other cities, a train is generally cheaper than taking a plane. Trains are more comfortable than buses and provide the option of stops and breaks en route, letting you see a bit more of the country.

When you reach a city, you will likely find that they have strong rail links, either in an overground system or a subway. These usually provide a connection between some of the most regularly visited spots in the city and tend to have a simple ticketing system at a small fare.

BUSES

Buses run between most major cities and while you may have to put up with a journey time of several hours or more, are probably the cheapest option for travelling cross-country outside of biking or hiking. You might even find a bus tour that reaches several destinations and lets you stop off for a night or two on the way.

City buses are another low-cost way to get around, although they may be slightly daunting to someone who is new to the city as they generally won’t be as easily understandable as subway systems. However, they are a great way to see the city from street level and to get to know the area if you plan on staying for a while. One thing to look out for is free tour buses that you can get on and off throughout the day, likely passing through major sightseeing spots.

CAR

Cars can be rented locally for relatively low prices and allow more freedom with regards to route and destination compared to a train or bus.

If you are renting a car you may be bound by rules such as mileage. It’s worth checking out the laws regarding cars and the road in your intended destination too, as well as age limitations and insurance restrictions. Some companies will let you return the car to another branch in another city to save a circular trip but you should research this prior to leaving.

BIKE

Cycling is an excellent way to get yourself around, with rental stops in most cities around the world offering daily or hourly bike hire. Be wary of local cycling rules so as not to land yourself in trouble or danger.

Another option is to bike cross-country. This is a great challenge for regular cyclists, resulting in a rewarding experience as you take the country at your speed, stopping wherever and whenever you want. With some forward planning, this can be very cheap – especially when in conjunction with camping.

WALKING

There’s no better way to experience a city than on foot. You can take your time when exploring and let new and interesting places or recommendations lead you in new directions. The best part about walking is that it’s completely free, and as a bonus, is good for your health. As long as you have a map, you are good to go.

If you want to take things a step further, you could even hike between your destinations. This will take more time, but you will experience the country in a completely different way. You will cut out many of the costs associated with travel, but you will need to spend more on food. This will likely require a tent too.

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Budget Entertainment: Enjoying Yourself When You Get There

Look into all the things you can do for free in a major city and you will be surprised at the huge range of activities on offer. Seeing the sights generally doesn’t cost anything as long as you avoid tourist traps like guided tours and souvenirs. You will even find free maps in most busy areas – just look for an information kiosk.

You will also find museums, galleries, cathedrals and the like that will cost nothing more than a small donation to enter. If you are a student, lots of places will offer free or discounted tickets.

Eat smart. There is always temptation to eat out, but in reality, this is expensive and impractical. Obviously, you might have to eat out sometimes, but you should try and be cleaver when picking your restaurants. Don’t go for the obvious tourist stops. Instead, try places that appear popular with locals as these are generally cheaper and often provide a more well-rounded (and traditional) meal.

If you have access to a kitchen in your hostel or rented apartment, you should pick up food you can cook there. While this may not seem as exciting, exploring the local food markets and supermarkets is! You will also save a lot of money this way, which can be spent on more exciting activities or experiences instead. Try to mix up eating out with cooking at home so you still get to experience the local cuisine from a good eatery.

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Check out our
Gap Year Backpacking Guide & Checklist
for handy packing tips >>>